Exodus 32:34
Therefore now go, lead the people to the place of which I have spoken to you: behold, my Angel shall go before you: nevertheless in the day when I visit I will visit their sin on them.
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(34) Lead the people unto the place of which I have spokeni.e., continue their leader until Palestine is reached. (See Exodus 3:8; Exodus 3:17; Exodus 6:4-8, &c.)

Mine Angel shall go before thee.—So far as the form of the expression goes, the promise is, as nearly as possible, a repetition of the original one, “Behold, I send an angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared” (Exodus 23:20). But the meaning of the promise is wholly changed, as we learn from the opening paragraph of the ensuing chapter (Exodus 33:1-3). The “angel” now promised as a guide is not to be God Himself (“I will not go up in the midst of thee “), but a creature, between whom and God the distance is immeasurable.

In the day when I visit I will visit their sin upon them.—All sin is followed by suffering; the sequence is inevitable. God had now consented to spare His people, and to take them back into favour; but they were not to expect that matters would be with them as if their sin had not taken place. It would still be “visited upon them”—not, indeed, by instant death, but still in some way or other. The weary waiting in the wilderness for forty years may have been a part of the punishment (Numbers 14:33); but it may also have been inflicted on different persons in many different ways.

Exodus 32:34-35. My angel shall go before thee — Some created angel that was employed in the common services of his kingdom, which intimated that they were not to expect any thing for the future to be done for them out of the common road of providence. When I visit — Hereafter, when I shall see cause to punish them for other sins, I will visit for this among the rest. From hence the Jews have a saying, that from henceforward no judgment fell upon Israel, but there was in it an ounce of the powder of the golden calf. And the Lord plagued the people — Probably by the pestilence, or some other infectious disease. Thus Moses prevailed for a mitigation of the punishment, but could not wholly turn away the wrath of God.32:30-35 Moses calls it a great sin. The work of ministers is to show people the greatness of their sins. The great evil of sin appears in the price of pardon. Moses pleads with God for mercy; he came not to make excuses, but to make atonement. We are not to suppose that Moses means that he would be willing to perish for ever, for the people's sake. We are to love our neighbour as ourselves, and not more than ourselves. But having that mind which was in Christ, he was willing to lay down his life in the most painful manner, if he might thereby preserve the people. Moses could not wholly turn away the wrath of God; which shows that the law of Moses was not able to reconcile men to God, and to perfect our peace with him. In Christ alone, God so pardons sin as to remember it no more. From this history we see, that no unhumbled, carnal heart, can long endure the holy precepts, the humbling truths, and the spiritual worship of God. But a god, a priest, a worship, a doctrine, and a sacrifice, suited to the carnal mind, will ever meet with abundance of worshippers. The very gospel itself may be so perverted as to suit a worldly taste. Well is it for us, that the Prophet like unto Moses, but who is beyond compare more powerful and merciful, has made atonement for our souls, and now intercedes in our behalf. Let us rejoice in his grace.Mine Angel shall go before thee - See the marginal references and Genesis 12:7.

In the day when I visit ... - Compare Numbers 14:22-24. But though the Lord chastized the individuals, He did not take His blessing from the nation.

32. blot me … out of thy book—an allusion to the registering of the living, and erasing the names of those who die. What warmth of affection did he evince for his brethren! How fully was he animated with the true spirit of a patriot, when he professed his willingness to die for them. But Christ actually died for His people (Ro 5:8). Behold, mine angel; not Christ, the Angel of the covenant, who had hitherto gone before them; but a created angel, as appears by comparing this with Exodus 33:2,3,12; though Moses obtained the revocation of this threatening, Exodus 33:14,17. I will visit their sin upon them; when I shall punish them for their other sins, which I foresee they will commit, I will remember and punish this also. Therefore now go, lead the people unto the place of which I have spoken unto thee,.... That is, to the land of Canaan, which he had promised to their fathers and to them, and had directed Moses to bring them to:

behold, mine angel shall go before thee: and not I, as Jarchi interprets it; not the Angel of the covenant, and of his presence, as in Exodus 23:20 but a created angel, which, though a favour, was a lessening of the mercy before promised and granted; and which gave the people a great deal of concern, though Moses by his supplications got the former blessing restored, Exodus 33:2,

nevertheless, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them; that is, when he should visit them in a way of correction for other sins, he would visit them in like manner for this sin, the worship of the golden calf; and so Jarchi well explains it,"when I visit upon them their iniquities, I will visit upon them a little of this iniquity, with the rest of iniquities; and there is no punishment (adds he) comes upon Israel, in which there is not something of the punishment of the sin of the calf;''and the Jews have a saying (t), that"there is not a generation in which there is not an ounce of the sin of the calf.''

(t) T. Hieros. Taanith, fol. 68. 3.

{p} Therefore now go, lead the people unto the place of which I have spoken unto thee: behold, mine Angel shall go before thee: nevertheless in the day when I visit I will visit their sin upon them.

(p) This demonstrates how grievous a sin idolatry is, seeing that at Moses prayer God would not fully remit it.

34. He yields, however, so far to Moses’ entreaty as to put off the punishment of the people to an indefinite future, and to bid Moses lead Israel on to Canaan, under the guidance—not indeed of Himself personally, but—of His angel. It is true, the angel usually (see on Exodus 3:1, Exodus 23:20) represents Jehovah so fully as not to be exclusive of Him: but Exodus 33:2 (see the note), 3, shew that (unless the clause is a later insertion) it must be exclusive of Him here.Verse 34. - Lead the people unto the place, etc. This was a revocation of the sentence of death passed in verse 10. The people was to be spared, and Moses was to conduct them to Palestine. Mine Angel shall go before thee. Mine Angel - not I myself (compare Exodus 33:2, 3). Another threatened punishment, which was revoked upon the repentance of the people (ib, 4, 6), and the earnest prayer of Moses (ib, 14-16). I will visit their sin upon them. Kalisch thinks that a plague was at once sent, and so understands verse 35. But most commentators regard the day of visitation as that on which it was declared that none of those who had quitted Egypt should enter Canaan (Numbers 14:35), and regard that sentence as, in fact, provoked by the golden calf idolatry (ib, 22). The Levites had to allow their obedience to God to be subjected to a severe test. Moses issued this command to them in the name of Jehovah the God of Israel: "Let every one gird on his sword, and go to and fro through the camp from one gate (end) to the other, and put to death brothers, friends, and neighbours," i.e., all whom they met, without regard to relationship, friendship, or acquaintance. And they stood the test. About 3000 men fell by their sword on that day. There are several difficulties connected with this account, which have furnished occasion for doubts as to its historical credibility. The one of least importance is that which arises from the supposed severity and recklessness of Moses' proceedings. The severity of the punishment corresponded to the magnitude of the crime. The worship of an image, being a manifest transgression of one of the fundamental laws of the covenant, was a breach of the covenant, and as such a capital crime, bringing the punishment of death or extermination in its train. Now, although the whole nation had been guilty of this crime, yet in this, as in every other rebellion, the guilt of all would not be the same, but many would simply follow the example of others; so that, instead of punishing all alike, it was necessary that a separation should be made, if not between the innocent and guilty, yet between the penitent and the stiff-necked transgressors. To effect this separation, Moses called out into the camp: "Over to me, whoever is for the Lord!" All the Levites responded to his call, but not the other tribes; and it was necessary that the refractory should be punished. Even these, however, had not all sinned to the same extent, but might be divided into tempters and tempted; and as they were all mixed up together, nothing remained but to adopt that kind of punishment, which has been resorted to in all ages in such circumstances as these. "If at any time," as Calvin says, "mutiny has broken out in an army, and has led to violence, and even to bloodshed, by universal law a commander proceeds to decimate the guilty." He then adds, "How much milder, however, was the punishment here, when out of six hundred thousand only three thousand were put to death!" This decimation Moses committed to the Levites; and just as in every other decimation the selection must be determined by lot or accidental choice, so here Moses left it to be determined by chance, upon whom the sword of the Levites would fall, knowing very well that even the so-called chance would be under the direction of God.

There is apparently a greater difficulty in the fact, that not only did the Levites execute the command of Moses without reserve, but the people let them pass through the camp, and kill every one who came within reach of their sword, without offering the slightest resistance. To remove this difficulty, there is no necessity that we should either assume that the Levites knew who were the originators and ringleaders of the worship of the calf, and only used their swords against them, as Calvin does, or that we should follow Kurtz, and introduce into the text a "formal conflict between the two parties, in which some of Moses' party were also slain," since the history says nothing about "the men who sided with Moses gaining a complete victory," and merely states that in obedience to the word of Jehovah the God of Israel, as declared by Moses, they put 3000 men of the people to death with the sword. The obedience of the Levites was an act of faith, which knows neither the fear of man nor regard to person. The unresisting attitude of the people generally may be explained, partly from their reverence for Moses, whom God had so mightily and marvellously accredited as His servant in the sight of all the nation, and partly from the despondency and fear so natural to a guilty conscience, which took away all capacity for opposing the bold and determined course that was adopted by the divinely appointed rulers and their servants in obedience to the command of God. It must also be borne in mind, that in the present instance the sin of the people was not connected with any rebellion against Moses.

Very different explanations have been given of the words which were spoken by Moses to the Levites (Exodus 32:29): "Fill your hand to-day for Jehovah; for every one against his son and against his brother, and to bring a blessing upon you to-day." "To fill the hand for Jehovah" does not mean to offer a sacrifice to the Lord, but to provide something to offer to God (1 Chronicles 29:5; 2 Chronicles 29:31). Thus Jonathan's explanation, which Kurtz has revived in a modified form, viz., that Moses commanded the Levites to offer sacrifices as an expiation for the blood that they had shed, or for the rent made in the congregation by their reckless slaughter of their blood-relations, falls to the ground; though we cannot understand how the fulfilment of a divine command, or an act of obedience to the declared will of God, could be regarded as blood-guiltiness, or as a crime that needed expiation. As far as the clause which follows is concerned, so much is clear, viz., that the words can neither be rendered, "for every one is in his son," etc., nor "for every one was against his son," etc. To the former it is impossible to attach any sense; and the latter cannot be correct, because the preterite חיח could not be omitted after an imperative, if the explanatory clause referred to what was past. If כּי were a causal particle in this case, the meaning could only be, "for every one shall be against his son," etc. But it is much better to understand it as indicating the object, "that every one may be against his son and against his brother;" i.e., that in the cause of the Lord every one may not spare eve his nearest relative, but deny either son or brother for the Lord's sake (Deuteronomy 33:9). "And to give" (or bring), i.e., so that ye may bring, a blessing upon yourselves to-day." The following, then, is the thought contained in the verse: Provide yourselves to-day with a gift for the Lord, consecrate yourselves to-day for the service of the Lord, by preserving the obedience you have just shown towards Him, by not knowing either son or brother in His service, and thus gain for yourselves a blessing. In the fulfilment of the command of God, with the denial of their own flesh and blood, Moses discerns such a disposition and act as would fit them for the service of the Lord. He therefore points to the blessing which it would bring them, and exhorts them by their election as the peculiar possession of Jehovah (Numbers 3-4), which would be secured to them from this time forward, to persevere in this fidelity to the Lord. "The zeal of the tribe-father burned still in the Levites; but this time it was for the glory of God, and not for their own. Their ancestor had violated both truth and justice by his vengeance upon the Shechemites, from a false regard to blood-relationship, but now his descendants had saved truth, justice, and the covenant by avenging Jehovah upon their own relations" (Kurtz, and Oehler in Herzog's Cycl.), so that the curse which rested upon them (Genesis 49:7) could now be turned into a blessing (cf. Deuteronomy 33:9).

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