Exodus 33:5 Commentary - Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae (Old and New Testaments)
REPENTANCE OF THE ISRAELITES
Exo 33:5-6. Therefore now put off thy ornaments from thee, that I may know what to do unto thee. And the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments, by the Mount Horeb.
THAT which is principally required of Ministers, is fidelity [Note: 1Co 4:1-2.], to dispense the word of God aright, without courting the applause of men, or fearing their displeasure. Of hearers it is required, that they receive the word of God with all readiness of mind, and obey it without reserve. Where such Ministers and such people are, happy will they be in each other, and happy also in their God. Of the description we have mentioned was Moses; but not so the people of Israel: they were stiff-necked and rebellious throughout the whole course of his ministry among them. On some few occasions, however, they seemed to be of a better mind; particularly on the occasion now before us. Moses had declared to them a message from God; in which their true character was drawn, and his judgments against them were awfully denounced [Note: See the former part of.]: and the effect, for the present at least, was such as was reasonably to be expected: they trembled at the divine judgments, and humbled themselves instantly in the mode prescribed. This is declared in the text; for the elucidating of which we observe,
God is not able to exercise mercy towards an impenitent transgressor—
God certainly is “rich in mercy,” and delights in the exercise of it; and would gladly manifest it towards all the human race [Note: 1Ti 2:4; Eze 33:11.]. But impenitence presents an insurmountable obstacle in his way, so that he cannot shew mercy towards any who abide in it. He cannot,
Because it would be inconsistent with his own perfections—
[He is a God of inflexible justice, unspotted holiness, and inviolable truth. But what evidence would there be that anyone of these perfections belonged to him, if he, in direct opposition to his own most positive declarations, put no difference between the proud contemner of his authority, and the humble repenting suppliant? — — —]
Because it would be ineffectual for the happiness of the persons themselves—
[Annihilation indeed would be a benefit, if that were granted to them; because they would then be rescued from the sufferings that await them: but to raise them to heaven would be no source of happiness to them. Having still a carnal mind which is enmity against God, they must hate him though in heaven: either God, or they, must change, before they can have fellowship with each other. As little comfort could they find in the society or employment of the heavenly hosts. The glorified saints and angels could not unite with those who had no one sentiment or feeling in unison with their own [Note: They would be ready to “thrust him out” of their society. Luk 13:28.]: nor would they who hate the exercises of prayer and praise in this world, find any satisfaction in such exercises in the world above. I say therefore again, that to an impenitent sinner heaven would be no heaven: for while sin reigns within him, he has a hell in his own bosom, and carries it with him where-soever he goes.]
It would introduce disorder into the whole universe—
[What sensations must it occasion in heaven! for if God can so change his very nature as to love an unholy creature, who can tell but that he may go one step further, and hate an holy one? As for the effect of it on earth, no one from that moment would either hate or fear sin: not hate it, because they would see that God does not hate it; and not fear it, because they would see that he will not punish it. Even in hell the effect of it would be felt: for, if God takes an impenitent man to his bosom, why may he not an impenitent spirit also; and what hinders but that the fallen angels may yet become as happy as those who never fell? Could such a thought as this be cherished in that place of torment, hell would from that moment cease to be the place it is.]
Here then is ample reason why God, notwithstanding his delight in mercy, cannot find how to exercise it towards impenitent sinners. But,
Where humiliation is manifested, mercy may be expected—
From the very mode in which repentance is here enjoined—
[When we speak of God as embarrassed in his mind, or perplexed in his counsels, we must not be understood to intimate that such things actually exist: for “known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world:” nor can any occasion possibly arise, wherein he can be at a loss how to act. But he is pleased to speak in this kind of language respecting himself, in order to accommodate himself to our feeble apprehensions: “Put off thy ornaments, that I may know what to do unto thee.” Thus in various other places he speaks as perplexed in his mind about the line of conduct he shall pursue [Note: Hos 6:4.], and as wishing to shew mercy, but not knowing how to do it consistently with his own honour [Note: Jer 3:19.]. Let us not then be misunderstood, as though, in accommodating ourselves to the language of our text, we deviated at all from that reverence which is due to the Supreme Being.
It is here intimated then, that, whilst impenitence continues, he knows not how to exercise mercy to the sinner: but it is also intimated, that, when once persons are humbled for their wickedness, he is at no loss at all how to act towards them: he can then give full scope to the merciful disposition of his own heart, and can pour out all his benefits upon them without any dishonour to his own name. Yes; that point attained, the law is honoured by the sinner himself; the atoning blood of Christ may be applied freely to cleanse him from his guilt; the mercy vouchsafed to him will not be abused; the heavenly hosts will be made to shout for joy; and God himself will be glorified to all eternity. There is no obstacle whatever to the freest and fullest exercise of love towards such a Being; and therefore God knows both what to do, and how to do it to the best effect.]
From the experience of penitents in all ages—
[Look at those in our text: God had threatened that he would go with them no more, but commit them to the guidance of a created angel. This had produced upon them a very deep impression: the fear of being deserted by him had wrought more powerfully upon them than the slaughter of three thousand of their number on the day before [Note: –4.]. They humbled themselves in the way that God had commanded; and, behold! the mercy, so ardently desired by them, and by Moses, was granted: “My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest [Note: 4.].”
Look at all other penitents from the foundation of the world: was ever so much as one spurned from the footstool of divine grace? Was ever one sent empty away? Even where the repentance was far from genuine, considerable respect was paid to it, and the blessing sought for was bestowed [Note: 1Ki 21:27-29.]. How much more where the repentance itself has been deep, and the contrition manifest! Not even the greatest accumulation of guilt that ever was known, was suffered to outweigh the tears of penitence, or to shut up the tender mercies of our God from a contrite soul [Note: 2Ki 21:16 with 2Ch 33:1-13.]. The Saviour was sent into the world for the very purpose of saving them that are lost; and he assures “all who are weary and heavy laden with a sense of their sins, that, on coming to him, they shall find rest unto their souls.”]
Consider what obstructions you have laid in the way of your own happiness—
[Had you not sinned, or, after your sins, continued impenitent, you would have been happy long since in the enjoyment of your God. He has been long “waiting to be gracious” unto you, but you would not suffer him to be so. He has been longing “to gather you, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, but you would not.” Say then, what alternative is left to God? He has called, but you have refused: he still calls, and you still continue to reject his counsels. Truly, “he knows not what to do:” if he spare you, you only add sin to sin; and if he cut you off, you perish without the smallest hope of mercy. Who can tell but that he is deliberating at this moment, and just about to form his ultimate decision? Who can tell but that this very night he may determine, as he did respecting his people of old; “Go to, I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; I will tread down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down [Note: Isa 5:5.]:” or, as he elsewhere says, “I swear in my wrath that they shall never enter into my rest?” Know, beloved, that if this calamity fall upon you, the fault is utterly your own: nothing but “iniquity can separate between you and your God; nothing but sin unrepented of can hide his face from you [Note: Isa 59:2.].”]
Endeavour instantly to remove them—
[Methinks I see your impenitence, like a dam, barring out from you those streams of mercy, which would refresh and fertilize your souls. O remove it without delay! But take care that your repentance is genuine and unreserved. External and temporary repentance will avail only for the removal of temporal judgments. That which is required in order to the final remission of your sins, must be deep, spiritual, and abiding: it must shew itself in the whole of your conduct and conversation. You will put away those pleasures, those vanities, those companions, that have been to you an occasion of falling; and you will “walk mournfully before the Lord of Hosts” to the latest hour of your lives: “you will lothe yourselves for all your iniquities and abominations,” as well after that God is pacified towards you, as before [Note: Eze 36:31 with 16:63.]. Let this then be begun immediately, even as “the Israelites put off their ornaments on the very mount of Horeb.” Let there be no delays; no waiting for a more convenient season. And let not the loss of heaven be the only object of your fear: fear also the loss of the divine presence. This, as you have seen, was peculiarly dreaded by the Israelites: let it also be peculiarly dreaded by you: and never cease to humble yourselves before God, till you have attained a sweet assurance of his guidance through this wilderness, and of his blessing in Canaan at the termination of your way.]
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Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae (Old and New Testaments)
Charles Simeon (1759 - 1836) was an English evangelical Anglican cleric.
Horae Homileticae reflects the rich source of Biblical understanding of Simeon, a towering figure in the history of evangelical theology.