Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
And the LORD said unto Moses, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first: and I will write upon these tables the words that were in the first tables, which thou brakest.Exodus 34:3
St. John of the Cross remarks that by this verse the soul is taught that 'he who seeks to climb the mount of perfection and to hold communion with God must not only renounce all things but must not even allow his appetites, which are the beasts, to feed within sight of the mount.'
The Use of Isolated Moments
I. Here was a Divine call to solitude. There are moments of many souls in which they are doomed to be alone—to have no man with them. The inspirations of genius are such moments; the voices of the crowd then sound from afar. The throbs of conscience are such moments; the heart then speaks to itself alone. The arrests by sickness are such moments; we feel shunted from the common way. The approaches of death are such moments; the hour comes to all, but it comes separately to each. We should have missed something from the Bible if amid the many voices of God there had been no place found for such moments as these. But with this verse of Exodus before us, the want is supplied. I learn that my times of solitude as well as my days of crowdedness are a mission from the Divine.
II. There is a lesson which my soul can only get from solitude; it is the majesty of the individual. Society tells me I am only a cipher—an insignificant drop in a mighty stream. But when I am alone, when the curtain is fallen on my brother man, when there seems in the universe but God and I, it is then I know what it is to be an individual soul; it is then that there breaks on me the awful solemnity, the dread responsibility, the sublime weightedness, of having a personal life.
III. Therefore it is that betimes my Father summons me into the solitude. Therefore it is that betimes He calls me up to the lonely mount and cries, 'Let no man come with thee'. Therefore it is that betimes He shuts the door on my companionships, and bars the windows to the street, and deafens the ear of the world's roar. He would have me see myself by His light, measure myself by His standard, know myself even as I am known.
—G. Matheson, Messages of Hope, p. 23.
Reference.—XXXIV. 5.—J. Halsey, The Spirit of Truth, p. 34.
Compare Cromwell's words in his letter to Fleetwood of 1652: 'The voice of Fear is: If I had done this; if I had avoided that; how well it had been with me. Love argueth in this wise: What a Christ have I; what a Father in and through Him! What a Name hath my Father: merciful, gracious, longsuffering, abundant in goodness and truth; forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin. What a Nature hath my Father: He is Love; free in it, unchangeable, infinite!'
Then the Recorder stood up on his feet, and first beckoning with his hand for silence, he read out with loud voice the pardon. But when he came to these words, 'The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, pardoning iniquity and transgressions, and sins; and to them, all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven,' etc., they could not forbear leaping for joy. For this you must know, that there was conjoined herewith every man's name in Mansoul; also the seals of the pardon made a brave show.
—Bunyan, Holy War.
Reference.—XXXIV. 6.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Exodus, etc., p. 195.
In his reminiscences of Erskine of Linlathen, Dean Stanley recalls how the Scottish theologian 'was fond of dwelling on the passages in the Bible which bring out the overbalance of love and mercy as against vengeance and wrath. "This," he said, "shows the right proportion of faith." And one of these to which he often referred was the close of the second commandment—"visiting the sins of the fathers unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me, and showing mercy unto (—not thousands, as of individuals—but) unto the thousanth and thousanth generation—(quoting the words of the Hebrew original—) of them that love Me". I never read that part of the commandment without thinking of this saying, and of the tones in which he uttered it.'
The Dark Line in God's Face
I. Consider the Proof of this Dark Line.—'And that will by no means clear the guilty.' Mark, at the outset, how clear is the testimony of Scripture. In the first story of God's dealing with man, that story of the Garden which foreshadows all His love and grace, we see it in the face of God. Adam and Eve are driven out of Eden, and the angel with the flaming sword which turned every way keeps the way of the tree of life. That is the first declaration that God will by no means clear the guilty.
Mark it again on the broader page of universal history. The one truth of which all secular historians are sure is that the Nemesis of judgment forgets nothing and forgives nothing. In narrower spheres of life the truth is as evident and as appalling. The little child who is ushered into life, misshapen in body, cramped in mind, darkened in spirit, has done no sin, but its helplessness and torture are the terrifying proofs that God will by no means clear the guilty, and that He visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and upon the children's children.
Mark it again in the teaching of Jesus. There is scarcely a parable which does not emphasize it. But the more convincing and definite sayings of Jesus are those which affirm that this dark line remains in God's face in the world to come. He speaks in grave warning of the outer darkness, the everlasting fire, the shut door, the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.
II. Consider the Significance of this Dark Line in the Pace of God.—Have you never known a human face in which there were lines, at first sight stern and forbidding, but as you learned their meaning, and came to know what lay behind their severity, they gave the face its strength and distinction and charm? This dark line makes God wondrously beautiful.
Its first significance is His inflexible justice. It declares that God is unswervingly just and impartially righteous towards all men. Now we can look up at that dark line and see its beauty.
Its second significance is His wrath at sin. The darkest line in a human face is the line of an anger which is shot through with grief. It is not otherwise with the face of God.
The third significance is His passionate desire for holiness. Here we touch the deeper significance. Where only justice and aggrieved wrath are found there is no room for mercy or for healing, but where a passionate desire for holiness lodges, there is hope even for the worst. This line in God's face is darker when it sees the sin of His own, because of His passion for holiness.
III. Now let us Learn why so Many Refuse to see the Truth and Beauty of This Dark Line.—The reason is that one of the most controlling truths in God's character is overlooked. What stirs God to the depths is not suffering, but sin. If men would take God's way, and deal first with the world's sin, the world's suffering would greatly cease.
Nowhere can it be more movingly seen than at the Cross that God will by no means clear the guilty. Nowhere is it more sadly plain that He visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, than when He laid the sins of men upon the Son of Man. In the Cross we see the dark line of God's face, and understand His justice, His grieved anger, and His passionate desire for holiness. Had there been no dark line in God's face there would have been no Cross. What Jesus saw as He was dying was this line in a face of love dark with anger at the sin of man.
—W. M. Clow, The Cross in Christian Experience, p. 28.
References.—XXXIV. 7.—H. Ward Beecher, Sermons (4th Series), p. 183. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Exodus, etc., p. 199. XXXIV. 8, 9.—J. K. Popham, Sermons, p. 116.
Read that account on the proclaiming of God's name to Moses given in the 33rd and 34th chapters of Exodus, 'The Lord, The Lord God, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, without clearing the guilty' (which last expression refers to the sacrifice of Christ, and just means through an atonement). As soon as Moses heard it, he thought, This is just the God that we want, for the people are continually committing sin, and this is a sin-forgiving God; and Moses made haste and said, Go with us; for this is a stiff-necked people. That for is an extraordinary word.
—Thomas Eeskine of Linlathen, Letters, p. 121.
The Divine Jealousy
Is jealousy primarily a vice masking as a much-suffering virtue, or is it a virtue that has caught many of the basenesses of a vice? May we ascribe jealousy to the holy and glorious God without reflecting the least stain of dishonour upon His nature?
I. Our literature, like that of all nations, indeed, abounds in pictures of this consuming passion. Perhaps the most familiar and impressive delineation of the passion is that presented by Shakespeare in his great masterpiece, 'Othello the Moor'. If you recall the chief outlines of the tragedy you will have a concrete illustration before you from which to start in studying the subject of the Divine jealousy.
1. Our condemnation of jealousy is not infrequently condemnation of the ignorance and infatuation with which it is mixed. Jealousy must always rank with the vices rather than virtues when, like that of Othello, it is blind—blind with the guilty blindness that will not consent to see.
2. Our condemnation of jealousy is very often condemnation of the despotic temper, in which it has its root. We class it with the vices rather than the virtues, because in many cases it is not love seeking the just return of love. How often is it thinly disguised ambition, aggressive and overbearing egotism? I have no doubt Shakespeare meant us to recognize an element of this sort in the jealousy of Othello.
3. Our condemnation of jealousy, again, is sometimes the condemnation of moral unfitness to win and to retain the love that has been vainly sought or miserably abused. The temper is often a vice, because the chilled affection that has provoked it is the just retribution of neglect, ungraciousness, intemperance of disposition and behaviour.
4. Our condemnation of jealousy is often a condemnation of the merciless and savage forms in which it expresses itself. We class it with the vices rather than with the virtues, because when the passion is once encouraged it tends to become a masterful impulse akin to homicidal madness.
II. The flaws in our current human jealousies notwithstanding, may not the very highest moral and spiritual forces go to inform and energize this sentiment? The heart which upon just and righteous occasion is incapable of jealousy is likewise incapable of love. Love has rights it can never renounce without proving false to its own deepest qualities. And if no love can compare with God's, no right can rival the right that is inherent in the foundation qualities of that love.
All humane and civilized governments which account themselves responsible for the well-being of the people committed to their care are characterized by this temper of jealousy, and the strength of the temper is a test of their very right to exist. In such cases the passion is emphatically a virtue.
The jealousy exercised in the interests of others must be holy and beneficent. God will brook no intrusion into His work, no division of His authority, no departure from His laws. He alone can guide us through the rocks and whirlpools, and bring us to our far-off goal. That He should be supreme is the very salvation of the universe.
III. Now let us face the question: if jealousy has this high and holy basis, and if God's jealousy does not need to be held in check because of the imperfection of knowledge, the risk of mistake, or the fear lest the passion once kindled should hurry into inordinate and unconsidered excess, is not the Divine type of the passion likely to be more terribly intense and overwhelming than any of the modern types we find around us? God gives incalculably more love than others, and He is moved with a deeper indignation when you suffer a rival to reign in His place.
Mark how this feature reappears in the character and teaching of Jesus Christ, who is the image of the Father's person and glory. 'He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me.' The holy jealousy of Christ's life is as true a hint of the surpassing qualities of His love as the vicariousness of His bitter death.
—T. G. Selby, The Lesson of a Dilemma, p. 102.
References.—XXXIV. 14.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. ix. No. 602. XXXIV. 23.—C. S. Robinson, Simon Peter, p. 41.
Spiritual beauty is loveliest when it is unconsciously possessed.
I. Moses has been closeted with God. The glory of the Lord has been poured upon him, bathing him in unearthly brightness, so that when he returns to the mountain-base his countenance shines like the light. The same transformation is effected every day, and by the same means. Spiritual communion alters the fashion of the countenance. The supreme beauty of a face is its light, and spirituality makes 'a face illumined'. The face of Moses was transfigured by the glory of the Eternal.
II. But 'Moses wist not that his face shone'. That is the supreme height of spiritual loveliness; to be lovely, and not to know it Surely this is a lesson we all need to learn. Virtue is so apt to become self-conscious, and so to lose its glow.
1. Take the grace of humility. Humility is very beautiful when we see it unimpaired. It is exquisite with the loveliness of Christ. But there is a self-conscious humility which is only a very subtle species of pride. Humility takes the lowest place, and does not know that her face shines. Pride can take the lowest place, and find her delight in the thought of her presumably shining face.
2. Charity is a lovely adornment of the Christian eye, but if charity be self-conscious it loses all its charm. The Master says that true charity does not let the left hand know what the right hand doeth. The counsel is this—do not talk about thy giving to thyself. Do not let it be done in a boastful self-consciousness, or its beauty is at once impaired.
3. It is even so with the whole shining multitude of virtues and graces. No virtue has its full strength and beauty until its possession is unnoticed by its owner. Virtue must become so customary as to be unconsciously worn.
III. And so it is that the problem shapes itself thus—we must become so absorbed in God as to forget ourselves. We cannot gaze much upon God's face and remain very conscious of ourselves.
—J. H. Jowett, Meditations for Quiet Moments, p. 22.
Christians that are really the most eminent saints, and therefore have the most excellent experiences,... are astonished at and ashamed of the low degrees of their love and thankfulness, and their little knowledge of God. Moses, when he had been conversing with God in the mount, and his face shone so bright in the eyes of others as to dazzle their eyes, wist not that his face shone.
—Jonathan Edwards, The Religious Affections (part iii.).
Men of elevated minds are not their own historians and panegyrists. So is it with faith and other Christian graces. Bystanders see our minds; but our minds, if healthy, see but the objects which possess them. As God's grace elicits our faith, so His holiness stirs our fear, and His glory kindles our love. Others may say of us, 'here is faith,' and 'there is conscientiousness,' and 'there is love'; but we can only say, 'this is God's grace,' and 'that is His holiness,' and 'that is His glory'.
—Newman, Lectures on Justification, p. 337.
Let thy face, like Moses', shine to others, but make no looking-glasses for thyself.
The late Dr. Andrew Bonar, when visiting Mr. Moody at Northfield, was out in his garden at early morning one day talking with his host. Along came a band of happy students, who shouted out: 'We've been having an all-night prayer meeting; can't you see our faces shine?' Dr. Bonar turned to them, and said, with a quiet smile, and shake of the head: 'Moses wist not that his face shone'.
References.—XXXIV. 29.—W. J. Back, A Book of Lay Sermons, p. 247. S. G. McLennan, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxv. 1904, p. 83. T. Teignmouth Shore, The Life of the World to Come, p. 157. W. A. Gray, The Shadow of the Hand, p. 177. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Exodus, etc., p. 204. XXXIV. 29-35.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxvi. No. 2143.
Make conscience of beginning the day with God. For he that begins it not with Him, will hardly end it with Him. It is he that finds God in his closet that will carry the savour of Him into his house, his shop, and his more open conversation. When Moses had been with God in the mount, his face shone, he brought of that glory into the camp.
High gracious affections leave a sweet savour and relish of Divine things on the heart, and a stronger bent of soul towards God and holiness; as Moses' face not only shone while he was in the mount, extraordinarily conversing with God, but it continued to shine after he came down from the mount.
'Millais was the best trained of all,' says Mr. Holman Hunt in his History of Pre-Raphaelitism (i. p. 139). 'Not one hour of his life had been lost to his purpose of being a painter. The need of groping after systems by philosophic research and deductions was superseded in him by a quick instinct which enabled him to pounce as an eagle upon the prize he searched for.... He felt the fire of his message; it seemed to make his face shine, so that Rossetti, to justify an expression of his in "Hand and Soul," said that when he looked at Millais in full, his face was that of an angel.'
Reference.—XXXIV. 30.—John Ker, Sermons, p. 170.
And be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning unto mount Sinai, and present thyself there to me in the top of the mount.
And no man shall come up with thee, neither let any man be seen throughout all the mount; neither let the flocks nor herds feed before that mount.
And he hewed two tables of stone like unto the first; and Moses rose up early in the morning, and went up unto mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and took in his hand the two tables of stone.
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, longsuffering, 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; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.
And Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped.
And he said, If now I have found grace in thy sight, O Lord, let my Lord, I pray thee, go among us; for it is a stiffnecked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for thine inheritance.
And he said, Behold, I make a covenant: before all thy people I will do marvels, such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation: and all the people among which thou art shall see the work of the LORD: for it is a terrible thing that I will do with thee.
Observe thou that which I command thee this day: behold, I drive out before thee the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite.
Take heed to thyself, lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land whither thou goest, lest it be for a snare in the midst of thee:
But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves:
For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God:
Lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go a whoring after their gods, and do sacrifice unto their gods, and one call thee, and thou eat of his sacrifice;
And thou take of their daughters unto thy sons, and their daughters go a whoring after their gods, and make thy sons go a whoring after their gods.
Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.
The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep. Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, as I commanded thee, in the time of the month Abib: for in the month Abib thou camest out from Egypt.
All that openeth the matrix is mine; and every firstling among thy cattle, whether ox or sheep, that is male.
But the firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb: and if thou redeem him not, then shalt thou break his neck. All the firstborn of thy sons thou shalt redeem. And none shall appear before me empty.
Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest: in earing time and in harvest thou shalt rest.
And thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year's end.
Thrice in the year shall all your men children appear before the Lord GOD, the God of Israel.
For I will cast out the nations before thee, and enlarge thy borders: neither shall any man desire thy land, when thou shalt go up to appear before the LORD thy God thrice in the year.
Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven; neither shall the sacrifice of the feast of the passover be left unto the morning.
The first of the firstfruits of thy land thou shalt bring unto the house of the LORD thy God. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk.
And the LORD said unto Moses, Write thou these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel.
And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.
And it came to pass, when Moses came down from mount Sinai with the two tables of testimony in Moses' hand, when he came down from the mount, that Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone while he talked with him.
And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh him.
And Moses called unto them; and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned unto him: and Moses talked with them.
And afterward all the children of Israel came nigh: and he gave them in commandment all that the LORD had spoken with him in mount Sinai.
And till Moses had done speaking with them, he put a vail on his face.
But when Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he took the vail off, until he came out. And he came out, and spake unto the children of Israel that which he was commanded.
And the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses' face shone: and Moses put the vail upon his face again, until he went in to speak with him.