Verses of Exodus 34


Exodus 34:5 Commentary - Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae (Old and New Testaments)


Exo 34:5-7. And the Lord descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty.

THE voice of inspiration says to every one of us, “Acquaint thyself with God, and be at peace.” An acquaintance with ourselves (which indeed is equally necessary to our salvation) will only lead us to despair, unless its effects be counteracted with a proportionable knowledge of our God. The more we discern of our own depravity, the more must we see of our guilt, our danger, and our helplessness: nor can any thing pacify our consciences, and allay our fears, but a view of the divine perfections, as united and harmonizing in the work of redemption. But that once obtained, our minds will be serene and happy: and the more complete our view of God is, the more firm will be our confidence in him, and the more sublime our joy. Moses, well aware of this, prayed to God to shew him his glory. To this request God graciously condescended, and appointed him a place where he would meet him, and make this discovery unto him. In discoursing upon this marvellous event, we shall notice,


The situation in which Moses was placed—

We are told that “God stood with him there:” but this not being a prominent feature in the text, we shall premise some observations as introductory to our remarks upon it—
[In the first place, we would observe that, in interpreting the Holy Scriptures, we are not at liberty to indulge our own fancy; we must approach them with sacred awe and reverence; and give such explanations of them only, as we verily believe to be agreeable to the mind of that blessed Spirit, through whose inspiration they were written.
Next, we observe, that the whole of the Mosaic economy was of a typical and mysterious nature; and that, though it is sometimes difficult to ascertain the precise import of some events, yet the meaning of those which are more striking is clear and obvious, and may be stated without any fear of deviating from the truth.
Further, there are many events, of which we should have made only a general improvement, which God himself has marked as conveying very minute and particular instruction. For instance, the miracle wrought by Moses, when he struck the rock, and thereby gave the whole nation a supply of water, which followed them all through the wilderness, might be supposed to teach us only, that God will supply the wants of his people who put themselves under his guidance: but St. Paul teaches us to look deeper into that miracle, and to find in it the great mysteries of redemption. He tells us that “that rock was Christ;” and, that the water which they drank of was “spiritual drink;” or, in other words, that the miracle denoted, that Christ, being struck with the rod of the law, becomes unto us a never-failing source of all spiritual blessings [Note: 1Co 10:4.].

We only observe further, that there was no occasion whatever, in which we might more certainly expect to find something typical and mysterious, than in that before us. God was about to reveal himself to Moses in a manner that he never did, either before or since, to any mortal man: and the directions which he gave previous to this discovery of himself, and which were necessary for the safety of his favoured servant, were so minute and significant, that we cannot doubt, but that the whole transaction was replete with mysterious import, and most valuable information.]
We come now to notice the situation in which Moses was placed—
[God commanded Moses to go up to Mount Sinai, and stand upon a rock; and promised that he would there pass by him in a visible manner: but, because it was not possible for him to behold the splendour of the divine glory, God told him, that he would put him into a cleft of the rock, and discover to him such a view of his glory as his frail nature could sustain. Accordingly, having put him into the cleft of the rock, and covered him with his hand, to prevent him from getting any sight of his face (which he could not have seen consistently with the preservation of his life), he passed by, and then, withdrawing his hand, he permitted him to see his “back parts,” that is, to have such an indistinct view of him as we have of a person who has passed by us [Note: Exo 33:20-23.].

Now Sinai and Horeb, it appears, were two tops of the same mountain. We are told in the context, that God called Moses to come up unto Mount Sinai: yet the preceding chapter informs us that the Israelites were at that time encamped by the Mount of Horeb [Note: Exo 33:6.]. The whole nineteenth chapter of Exodus informs us that the intercourse which Moses had with God at the time of the giving of the law, was on Mount Sinai: whereas Moses elsewhere informs us, that he stood before the Lord in Horeb [Note: Deu 4:10; Deu 4:15.] ; and that the Lord made a covenant with them in Horeb [Note: Deu 5:2.] ; and that the people provoked the Lord to wrath in Horeb [Note: Deu 9:8 with 10:1–5. which was the very period alluded to in the text.]. Hence it is manifest, that the terms Horeb and Sinai are used as nearly, or altogether, synonymous; because the same transactions are represented indifferently as having taken place on the one, or on the other.

Now it has already appeared that the rock in Horeb is declared by God himself to have been a lively representation of Christ: and therefore we may well suppose, that this rock, which was certainly in the same mountain, if not the very identical rock, was intended also to prefigure him; more especially as the putting of Moses into the cleft of it exactly represents the benefits we receive by virtue of an interest in Christ. To those who are not “in Christ,” “God is a consuming fire [Note: Heb 12:29.]:” and, if he were to pass by any persons who have not “fled to Christ for refuge [Note: Heb 6:18.],” he would instantly “burn them up as thorns [Note: Isa 27:4.],” and “consume them with the brightness of his coming [Note: 2Th 2:8].” Besides, it is in Christ only that we can have even the faintest view of God; because it is in Christ only that his perfections are displayed to man; and it is only when we are in Christ, that we have any eyes to behold them.

Here then we see, not only that there is something mysterious in the situation of Moses, but that a due consideration of it is necessary to a full understanding of the passage before us.]
In considering this singular favour conferred on Moses, we proceed to notice,


The revelation which God gave of himself to him—

Though the terms in which God described his perfections are many, yet they may be reduced to three heads;—


His majesty—

[God, in calling himself “the Lord, the Lord God,” intimated that he was that eternal, self-existent Being, who gave existence to every other being, and exercised unlimited authority over the works of his hands. His dominion is universal, his power irresistible, his sovereignty uncontrolled: “He doth according to his will in the armies of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth;” “nor can any stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?”
Such a manifestation of his majesty was peculiarly necessary, in order that our obligations to him might appear in their proper light: for never, till we have learned to acknowledge and adore his sovereignty, shall we be able rightly to appreciate his love and mercy.]


His mercy—

[Many expressions are heaped together upon this subject, because mercy is the attribute in which God peculiarly delights; and because he desires to impress our minds with right apprehensions of it.
God first, in general terms, declares himself to be “merciful and gracious;” by which we are to understand, that he is ever ready to pity the miserable, and relieve the needy. He is in his own nature propense to love and kindness, and forward to exercise his benevolence, whenever he can do it in consistency with his other perfections.
The first-fruit of his mercy is “long-suffering.” And how long did he bear with the antediluvian world! for the space of one hundred and twenty years did he wait, to see if by the ministry of Noah he could turn them from their evil ways. What can we conceive more insufferable than the conduct of the Israelites in the wilderness? they were always murmuring and rebelling against God, who had done such great things for them yet did he bear with them forty years. But we need not look back to the Antediluvians or the Jews: what monuments have we ourselves been of his patience and long-suffering! How have we provoked him to anger every day of our lives! yet we are here at this moment on praying ground, instead of being, where we most richly deserve to be, in the very depths of hell.
Nor has he merely borne with us: he has shewn himself also “abundant in goodness and truth.” He has been doing us good from the first moment of our existence to this present hour. He has “made his sun to shine, and the rain to descend upon us,” and “given us fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.” But he has done infinitely more for us than this: for he has given his only dear Son to die for us, and “his good Spirit to instruct us,” and has been calling us by the ministrations of his servants to receive all the blessings both of grace and glory. Many “great and precious promises also has he given us;” not one of which has he ever falsified, or shewn the least reluctance to fulfil.
Moreover, this kindness of his extends to the latest generations; for he is “keeping mercy for thousands” that are yet unborn. One reason why he bears with many proud rebels is, that he has mercy in reserve for many who are to proceed from their loins, who would never be brought into existence, if he were to execute on their offending parents the judgments they deserved. Who can tell? he may have “kept mercy” for some of us to this present hour; and the time may now be come, wherein he shall make us willing to accept it. Would to God it might be so!

But the completion of his mercy is seen in his “forgiving iniquity, and transgression, and sin.” Search the sacred records, and see what sins he has forgiven! what sins before conversion! what sins after conversion! and you will find, that there is no species or degree of sin which he has not pardoned, even though it have been often repeated, and long continued in. Let any one attempt to enumerate his own transgressions, and he will find them more in number than the sands upon the sea-shore, and sufficient, if visited according to their desert, to sink the whole world into perdition: yet, if he be a believer in Christ, they are all forgiven. How many iniquities then is God continually pardoning in every quarter of the globe! But this is the habit which most characterizes his nature and perfections. Though he cannot look upon iniquity without the utmost abhorrence of it, yet is “judgment his strange work,” and mercy is his delight.]


His justice—

[The concluding sentence of our text is understood by some to mean, that when he begins to punish “he will not make a full end,” but “in judgment will remember mercy:” and it is certain that it will bear this sense, because, literally translated, it stands thus, “Clearing he will not clear.” But then, in this description of his attributes, God would wholly omit his justice, which we cannot suppose he would: nor would the words, in this sense, at all agree with the words that follow them. We take them therefore as they are in our translation; and, according to their obvious meaning, they convey to us a most important truth. God does indeed take pleasure in the exercise of mercy: but still he will never violate the rights of justice: he will pardon; but not the impenitent or unbelieving: it is to those only who repent, and believe the Gospel, that he will finally approve himself a reconciled God. Nothing shall ever prevail upon him to “clear one guilty” person, who holds fast his iniquities, or will not wash them away in the Redeemer’s blood. It may be asked, Will he not have respect to the multitude, of those who are in that predicament? or will he not be softened when he shall see them weeping, and wailing, and gnashing their teeth, in hell? We answer, No: he will by no means clear the guilty: if they will live and die in sin, they must “eat the fruit of their own doings.”

It is worthy of particular notice in this place, that Moses desired to see God’s glory; and that God said, he “would make all his goodness pass before” him: from whence we are assured, that God’s goodness, and his glory, are as much seen in his justice, as in any other attribute whatever. Indeed, if God were destitute of this perfection, he would cease to be either glorious or good: he could not be glorious, because not perfect; nor could he be good, because he would give licence to his creatures to violate his law, to throw his whole government into confusion, and to render themselves miserable: for not God himself could make them happy, while sin lived and reigned in their hearts. It is by his justice that he deters men from sin; and teaches them to flee from that which would imbitter even Paradise itself: and therefore justice, however severe may he its aspect upon sin and sinners, is indeed a part of the divine goodness, and a ray of the divine glory.]


How wonderful is the efficacy of prayer—

[Moses, notwithstanding an apparent prohibition, had interceded with God on behalf of the idolatrous Israelites, and had prevailed [Note: Exo 32:10-14.]. Still however, God, to mark his displeasure, refused to go with the people any more; and said he would commit the guidance of them to an angel [Note: Exo 32:34.]. But Moses, having thus far obtained a favourable audience, requested and urged, that God himself should still go with them, as he had hitherto done. Nothing would satisfy him but this [Note: Exo 33:15]. When he had succeeded in this, he grew bolder still; and asked, what no living creature had ever dared to ask, “O God, I beseech thee. shew me thy glory!” God approved of his boldness, and granted him this also. And what would he not grant to us, if we would ask in humility and faith? He says himself, “Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it [Note: Psa 81:10.].” O Brethren! see in this instance the efficacy of prayer: and know, that if you asked forgiveness for the vilest of all sins, and prayed to have the presence of God with you all through this wilderness, and even begged to have the glory of God himself pass before your eyes, it should be given you: your iniquities should be forgiven: you should have God for your constant protector and guide: and he would “shine into your hearts, to give you the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ [Note: 2Co 4:6.].” O pray without ceasing, and without doubting.]


Of what importance is it to obtain an interest in Christ—

[All, except the true Christian, have erroneous views of God: some are led by his majesty or justice to give way to desponding fears: others from a sight of his grace and mercy are induced to cherish presumptuous hopes. It is the Christian alone that sees his majesty tempered with mercy, and his mercy harmonizing with the demands of justice. No man can have this sight of God, till he be put into the cleft of the rock. What we said at the beginning, we now repeat, that to all who are not in Christ, God will be a consuming fire. Seek then, my Brethren, to be “found in Christ.” Then “shall you see the King in his beauty [Note: Isa 33:16-17.]:” then shall you behold him transfigured, as it were, before your eyes [Note: Mat 17:1-2.] ; and have a foretaste of that blessedness which you shall enjoy, when “you shall see him as you are seen, and know him even as you are known [Note: 1Jn 3:2 with 1Co 13:12.].”]

Verses of Exodus 34


Consult other comments:

Exodus 34:5 - Joseph Benson’s Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Exodus 34:5 - Calvin's Complete Commentary

Exodus 34:5 - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

Exodus 34:5 - Commentary on the Holy Bible by Thomas Coke

Exodus 34:5 - Companion Bible Notes, Appendices and Graphics

Exodus 34:5 - Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers (Old and New Testaments)

Exodus 34:5 - John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible

Exodus 34:5 - Matthew Henry's Whole Bible Commentary

Exodus 34:5 - Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae (Old and New Testaments)

Exodus 34:5 - Jamieson, Fausset and Brown's Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

Exodus 34:5 - Commentary Series on the Bible by Peter Pett

Exodus 34:5 - English Annotations on the Holy Bible by Matthew Poole

Exodus 34:5 - The Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary Edited by Joseph S. Exell

Exodus 34:5 - The Complete Pulpit Commentary

Exodus 34:5 - John Trapp's Complete Commentary (Old and New Testaments)

Exodus 34:5 - The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

Exodus 34:5 - Whedon's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae (Old and New Testaments)