Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. COVENANTED BLESSING SECURED. God has not stood out for the maintenance of his rights; he has stooped to fetter his liberty - to bind himself to generous deeds.
1. He allows us to hold proprietorship in him. We can claim him to be "our God." The Proprietor of all worlds permits fallen men to assert proprietorship in him! Herein is love! We can call upon him, in justice, to fulfill his self-imposed obligations.
2. A covenant implies reciprocal engagements. It is a deed of grace. God binds himself as a Friend and Defender to us, on condition that we bind ourselves in obedient loyalty to him. Failure on one side releases the other party from his pledge.
3. A covenant includes mutual consent. No covenant is really valid, is not complete, until both parties have sworn to observe it. There may be command, law, decree, proceeding from God to man; but no covenant is really in force until we personally have accepted its terms, and bound ourselves by willing act to observe it. Then, our whole being - property, talent, blood, life, are pledged.
II. MEDIATION PROVIDED. This is a further mark of condescending grace. When two parties are alienated, it is always deemed an advantage to one party to have a mediator chosen from its ranks. God allows a man to mediate between Israel and himself. "I stood between the Lord and you."
1. Such mediation was needful, because of mutual disparity, Man is finite; God infinite. Man is for self; God is self-oblivious. Man is earthly minded; God is purely spiritual. That the two may coalesce in sentiment, purpose, life, mediation of some sort is required.
2. Mediation is needful, because of man's selfish fear. The people were "afraid, by reason of the fire" - afraid for their own interests and pleasures. Were men impelled by wisdom, they would count it the highest privilege possible to approach God. What, though we have sinned; - inasmuch as God has revealed himself as the Source of mercy, and has deigned to visit us, should we not gladly respond to his proposal, and draw nigh? What, though he is dressed in garments of flame; - if we are penitent, the consuming flame will consume only our sin; it will benefit and burnish us. This is our honor and our joy - to come very near to God, and to gain larger acquaintance with him. If renewed, our former aversion is turned into longing desire.
3. This mediation was very imperfect. It served a present purpose, viz. a mediation for communicating truth, a mediation for obtaining favor. It speaks a volume for the character and faith of Moses, that he was not afraid to draw near. Imperfect though he was, he displayed a rare spirit of self-sacrifice. "Pardon, I pray thee, this people! or else, blot out my name from thy book!" Here was a vivid type of Jesus.
III. HUMAN OBLIGATION INCREASED. In the very nature of things, kindness on the one side begets obligation on the other.
1. This obligation is personal. "The Lord hath not made this covenant with our fathers, but with us." God's covenant with men is renewed age after age. It is a covenant with us, if we will accept the terms. Are we willing to be his - wholly his? Then the covenant is settled, "ordered in all things and sure."
2. This obligation is all-embracing and complete. It includes every part of our nature, every moment in our history, every interest we have in life. Attention is demanded. The ear must be reserved for God. Intellect is pledged. We must "learn the statutes and judgments." Active and dutiful service is due. Like the true Son, our intention must be, "I do always the things that please" the Father! - D.
I. THE COVENANT. (Vers. 2, 3.)
1. Proposed by God (Exodus 19:3-7).
2. Accepted by the people (Exodus 24:7).
(1) accepted Jehovah to be its spiritual and temporal Sovereign.
(2) Pledged itself to observe his Law.
(3) Was adopted by him as his peculiar people.
(4) Had every blessing secured to it on condition of obedience (Exodus 23:22-27).
The new covenant in Christ, while in many respects different from, and superior to, that of Horeb, yet resembles it in several of these particulars.
II. THE LAW. (Vers. 6-22.)
1. Holy in its nature.
2. Internally complete as a summary of duty. "He added no more" (ver. 22).
3. Explicative of the character of God. The absoluteness and unity of God, e.g. taught in first commandment; his spirituality, jealousy of his honor, sovereignty, love, and mercy, in second commandment; his holiness, in third commandment; his searching of hearts, in tenth commandment; while in all he appears as the Source of moral obligation, and the Guardian of rights.
4. To be kept from the motive of love (ver. 10). This Law is not abolished, but fulfilled in Christ, by whose Spirit its precepts are written in the minds and hearts of believers (2 Corinthians 3:3; Hebrews 8:10).
III. THE MEDIATOR. (Vers. 5, 22-33.) The mediation of Moses was:
1. Craved by the people (vers. 23-28). The manifestation of God's holiness overwhelms sinful men (cf. Isaiah 6:3-6). Moses not only endured this manifestation, but went up alone into the thick darkness where God was. How exceptionally great he appears in this!
2. Acquiesced in by God (vers. 28-32). This transacting through a mediator was in harmony with the principle of his dealings with them from the first. A figure of the mediation of Christ.
3. Suitable in itself. As tending to enhance in their minds the impression of God's holiness and the feeling of their own sinfulness. - J.O.
I. THE COVENANT IS BASED UPON A MERCIFUL DELIVERANCE. God gives his Law to his people after their deliverance from Egyptian bondage. It is intended to be a rule of life for those already redeemed. The gospel precedes the Law - Moses the deliverer precedes Moses the lawgiver; the Lord was first known as the fountain of freedom, and then as the fountain of that Law within whose bounds freedom is to be realized.
II. THIS LAW COVERS OUR RELATIONS BOTH TO GOD AND MAN.
1. The Laws relating to God. These embrace the four which come first, i.e.
(1) the law against polytheism or atheism. This law is broken when we live "without God in the world," ascribing to luck, chance, or fortune what is due to God's providence. It is broken when we worship self, or fame, or ambition (cf. 'The Life and Letters of J. H. Thorn-well, D.D., LL.D.,' p. 142; also) Dale's 'Ten Commandments;' Washburn's 'Social Law of God;' and Crosby's 'Thoughts on the Decalogue').
(2) The law against sensuous worship. For the second commandment is broken in so far as our worship is not "in spirit and in truth."
(3) The law of reverence. Any spirit of undue familiarity which leads to the least trifling before God is a breach of this third commandment.
(4) The law of consecrated time. This fourth commandment is an acknowledgment that all time is God's by right, and the seventh portion should be by special obligation. In Deuteronomy the Sabbath is based, not on creation, as in Exodus, but on the deliverance from Egypt. Each great providence increases our obligation thus to acknowledge God. Hence the Lord's day is made commemorative of our Lord's resurrection.
2. The laws relating to man. These embrace the succeeding six, thus:
(1) The law of the family. This is the first commandment with promise (Ephesians 6:2).
(2) The law of social love. For we are to avoid not only murder, but the unholy anger of which it is the manifestation (Matthew 5:22).
(4) The law of honesty. This must be in God's sight and in man's (2 Corinthians 8:21).
(5) The law of veracity. Restraining the turbulent tongue (James 3:6, 9).
(6) The law of contentment. The curbing of covetousness, which is idolatry (Colossians 3:5). - R.M.E.
Genesis 15., 17.).
I. ITS RELATIONS TO THE COVENANT MADE WITH THE FATHERS, It was not a new thing absolutely. It rested on that older covenant, and on the series of revelations which sprang out of it. It could not disannul that older covenant (Galatians 3:17). It could not run counter to it (Galatians 3:21). It must, though "superadded," be in subserviency to it (Galatians 3:15-26). But that covenant made with the fathers was:
1. Of promise (Galatians 3:18).
2. Couched in absolute terms. God pledged his perfections that the promise conveyed in it would be ultimately realized (Romans 3:3).
4. While yet it bound the person received into covenant to a holy life (Genesis 17:1). The new covenant could "make void" the older one in none of these particulars.
II. ITS DISTINCTION FROM THE COVENANT MADE WITH THE FATHERS.
1. It was a national covenant, having reference primarily to national existence and prosperity.
2. It was a covenant of Law. It was
(1) connected with a promulgation of Law, and
(2) required obedience to the prescribed Law as the condition of acceptance.
Does this look like a retrograde step in the Divine procedure, a contradiction of the covenant with Abraham? Seemingly it was so, but the backward step was really a forward one, bringing to light demands of the Divine holiness which it was absolutely essential man should become acquainted with. Two points have to be noticed:
(a) that obedience was not made the ground of admission to the covenant,
or aught else than the condition of continuance in privileges freely conferred; and
(b) that the requirement of obedience did not stand alone, but was connected with provisions for the removal of the guilt contracted by transgression and shortcoming. This brings into view the peculiar feature in the covenant of Horeb - the hidden grace of it. In form and letter it was a strictly legal covenant. Obedience to the Law in all its parts, and without failure, was the technical condition of the fulfillment of promise, and of continuance in covenant privilege (cf. Matthew 19:17; Romans 10:5; Galatians 3:10). The fact that atonements were provided to remove the guilt which otherwise would have broken up the covenant, is proof that such was its constitution. The same fact shows that in the structure of the covenant it was recognized that sin and shortcoming would mark the history of Israel; that, on the strictly legal basis, standing in the state of acceptance was impossible. A theoretically perfect obedience no Jew ever rendered. His standing in no case was in virtue of a perfectly fulfilled Law, but was due to forgiving mercy, which daily pardoned his shortcomings, and gave him an acceptance which these shortcomings were as constantly forfeiting. It was faith, not works, which justified him; while yet, in harmony with the unalterable law of moral life, it was his duty to aim at the realization of the ideal of righteousness which the Law presented. Just as with Abraham, the faith which justified him, and did so before a single work had issued from it (Genesis 15:6; James 2:23), was a faith which "wrought with works," and "by works was faith made perfect" (James 2:22). It follows from these peculiarities, and from the statements of Scripture, that it was:
3. A preparatory and temporary covenant. Its leading design was to develop the consciousness of sin, to awaken a feeling of the need of redemption, to evince the powerlessness of mere Law as a source of moral strength, to drive men back from legal efforts to faith, and so, finally, to prepare the way for Christ (Romans 3:20; Galatians 3:23, 24, etc.). In this we discern the reason of the severe and threatening form in which it was couched, and of the terrors which attended its promulgation. It was a covenant which could not of itself save or do aught but kill (2 Corinthians 3:6-12). - J.O.
I. MEDIATION IN GENERAL. Mediation has a God-ward side and a man-ward side. The requirements of God's holiness - the needs of man's heart.
1. On God's side, communion with sinners can only be maintained on terms which uphold righteousness and law, and do not derogate from the sanctity of the Divine character.
2. On man's side, there is
(1) the feeling of weakness and finitude, awakening terror in presence of the Infinite (vers. 25-27).
(2) The feeling of sin, giving rise to the craving for a holier one to stand between him and God.
(3) The feeling of need - the soul's longing for fellowship with God; giving rise to the desire for one to mediate in the sense of making peace, of bringing about reconciliation (Job 16:2 l).
II. THE MEDIATION OF MOSES A TYPE OF THAT OF CHRIST, We trace the resemblance:
1. In his willingness to mediate. So did Jesus most willingly undertake to stand between God and sinners (Hebrews 10:5-10).
2. In his acceptance as mediator (ver. 28). So was Christ called to this office by the Father, invested with all the powers necessary for the right discharge of its duties, and accepted in the discharge of them (Isaiah 49:8; Matthew 3:17; Matthew 17:5; Hebrews 5:4-11).
3. In the work he did.
(1) Conveying God's words to the people (cf. John 17:6-9).
(3) Frequently interceding for them, and obtaining pardon for their sins (Exodus 32:11-15; Numbers 14:13-21, etc.). So does Jesus ever live to intercede for us, and advocate our cause (Romans 8:34; 1 John 2:1).
(4) Even, on one notable occasion, offering himself as a sacrifice for their sin (Exodus 32:32). What Moses would have done, had it been possible so to save the people from destruction, Christ did (Galatians 3:13, etc.). - J.O.
here have prefaced his ten words with a proper assertion of his indisputable sovereignty. But he prefers to appeal to his recent interposition - his emancipation of the people from Egyptian bondage. As if he had said, "I, who released you from grinding misery - I, who created your liberty, and founded your nation, now command your loyalty. Let the lives which I have ransomed be spent as I now direct."
I. How HUMAN LIFE IS TO BE DIRECTED GOD-WARD.
1. That God must be supreme in our regard and affection. "Thou shalt have none other gods before me." This claim is founded in absolute right. The Proprietor has complete dominion over the work of his hands. If his workmanship does not please him, he is at liberty to destroy it. His claim is further pressed on the ground of his transcendent excellence. Essential and unapproachable goodness is he; hence his claims on worship rest upon his intrinsic worth. And his claim to reverent regard proceeds likewise on human benefit. God's glory and man's advantage are only different aspects of the same eternal truth. To give him all is to enrich ourselves.
2. That God must be supreme in our acts of worship. To picture him forth by material images is an impossibility. The plausible plea of human nature has always been that material forms serve as aids to worship the Unseen. But the facts of human experience have uniformly disproved this hypothesis. It may cost us severe exertion of mind to lift our souls up to the worship of the true God; yet this very exertion is an unspeakable advantage. God has no pleasure in imposing on us hard tasks for their own sake; yet, for the high gain to his servants, be does impose them. Throughout the Scriptures, idolatry is represented as spiritual adultery; hence, condescending to human modes of speech, the displeasure of God is described as jealousy. Jealousy is quick-sighted, deep-seated, swift-footed. All revelation of God is an accommodation to human ignorance and feebleness. The visitation of punishment upon the children, and upon the children's children, is not to be construed as excessively severe, much less as unrighteous. The thrice-holy God can never be unjust. The idolatrous spirit would be entailed to children by natural law; hence punishment would culminate in final disaster. The menace was gracious, because, if parents will not abstain from sin for their own sakes, they sometimes will for the sake of their children. The mercy shall be far more ample than the wrath. The anger may be entailed on a few, and that in proportion always to the sin; the mercy shall flow, like a mighty river, to "thousands." True worship fosters love, and stimulates practical obedience.
3. God's authority is supreme over our speech. The faculty of speech is a noble endowment, and differentiates man from the inferior races. The tongue is a mighty instrument, either for evil or for good.
(1) We take God's Name in vain when we make an insincere or superficial profession of attachment. We wear his Name lightly and frivolously if our service is formal and nominal.
(2) We take his Name in vain when we are unfaithful in the performance of our vows. Men pledge themselves to be his in moments of peril, and forget their pledges when safety comes.
(3) We take God's Name in vain when we use it to give force and emphasis to a falsehood. Whether in private converse, or in a court of justice, we use God's Name to produce a stronger persuasion in others' minds, we contract fearful guilt if we use that sacred Name to bolster up a lie.
(4) We take God's Name in vain whenever we use it needlessly, flippantly, or in jest. The moral effect upon men is pernicious, corrupting, deadly. The penalty is set forth in negative language, but it is intended to convey deep impression. Others may hold it as a venial sin; not so God.
4. God's authority over the employment of our time. All time belongs to God. He hath created it. Every successive breath we inspire is by his sustaining power. Since we are completely his, his claim must be recognized through every passing minute. But just as he allows to men the productions of the soil, but requires the firstfruits to be presented to him - the earnest of the whole; so also the firstfruits of our time he claims for special acts of worship. One day in seven he requires to be thus consecrated; but whether the first or the seventh depends wholly on the mode of human calculation. The grounds on which the institution rests are many. Even God felt it to be good to "rest" from his acts of creation. In some sense, he ceased for a time to work. Review and contemplation formed his Sabbath. His claims to have his day observed are myriad-fold. If Sabbath observance was beneficial for Jews, is it not for Gentiles? If it was a blessing to man in the early ages, has it now become a curse? Even the inferior creation was to share in the boon. Strangers and foreigners would learn to admire the gracious arrangement, and learn the considerate kindness of the Hebrews' God.
II. WE LEARN HOW OUR LIFE IS TO BE CONDUCTED MAN-WARD.
1. In accordance with the degree of kinship. A parent has claims beyond all other men upon our love, obedience, and service. Parents are deserving our heartfelt honor. They claim this on the ground of position and relationship, irrespective of personal merit. Parents stand towards their children, through all the years of infancy, in the stead of God. For years the human babe is wholly dependent upon its parent; and this serves as schooling and discipline, whereby it learns its dependence upon a higher Parent yet. The disposition and conduct required in us towards our parents is the same in kind as that required towards God. Filial reverence is the first germ of true religion. Hence the promises of reward are akin. The family institution is the foundation of the political fabric. The health and well-being of home is the fount of national prosperity. If parents are honored, "it shall be well with thee." This, a law for individuals, a law for society, and a law for nations.
2. Our duty towards all men. We are to respect their persons. Their life and health are to be as dear to us as our own. We are to respect their virtue. The lower passions are to be held in restraint. Occasions for lust must be avoided. A bridle must be put upon the glances of the eye. We are to respect their property. This duty has extensive scope. It means that we should deal with others as if they were ourselves. All dishonest dealing, false representations in commerce, overreaching in bargains, fraudulent marks, are condemned. We are to have respect to their reputation. It ought to please us as much to see a conspicuous virtue, a generous quality, in another, as if it shone in ourselves. Idle tale-bearing is forbidden, as also detraction, slander, unfavorable interpretation of others' deeds, and suspicion of their motives. We are charged, as the servants of God, to "love our neighbors even as ourselves."
3. This Divine Law carries its sanctions into our interior life. "Thou shalt not covet." Improper and irregular desires are to be repressed. Like a wise Ruler, God proceeds to the very root of sin - to the very core of evil. 'Tis easiest to strangle the serpent at its birth. If only this fountain were pure, all its streams would be likewise pure. Let the salt of purification be applied here! There is scope for coveting - a direction in which it may lawfully run. It may run Godward. It may fix its eyes and its hands on heavenly treasures. For in securing these we defraud no one else. Therefore, we may with advantage all round "covet earnestly the best gifts." Desire after heavenly gifts and riches is never untimely or excessive, never irregular or inordinate. Hence, as an antidote to a covetous disposition, we may well nourish heavenly hope. "Delight in God" will bring a most satisfying fruition of desire. Sowing in this fertile field yields a prolific harvest. The Decalogue is complete. God "added no more." Authority centers here. - D.
I. A FACT AMPLY ATTESTED. Borne out -
2. By observation and experience. The case of children suffering in mind, body, character, and fortune, as the result of the sins of parents, is one of the commonest and saddest things in life.
3. Science. The law of heredity. (For illustrations, see Rev. Joseph Cook's 'Lectures.')
4. Literature. Especially do the Greek tragedies give expression to, and strikingly work out, this thought.
II. A FACT MYSTERIOUS, YET TO BE VIEWED IN THE LIGHT OF VARIOUS RELIEVING CONSIDERATIONS. The difficulty is one of natural, quite as much as of revealed, religion. The following considerations relieve it only in part:
1. Every original disadvantage will be taken into account by the Searcher of hearts in estimating personal responsibility (Luke 13:48).
2. The final judgment on a man's character will turn, not on inherited tendencies, but on what he has made himself by his own moral determinations (Ezekiel 18.).
3. The less favorable conditions in which the sins of parents have placed the individual cannot turn to his ultimate disadvantage if he struggle well and persevere to the end (see 'Speaker's Commentary' on Exodus 20:5).
4. It is open to the evil-doer to cut off the entail of punishment by choosing for himself the way of righteousness (Ezekiel 18:15-18). God is reluctant to contemplate the heritage of evil descending further than the third or fourth generation, while thousands of generations are spoken of in connection with the blessing.
5. Experience of the effects of a parent's evil-doing is designed to act as a deterrent from like sins. The child is less likely to imitate the parents' vices, suffering these results, than if entirely exempt.
6. The Law is the consequence of a constitution of society originally intended for the conveyance, not of evils, but of blessings. This is a consideration of importance as throwing light on the equity, as well as on the goodness, of Divine providence. The design of the organic constitution of society is obviously to hand down to succeeding generations the moral gains of those which precede. It is sin which has wrought the mischief, reversing the operation of a constitution in itself beneficent, and making that which is good work death to so many.
Lesson - The tremendous responsibility of parents, and of all who have it in their power to influence the destinies of posterity. - J.O.
I. WHAT? The essential point in the institution is the sanctification to God of a seventh part of our time, of one day in seven. Which day of the seven is observed is indifferent, not in the sense of being left to individual choice, but in respect of any inherent sanctity in one day above another (Romans 14:5). The day is made holy by the Divine appointment, and by the uses we put it to. We sanctify the Sabbath:
1. By observing it as a day of rest from secular toil. The need of a rest day in the week is universally acknowledged. Every effort should be made to extend the boon as widely as possible, and to avoid infraction of the rights of others in connection with it. Our aim should be to lessen Sunday work, not to increase it. Apply to railways, steamboats, post-office work, museums, etc.
2. By devoting it principally to religious uses. It is only by conserving the Sabbath as a day sacred to religion that we can hope to preserve it as a day free from toil. We need, for spiritual purposes, all the opportunities it gives us.
II. FOR WHOM? The answer is - for man. This is shown:
1. From its primeval origin. That the Sabbath dates from creation is implied in the narrative in Genesis 2:3, in the terms of the command (Exodus 20:8-11), in Christ's words (Mark 2:27), in the argument in Hebrews 4:3, 4, and in the recently deciphered Chaldean traditions. While it may be argued, that if designed to commemorate creation, this is a matter which concerns all men equally with the Jews.
2. From its place in the moral law. It is certainly remarkable, if the Sabbath is a purely Jewish institution, that it should be found embodied in the first of those two tables which by their contents, as well as by the manner of their promulgation, are shown to be of a distinctly moral nature.
3. From the respect paid to it by the prophets (see Isaiah 58:13, 14). The language here employed is very different from that which prophets were accustomed to use of purely ceremonial institutions.
4. From Christ's defense of it. It is noticeable, and supports our view, that while frequently charged with breaking the Sabbath law, the Savior never once admits the charge. He carefully defends himself against it. He unceremoniously clears away the rubbish which the Pharisees had heaped upon the institution; but the Sabbath itself he never speaks of as a thing to be abolished. He sets it in its true light, and shows high respect for it.
5. From its reappearance in the new dispensation in a form adapted to the genius and wants of Christianity. The name Sabbath is not found in the New Testament, applied to the first day of the week, but the thing appears in that weekly festival of the Apostolic Church - the Lord's day.
6. From the proved adaptation of the Sabbath to the constitution of man's nature. The seventh-day rest is found by experience to be essential to man's welfare. It ministers to physical health, mental vigor, moral purity, and religious earnestness. The Sabbath-keeping nations are by far the happiest, most moral, and most prosperous. These reasons combine to show that this institution is one intended and adapted for the whole human family.
III. WHY? The institution, as seen above, is grounded in deep necessities of man's nature. It is, moreover, a suitable recognition of the Creator's right to our worship and service. But further, it is:
(1) of creation,
(2) of redemption - in the case of Israel, of redemption from Egypt (ver. 15); in the case of the Christian, of redemption through Christ.
2. Prefigurative - of the rest of heaven (Hebrews 4:9). - J.O.
I. PARENTS STAND TO THEIR CHILDREN IN THE RELATION OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE DIVINE. They represent God as the source of their offspring's life; they have a share of God's authority, and ought to exercise it; but much more ought they to represent God to their children in his unwearied beneficence, his tender care, his exalted rectitude, his forgiving love. With what intelligence or comfort can a child be taught to think of a Father in heaven, if its earthly parent is wanting in dignity, kindness, truthfulness, or integrity? How many fathers are thus spoiling for their children their whole conceptions of God! And with what anxiety and care should earthly parents study to leave such an impression on their children's minds as will make the idea of God delightful and consolatory to them, while inspiring them towards him with proper feelings of reverence!
II. PARENTS ON THIS ACCOUNT ARE TO BE HONORED BY THEIR CHILDREN. They are to be regarded with affection, treated with respect and deference, promptly and cheerfully obeyed, and, where needful, liberally supported (Matthew 15:4-7; 1 Timothy 5:8). Even the failure of parents to do all their duty to their children does not exonerate the children from the obligation of treating them with respect. Young people need to be reminded that failure in this duty is peculiarly offensive to God. We are told that when Tiyo Soga visited this country, a particular thing which astonished him was the deficiency in respect for parents compared with the obedience which prevailed in the wilds of Kaffraria.
III. THE HONORING OF PARENTS HAS ATTACHED TO IT A PECULIAR PROMISE. Length of days and prosperity. The promise is primarily national, but it has fulfillments in individuals.
1. A special blessing rests on the man who shows his parents due respect. That has often been remarked.
2. There is also a natural connection between the virtue and the promise. Respect for parents is the root at once of reverence for God and of respect for the rights of others. Hence the place of the commandment in the Decalogue. It engenders self-respect, and forms the will to habits of obedience. It is favorable to the stability, good order, and general morals of society. It therefore conduces to health, longevity, and a diffusion of the comforts of life, furnishing alike the outward and the inward conditions necessary for success. - J.O.
I. THE STORMY ELEMENTS OF NATURE SERVE AT TIMES AS THE FITTING ROBES OF DEITY. All natural objects are the projections in space of his creative voice. He spake and they appeared. He is still behind all phenomena - the only real substance. Since he is all-wise, the sole fount of knowledge, the true Revealer of secrets, he is properly said to be appareled with light. The rainbow is his diadem, the morning sun is his radiant face, the thundercloud his chariot. To human eyes, he can only be visible in such forms as these. His holiness can be visibly expressed in no other form than fire. The profound inscrutable ness of his will is best made manifest by the "thick darkness." His insufferable glory is attempered by a cloud. His kingly power is betokened by a "great voice." Such is his fitting environment.
II. THE NEAR APPROACH OF GOD IS INTOLERABLE TO SINFUL MEN. The unrenewed man shrinks from contact with absolute purity. He is in an uncongenial atmosphere - like a fish out of its native element. What tremendous losses foolish man submits to rather than abandon sin - losses of privilege, friendship, joy! So Peter prayed, when the vision of Christ's wondrous power dawned on him, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord." But the renewed man yearns and pants for a nearer, and yet nearer, approach to God. "I pray thee, show me thy glory!" This is his joy - to be near God, to grow like him. And yet, how often do we shrink from the passage of death, the passage by which we penetrate into the inner palace of Deity! Whatever brings us into nearer fellowship with God ought to be welcomed.
III. A SIGHT OF GOD KILLS EITHER THE SIN OR THE SINNER. There is no question that God intends the former, but if the guilty man will not part with his sin - identifies himself with it - then he too dies. To know God, and his redeeming Son, is tantamount to eternal life. But to know God only in his judicial character, to have defective acquaintance with him, alarms and kills. The love of sin perverts the judgment, and destroys good logic. These Hebrews said, "We have seen this day that God doth talk with man, and he liveth;" and then they inconsistently add, "Therefore why should we die?" In presence of that mystic flame, they promise loyal obedience. If only life may be spared, and God's commands be conveyed in a less alarming manner, they pledge themselves to be his liege servants. Alas! men little know their own weaknesses! So men still say that if they had such a revelation as they wished - such in degree, and such in kind - they would yield compliance! Yet the real difficulty arises not from defects in the external revelation, but from the internal disposition.
IV. GOD'S APPORTIONMENT OF HONOR AND DISHONOR APPROVED BY MEN. HOW different his language to different persons! To some, "Go, get you into your tents again;" to another, "Stand thou here by me." To dwell near to God, and to enjoy his revelations of light and love - this is really man's crowning privilege, this his heaven. Yet the bulk of men are blind to their own good, dead to noblest joy. To possess any pleasure, their environment must be suited to their character; the external must correspond with the internal. "Depart from me!" says man to his Maker. "Depart from me!" responds our God. "Out of our own mouths we are judged."
V. OBSERVE GOD'S INTENSE LONGING FOR MAN'S GOOD. How pathetic are such ejaculations as these, "Oh that there were such a heart in them, to fear me always!"
1. Religion must be a matter of the heart.
2. Religion is not a compulsory, but voluntary, service.
3. Religion commands the allegiance of the whole man - his reverence, submission, and practical service; and that not spasmodic, but continuous.
4. Religion brings largest benefit to ourselves and to our children. Even bad men have, at times, desires after a better life - fitful moods of regret and aspiration. God, in his wondrous patience, smiles on these - approves a passing thought or a transient feeling-and says, in his paternal love, "Would that this frame of feeling continued!" These are the openings of opportunity's golden door.
VI. THE WORLD'S OBEDIENCE IS DEPENDENT ON HUMAN MINISTRIES, The majority of men will not listen to God unless he speak to them through human agencies. Men will only read God's Word as it is written, in large capitals, in saintly lives. Thus God commanded Moses: "I will speak unto thee... thou shalt teach them, that they may do." The pardoned man becomes God's interpreter to the world. "Speak thou to us," they say, "and we will hear." "As Christ was, so we are to be in the world" - light-bearers. The heathen nations learn only through the Church the redeeming work of God. - D.
I. THE TEN COMMANDMENTS A DISTINCT PART OF GOD'S REVELATION.
1. They were spoken by God's own voice from the midst of the fire (ver. 24).
2. They only were thus promulgated; "he added no more."
3. They were written on tables of stone.
4. They were deposited in the ark of the covenant (Exodus 25:16). These facts show that they held a distinct place in the Law-giving at Sinai, and that they are not to be confounded with the ceremonial and judicial statutes, subsequently given.
II. THE GROUNDS OF THIS DISTINCTION. The Decalogue was:
1. An epitome of universal moral truth.
2. Internally complete as such - the first table laying down our duties to God, as respects his being, his worship, his Name, his day, his human representatives; the second forbidding all injury to our fellow-men (injuries to life, property, chastity, character), while requiring by implication the fulfillment of all positive duties, and the regulation even of our secret thoughts.
3. The basis of the covenant with Israel. The foundation on which all subsequent legislation was reared. - J.O.
direct communication from God to Israel. But it was too much for their sinful, terrified souls to stand, and so Moses is entreated to stand between God and them, and be the medium of communication between them. The Lord approved of the arrangement, and installed Moses into the office (cf. Exodus 20:18-21). This suggests -
I. THE CRY FOR A MEDIATOR AROSE OUT OF THE FEARS OF MEN. The surpassing glory of God makes such a terrific impression on the hearts of sinners that they cry instinctively for mediation. It is a need of mankind when aroused to a true sense of the majesty and purity of God. Those who question the necessity of mediation are really wanting in the due sense of God's exceeding majesty and glory.
II. THE OFFICE OF A MEDIATOR NECESSITATED MUCH PERSONAL SELF-DENIAL. It was doubtless a great honor conferred on Moses; but it was also a great burden. Thus he declared his own fears in the circumstances. "I exceedingly fear and quake" was his testimony about the experience on the mount. Besides, the forty days' seclusion and fast and all the attendant anxieties and troubles showed that it was most assuredly no sinecure. And these trials of Moses only faintly typify the severe strain and trial borne by Christ, the one Mediator between God and man.
III. THE MEDIATION WAS LAW-GIVING. Moses was to convey "the commandments, and the statutes, and the judgments" of God unto the people. It was didactic - its purpose was the conveyance of truth. It was a prophetic office, consequently, which Moses in this instance received. The priestly was made over to Aaron, on the principle of a "division of labor." And so Christ is the great mediating Prophet. He came forth from the secret place of God to convey to us what God is. He came down from heaven. He testified about heavenly things (John 3:11-13). And in the perfection of mediation, he embodied the truth, and was able to say, "I am the truth" (John 14:6). Jesus was a living Law.
V. OBEDIENCE SHOULD RESULT FROM THE MEDIATION. The whole Law was a "commandment with promise." This is shown in ver. 33. The children of Israel were to conduct themselves obediently as the children of God, and they would realize in all its breadth the promise of the fifth commandment. The Law was a Law of well-being (ver. 29). Obedience was the condition of continued prosperity in the land. And the same arrangements continue. Obedience to God's Law still secures the promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come. Not, of course, that the saints are always prosperous in this world; were this the case, saintship would be a very mercenary business. But other things being equal, the tendency of obedience is to present as well as future well-being. God makes no promise, but threatening, to the disobedient. - R.M.E.
I. THE FACT OF TERROR. It is not unnatural that man should tremble in presence of any near manifestation of the Divine. The chief cause of this terror is the consciousness of sin. Guilty man fears his Judge. The text is an instance of this terror, but the same thing has often been witnessed.
1. In presence of unusual appearances of nature. Comets, eclipses, unusual darkness, thunderstorms, earthquakes, etc.
2. Under the powerful preaching of judgment. Felix under the preaching of Paul (Acts 24:25). Massillon bringing the French court to their feet in terror, as he described the Lord's coming. Whitfield's oratory and its effects.
3. In prospect of death. There are few in whom the approach of death does not awaken serious alarms. The effect is most conspicuous in times of sudden danger, as in shipwrecks, etc.
II. THE INFLUENCE OF TERROR. Usually, as here:
1. It extorts confession of the truth. The Israelites spoke of God in juster terms than ever they had done before, or perhaps ever did again. Terror draws from the soul strange acknowledgments. The white face of the scoffer shows how little, in his heart, he disbelieves in the God he would fain have disavowed. The self-righteous man is made suddenly aware of his sins. The blasphemer stops his oaths, and begins to pray. The liar for once finds himself speaking the truth.
2. It awakens the cry for a mediator. Thus we see it leading men to send for ministers or lay Christians to pray for them, or crying for mercy to the Savior or to saints.
3. It prompts to vows and promises. In their terrified moods, men are willing to promise anything - whatever they think will please or propitiate God (ver. 27). They will repent, will pray, will go to church, will make restitution for wrongs, will abandon vices, etc.
III. THE INEFFICACY OF TERROR AS AN INSTRUMENT OF CONVERSION. Terror, when excited by just views of sin, has its uses. It breaks up the hardened crust of indifference, ploughs into the nature, and prepares it for the reception of better teaching. But terror of itself cannot change the heart. It is the message of love which alone can exalt, renovate, and truly convert. Not the Law, but the cross. The Law is only useful when employed as a schoolmaster to bring to Christ. These Israelites soon forgot their terrors, and in less than forty days had made for themselves a golden calf. The jailor's terrors (Acts 16:27) would have wrought death, but the words, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ," etc. (ver. 31), made him live anew. - J.O.
I. GOD WELCOMES IN MAN THE FAINTEST TRACES OF A DISPOSITION TO RETURN TO HIM. (Ver. 27.) This trait in the Divine character is scarcely recognized by us as it should be. We are apt to take for granted that till conversion is absolutely complete - till it is in every respect sincere and thorough, it can obtain no favor in the eyes of Heaven. Scripture teaches, on the contrary, that God wills to recognize in man any signs of turning towards himself, and would fain, by holding out encouragements, ripen these into thorough conversion (1 Kings 21:27-29; Psalm 78:34-40; Jonah 3:10).
II. GOD IS NEVERTHELESS AWARE OF ALL THAT IS LACKING IN HEARTS NOT COMPLETELY SURRENDERED TO HIM. The professions of the Israelites did not deceive him. He knew the superficiality of their states of feeling. They lacked yet "one thing" (Mark 11:21) - the entire surrender of their hearts to him. We have the same discernment in the New Testament (John 2:25; Acts 8:21; Revelation 3:1; cf. 1 Kings 15:3; Matthew 13:20, 21).
III. GOD DESIRES IN MAN THAT THOROUGHNESS OF CONVERSION WHICH ALONE CAN SECURE OBEDIENCE, HAPPINESS, AND PERSEVERANCE. What God desires in man is heart-religion; this has:
1. Its seat in the heart.
2. Its principle in the fear of God.
3. Its outcome in obedience.
4. Its test in perseverance.
5. Its reward in blessedness.
It is God's love which here speaks, but also his righteousness, which is necessarily averse from whatever is unreal, and desires to see goodness triumphant. - J.O.