Exodus 33:4
And when the people heard these evil tidings, they mourned: and no man did put on him his ornaments.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(4) When the people heard these evil tidings, they mourned.—It was something that the people felt the tidings to be “evil.” It is natural for sinful men to shrink from the near presence of God (Matthew 8:34; Luke 5:8); and so the Israelites had shrunk from it a short time previously (Exodus 20:19). Even now they would probably have feared a too near contact; but still, they were unwilling that God should cease to be the leader and guide of the host: they set a value on His presence and protection, which they felt that that of an angel would ill replace. Accordingly, when Moses communicated to them what God had said (Exodus 33:1-3), they “mourned,” i.e., not only grieved inwardly, but showed the outward tokens of grief—made a public and, as it were, national lamentation.

No man did put on him his ornaments.—The Orientals, both men and women, have always affected ornament, and taken an extreme delight in it. Herodotus tells us that the Persians who accompanied Xerxes into Greece wore generally collars and bracelets of gold (Hist. ix. 80). Xenophon says that the Medes indulged a similar taste (Cyropœd. i. 3, § 2). In Egypt, at the time of the exodus, men of station wore generally collars, armlets, and bracelets, occasionally anklets. The Assyrians wore armlets, bracelets, and ear-rings. To strip himself of his ornaments was a great act of self-denial on the part of an Oriental; but it was done commonly in the case of mourning on account of a family bereavement, and sometimes in the case of national misfortunes. (See Note on Exodus 33:1-6.)

Exodus 33:4. No man did put on his ornaments — This was a visible sign and profession of their inward humiliation and repentance for their sin, and of their deep sense of God’s displeasure.33:1-6 Those whom God pardons, must be made to know what their sin deserved. Let them go forward as they are; this was very expressive of God's displeasure. Though he promises to make good his covenant with Abraham, in giving them Canaan, yet he denies them the tokens of his presence they had been blessed with. The people mourned for their sin. Of all the bitter fruits and consequences of sin, true penitents most lament, and dread most, God's departure from them. Canaan itself would be no pleasant land without the Lord's presence. Those who parted with ornaments to maintain sin, could do no less than lay aside ornaments, in token of sorrow and shame for it.See Exodus 3:8.

For I will not go up in the midst of thee - The covenant on which the original promise Exodus 23:20-23 was based had been broken by the people. Yahweh now therefore declared that though His Angel should go before Moses, He would withhold His own favoring presence. The nation should be put on a level with other nations, to lose its character as the people in special covenant with Yahweh (see the note at Exodus 33:16). Thus were the people forcibly warned that His presence could prove a blessing to them only on condition of their keeping their part of the covenant Exodus 33:3. If they failed in this, His presence would be to them "a consuming fire" (Deuteronomy 4:24; compare Exodus 32:10).

4. when the people heard these evil tidings—from Moses on his descent from the mount. Their precious garments or jewels, which the women reserved, as we saw, Exodus 33:3. This was a visible sign and profession of their inward humiliation and repentance for their sin, and of their deep sense of God’s displeasure. And when the people heard these evil tidings,.... That God would withdraw his gracious presence, and go not up with them himself, only send an angel with them; and especially this may respect what is threatened, Exodus 33:5 and had been said at this time:

they mourned; were inwardly and heartily grieved for their sin, whereby they had provoked the Lord to depart from them, and gave some outward and open tokens of it:

and no man did put on his ornaments; they used to wear at other times, their rings and jewels, which the princes and the chief among the people especially were wont to wear; and in common the people did not put on their best clothes, or what they usually wore, but clothed themselves in mournful habits, in sackcloth and ashes, or in some such like manner.

And when the people heard these evil tidings, they mourned: and no man did put on him his ornaments.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
4. these evil tidings] that Jehovah would not accompany them to Canaan.

and no man, &c.] The removal of ornaments was a mark of mourning and grief: Ezekiel 24:17; Ezekiel 26:16, Jdt 10:3 f. (Kn.).

4–6. The people strip themselves of their ornaments.Verse 4. - When the people heard. Moses had communicated to the people what God had said to him. They felt it to be evil tidings - they woke up at last to a feeling of the ineffable value of the privileges which they bad hitherto enjoyed - his guidance by the pillar of the cloud (Exodus 13:21) - his counsel, if there were need to ask anything (Exodus 15:25) - his aid in the day of battle (Exodus 17:8-13) - his near presence, by day and by night, constantly (Exodus 13:22) - and they dreaded a change, which they felt must involve a loss, and one the extent of which they could not measure. "An angel" is a poor consolation when we are craving for Jehovah! So the people mourned - felt true sorrow - were really troubled in their hearts - and, to show their penitence, ceased to wear their customary ornaments. These may have consisted of armlets, bracelets, and even, perhaps, anklets, all of which were worn by men in Egypt at this period. After Moses had thus avenged the honour of the Lord upon the sinful nation, he returned the next day to Jehovah as a mediator, who is not a mediator of one (Galatians 3:20), that by the force of his intercession he might turn the divine wrath, which threatened destruction, into sparing grace and compassion, and that he might expiate the sin of the nation. He had received no assurance of mercy in reply to his first entreaty (Exodus 32:11-13). He therefore announced his intention to the people in these words: "Peradventure I can make an atonement for your sin." But to the Lord he said (Exodus 32:31, Exodus 32:32), "The sin of this people is a great sin; they have made themselves a god of gold," in opposition to the clear commandment in Exodus 20:23 : "and now, if Thou wilt forgive their sin, and if not, blot me out of the book that Thou hast written." The book which Jehovah has written is the book of life, or of the living (Psalm 69:29; Daniel 12:1). This expression is founded upon the custom of writing the names of the burgesses of a town or country in a burgess-list, whereby they are recognised as natives of the country, or citizens of the city, and all the privileges of citizenship are secured to them. The book of life contains the list of the righteous (Psalm 69:29), and ensures to those whose names are written there, life before God, first in the earthly kingdom of God, and then eternal life also, according to the knowledge of salvation, which keeps pace with the progress of divine revelation, e.g., in the New Testament, where the heirs of eternal life are found written in the book of life (Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5; Revelation 13:8, etc.), - an advance for which the way was already prepared by Isaiah 4:3 and Daniel 12:1. To blot out of Jehovah's book, therefore, is to cut off from fellowship with the living God, or from the kingdom of those who live before God, and to deliver over to death. As a true mediator of his people, Moses was ready to stake his own life for the deliverance of the nation, and not to live before God himself, if Jehovah did not forgive the people their sin. These words of Moses were the strongest expression of devoted, self-sacrificing love. And they were just as deep and true as the wish expressed by the Apostle Paul in Romans 9:3, that he might be accursed from Christ for the sake of his brethren according to the flesh. Bengel compares this wish of the apostle to the prayer of Moses, and says with regard to this unbounded fulness of love, "It is not easy to estimate the measure of love in a Moses and a Paul; for the narrow boundary of our reasoning powers does not comprehend it, as the little child is unable to comprehend the courage of warlike heroes" (Eng. Tr.). The infinite love of God is unable to withstand the importunity of such love. God, who is holy love, cannot sacrifice the righteous and good for the unrighteous and guilty, nor can He refuse the mediatorial intercession of His faithful servant, so long as the sinful nation has not filled up the measure of its guilt, in which case even the intercession of a Moses and a Samuel would not be able to avert the judgment (Jeremiah 15:1, cf. Ezekiel 14:16). Hence, although Jehovah puts back the wish and prayer of Moses with the words, "Whoever (אשׁר מי, both here and in 2 Samuel 20:11, is more emphatic than either one or the other alone) has sinned, him will I blot out of My book," He yields to the entreaty that He will ensure to Moses the continuance of the nation under His guidance, and under the protection of His angel, which shall go before it (see at Exodus 33:2-3), and defer the punishment of their sin until the day of His visitation.
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