Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE PEOPLE'S REQUEST TO AARON.
1. The cause of the request. There are really two causes to be considered here, first, a cause of which they were conscious, and then, secondly, a deeper cause of which they were not conscious. The delay of Moses to return was the reason they put forward. We must do them the justice of noticing that they seem to have waited till the forty days were well-nigh expired before preferring their request; and an absence of forty days was inexplicable to minds as yet so spiritually darkened and benumbed as those of the majority of the people. What he could have to do, and how he could live so long, away up on a barren mountain, was beyond their power of imagination. Moses was given up just as a ship is given up when it has not been heard of for many days after the reasonable period of the voyage. It was not a case of being out of sight, out of mind; he had been a great deal in mind, and the general conclusion was that in some mysterious way he had vanished altogether. But there is also the deeper reason of the request to be found in the people's continued ignorance of the real hold which Jehovah had upon them, and the sort of future towards which he would have them look. Their action here was founded not on what they knew, but emphatically on what they did not know. They could not say, "Moses is dead," or "he has forsaken us." They could only say, "We wot not what is become of him." So far as outward circumstances were concerned, the people seem to have been in a state of comparative security and comfort. When Moses went up into the mountain, he knew not how long he would have to wait; that was not for him or Aaron or any man to know. But however long he was to be away, all due provision had been made for the people's welfare. The daily morning manna was there; and Aaron and Hur were appointed to settle any disputes that might arise. There is no word of any external enemy approaching; there is no threatening of civil strife; there is not even a recurrence of murmuring after the fleshpots of Egypt. All that was needed was quiet waiting on the part of the people; if they had waited forty months instead of forty days, there would have been nothing to cause reasonable astonishment; for Jehovah and not man is the lord of times and seasons.
2. The request itself. There is a certain unexpectedness in this request. Who is it that is missing? Moses, the visible leader," the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt." Hence we might suppose the first feeling of the people would be to put some one in Moses' place; even as later they said, "Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt" (Numbers 14:4). But instead of this their cry to Aaron is, "Make us gods." How little did Moses expect, when he put Aaron to be counsellor of the people in his absence, that it was for image-worship they would seek his help! And yet the more we ponder, the more we shall be led. to feel that this was just the kind of request that might be expected from the people. Their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob believed in the invisible Jehovah; but faith in the invisible will not go down from generation to generation, as if it were a blood quality. The God of Abraham was one whom, though Abraham could not see, he could hear as speaking with most miraculous organ. But these people at Sinai wanted above all things a god whom they could see, even though it was but a lifeless, sightless, voiceless image. Great is the mystery of idolatry. How men have come to bow down to stocks and stones is not a question to be dismissed with a few contemptuous words. These idolatrous Israelites were seeking satisfaction for a desire of the heart as imperious in its own way as bodily hunger and thirst. They wanted something to be a centre of worship and religious observances in general, and the quickest way seemed to fabricate such a centre by the making of gods. Whereas, if they had only been patient and trustful and waited for Moses, they would have found that, even by the very absence of Moses, God himself was providing for the worship of the people. We have here another illustration of the frequent follies of popular decisions. The greatest thing that required to be done for these Israelites was the thing that needed to be done in them.
II. AARON'S COMPLIANCE WITH THE REQUEST. He shewed great readiness in falling in with the request; and it has been suggested that his readiness was only in appearance, and that he hoped the women would refuse to surrender their cherished ornaments, thus making the construction of a suitable image impossible. It may have been so; but why should we not think that Aaron may have been as deeply infected with the idolatrous spirit as any of his brother Israelites? There is everything to indicate that he went about the execution of the request with cordiality and gratification. And it must not be forgotten that in the midst of all his forgetfulness of the command against image-worship, he evidently did not think of himself as forsaking Jehovah. When the image and the altar were ready, it was to Jehovah he proclaimed the feast. What Aaron and the people along with him had yet to learn was that Jehovah was not to be served by will-worship or by a copy of the rites observed in honouring the gods of other nations. Thus all unconsciously, Israel demonstrated how needful were the patterns given in the mount. The feast to Jehovah, indicated in ver. 6, was nothing but an excuse for the most reckless and degrading self-indulgence. How different from the ideal of those solemn seasons which Jehovah himself in due time prescribed; seasons which were meant to lift the people above their common life into a more hearty appreciation of the Divine presence, goodness and favour, and thus lead them into joys worthy of the true people of God. - Y.
i.e. an idol, that it might go - be carried in procession - before them (cf. Amos 5:26). It was a case of "hand joined in hand" to do iniquity (Proverbs 11:21). Many, doubtless, looked on the movement with dismay and horror (cf. ver. 26); but their voices were drowned in the general clamour. The "lewd fellows of the baser sort" (Acts 17:5) had, for the moment, the upper hand in the host, and swept all before them. Intimidated by the show of violence, Aaron weakly acceded to the people's request. The whole incident strikingly illustrates the commanding space which must have been filled in the camp of Israel by the personality of Moses, and affords some measure of the turbulent and refractory dispositions of the multitude whom ordinarily he had to deal with. It sheds light, also, on the greatness of Moses' character, set as that is in contrast with the weakness and irresolution exhibited by Aaron. Consider -
I. THE PEOPLE'S TRIAL (ver. 1). Every situation in which we can be placed has its elements of trial. These are purposely mingled with our lot
(1) that dispositions may be tested, and
(2) that life may be to us in fact, what it is needful that it should be for the proper development of character, viz. a succession of probations. The trial of the Israelites consisted:
1. In the delay in the return of Moses. Moses had disappeared in the mountain. Weeks had passed without his return. It had not been told the people how long his absence was to last. This constituted a trial of faith and patience. It gave colour to the allegation that Moses had perished - that he had gone from them for ever. Cf. what is said in Luke 12:37-49 of the uncertainty left to rest upon the time of the Lord's second advent. Faith has its trial here also. Because Christ's coming is delayed, there are those who would fain persuade themselves that he will not return at all (2 Peter 3:4).
2. In the scope given by his absence for the manifestation of character. On this, again, compare Luke 12:37-49. It was the first time since the departure from Egypt that the people had been left much to themselves. Hitherto, Moses had always been with them. His presence had been a check on their wayward and licentious tendencies. His firm rule repressed disorders. Whatever inclinations some of them may have felt for a revival of the religious orgies, to which, perhaps, they had been accustomed in Egypt, they had not ventured, with Moses in the camp, to give their desires publicity. The withdrawal of the lawgiver's presence, accordingly, so soon after the conclusion of the covenant, was plainly of the nature of a trial. It removed the curb. It left room for the display of character. It tested the sincerity of recent professions. It showed how the people were disposed to conduct themselves when the tight rein, which had hitherto kept them in, had been a little slackened. It tested, in short, whether there were really a heart in them to keep all God's commandments always (Deuteronomy 5:29). Alas! that in the hour of their trial, when so splendid an opportunity was given them of testifying their allegiance, their failure should have been so humiliating and complete.
II. THE PEOPLE'S SIN. Note -
1. The sin itself. They had made for them "a molten calf" (ver. 4), which, forthwith, they proceeded to worship with every species of disgraceful revelry (ver. 6). The steps in the sin are noted in the narrative.
(1) They approached Aaron with a demand to make them "a god." The light, irreverent way in which, in connection with this demand, they speak of their former leader - "As for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wet not what is become of him" (ver. 1) - betrays an extraordinary levity, ingratitude, and callousness of nature.
(2) They stripped themselves of their ornaments of gold for the making of the "god" (ver. 3). They did this gladly. People, as a rule, spend freely on their vices. They are not so ready to part with their valuables for the service of Jehovah.
(3) They mixed up their calf worship with the service of the true God. On the supposed connection with the ox- and calf-worship of Egypt, see the exposition. The calf made by Aaron was evidently intended as a symbol of Jehovah (ver. 4). The result was an extraordinary piece of syncretism. An altar was built before the calf, and due honours were paid to it as the god which had brought Israel out of Egypt (vers. 4, 5). A feast was proclaimed to Jehovah (ver. 5). When the morrow came, the people "offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings," only, however, to engraft on the sacrificial festivities the rites of the filthiest heathen worships (ver. 6; cf. ver. 25). It was their own passions which they sought to gratify; but, in gratifying them, they still endeavoured to keep up the semblance of service of the revealed God. Strange that the wicked should like, if possible, to get the cloak of religion even for their vices. But light and darkness will not mingle. The first requirement in worship is obedience. "To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams" (1 Samuel 15:22). "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord" (Proverbs 15:8). It was monstrous to propose to worship the spiritual Jehovah, who had expressly forbidden the use of graven images in his service, under the symbol of a calf, albeit the idol was of gold. It was worse than monstrous, it was hideous, to employ the name of the Holy One to cover the shameless and revolting orgies with which their calf-worship was associated.
(4) They were eager in this worship. They rose up early in the morning to engage in it (ver. 6). Would that God's people were as eager in his service as these servants of Belial were in the service of their idol!
2. The sin in its generic character. The sin at Sinai was a case
(1) of sense reasserting its supremacy over faith. "As for this Moses, we wot not what has become of him" (ver. 1).
(2) Of carnal tendencies regaining the ascendancy over temporary religious impressions.
(3) Of engrained evil habits resuming their sway after having been for a time forcibly kept in check. The incident shows that nothing short of a thorough regeneration, of a radical change of heart, can be relied on to keep men in the way of good. It is the heart that needs renewal. David seized the matter at the root when he was led to pray, "Create in me a clean heart" etc. (Psalm 51:10). It was the want of this thorough renewal which was the bane of Israel (Deuteronomy 31:27-30).
3. Aggravations of the sin. The circumstances under which the sin was committed added greatly to its enormity.
(1) It was a sin committed immediately after solemn covenant with God. The transactions recorded in ch. 24. were not yet forty days old. The people had literally heard God speaking to them. They had acknowledged the solemnity of the situation by entreating Moses to act as mediator. They had formally, and under awful impressions of God's majesty, pledged themselves to life-long obedience. Yet within this brief space of time, they had thrown off all restraints, and violated one of the main stipulations of their agreement. A more flagrant act of impiety it would be difficult to imagine.
(2) It was a sin committed while Moses was still in the mount transacting for them. He had gone to receive the tables of the law. He had been detained to receive instructions for the making of the sanctuary - that God might dwell among them. A solemn time, truly! While it lasted, the people might surely have been depended on to conduct themselves with at least ordinary propriety. Instead of this, witness their mad gambols round their calf. The very time when, of all others, their frame of mind ought to have been devout, sober, prayerful, was the time chosen for the perpetration of this great iniquity.
III. AARON'S SHARE IN THE TRANSGRESSION. This, it is to be noted, the narrative makes no attempt to conceal. It tells the story with perfect impartiality. The Bible, like its author, is without respect of persons. If Aaron leads the people astray, he must, like others, submit to have the truth told about him. This is not the way of ordinary biographies, but it is the way of Scripture. It is one mark of its inspiration. It is a guarantee of its historic truthfulness. The conduct of Aaron cannot be justified; but suggestions may be offered which help to render intelligible.
1. Aaron was placed in a situation in which it was very difficult to know exactly what to do. A mob confronted him, evidently bent on gratifying its dangerous humour, its demand was peremptory. To resist its will was to run the risk of being stoned. The temptation which, in these circumstances, naturally presented itself to a timid mind, and to which Aaron yielded, was to put the people off, and endeavour to gain time by some show of concession. In the interval, Moses might return, and the difficulty would be solved. See the mistake of this policy. It was
(1) wrong. It involved a sacrifice of principle. It was temporising.
(2) Weak. Had Aaron been brave enough to take a firm stand, even at the risk of losing his life for it, not improbably he might have crushed the movement in its bud. As it was, his sanction and example gave it an impetus which carried it beyond the possibility of being subsequently controlled.
(3) Self-defeating. A temporising policy usually is. The favourable chance on which everything has been staked, does not turn up. Moses did not return, and Aaron, having yielded the preliminary point, found himself hopelessly committed to a bad cause.
2. Aaron may have thought that by requiring the women of the camp to part with their personal ornaments, he was taking an effectual plan to prevent the movement from going further (ver. 2). They might, he may have reasoned, be very willing to get gods, and yet not be willing to make this personal sacrifice to obtain them. If this was his idea, he was speedily undeceived. The gold ornaments came pouring in (ver. 3), and Aaron, committed by this act also, had no alternative but to proceed further. "He received them at their hands," etc. (ver. 4).
3. Aaron may have thought that, of the two evils, it would be better to put himself at the head of the movement, and try to keep it within bounds, than to allow it to drift away, without any control whatever. He may have argued that to allow himself to be stoned would not make matters better, but would make them greatly worse. On the other hand, by yielding a little, and placing himself at the head of the movement, he might at least succeed in checking its grosser abuses. This is a not uncommon opiate to conscience, in matters involving compromise of principle. It is the idea of the physician who humours a mad patient, in the hope of being able to retain some control over him. The step was a false one. Even with madmen, as wiser doctors tell us, the humouring policy is not the most judicious. With a mob, it is about the worst that could be adopted.
IV. GENERAL LESSONS.
1. The strength of evil propensities in human nature.
2. The fleetingness of religious impressions, if not accompanied by a true change of heart.
3. The degrading character of idolatry. Sin bestialises, and the bestial nature seeks a god in bestial form (cf. Romans 1:21-32). "Men," says Xenophanes, "imagine that the gods are born, are clothed in our garments, and endowed with our form and figure. But if oxen or lions had hands, and could paint and fashion things as men do, they too would form the gods after their own similitude, horses making them like horses, and oxen like oxen." But we have seen that men also can fashion their gods in the similitude of oxen. "They that make them are like unto them" (Psalm 115:8).
4. Mammon-worship is a worship of the golden calf. Cf. Carlyle on "Hudson's Statue" ("Latter-Day Pamphlets"). - J.O.
I. JEHOVAH DESCRIBES TO MOSES THE APOSTASY OF ISRAEL. Jehovah is omniscient; even while spreading before Moses, with all elaboration, the patterns in the mount, his all-observant eye is equally on the doings of the people below. And now, just when Moses is expecting to be dismissed with his instructions for the people, he is fated to learn that they have proved themselves utterly unworthy of Jehovah's great designs. The thing described is an utter, shameless, and precipitate apostasy from Jehovah. Previous outbreaks of the sinful heart were as nothing compared to this. If it had only been the sin of a few, some half-secret departure from Jehovah confined to a corner of the camp; if there had been a prompt repudiation of it and punishment of it on the part of the great majority: then, indeed, Jehovah might have found cause even for rejoicing that the apostasy of the few had been occasion to prove the fidelity of the many. But alas! the transgression is general; there is a public adoption of the golden calf with worship and sacrifice. The idolatrous spirit has been shown in the completest and most demonstrative way. Idolatry, with its awful degradations and its fatal influences, must always be an abomination to God; but how peculiarly abominable when it rose in the midst of a people with whom God had been dealing with the tenderest compassion and the sublimest power! It is to be noticed that God calls special attention to the quickness of this apostasy. "They have turned aside quickly, out of the way." The fact of course was that they had also been turned quickly into that way, and kept in it by a kind of external force. They might promise, and while they promised mean to keep the promise, but nature was too much for them; and as soon as the Divine constraint was in any way relaxed they returned to the old path. The impression Jehovah would make on the mind of his servant is that nothing can be expected from them.
II. Jehovah indicates to Moses THE RIGHTEOUS SEVERITY WITH WHICH HE PROPOSES TO TREAT ISRAEL (vers. 9, 10). We have to think here not only of the words of Jehovah, but also of the attitude of Moses, which seems to be indicated by these words. Even before Moses puts in his earnest intercession, we have a hint of what is in his heart. Jehovah says, "Let me alone;" as one man, about to strike another, might speak to some third person stepping between to intercept the blow In the speaking of Jehovah's words there must have been an indication of wrath, such as of course cannot be conveyed by the mere words themselves. And what, indeed, could Jehovah do, but give an unmistakable expression of his wrath with such an outbreak of human unrighteousness as is found in idolatry? No doubt there is great difficulty in understanding such expressions as those of Jehovah here. When we remember the low estate of the Israelites spiritually, and the infecting circumstances in which they had grown up, it seems hardly just to reproach them for their lapse into idolatry. But then we must bear in mind that the great object of the narrative here is to show how Jehovah cannot bear sin. The thing to be considered first of all is, not how these Israelites became idolaters, but the sad and stubborn fact that they seemed inveterate idolaters. Such a decided manifestation of idolatry as the one here revealed, when it came to the knowledge of Jehovah, was like a spark falling into the midst of gunpowder. It matters not how such a spark may be kindled; it produces an explosion the moment it touches the powder. The wrath of God must be revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. Yet doubt not that the God who spoke here in such wrath and threatening loved these Israelites in the midst of their apostasy. But it was not possible in one and the same moment, and from one and the same voice, to make equally evident love for the benighted apostate himself, and wrath because of the evil that was so intimately mixed with his nature. On such an occasion it became God to give a direct and emphatic expression of wrath from his own lips, leaving his love and pity to be known indirectly through the intercession of his servant Moses. When Jehovah is angry, it is then we need most of all to remember that love is the great power in his nature.
III. Jehovah further indicates A CERTAIN TEMPTING POSSIBILITY TO MOSES. "I will make of thee a great nation." Thus we see how the word of Jehovah is made to serve two purposes. It both expresses the fulness of wrath with an apostate people, and at the same time puts a cherished servant upon a most effectual trial of his magnanimity and mediatorial unselfishness. Thus this proposition of Jehovah comes in most beautifully to emphasise the simplicity and purity of the feeling of Moses in his subsequent mediation. And though Moses makes no reference to this proposition, it is well to be enabled to see how little hold any self-seeking thoughts took of his mind.
IV. THE REPLY OF MOSES HAS NOW TO BE CONSIDERED. Not that we need stay to investigate the merits of the considerations which Moses here puts forward. He could only speak of things according as they appeared to him. We know, looking at these same things in the light of the New Testament, that even if God had destroyed these People as at first he hinted, his promises would not therefore have been nullified. The temporal destruction of a single generation of men, however perplexing it might have seemed at the time, would afterwards have been seen as neither any hindrance in the fulfilment of God's purposes, nor any dimming of the brightness of his glory. Be it remembered that these same people whom God brought out with great power and a mighty hand, yet nevertheless perished in the wilderness. Spared this time, they were in due season cut down as cumberers of the ground. And as to any scornful words the Egyptians might speak, God's glow was not at the mercy of their tongues; for it had been manifested beyond all cavil in a sufficiently terrible chapter of their own history. Then as to the words spoken to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, even if all but Moses had been swept away, yet in him the seed of Abraham would have been continued, just as in the days of the flood. God did not utterly destroy the human race, but narrowed it down to one family. And more than all we should bear in mind that the true fulfilment of God's promises was to Abraham's spiritual seed; they who being of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. Hence we must not too readily conclude that what Moses said was the thing which here influenced Jehovah in what is called his repentance. The influential power was, that here was a man to say something, to act as a mediator, one deeply concerned to secure escape for these people, even while they, revelling in the plain below, are all unconscious of their danger. Notice that Moses says nothing by way of excuse for the people. Indeed, the full magnitude of their offence had not yet been comprehended by him; and it is interesting to contrast his pleadings here with an angry God, and his own wrath when he came actually in sight of the golden calf. The one thing Moses fixes on, in his appeal to God, is the great Divine purpose for Israel. He recaps how great that purpose is; he is profoundly concerned that it should not be interfered with; and so we are led to think of Jesus the true Mediator, with a knowledge of Divine purposes and human needs, such as it was not for Moses to attain. Consider how Jesus dwells and caused his apostles to dwell on God's great purposes for the children of men. Thus both from Moses the type, and Jesus the antitype, we should learn to think of men not as they are only, but as they ought to be, and as God proposes they should be. Evidently Moses kept constantly in mind God's purposes for Israel, even though he knew not how profound and comprehensive those purposes were. So let us, knowing more than Moses of God's purposes for men in Christ Jesus, keep constantly in mind that which will come to all who by a deep patient, and abiding faith approve themselves true children of Abraham. - Y.
Psalm 139:4). It is God's way, however, to permit matters to reach a crisis before he interposes. For a time he keeps silence. During the inception and early stages of the movement in Israel, he makes no discovery of it to Moses. He allows it to ripen to its full proportions. Then he tells his servant all that has happened, and orders him to repair at once to the scene of the apostasy (vers. 7-11). Mark the expression: - "Thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves" - indicating that they are no longer God's, that the covenant is broken. Moses intercedes for Israel, urging various pleas why God should not destroy them (vers. 11-14). Consider -
I. THE DIVINE WRATH. "Let me alone," says God, "that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them" (ver. 10). This wrath of God against the sin of Israel was -
1. Real. What we have in these verses is no mere drama, acted between God and Moses, but a most real wrath, averted by most real and earnest intercession. But for Moses' intercession, Israel would actually have been destroyed.
2. Holy. Wrath against sin is a necessary part of God's character. Not that we are to conceive of the thrice Holy One as swayed by human passions, or as needing to be soothed by human entreaty. But sin does awaken God's displeasure. He would not be God if it did not. "Resentment against sin is an element in the very life of God. It can no more be separated from God than heat from fire God is merciful. What does this mean? It means a willingness to lay aside resentment against those who have sinned. But it follows that the greater the resentment, the greater is the mercy; if there is very little resentment, there can be very little mercy; if there is no resentment at all, mercy is impossible. The difference between our religion, and the religion of other times, is this - that we do not believe that God has any very strong resentment against sin, or against those who are guilty of sin; and since his resentment has gone, his mercy has gone with it. We have not a God who is more merciful than the God of our fathers, but a God who is less righteous; and a God who is not righteous, a God who does not glow with fiery indignation against sin is no God at all." Put otherwise,-a God who cannot be angry with my sin, is one from whom it would be meaningless in me to sue for pardon. His pardon, could I obtain it, would have no moral value. Yet,
3. Restrained. The expression is peculiar - "Now, therefore, let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot," etc.. The meaning is, that God is self-determined in his wrath, even as in his love (cf. Exodus 33:19). He determines himself in the exercise of it. It does not carry him away. In the present instance he restrained it, that room might be left for intercession. The words were a direct encouragement to Moses to entreat for his erring charge.
II. MOSES' INTERCESSION (vers. 11-15). The last occasion on which we met with Moses as an intercessor was at the court of Egypt. We have now to listen to him in his pleadings for his own people. Four separate acts of intercession are recorded in three chapters (cf. vers. 31-35; Exodus 33:12-18; Exodus 34:9). Taken together, they constitute a Herculean effort of prayer. Each intercession gains a point not granted to the previous one. First, the reversal of the sentence of destruction (ver. 14); next, the consent of God to the people going up to Canaan, only, however, under the conduct of an angel (Exodus 33:1-4); third, the promise that his own presence would go with them (Exodus 33:14); finally, the perfect re-establishment of friendly relations, in the renewal of the covenant (Exodus 34:10). Like Jacob, Moses, as a prince, had power with God, and prevailed (Genesis 32:28). It is to be noted, also, that this advance in Power of prayer is connected with an advance in Moses' own experience. In the first intercession, the thought which chiefly fills his mind is the thought of the people's danger. He does not attempt to excuse or palliate their sin, but neither does he make direct confession of it. He sees only the nation's impending destruction, and is agonisingly earnest in his efforts to avert it. At this stage in his entreaty, Moses might almost seem to us more merciful than God. A higher stage is reached when Moses, having actually witnessed the transgression of the people, is brought to take sides with God in his wrath against it. His second intercession, accordingly, is pervaded by a much deeper realisation of the enormity of the sin for which forgiveness is sought. His sense of this is so awful, that it is now a moot question with him whether God possibly can forgive it (ver. 32). The third intercession, in like manner, is connected with a special mark of Jehovah's condescending favour to himself (Exodus 33:9), emboldening him to ask that God will restore his presence to the nation (ver. 15); while the fourth follows on the sight which is given him of Jehovah's glory, and on the revelation of the name (Exodus 34:5-8). Observe more particularly in regard to the intercession in the text -
1. The boon sought. It is that God will spare the people, that he will turn aside his fierce anger from them, and not consume them (ver. 12). Thus far, as above hinted, it might almost seem as if Moses were more merciful than God. God seeks to destroy; Moses pleads with him to spare. The wrath is in God; the pity in his servant. (Contrast with this the counter scene in Jonah 4.) The affinity of spirit between Jehovah and Moses, however, is evinced later, in the hot anger which Moses feels on actually witnessing the sin. God's mercy, on the other hand, is shown in giving Moses the opportunity to intercede. It was he who put the pity into his servant's heart, and there was that in his own heart which responded to it.
2. The spirit of the supplication.
(1) How absolutely disinterested. Moses sets aside, without even taking notice of it, the most glorious offer ever made to mortal man - "I will make of thee a great nation" (ver. 10). This was Moses' trial. It tested "whether he loved his own glory better than he loved the brethren who were under his charge." He endured it nobly.
(2) How intensely earnest. He seems to clasp the feet of God as one who could not, would not, leave, tilt he had obtained what he sought.
(3) How supremely concerned about God's glory. That is with Moses the consideration above all others.
3. The pleas urged. Moses in these pleas appeals to three principles in the Divine character, which really govern the Divine action
(1) To God's regard for his own work (ver. 11). The finishing of work he has begun (Philippians 1:6).
(2) To God's regard for his own honour (ver. 12). Moses cannot bear to think of God's action being compromised.
4. The effect produced. God repented him of the evil he thought to do to Israel (ver. 14). Repented, i.e., turned back from a course which his displeasure moved him to pursue, and which, but for Moses' intercession, he would have pursued. It does not appear, however, that Moses was at this time informed of the acceptance of his intercession. Notice, also, that the actual remission was bestowed gradually. In this first act of intercession God sees, as it were, the point to which the whole series of intercessions tends, and in anticipation thereof, lays aside his anger. - J.O.
I. EVIL THREATENED.
1. Justly merited. Remember all that had gone before: deliverance after a series of awe-inspiring judgments on the oppressors; warnings after previous murmurings; now, with a fuller revelation of God's majesty, this act of impatient apostasy: all compelled to the conclusion that the people were utterly stiff-necked (ver. 9).
2. Complete and final. As a moulder in clay, when he finds his material getting hard and intractable, throws it down, casts it away, and takes up with something more pliable, so God determines with regard to Israel (ver. 10). Let the children of Israel go, and let the children of Moses inherit the promises.
II. THE INTERCESSION. Only one thing held back the judgment (ver. 10). As though God could not act without the consent of Moses. [Cf. Hot sun would melt snow but for shadow of protecting wall.] The heat of God's wrath cannot consume so long as Moses stands in the way and screens those against whom it burns. What a power! See how it was exercised: -
1. Unselfishly. He might have thought, "A disgrace to we if these people are lost when I have led them;" this fear, however, provided against by the promise that he shall be made "a great nation," The intercession is prompted by pure unselfishness; Moses identifies himself with those for whom he pleads; and this gives the power. To come between the sun and any object, you must be in the line of the sun's rays; and to come, as Moses did, between God and a people, you must be in the line of God's will
2. With perfect freedom. Moses talks with Jehovah as a trusted steward might with his employer:
(1) Why so angry when he has exercised such power on their behalf? (ver. 11).
(2) Why should the Egyptians be permitted to taunt him with caprice and cruelty? (ver. 12).
(3) Let him remember his oath to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (ver. 13). The unselfish man need not fear to speak thus openly with God. Unselfishness is so God-like that it permits familiarity whilst it guards against irreverence.
III. EVIL REPENTED OF. Notice: -
1. The repentance was in direct answer to the intercession (cf. vers. 12, 14). God did as Moses begged that he would do. Had Moses been less firm, God's wrath would certainly have consumed the people. Yet -
2. God cannot change! No: but Moses kept his place [cf. the wall screening the snow]; and therefore the conditions were never such as they must have been for judgment to be executed. God's repentance was one with Moses' persistence. The evil threatened was against the people, but the people apart from Moses. Moses identifying himself with them altered the character of the total. Conclusion - What Moses did for his people that our Lord does for his Church (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25). That also we may do, each in his measure in behalf of others. It is the Pharisee who thanks God that he is not as other men are! True men love rather to identify themselves with their race, thus, salt-like, saving it from corruption; giving it shelter by the intercession of their lives. - G.
I. THE BREAKING OF THE TABLES (vers. 15-19). The downward journey was a silent one. Moses refrains from communicating to Joshua the news he has received. He is absorbed in his own thoughts. And while he muses, the fire burns (Psalm 39:3). So soon as they approach the camp, sounds of revelry are heard. Joshua, with his soldier's instinct, thinks at once of war, but Moses can tell him that it is "not the voice of them that shout for mastery," nor yet "the voice of them that cry for being overcome" that he hears, but "the voice of them that cry" (ver. 8). Even Moses, however, is unprepared for the spectacle which presents itself, as, pursuing the descent, some turn in the road at length puts before his eyes the whole scene of folly. The tables of testimony are in his hands, but these, in his hot anger, he now dashes from him, breaking them in pieces on the rocks (ver. 19). It was an act of righteous indignation, but symbolic also of the breaking of the covenant. Of that covenant the tables of stone were all that still remained, and the dashing of them to pieces was the final act in its rupture. Learn,
1. The actual sight of wickedness is necessary, to give us full sympathy with God in the hot displeasure with which he regards it.
2. The deepest and most loving natures are those most capable of being affected with holy indignation. Who shall compete with Moses in the boundlessness of his love for Israel? But the honour of Jehovah touches him yet more deeply.
3. It is right, on suitable occasions, to give emphatic expression to the horror with which the sight of great wickedness inspires us.
II. THE DESTRUCTION OF THE CALF (ver. 20). Returning to the camp, Moses brought the orgies of the people to a speedy termination. He had little difficulty in restoring order. His countenance, blazing with anger, and exhibiting every sign of grief, surprise, and horror, struck immediate dismay into the evil-doers. No one, apparently, had the courage to resist him. The idolaters slunk in guilty haste to their tents, or stood paralysed with fear, rooted to the spot at which he had discovered them. He, on his part, took immediate steps for ridding the camp of the visible abomination. "He took the calf which they had made and burnt it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and strewed it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it." View this -
1. As a bitter humiliation. What could be more humiliating to these idolaters than to see their god ground to powder, and its dust made into a nauseous mixture, which afterwards they were compelled to drink? But is not this the end of all sin? The instruments of our sin become the instruments of our punishment. Our sin turns to bitterness. The golden sheen by which it at first allured us disappears from it. It ends in humiliation and degradation.
2. As a righteous retribution. Why was the calf thus ground to powder, and given to the Israelites to drink? It was no mere act of revenge on Moses' part. It was no hasty doing of his anger. It was a just retribution for a great sin. It was a method deliberately adopted of branding idol and idolaters alike with the print of the Almighty's judgment. It suggests to us the correspondence between sin and its punishment; the certainty of our sins coming home to roost; the fact that sin will be paid back to us in its own coin. Sin and retribution hang together. We "receive the things done in the body" (2 Corinthians 5:10).
3. As a prophecy of worse evil to come. Bitter as this humiliation was, it was not the whole. It was but the mark put upon the deed by God, which told those who had committed it that they must abide by it, and be prepared to eat the fruit of their doings. The drinking of the dust had its sequel in the slaughter and the plagues (vers. 27, 35). Even so, the bitterness and humiliation following from sins in this life do not exhaust their punishment. They warn of worse punishment in the world to come.
III. AARON'S EXCUSES (vers. 21-25). The first duty was to destroy the calf. This accomplished, or while the work was proceeding, Moses addresses himself to Aaron. His words are cuttingly severe, - "What did this people unto thee?" etc. (ver. 21). Aaron, on his side, is deprecating and humble. He is afraid of Moses' anger. He addresses Moses as "my lord," and proceeds to make excuses. His excuses are typical, and deserve consideration.
1. He falls back upon the old, old plea - as old as Eden - that the blame of his sin rested on some one else than himself. "Let not the anger of my lord wax hot: thou knowest the people, that they are bent on mischief. For they said to me," etc. (vers. 22-24). It is, as we say, the old, old story of all evil-doers - "It wasn't me, indeed it wasn't; it was those wicked people who made me do it." It is the weak, childish excuse of all who, having been tempted into sin, or having through their own irresolution fallen into it, have not the honesty or manliness to make at once a frank avowal of their fault. An easy way this, were the excuse admissible, of getting rid of our responsibility; but transgressors were early taught that they will not be allowed to avail themselves of it (Genesis 3:12-20). It is not a plea which will be held valid on the day of judgment. All, more or less, are conscious of pressure exerted on them by their circumstances. There is, however, no fatality binding us to yield to that pressure, if yielding means sin. The pressure is our trial. Aaron's sin lay in his unmanly fear, in his not having the resolution to say at the critical time, No. Probably Aaron would have urged that if he had not yielded, the people would have killed him. "Then," Moses would have answered, "let them kill you. Better a thousand times that they had killed you than that you should have been the means of leading Israel into this great sin." Yet how often is the same species of excuse met with! "I couldn't help it;" "The necessity of my situation;" "Compelled by circumstances;" "Customs of the trade;" "If I hadn't done it, I would have offended all my friends;" "I should have lost my situation," etc. It may be all true: but the point is, Was the thing wrong? If it was, the case of Aaron teaches us that we cannot shield ourselves by transferring the blame of what we have done to circumstances.
2. If Aaron's first excuse was bad, the second was worse - it just happened. He put the gold, poor man, into the fire, and "there came out this calf!" It came out. He did not make it; it just came out. This was a kind of explaining which explained nothing. Yet it is precisely paralleled by people attributing, say, to their "luck," to "chance," to "fate," to "destiny," what is really their own doing. Thomas Scott says - "No wise man ever made a more unmeaning or foolish excuse than Aaron did. We should never have supposed 'that he could speak well,' were we to judge of his eloquence by this specimen." Note -
(1) The right way of dealing with a fault is frankly to acknowledge it.
(2) Though Moses so severely rebuked Aaron, he could yet intercede for him (Deuteronomy 9:20). The future high priest, who truly had "infirmity" (Hebrews 5:2), needed, on this occasion, an intercessor for himself. The severity of Moses was the severity of aggrieved love. - J.O.
I. THE DESCENT or MOSES THE EMBLEM OF THE LAW'S ENTRANCE INTO A WORLD OF SIN (vers. 15-29).
1. He came with tables written by God's own finger. The Divine origin and claims of the law are still attested by its own nature and by man's conscience.
2. He was met by the exhibition of gross and defiant sin. The law does not come to a people waiting to receive the knowledge of God's will, but busy with their idolatry and breaking what they already know to be his will.
3. The law's advent, therefore, is in wrath (ver. 19).
(1) The broken tables declare that God's covenant is broken. This is still shown in the taking away of God's word from the sinful: it is not understood. Though held in the hand, a veil is drawn between the soul and it. Spiritual death, rationalism, and infidelity, are tokens to-day of God's broken covenant.
(2) The burning of the idol, etc. The broken law is a prophecy and foretaste of wrath.
(3) The slaughter of the persistent idolaters. The place of feasting becomes the place of death.
II. THE INTERCESSOR.
1. His deep consciousness of the evil of their sin (vers. 30, 31). The intercessor cannot make light of man's iniquity. He who bore our burdens felt their weight and terribleness as we have never yet done.
2. His love. Though he hates their iniquity, his life is bound up with theirs (ver. 32).
III. THE TERRIBLENESS OF SIN AS SEEN IN THE MIRROR OF THE DIVINE ANGER.
1. The impossibility of ransom. "Whosoever hath sinned against me him will I blot out of my book." There is but one sacrifice which avails, and that reaches the heart of the sinful and changes it.
2. Mercy to the unrenewed only means a delayed judgement: "Nevertheless, in the day when I visit I will visit their sins upon them." - U.
I. THE SUMMONS. He stood in the gate of the camp and said, "Who is on the Lord's side? Let him come unto me" (ver. 26). This must be taken to mean, not, "Who is willing to be on the Lord's side now?" but "Who has shown himself on the Lord's side during the recent apostasy?" Note - the Lord's side, though for a time the unpopular one, proves in the end to be the side of honour, of safety, and of comfort. Fidelity has its ultimate reward. Wisdom is justified of her children. (Matthew 11:19.)
II. THE RESPONSE. "All the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him" (ver. 26). The Levites, as a tribe, would thus appear to have been less implicated in the idolatry than the rest of the people.
III. THE COMMISSION. This was sufficiently sanguinary. It put the fidelity, of Levi to a terrible test. "Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out," etc. (ver. 27).
1. In the work of executing Jehovah's vengeance, the Levites were to "consecrate" themselves (ver. 29). They were to devote themselves. They were to be actuated in what they did by pure zeal for God's glory. They were to obey to the letter the command he had given them.
2. In the doing of this work, they were sternly to repress all natural impulses: "every man upon his son, and upon his brother" (ver. 29; cf. Deuteronomy 33:9). So earthly ties are not to be permitted to stand between us and duty to Christ (Matthew 8:21, 22; Matthew 10:27).
IV. THE EXECUTION OF THE MANDATE.
1. The Levites showed unflinching zeal in the work entrusted to them. By their zeal on this, and on other occasions (Deuteronomy 33:8), they reversed the curse which lay upon their tribe, and won for themselves great honour and blessing. In particular, they won the privilege of serving in the sanctuary.
2. They slew three thousand of the people (ver. 28). "Terrible surgery this," as Carlyle says of the storming of Drogheda; "but is it surgery, and judgment, or atrocious murder merely?" The number of the slain was after all small as compared with the whole body of the people. Probably only the ringleaders and chief instigators of the revolt were put to death, with those who still showed the disposition to resist. Note, that notwithstanding their great zeal on this occasion, the Levites were among those afterwards excluded from Canaan for unbelief. This is a striking circumstance. It shows how those that think they stand need to take heed lest they fall (1 Corinthians 10:12). It reminds us that one heroic act of service is not enough to win for us the kingdom of God. "We are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence fast unto the end (Hebrews 3:14). It may suggest to us also, that many of the Israelites who failed under the later trial, and so were excluded from Canaan, thus forfeiting the earthly inheritance, may yet have had the root of the matter in them, and so, spiritually, were saved. - J.O.
I. IN THE WARFARE BETWEEN GOOD AND EVIL, THERE IS NEED FOR TAKING SIDES. Some side we must take. We cannot remain neutral. Not to be on the Lord's side, is to be on the side of his enemies. It is our duty to choose the Lord's side.
(1) He has a claim on our allegiance.
(2) It is the side of honour and of duty.
(3) It is the side we will ultimately wish we had chosen.
II. THE EXAMPLE OF ONE GOOD MAN, IN DECLARING HIMSELF ON THE LORD'S SIDE, AFFORDS A RALLYING-POINT FOR OTHERS. He gathers others around him. His influence decides and emboldens them.
III. THE TEST OF BEING ON THE LORD'S SIDE IS, THAT, WHEN OTHERS ARE APOSTATISING AROUND US, WE REMAIN FAITHFUL. Weak natures will always go with the multitude. Decided piety shows itself in being able to resist the contagion of numbers. It needs courage to be singular.
IV. BEING ON THE LORD'S SIDE CARRIES WITH IT CERTAIN OBLIGATIONS.
(1) The obligation of personal consecration.
(2) The obligation of renouncing earthly ties, so far as inconsistent with the higher allegiance.
(3) The obligation of doing the Lord's work.
V. FIDELITY ON THE LORD'S SIDE WILL MEET WITH AN ULTIMATE REWARD. - J.O.
I. THE CONFESSION MADE (vers. 30, 31). Moses makes a full confession of the sin of the people. This confession was -
1. Holy. He has just views of the demerit of the sin for which he seeks forgiveness. His impressions of its enormity are even stronger than at the time of his first intercession. So heinous does it now appear to him that he is mentally in doubt whether God possibly can forgive it.
2. Perfectly truthful Moses fully admits the people's sin. He does not make light of it. He does not seek to minimise it. Not even to secure the salvation of the people over whom he yearns with so intense an affection will he unduly palliate their offence, or feign an excuse where he knows that there is none to offer. Mark how, in both of these respects, Moses answers to the true idea of a mediator. "A mediator is not a mediator of one" (Galatians 3:20). It is his function, in conducting his mediation, to uphold impartially the interests of both of the parties between whom he mediates. Both are represented in his work. He stands for both equally. He must do justice by both. His sympathy with both must be alike perfect. He must favour neither at the expense, or to the disadvantage, of the other. These acts of intercession show in how supreme a degree this qualification of the mediator is found in Moses. He has sympathy with the people, for whose sin he is willing, if need be, even to die; he has also the fullest sympathy with God. He looks at the sin from God's standpoint. He has sympathy with God's wrath against it. He is as jealous for God's honour as he is anxious for the forgiveness of the people. He is thus the true daysman, able to lay his hand upon both.
3. Vicarious. He confesses the people's sin for them. On the depth to which this element enters into the idea of atonement, and on the place which it holds in the atonement of Jesus, see J. McLeod Campbell's work on The Nature of the Atonement.
II. THE ATONEMENT OFFERED (ver. 32). The new and awful impressions Moses had received of the enormity of the people's conduct gave rise in his mind to the feeling of the need of atonement. "Now I will go up to the Lord," he says to them, "peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin" (ver. 30). That the intercessory element entered into Moses' idea of "making an atonement" is not to be denied. But it is not the only one. So intensely evil does the sin of the people now appear to him that he is plainly in doubt whether it can be pardoned without some awful expression of God's punitive justice against it; whether, indeed, it can be pardoned at all. This sense of what is due to justice resolves itself into the proposal in the text - a proposal, probably, in which Moses comes as near anticipating Christ, in his great sacrifice on Calvary, as it is possible for any one, beating the limitations of humanity, to do (cf. Romans 9:3). Observe -
1. The proposal submitted. It amounts to this, that Moses, filled with an immense love for his people, offers himself as a sacrifice for their sin. If God cannot otherwise pardon their transgression, and if this will avail, or can be accepted, as an atonement for their guilt, let him - Moses - perish instead of them. The precise meaning attached in Moses' mind to the words, "If not, blot me, I pray thee, out of the book which thou hast written," must always be a difficulty. Precision, probably, is not to be looked for. Moses' idea of what was involved in the blotting out from God's book could only be that afforded him by the light of his own dispensation, and by his sense of the exceeding greatness of God's wrath. His language is the language of love, not that of dogmatic theology. Infinite things were to be hoped for from God's love; infinite things were to be dreaded from his anger. The general sense of the utterance is, that Moses was willing to die; to be cut off from covenant hope and privilege; to undergo whatever awful doom subjection to God's wrath might imply; if only thereby his people could be saved. It was a stupendous proposal to make; an extraordinary act of self-devotion; a wondrous exponent of his patriotic love for his people; a not less wondrous recognition of what was due to the justice of God ere sin could be forgiven - a glimpse even, struck out from the passionate yearning of his own heart, of the actual method of redemption. A type of Christ has been seen in the youthful Isaac ascending the hill to be offered on the altar by Abraham his father. A much nearer type is Moses, "setting his face" (cf. Luke 9:51) to ascend the mount, and bearing in his heart this sublime purpose of devoting himself for the sins of the nation. "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).
2. The alternative desired. If the people must perish - this meaning also seems to be conveyed in the words - Moses would wish to perish with them. Not only has the proposal to make of him "a great nation" (Exodus 32:10) no allurement for his mind, but, if the people are to be destroyed, he would prefer to die with them. He desires no life outside of theirs. Patriotic devotion could no further go. Noble Moses! Yet only the type of the nobler than himself, who, devoting himself in the same spirit, has actually achieved the redemption of the world. See in this incident
(1) The connection of a feeling of the need of atonement with just views of sin's demerit.
(2) The certainty, when just views of sin are entertained, of this feeling of the need of atonement arising. In declining the proposal of Moses, God does not say that atonement is not needed. He does not say that his servant has exaggerated the enormity of the sin, or the difficulties which stand in the way of its forgiveness. He does not say that it is not by means of atonement that these difficulties connected with the forgiveness of sins are ultimately to be removed. On the contrary, the spirit of Moses in this transaction is evidently in the very highest degree pleasing to Jehovah, and so far as atonement is made for the people's sins, it is by Jehovah accepting the spirit of his sacrifice, even when rejecting the proposal in its letter.
(3) The naturalness of this method of salvation. The proposal sprang naturally from the love of Moses. It expressed everything that was grandest in his character. It shadowed forth a way in which, conceivably, a very true satisfaction might be offered to Divine justice, while yet mercy was extended to the sinner. The fulfilment of the prophecy is the Cross.
III. THE REPLY GIVEN.
1. The atonement is declined in its letter. God declares that so far as there is to be any blotting from the book of life, it will be confined to those who have sinned. It may be noted, in respect to this declinature of the proposal of Moses that, as above remarked, it does not proceed on the idea that atonement is not needed, but
(1) Moses could not, even by his immolation, have made the atonement required.
(2) God, in his secret counsel, had the true sacrifice provided.
(3) Atonement is inadmissible on the basis proposed, viz. that the innocent should be "blotted out from the book of life." Had no means of salvation presented itself but this, the world must have perished. Even to redeem sinners, God could not have consented to the "blotting from his book" of the sinless. The difficulty is solved in the atonement of the Son, who dies, yet rises again, having made an end of sin. No other could have offered this atonement but himself.
2. While declining the atonement in its letter, God accepts the spirit of it. In this sense Moses, by the energy of his self-devotion, does make atonement for the sins of Israel. He procures for them a reversal of the sentence. Further intercession is required to make the reconciliation complete.
3. God makes known his purpose of visiting the people for their sin (ver. 34). The meaning is -
(1) That the sin of the people, though for the present condoned, would be kept in mind in reckoning with them for future transgressions.
(2) That such a day of reckoning would come. God, in the certainty of his foreknowledge, sees its approach. - J.O.
I. THE AMPLITUDE OF THIS CONFESSION. It is very necessary to contrast the words of Moses in vers. 31 and 32 with his previous words in vers. 11-13. What a difference there is in the ground, elements, and tone of the two appeals! and this difference is fully explained by the experience through which he had been in the interval. It was a bitter and humiliating experience - we may almost say an unexpected one. For, although, before he had gone down from the mount, Jehovah had given him a clear forewarning of what awaited him, somehow he seems not to have taken in the full drift of Jehovah's words. It is not till he gets down into the camp and sees the golden image, and the revelry and riot, and the implication of his own brother in a broken covenant, that he discerns the full extent of the calamity, and the difficulty, almost the impossibility of bringing together again Jehovah and his revolted people. Vain is it to seek for anything like sure conclusions in the details of Moses' conduct on this occasion. The things he did were almost as the expressions of a heart beside itself with holy grief. There is a good deal of obscurity in this portion of the narrative; and our wisest course is to turn to what is clear and certain and most instructive, namely, the great result which came out of this experience. It was truly a result, beyond all estimation, to have been led to the conclusion - "This people have sinned a great sin." That was just the light in which Jehovah looked upon their conduct; and though Moses could not see all that Jehovah saw, we may well believe that he saw all that a brother man could see, one whose own heart's vision was not yet perfectly clear. Blessed is that man who, for himself and for others, can see the reality and magnitude of the human heart's departure from God. It would not, indeed, be hard, from a certain point of view, to frame a very plausible story on behalf of these Israelites; but it is far better to bear in mind that just at this particular juncture this very Moses who at first had expostulated with Jehovah, making not the slightest reference to the people's sin, is now found on account of that sin bending himself in the utmost submission before God. Aaron came to Moses with an excuse (vers. 22-24); he spoke in the spirit of Adam, laying the blame elsewhere. But Moses attempts neither excuse nor extenuation. Nor was any enlargement needed. The brief sentence he spoke, standing in all its naked severity, was quite enough.
II. HOW UNCERTAIN MOSES IS IN HIS EXPECTATIONS. The confession is as full and emphatic as it can be, but the heart is of necessity very doubtful as to what may come out of the confession. The words of Moses here are very consistent with the quick fluctuations of human nature. From extreme to extreme the pendulum swings. Previously he spoke as almost rebuking Jehovah for thinking to destroy his people; now even when the insulting image is ground to powder, and the ringleaders in transgression destroyed, he makes his way into the Divine presence as one who is fully prepared for the worst. "If thou wilt forgive them." One can imagine the stammering, half-ashamed tones in which these words would issue from the lips of Moses. The man who was so fruitful of reasons before is silent now. Jehovah's past promises and past dealings he cannot urge; for the more he thinks of them, the more by an inevitable consequence, he thinks of the broken covenant. The light of these glorious promises shines for the present, upon a scene of ruin and shame. Then it is noteworthy that Moses had to go up, from the impulse of his own heart. We do not hear as yet of any general confession; it is not the weeping and wailing of a nation returning in penitence that he bears before God. If only the people had sent him to say, "We have sinned a great sin;" if only they had made him feel that he was their chosen spokesman; if only their continued cry of contrition, softened by distance, had reached his ears, as he ventured before God, there might have been something to embolden him. But as yet there was no sign of anything of this sort. lie seems to have gone up as a kind of last resort, unencouraged by any indication that the people comprehended the near and dreadful peril. Learn from this that there can be no availing plea and service from our great advocate, except as we look to him for the plea and service, in full consciousness that we cannot do without them. We get no practical good from the advocacy of Jesus, unless as in faith and earnestness, we make him our advocate.
III. HOW COMPLETELY MOSES ASSOCIATES HIMSELF WITH THE FATE OF HIS BRETHREN. He could not but feel the difference there was between his position and theirs; but at the moment there was a feeling which swallowed all others up, and that was the unity of brotherhood. The suggestion to make out of him a new and better covenant people came back to him now, with a startling significance which it lacked before. Israel, as the people of God, seemed shut up to destruction now. If God said the covenant could not be renewed; if he said the people must return and be merged and lost in the general mass of human-kind, Moses knew he had no countervailing plea; only this he could pray that he also might be included in their doom. lie had no heart to go unless where his people went; and surely it must have a most inspiring and kindling influence to meditate on this great illustration of unselfishness. Moses, we know, had been brought very near to God; what glimpses must have been opened up to him of a glorious future. But then he had only thought of it as being his future along with his people. In the threatenings that God was about to forsake those who had forsaken him, there seemed no longer any brightness even in the favour of God to him as an individual. Apostate in heart and deed as his brethren were, he felt himself a member of the body still; and to be separated from them would be as if the member were torn away. lie who had preferred affliction with the people of God rather than the pleasures of sin for a season, now prefers obliteration along with his own people rather than to keep his name on God's great book. It can hardly be said that in this he spurns or depreciates the favour of God; and it is noticeable that God does not rebuke him as if he were preferring human ties to Divine. Jehovah simply responds by stating the general law of what is inevitable in all sinning, lie who sins must be blotted out of God's book. God will not in so many words rebuke the pitying heart of his servant; but yet we clearly see that there was no way out by that course which Moses so very deferentially suggests. When first Moses heard of the apostasy of Israel he spoke as if the remedy depended upon Jehovah; now he speaks as if it might be found in his own submission and self-sacrifice; but God would have him understand that whatever chance there may be depends on a much needed change in the hearts of the people, a change of which all sign so far was lacking. - Y.