Exodus 34:6
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,
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(6) The Lord passed by before him.—In this brief phrase we have the entire historical narrative of the manifestation to Moses of God’s glory. For details we must refer to the terms of the promise (Exodus 33:21-23), which are also characterised by brevity, but still add something to the bare statements of the present passage. Moses was, no doubt, hidden and protected by God’s hand in a “clift of the rock” while God’s glory passed by. He was only allowed to look out from his hiding-place after the glory had passed, when he saw the remains of it—the “back parts;” even this was, however, so brilliant a vision that it left a permanent light upon his countenance, which he was fain ordinarily to conceal from the people by means of a veil (Exodus 34:29-35).

The Lord, The Lord God . . .The new “name” of God is not a “name,” as we understand the expression; it is rather a description of His nature by means of a series of epithets. At the bush He had revealed His eternal, self-existent character; in the descent on Sinai (Exodus 19:16-19; Exodus 20:18-21) He had shown His terribleness; now, in the act of pardoning His people and taking them once more into favour, He made known His attribute of mercy. The more to impress this feature of His character on Israel, He accumulated epithet on epithet, calling Himself Rakhum, “the tender or pitiful one;” Khannun, “the kind or gracious one,” who bestows His benefits out of mere favour; Erek appayim, “the long-suffering one;” Rab khesed, “the great in mercy;” Notser khesed, “the keeper of mercy;” and Nose ’avon, “the forgiver of iniquity.” Still, to prevent the fatal misapprehension that He is a Being of pure and mero benevolence (Butler, Analogy, Part I., Exodus 2, p. 41). He added, to complete the description, a reference to His justice. He “will by no means clear the guilty” (comp. Nahum 1:3), and will “visit iniquity to the third and fourth generation.” (Comp. Exodus 20:5.)

Exodus

GOD PROCLAIMING HIS OWN NAME

Exodus 34:6
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This great event derives additional significance and grandeur from the place in which it stands. It follows the hideous act of idolatry in which the levity and sinfulness of Israel reached their climax. The trumpet of Sinai had hardly ceased to peal, and there in the rocky solitudes, in full view of the mount ‘that burned with fire,’ while the echoes of the thunder and the Voice still lingered, one might say, among the cliffs, that mob of abject cowards were bold enough to shake off their allegiance to God, and, forgetful of all the past, plunged into idolatry, and wallowed in sensuous delights. What a contrast between Moses on the mount and Aaron and the people in the plain! Then comes the wonderful story of the plague and of Moses’ intercession, followed by the high request of Moses, so strange and yet so natural at such a time, for the vision of God’s ‘glory.’ Into all the depths of that I do not need to plunge. Enough that he is told that his desire is beyond the possibilities of creatural life. The mediator and lawgiver cannot rise beyond the bounds of human limitations. But what can be shall be. God’s ‘goodness’ will pass before him. Then comes this wonderful advance in the progress of divine revelation. If we remember the breach of the Covenant, and then turn to these words, considered as evoked by the people’s sin, they become very remarkable. If we consider them as the answer to Moses’ desire, they are no less so. Taking these two thoughts with us, let us consider them in-

I. The answer to the request for a sensuous manifestation.

The request is ‘show me,’ as if some visible manifestation were desired and expected, or, if not a visible, at least a direct perception of Jehovah’s glory.’ Moses desires that he, as mediator and lawgiver, may have some closer knowledge. The answer to his request is a word, the articulate proclamation of the ‘Name’ of the Lord. It is higher than all manifestation to sense, which was what Moses had asked. Here there is no symbol as of the Lord in the ‘cloud.’ The divine manifestation is impossible to sense, and that, too, not by reason of man’s limitations, but by reason of God’s nature. The manifestation to spirit in full immediate perception is impossible also. It has to be maintained that we know God only ‘in part’; but it does not follow that our knowledge is only representative, or is not of Him ‘as He is.’ Though not whole it is real, so far as it goes.

But this is not the highest form. Words and propositions can never reveal so fully, nor with such certitude, as a personal revelation. But we have Christ’s life, ‘God manifest’: not words about God, but the manifestation of the very divine nature itself in action. ‘Merciful’:-and we see Jesus going about ‘doing good.’ ‘Gracious,’ and we see Him welcoming to Himself all the weary, and ever bestowing of the treasures of His love. ‘Longsuffering’:-’Father! forgive them!’ God is ‘plenteous in mercy and in truth,’ forgiving transgression and sin:-’Thy sins be forgiven thee.’

How different it all is when we have deeds, a human life, on which to base our belief! How much more certain, as well as coming closer to our hearts! Merely verbal statements need proof, they need warming. In Christ’s showing us the Father they are changed as from a painting to a living being; they are brought out of the region of abstractions into the concrete.

‘And so the word had breath, and wrought

With human hands the creed of creeds.’

‘Show us the Father and it sufficeth us.’ ‘He that hath seen Me, hath seen the Father.’

Is there any other form of manifestation possible? Yes; in heaven there will be a closer vision of Christ-not of God. Our knowledge of Christ will there be expanded, deepened, made more direct. We know not how. There will be bodily changes: ‘Like unto the body of His glory.’ etc. ‘We shall be like Him.’ ‘Changed from glory to glory.’

II. The answer to the desire to see God’s glory.

The ‘Glory’ was the technical name for the lustrous cloud that hung over the Mercy-seat, but here it probably means more generally some visible manifestation of the divine presence. What Moses craved to see with his eyes was the essential divine light. That vision he did not receive, but what he did receive was partly a visible manifestation, though not of the dazzling radiance which no human eye can see and live, and still more instructive and encouraging, the communication in words of that shining galaxy of attributes, ‘the glories that compose Thy name.’ In the name specially so-called, the name Jehovah, was revealed absolute eternal Being, and in the accompanying declaration of so-called ‘attributes’ were thrown into high relief the two qualities of merciful forgiveness and retributive justice. The ‘attributes’ which separate God from us, and in which vulgar thought finds the marks of divinity, are conspicuous by their absence. Nothing is said of omniscience, omnipresence, and the like, but forgiveness and justice, of both of which men carry analogues in themselves, are proclaimed by the very voice of God as those by which He desires that He should be chiefly conceived of by us.

The true ‘glory of God’ is His pardoning Love. That is the glowing heart of the divine brightness. If so, then the very heart of that heart of brightness, the very glory of the ‘Glory of God,’ is the Christ, in whom we behold that which was at once ‘the glory as of the only begotten of the Father’ and the ‘Glory of the Father.’

In Jesus these two elements, pardoning love and retributive justice, wondrously meet, and the mystery of the possibility of their harmonious co-operation in the divine government is solved, and becomes the occasion for the rapturous gratitude of man and the wondering adoration of principalities and powers in heavenly places. Jesus has manifested the divine mercifulness; Jesus has borne the burden of sin and the weight of the divine Justice. The lips that said ‘Be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee,’ also cried, ‘Why hast Thou forsaken Me?’ The tenderest manifestation of the God ‘plenteous in mercy . . .forgiving iniquity,’ and the most awe-kindling manifestation of the God ‘that will by no means clear the guilty,’ are fused into one, when we ‘behold that Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.’

III. The answer to a great sin.

This Revelation is the immediate issue of Israel’s great apostasy.

Sin evokes His pardoning mercy. This insignificant speck in Creation has been the scene of the wonder of the Incarnation, not because its magnitude was great, but because its need was desperate. Men, because they are sinners, have been subjects of an experience more precious than the ‘angels which excel in strength’ and hearken ‘to the voice of His word’ have known or can know. The wilder the storm of human evil roars and rages, the deeper and louder is the voice that peals across the storm. So for us all Christ is the full and final revelation of God’s grace. The last, because the perfect embodiment of it; the sole, because the sufficient manifestation of it. ‘See that ye refuse not Him that speaketh.’Exodus 34:6-7. And the Lord passed by before him — Fixed views of God are reserved for the future state; the best we have in this world are transient. And proclaimed the name of the Lord — By which he would make himself known. He had made himself known to Moses, in the glory of his self- existence and self-sufficiency, when he proclaimed that name, I am that I am; now he makes himself known in the glory of his grace and goodness, and all-sufficiency to us. The proclaiming of it denotes the universal extent of God’s mercy; he is not only good to Israel, but good to all. The God with whom we have to do is a great God. He is Jehovah, the Lord, that hath his being of himself, and is the fountain of all being; Jehovah-El, the Lord, the strong God, a God of almighty power himself, and the original of all power. This is prefixed before the display of his mercy, to teach us to think and to speak even of God’s goodness with a holy awe, and to encourage us to depend upon these mercies. He is a good God. His greatness and goodness illustrate each other. That his greatness may not make us afraid, we are told how good he is; and that we may not presume upon his goodness, we are told how great he is. Many words are here heaped up to acquaint us with, and convince us of, God’s goodness. 1st, He is merciful — This speaks his pity and tender compassion, like that of a father to his children. This is put first, because it is the first wheel in all the instances of God’s good-will to fallen Man 1:2 d, He is gracious — This signifies both freeness and kindness: it speaks him not only to have compassion for his creatures, but a complacency in them, and in doing good to them; and this of his own good-will, not for the sake of any thing in them. 3d, He is long-suffering — This is a branch of God’s goodness which our wickedness gives occasion for. He is long-suffering, that is, he is slow to anger, and delays the executions of his justice; he waits to be gracious, and lengthens out the offers of his mercy. 4th, He is abundant in goodness and truth — This imports plentiful goodness; it abounds above our deserts, above our conceptions. The springs of mercy are always full, the streams of mercy always flowing; there is mercy enough in God, enough for all, enough for each, enough for ever. It speaks promised goodness, goodness and truth put together, goodness engaged by promise. 5th. He keepeth mercy for thousands — This speaks, (1,) Mercy extended to thousands of persons. When he gives to some, still he keeps for others, and is never exhausted: (2,) Mercy entailed upon thousands of generations, even to those upon whom the ends of the world are come: nay, the line of it is drawn parallel with that of eternity itself. 6th, He forgiveth iniquity, transgression, and sin — Pardoning mercy is instanced in, because in that divine grace is most magnified, and because it is that which opens the door to all other gifts of grace. He forgives offences of all sorts, iniquity, transgression, and sin, multiplies his pardons, and with him is plenteous redemption. Nevertheless, 7th, He is just and holy, for he will by no means clear the guilty — The word guilty, indeed, is not in the original; but the sense requires this, or some such word, to be supplied, as it is in the Septuagint. The expression intimates, that however merciful and forgiving God is toward the penitent, yet he will not suffer his honour and authority to be trampled upon by those who wantonly abuse his lenity and forbearance. Therefore the passage is thus rendered by the Chaldee: Sparing those who are converted to his laws, and not justifying those who are not converted. It is true, Maimonides, and others after him, take these words to be a further amplification of the goodness of God, signifying, that in punishing offenders he will not utterly destroy them. For he translates, נקה לא ינקה, nakkeh lo jenakkeh, extirpating he will not extirpate, in visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children: that is, Though he chastise the guilty, yet he will not destroy them. But there appears to be no authority for translating the passage thus, unless Isaiah 3:26 be an instance in which the word נקה nakkeh requires to have such a sense affixed to it. Certainly the other is the common meaning of it, and is perfectly consistent with the account of God’s other perfections and the delineation of his character here given. For his justice is in perfect harmony with his mercy, and is equally a branch of his love and goodness, to curb and restrain sin, being as much an act of divine goodness as to pardon the penitent and reward the obedient. (1,) He will by no means clear the impenitently guilty, those that go on still in their trespasses. For none are pardoned but those that repent and forsake all known sin. (2,) He will not clear even the penitent without satisfaction to his justice, His pardoning mercy is never exercised but through the atonement of Christ, and by faith in him. For “without shedding of blood there is no remission.” (3,) The sin which is even pardoned is generally chastised, and the people of God themselves are corrected for the failures and imperfections of their obedience. Nay, in many cases, the children suffer for the follies and vices of their parents, and the parents may read their own sins in the disorders and miseries of their offspring. Thus, at least, does God “visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the children:” yet he “keepeth not his anger for ever,” but visits to the third and fourth generation only, while he “keeps mercy for thousands.” This is God’s name for ever, and this is his memorial to all generations.34:5-9 The Lord descended by some open token of his presence and manifestation of his glory in a cloud, and thence proclaimed his NAME; that is, the perfections and character which are denoted by the name JEHOVAH. The Lord God is merciful; ready to forgive the sinner, and to relieve the needy. Gracious; kind, and ready to bestow undeserved benefits. Long-suffering; slow to anger, giving time for repentance, only punishing when it is needful. He is abundant in goodness and truth; even sinners receive the riches of his bounty abundantly, though they abuse them. All he reveals is infallible truth, all he promises is in faithfulness. Keeping mercy for thousands; he continually shows mercy to sinners, and has treasures, which cannot be exhausted, to the end of time. Forgiving iniquity, and transgression, and sin; his mercy and goodness reach to the full and free forgiveness of sin. And will by no means clear the guilty; the holiness and justice of God are part of his goodness and love towards all his creatures. In Christ's sufferings, the Divine holiness and justice are fully shown, and the evil of sin is made known. God's forgiving mercy is always attended by his converting, sanctifying grace. None are pardoned but those who repent and forsake the allowed practice of every sin; nor shall any escape, who abuse, neglect, or despise this great salvation. Moses bowed down, and worshipped reverently. Every perfection in the name of God, the believer may plead with Him for the forgiveness of his sins, the making holy of his heart, and the enlargement of the Redeemer's kingdom.This was the second revelation of the name of the God of Israel to Moses. The first revelation was of Yahweh as the self-existent One, who purposed to deliver His people with a mighty hand Exodus 3:14; this was of the same Yahweh as a loving Saviour who was now forgiving their sins. The two ideas that mark these revelations are found combined, apart from their historical development, in the second commandment, where the divine unity is shown on its practical side, in its relation to human obligations (compare Exodus 34:14; Exodus 20:4). Both in the commandment and in this passage, the divine love is associated with the divine justice; but in the former there is a transposition to serve the proper purpose of the commandments, and the justice stands before the love. This is strictly the legal arrangement, brought out in the completed system of the ceremonial law, in which the sin-offering, in acknowledgment of the sentence of justice against sin, was offered before the burnt-offering and the peace-offering. But in this place the truth appears in its essential order; the retributive justice of Yahweh is subordinated to, rather it is made a part of, His forgiving Love (see Exodus 32:14 note). The visitation of God, whatever form it may wear, is in all ages the working out purposes of Love toward His children. The diverse aspects of the divine nature, to separate which is the tendency of the unregenerate mind of man and of all paganism, are united in perfect harmony in the Lord Yahweh, of whom the saying is true in all its length and breadth, "God is love" 1 John 4:8. It was the sense of this, in the degree to which it was now revealed to him, that caused Moses to bow his head and worship Exodus 34:8. But the perfect revelation of the harmony was reserved for the fulness of time when "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" Revelation 13:8 was made known to us in the flesh as both our Saviour and our Judge. 6. the Lord passed by before him—in this remarkable scene, God performed what He had promised to Moses the day before.

proclaimed, The Lord … merciful and gracious—At an earlier period He had announced Himself to Moses, in the glory of His self-existent and eternal majesty, as "I am" [Ex 3:14]; now He makes Himself known in the glory of His grace and goodness—attributes that were to be illustriously displayed in the future history and experience of the church. Being about to republish His law—the sin of the Israelites being forgiven and the deed of pardon about to be signed and sealed by renewing the terms of the former covenant—it was the most fitting time to proclaim the extent of the divine mercy which was to be displayed, not in the case of Israel only, but of all who offend.

The Lord God: this title shows his glorious being, power, and authority; the following titles note his goodness to men.

Abundant in goodness and truth; in fulfilling all his gracious promises made to Abraham, and to his seed, and to all his people; wherein he is said to be abundant, because he generally is better than his word, and gives more than he promised. There is a truth in Divine threatenings, but here the situation of this word in the midst of the attributes of Divine goodness plainly shows that it is to be restrained to the promises; this being usual and reasonable, that general words have their signification limited by the context. And indeed here seems to be a hendyadis,

goodness and truth, for true, sincere, and hearty goodness, as mercy and truth are oft put for true and real mercy. See Psalm 25:10 57:3, &c. And the Lord passed by before him,.... Or caused his Shechinah, his divine Majesty, and the glory of it, to pass before him, as the Targums; his glory and goodness, which he had promised should pass before him, Exodus 33:19 and it is but a transient passing view the greatest of men, God's peculiar favourites, have of him in this life:

and proclaimed, the Lord, the Lord God; the Jerusalem Targum wrongly paraphrases the words as a prayer of Moses thus, "and Moses prayed, and said, O Lord, Lord"; and so the Vulgate Latin version; but it is quite clear, and beyond all doubt, from Numbers 14:17 that what follow are the words of God, and not of Moses: the sense is, that the Lord, as he passed by Moses, to raise and fix his attention, declared it was Jehovah that passed by; which is repeated the more to excite his attention, and is the name by which he had made himself known to Moses, even when he sent him into Egypt; for "I am that I am" is an explanation of this name, see Exodus 3:14 and the word "El", translated "God", signifies mighty and powerful, and is true of all the three divine Persons, to whom respect may be had in the use of these three words. What is proclaimed or declared concerning God is, that he is

merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth; first "merciful", and he is so in the most tender and affectionate manner; he is rich and plenteous in mercy, freely giving it, delights in bestowing it, constantly shows it to his people; it is manifested and displayed in Christ, the mercy seat; and it lays a foundation for faith and hope, and is the spring of all good things in time, and to eternity: and he is also "gracious", good and kind to men, without any merit or desert of theirs, but bestows good things on them freely, of his own free grace, favour, and good will, as appears by various acts of his; in the eternal choice of them to everlasting happiness; in providing a Saviour for them, and giving all grace and spiritual blessings to them in him; by giving Christ to them, and for them, justifying them freely by his righteousness, pardoning their sins according to the riches of his grace, regenerating, calling, preserving, and saving them by it: likewise "longsuffering"; both towards wicked men, the vessels of wrath, by whom his patience and longsuffering are abused and despised; and towards his elect, on whom he waits to be gracious, not willing that any of them should perish, but all be brought to repentance; and his longsuffering is their salvation: and it follows, "abundant in goodness and truth"; in providential goodness to all men; in special goodness to his chosen people, which he has laid up, and wrought out for them, and shown them in Christ; in his truth and faithfulness, in fulfilling his promises, both with respect to the mission of his Son into the world, to be the Saviour of it, and with respect to all other things promised, whether relating to this life, or that to come, to grace or glory; he never suffers his truth and faithfulness to fail; his promises are all yea and amen in Christ.

And the LORD passed by before him, and {a} proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth,

(a) This refers to the Lord, and not to Moses proclaiming: as Ex 33:19.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
6–8. Description of the theophany promised in Exodus 33:19-23. The theophany consists essentially in a proclamation of the glories of Jehovah’s moral nature, developed with special reference to the occasion giving rise to the theophany, and emphasizing the predominance of the Divine attributes of mercy above those of judgement. Echoes of this great declaration of Jehovah’s moral nature occur frequently in the later literature: Numbers 14:18 (a quotation), Jeremiah 32:18, Nahum 1:3 a, Nehemiah 9:17; Nehemiah 9:31, Joel 2:31, Jonah 4:2, Psalm 86:15; Psalm 103:8; Psalm 111:4 b, Psalm 112:4 b, Psalm 145:8, 2 Chronicles 30:9. It is also probably the source of the explanatory comments on the second commandment in Exodus 20:5 b, Exodus 20:6.

Vv. 6–9 are not really connected with their present context: cf. McNeile, 217, 30 (a), 36 Vv. 1a, 2–5, 10–28 form one connected whole (p. 364 f.); and Exodus 33:1; Exodus 33:3-4; Exodus 33:12-13, Exodus 17-23, Exodus 34:6-9, Exodus 33:14-16 (see p. 361) form another.Verses 6, 7. - The Lord passed by before him. God did as he had promised in Exodus 33:22, 23. He made his glory pass by, Moses, as he stood in a "clift of the rock," and "covered him with his hand as he passed by," and, when he had passed, "took away his hand," and allowed Moses to look after him, and see a glorious and transcendent vision - a vision so bright and radiant, and so real, that the light which streamed from it settled on Moses face, and remained there (ver. 20). And proclaimed. In his passage God proclaimed his name; not however, as in the burning bush, an actual name contained in a single word - but a description in many words of his essential nature - a description setting forth especially his three qualities of mercy, truth, and justice, but dwelling most upon the first of the three - perhaps, as most essential, for" God is love" (1 John 4:8) - certainly, as moot needing to be prominently set forth at the time, when his favour had been justly forfeited, and but for ]]is mercy could not have been restored. Note the accumulation of terms that are nearly synonymous -

1. Merciful (or pitiful);

2. Gracious;

3. Long-suffering;

4. Abundant in goodness;

5. Keeping mercy for thousands: and

6. Forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin = - An accumulation for the purpose of emphasis - to assure Moses, and through him mankind at large, of the reality of this attribute, On which the possibility of our Salvation depends, and which had Never hitherto been Set forth with anything like such ful. Some critics take this clause in an entirely different sense, translating "who in destroying will not wholly destroy" (Maimonides, Pool, De Dieu, Patrick), or, "who acquits even him who is not innocent" (Geddes); but the rendering of our translators (which agrees with the LXX.], is approved by Rosenmuller, Gesenius, Kalisch, Keil, and others. It seems to have been also the meaning assigned to the passage by the prophet Nahum, who quotes it (Nahum 1:3) when he is threatening Nineveh. Visiting the iniquity. See above, Exodus 20:5. While setting forth his attribute of mercy in all its fulness, God will not have his attribute of justice forgotten (ver, 8). Moses was emboldened by this, and now prayed to the Lord, "Let me see Thy glory." What Moses desired to see, as the answer of God clearly shows, must have been something surpassing all former revelations of the glory of Jehovah (Exodus 16:7, Exodus 16:10; Exodus 24:16-17), and even going beyond Jehovah's talking with him face to face (Exodus 33:11). When God talked with him face to face, or mouth to mouth, he merely saw a "similitude of Jehovah" (Numbers 12:8), a form which rendered the invisible being of God visible to the human eye, i.e., a manifestation of the divine glory in a certain form, and not the direct or essential glory of Jehovah, whilst the people saw this glory under the veil of a dark cloud, rendered luminous by fire, that is to say, they only saw its splendour as it shone through the cloud; and even the elders, at the time when the covenant was made, only saw the God of Israel in a certain form which hid from their eyes the essential being of God (Exodus 24:10-11). What Moses desired, therefore, was a sight of the glory or essential being of God, without any figure, and without a veil.

Moses was urged to offer this prayer, as Calvin truly says, not by "stulta curiositas, quae ut plurimum titillat hominum mentes, ut audacter penetrare tentent usque ad ultima caelorum arcana," but by "a desire to cross the chasm which had been made by the apostasy of the nation, that for the future he might have a firmer footing than the previous history had given him. As so great a stress had been laid upon his own person in his present task of mediation between the offended Jehovah and the apostate nation, he felt that the separation, which existed between himself and Jehovah, introduced a disturbing element into his office. For if his own personal fellowship with Jehovah was not fully established, and raised above all possibility of disturbance, there could be no eternal foundation for the perpetuity of his mediation" (Baumgarten). As a man called by God to be His servant, he was not yet the perfect mediator; but although he was faithful in all his house, it was only as a servant, called εἰς μαρτύριον τῶν λαληθησομένων (Hebrews 3:5), i.e., as a herald of the saving revelations of God, preparing the way for the coming of the perfect Mediator. Jehovah therefore granted his request, but only so far as the limit existing between the infinite and holy God and finite and sinful man allowed. "I will make all My goodness pass before thy face, and proclaim the name of Jehovah before thee (בּשׁם קרא see at Genesis 4:26), and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. Thou canst not see My face, for man cannot see Me and live." The words וגו וחנּתי, although only connected with the previous clause by the cop. ו, are to be understood in a causative sense, as expressing the reason why Moses' request was granted, viz., that it was an act of unconditional grace and compassion on the part of God, to which no man, not even Moses, could lay any just claim. The apostle Paul uses the words in the same sense in Romans 9:15, for the purpose of overthrowing the claims of self-righteous Jews to participate in the Messianic salvation. - No mortal man can see the face of God and remain alive; for not only is the holy God a consuming fire to unholy man, but a limit has been set, in and with the σῶμα χοΐκόν and ψυχικόν (the earthly and psychical body) of man, between the infinite God, the absolute Spirit, and the human spirit clothed in an earthly body, which will only be removed by the "redemption of our body," and our being clothed in a "spiritual body," and which, so long as it lasts, renders a direct sight of the glory of God impossible. As our bodily eye is dazzled, and its power of vision destroyed, by looking directly at the brightness of the sun, so would our whole nature be destroyed by an unveiled sight of the brilliancy of the glory of God. So long as we are clothed with this body, which was destined, indeed, from the very first to be transformed into the glorified state of the immortality of the spirit, but has become through the fall a prey to the corruption of death, we can only walk in faith, and only see God with the eye of faith, so far as He has revealed His glory to us in His works and His word. When we have become like God, and have been transformed into the "divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4), then, and not till then, shall we see Him as He is; then we shall see His glory without a veil, and live before Him for ever. For this reason Moses had to content himself with the passing by of the glory of God before his face, and with the revelation of the name of Jehovah through the medium of the word, in which God discloses His inmost being, and, so to speak, His whole heart to faith. In Exodus 33:22 "My glory" is used for "all My goodness," and in Exodus 34:6 it is stated that Jehovah passed by before the face of Moses. טוּב is not to be understood in the sense of beautiful, or beauty, but signifies goodness; not the brilliancy which strikes the senses, but the spiritual and ethical nature of the Divine Being. For the manifestation of Jehovah, which passed before Moses, was intended unquestionably to reveal nothing else than what Jehovah expressed in the proclamation of His name.

The manifested glory of the Lord would so surely be followed by the destruction of man, that even Moses needed to be protected before it (Exodus 33:21, Exodus 33:22). Whilst Jehovah, therefore, allowed him to come to a place upon the rock near Him, i.e., upon the summit of Sinai (Exodus 34:2), He said that He would put him in a cleft of the rock whilst He was passing by, and cover him with His hand when He had gone by, that he might see His back, because His face could not be seen. The back, as contrasted with the face, signifies the reflection of the glory of God that had just passed by. The words are transferred anthropomorphically from man to God, because human language and human thought can only conceive of the nature of the absolute Spirit according to the analogy of the human form. As the inward nature of man manifests itself in his face, and the sight of his back gives only an imperfect and outward view of him, so Moses saw only the back and not the face of Jehovah. It is impossible to put more into human words concerning this unparalleled vision, which far surpasses all human thought and comprehension. According to Exodus 34:2, the place where Moses stood by the Lord was at the top (the head) of Sinai, and no more can be determined with certainty concerning it. The cleft in the rock (Exodus 33:22) has been supposed by some to be the same place as the "cave" in which Elijah lodged at Horeb, and where the Lord appeared to him in the still small voice (1 Kings 19:9.). The real summit of the Jebel Musa consists of "a small area of huge rocks, about 80 feet in diameter," upon which there is now a chapel that has almost fallen down, and about 40 feet to the south-west a dilapidated mosque (Robinson, Palestine, vol. i. p. 153). Below this mosque, according to Seetzen (Reise iii. pp. 83, 84), there is a very small grotto, into which you descend by several steps, and to which a large block of granite, about a fathom and a half long and six spans in height, serves as a roof. According to the Mussulman tradition, which the Greek monks also accept, it was in this small grotto that Moses received the law; though other monks point out a "hole, just large enough for a man," near the altar of the Elijah chapel, on the small plain upon the ridge of Sinai, above which the loftier peak rises about 700 feet, as the cave in which Elijah lodged on Horeb (Robinson, Pal. ut supra).

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