Exodus 34 – The Covenant Renewed
A. Moses meets with God again on the mountain.
1. (1-4) God calls Moses up Mount Sinai again.
And the LORD said to Moses, “Cut two tablets of stone like the first ones, and I will write on these tablets the words that were on the first tablets which you broke. So be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself to Me there on the top of the mountain. And no man shall come up with you, and let no man be seen throughout all the mountain; let neither flocks nor herds feed before that mountain.” So he cut two tablets of stone like the first ones. Then Moses rose early in the morning and went up Mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him; and he took in his hand the two tablets of stone.
a. Cut two tablets of stone like the first ones: Moses broke the first set of stone tablets, the ones written with the finger of God (Exodus 32:19). He broke the tablets because Israel broke the covenant.
b. I will write on these tablets the words that were on the first tablets which you broke: After their great sin with the golden idol (Exodus 32), Moses interceded for Israel, Israel repented, and God restored. It was appropriate to give then new stone tablets.
c. No man shall come up with you… let neither flocks nor herds feed before the mountain: When God first spoke the Ten Commandments to Israel at Mount Sinai, He commanded that they not come near the mountain (Exodus 19:12-13). At this second giving of the commandments they were also to stay away, all except Moses.
i. Moses again acted as a mediator between God and the people. The people couldn’t deal with God directly because of their own sin and rebellion, so Moses bridged the gap between the people and God.
2. (5-6a) The revelation of God’s presence to Moses.
Now the LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. And the LORD passed before him
a. Now the LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there: The cloud mentioned was no doubt the cloud of glory known as the Shekinah. This cloud is mentioned many times in the Bible.
· It covered Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:16).
· It went with Israel by day (Exodus 13:21-22).
· It stood at the tent of Moses (Exodus 33:9-10).
· It filled Solomon’s temple with glory (2 Chronicles 7:2).
· It overshadowed Mary at the conception of Jesus (Luke 1:35).
· It was present at the transfiguration of Jesus (Luke 9:34-35).
· It will be present at the return of Jesus (Revelation 1:7).
i. And stood with him there: In some way, God appeared to Moses in the cloud at Sinai. This was what Moses asked for when he said, Please, show me Your glory (Exodus 33:18).
b. Proclaimed the name of the LORD: This means that God revealed His character to Moses. The specific aspects of His character are mentioned in this passage, yet this was far more than a lecture on the nature of God. Moses experienced the character of God in a dramatic way.
c. And the LORD passed before him: As Moses did what God told him to do in Exodus 33:21-23, he experienced what God said he would. Hidden in the cleft of the rock, Moses saw “behind” the LORD – as much of God’s glory as he could possibly take in.
i. In Exodus 33:18 Moses boldly asked, Please, show me Your glory. After that, God promised to reveal His presence to Moses (Exodus 33:19-23), or as much as His presence as Moses could bear to experience.
3. (6b-7) The revelation of God’s character to Moses.
And proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.”
a. And proclaimed: God said this to Moses, revealing His character to Moses by words; He proclaimed it to Moses. As this happened Moses had a power spiritual experience, rich with feeling and emotion. Yet God didn’t want His revelation to only be in feeling and emotion but connecting to the whole person through His word.
b. The LORD, the LORD God: This name – Yahweh – was the same name for God that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob knew; this was no new revelation of God. God presented Himself as the eternal, immutable God.
i. “The name of YHWH expresses all that He is and does, so this means proclamation of the saving acts of God… Here is God’s Self-revelation, proclaiming His very self to Moses.” (Cole)
ii. Knowing God should be the active interest of every human being, and especially of every Christian. “It has been said by someone that ‘the proper study of mankind is man.’ I will not oppose the idea, but I believe it is equally true that the proper study of God’s elect is God; the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “The Lord’s self-disclosure is prefaced by the repetition of his name: ‘The LORD, the LORD,’ repeated perhaps to emphasize his unchangeableness.” (Kaiser)
b. Merciful and gracious: Merciful is better translated, full of compassion. In five of the 13 times it is used, this word is translated full of compassion in the NKJV. F.B. Meyer wrote, “the word means ‘tenderly pitiful.’”
i. The same word was also used regarding Israel and the Exodus in Psalms 78:38: But He, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and did not destroy them. Yes, many a time He turned His anger away, and did not stir up all His wrath. This is compassion in action.
ii. The word translated gracious comes from the idea “to bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior; to favor, or to bestow” (Erwin). It is grace, giving to the undeserving.
iii. F.B. Meyer on this word gracious: “That word has gone out of fashion. Our fathers petrified it; they made it the foundation-stone of a structure of granite, in which the souls of men could find no rest, and therefore we rather dread that word – Grace. And yet there is no greater word in the language than the word that stands for the undeserved, free gift of the Love of God.”
c. Longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth: The idea behind the word longsuffering means that God is slow to anger. He doesn’t have a short fuse and is patient with us.
i. We all know what it is like to deal with people who have a short fuse – offended or even outraged at the slightest offense, or the slightest perceived wrong. God isn’t like that. He is longsuffering.
ii. “Not merely adequate, but abounding is this great God of glory. He has barns and silos full of love and faithfulness; he is stacking it in the streets looking for a distribution system.” (Erwin)
d. Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin: God shows His goodness towards us in His forgiving character.
i. Iniquity and transgression and sin are all mentioned so that no one would think there were some types of sin God is unable to forgive.
ii. This revelation of the character of God to Moses forever puts away the idea there is a bad God of the Old Testament this is in contrast to the good God of the New Testament. God’s character of love and mercy and grace is present in the Old Testament as well as in the New Testament.
iii. Psalm 86:15 repeats this exact same revelation of God: But You, O LORD, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth.
e. By no means clearing the guilty: If His love and forgiveness are rejected, God will punish, and that punishment will have repercussions through the generations that hate Him (Exodus 20:5).
i. His loving, gracious, and giving character do not cancel out His righteousness. Because of the work of Jesus, the righteousness of God is satisfied and the grace and mercy of God are righteously given.
ii. “To the third and fourth generation: a common Semitic idiom to express continuance.” (Cole)
3. (8-9) Moses reacts to the revelation of God.
So Moses made haste and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshiped. Then he said, “If now I have found grace in Your sight, O Lord, let my Lord, I pray, go among us, even though we are a stiff-necked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Your inheritance.”
a. So Moses made haste and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshiped: The first and primary reaction of Moses was to simply worship. When we come to know who God is and all His great love for us, the most practical thing it causes us to do is to worship Him more than ever.
i. “The elements of God’s character are striking, suggesting both grace and truth. The effect on Moses was adoration and prayer.” (Thomas)
ii. Indeed, Moses made haste to worship. He was compelled to worship God when he saw so clearly whom God was. When we don’t have a compelling drive to worship God, it’s clear evidence we don’t really appreciate who He is.
b. If now I have found grace in Your sight, O Lord, let my Lord, I pray, go among us: Moses asked for the goodness, grace, and mercy of God be extended to himself and the nation. Moses knew they did not deserve it (we are a stiff-necked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin), but he asked for God’s grace and not His justice.
i. When we see the goodness of God for what it is, we should not hesitate to ask that it be extended to us. If we know God is good, we should ask Him to be good to us. If we know He is forgiving, we should ask Him to forgive us. The knowledge of God is therefore not a passive exercise. When we know Him it leads us to receive from Him.
ii. Moses went even a step further than this, going beyond only asking these things for himself. He also asked for them on behalf of Israel.
B. Renewal of the covenant.
1. (10-11) What God will do for Israel.
And He said: “Behold, I make a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation; and all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the LORD. For it is an awesome thing that I will do with you. Observe what I command you this day. Behold, I am driving out from before you the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite.”
a. I will make a covenant: This was God’s covenant, that Israel was invited to join. He did not negotiate the terms with Israel. Instead He dictated the terms to the people of Israel through Moses.
b. I will do marvels… all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the LORD: God’s plan was to glorify Himself to all the nations (all the people) through Israel, and to show His glory through the great things He did among them.
i. Israel had a choice regarding those great things. Either the great things would be blessings so impressive that every nation would know that God alone had blessed Israel (as was the case with Solomon). Or, the great things would be curses so horrible that every nation would know God had chastised Israel and yet kept them a nation (as was the case with the exile). Either way, God would glorify Himself through Israel among the nations.
ii. Surely, that was an awesome thing that God promised to do with Israel. For their own good it was essential that they obey God (Observe what I command you this day) and enjoy the blessings of covenant obedience.
iii. I will do marvels: “This seems to refer to what God did in putting them in possession of the land of Canaan, causing the walls of Jericho to fall down; making the sun and moon to stand still, [and so forth].” (Clarke)
c. I am driving out: God promised to do what Israel could not do by itself – drive out the nations of Canaan, allowing Israel to take possession of what God promised to give them.
2. (12-16) Israel must be separate from the Canaanites in worship, politics, fellowship and marriage.
“Take heed to yourself, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land where you are going, lest it be a snare in your midst. But you shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and cut down their wooden images (for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God), lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they play the harlot with their gods and make sacrifice to their gods, and one of them invites you and you eat of his sacrifice, and you take of his daughters for your sons, and his daughters play the harlot with their gods and make your sons play the harlot with their gods.”
a. You shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and cut down their wooden images: As previously stated in Exodus 23:24, showing that the culture of the Canaanites was so corrupt that it was beyond redemption. God did not want Israel to assume any of the sinful practices found in the culture of the Canaanites.
i. “To worship a statue while calling it YHWH is not to worship YHWH.” (Cole)
b. And they play the harlot with their gods and make sacrifice to their gods: There was a definite connection between the worship of the Canaanite gods and sexual immorality. Many of the Canaanite gods were fertility gods and were worshipped with ritual prostitutes and sex.
3. (17) Israel must renounce idolatry.
“You shall make no molded gods for yourselves.”
a. No molded gods: The repetition of this command (the idea is in Exodus 20:4, the second commandment) was especially meaningful in light of the golden calf debacle. No molded image could come close to displaying the glory of God, even in the partial sense of what Moses saw on Mount Sinai.
4. (18) Israel must keep the feast of Unleavened Bread.
“The Feast of Unleavened Bread you shall keep. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, in the appointed time of the month of Abib; for in the month of Abib you came out from Egypt.”
a. The Feast of Unleavened Bread: First mentioned in Exodus 12:14-20, this feast spoke of the purity God desired among Israel before Him, when all leaven – a symbol of sin – was put away and Israel walked in a symbolic purity.
5. (19-26) Various laws, mostly regarding Israel’s separation from other nations and separating unto the LORD.
“All that open the womb are Mine, and every male firstborn among your livestock, whether ox or sheep. But the firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb. And if you will not redeem him, then you shall break his neck. All the firstborn of your sons you shall redeem. And none shall appear before Me empty-handed. Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; in plowing time and in harvest you shall rest. And you shall observe the Feast of Weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the year’s end. Three times in the year all your men shall appear before the Lord, the LORD God of Israel. For I will cast out the nations before you and enlarge your borders; neither will any man covet your land when you go up to appear before the LORD your God three times in the year. You shall not offer the blood of My sacrifice with leaven, nor shall the sacrifice of the Feast of the Passover be left until morning. The first of the firstfruits of your land you shall bring to the house of the LORD your God. You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.”
a. All that open the womb are Mine: Here God repeated the laws regarding the firstborn and their dedication to Him, first stated in Exodus 13:11-13 and 22:29-30.
b. None shall appear before Me empty-handed: God gave this command in the context of daily work (Six days you shall work) and festival observance (you shall observe the feast). The idea is that everyone should have some work and something to give unto the LORD.
i. It is simply appropriate for the creature to honor the Creator by giving unto Him. It is even more appropriate for the redeemed to honor their Redeemer this way.
c. Three times in the year all your men shall appear before the Lord: God commanded that at three feasts each year (Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles), each Israelite man should gather before the LORD (Exodus 23:14-17). Here God even promised a supernatural protection for an obedient Israel when they went to the feasts (neither will any man covet your land when you go up to appear before the LORD your God three times in the year).
i. Neither will any man covet your land when you go up: “What a manifest proof was this of the power and particular providence of God! How easy would it have been for the surrounding nations to have taken possession of the whole Israelitish land, with all their fenced cities, when there were none left to protect them but women and children! Was not this a standing proof of the Divine origin of their religion?” (Clarke)
d. You shall not offer the blood of My sacrifice with leaven: Leaven (yeast) is often a picture of sin in the Bible. Therefore, it was forbidden to include any kind of leaven in a blood sacrifice (as previous stated in Exodus 23:18).
e. The first of the firstfruits of your land you shall bring into the house of the LORD: When Israel came into Canaan, they had a special responsibility to make a firstfruit offering to God, in addition to their regular firstfruit offering (Exodus 23:16). Giving God the first and the best honored Him as the Good Provider of all things.
f. You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk: This command is repeated from Exodus 23:19. It was a command to not imitate the cruel pagan fertility rituals practiced among the Canaanites.
6. (27-28) Moses is command to write and is miraculously sustained on Sinai.
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write these words, for according to the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” So he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And He wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.
a. Write these words: Since God’s covenant with Israel was based on these and other words, it was important for Moses to write them. They should not only be left to memory.
b. So he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water: This was a completely unique and supernatural fast. It is definitely possible (yet remarkable) for someone to live without food for 40 days, but by any account it is a miracle to go without water for this long. This kind of fasting is never repeated or recommended in the Scriptures.
i. “It is impossible to exaggerate the stupendous things suggested in this simple statement.” (Morgan) It was a powerful evidence of the truth that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.
c. He wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments: These tablets we eventually placed into the ark of the covenant (Deuteronomy 10:5).
C. The shining face of Moses.
1. (29-30) Moses’ face shines when he comes down from Mount Sinai.
Now it was so, when Moses came down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the Testimony were in Moses’ hand when he came down from the mountain), that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone while he talked with Him. So when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him.
a. Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone while he talked with Him: Close communion with God physically affected Moses. His face had a shining appearance that was so noticeable that both the leaders and the people of Israel were afraid to come near him.
i. After such a remarkable fast we would expect that Moses looked pale and sickly. Apparently not; instead his face shone with a radiance and glory so great that it made others hesitant to come near him.
ii. It is true that a life lived with God affects physical appearance, especially the face. The peace, joy, love, and goodness of God should be evident on the face of the one who follows Jesus. Yet what Moses experienced seems beyond that general principle, and a direct result from his remarkable communication with God (his face shone while he talked with Him).
iii. The radiance of Moses’ shining face was a reflected radiance, a received glory. The source was the face of God, and as Moses communicated so directly with God his face received some of this shining glory. “The face of Moses shone because he had long looked upon the face of God.” (Spurgeon)
b. Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone: Wonderfully, Moses did not know this. He was unaware of the greatness of his own spiritual radiance. This was because Moses was a genuinely and deeply humble man (Numbers 12:3).
i. “Directly people become conscious of their superiority to others, and boast of it, it is certain that they have never really seen the beauty of God’s holiness, and have no clear knowledge of the condition of their own hearts.” (Meyer)
ii. We read of only two men in the Bible whose faces shone like this: Moses and Stephen (Acts 6:15). Both were humble men. “I am afraid, brethren, that God could not afford to make our faces shine: we should grow too proud. It needs a very meek and lowly spirit to bear the shinings of God.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “We are always praying, ‘Lord, make my face to shine’; but Moses never had such a wish; and, therefore, when it did shine, he did not know it. He had not laid his plans for such an honor. Let us not set traps for personal reputation, or even glance a thought that way.” (Spurgeon)
2. (31-32) Moses relates the covenant of God to the leaders of Israel.
Then Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned to him; and Moses talked with them. Afterward all the children of Israel came near, and he gave them as commandments all that the LORD had spoken with him on Mount Sinai.
a. Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned to him: They had all gone away from Moses because the radiance of his face so greatly intimidated them. He had to persuade them to come back – first the leaders, then all the children of Israel came near.
b. And he gave them as commandments all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai: Moses experienced glorious, transforming communion with God on Sinai. Yet as he came down to the people, he once again involved himself directly in the work of governing and leading.
i. “From that experience he returned, not to be a dreamer, for ever thinking and talking of a past rapture; but to be, as never before, a man of affairs, directing, controlling all the earthly life according to the standards received in the mount.” (Morgan)
3. (33-35) The veil on Moses’ face.
And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face. But whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with Him, he would take the veil off until he came out; and he would come out and speak to the children of Israel whatever he had been commanded. And whenever the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone, then Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with Him.
a. He put a veil on his face… whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with Him, he would take the veil off: In the presence of God (presumably at his own tent, which had become the tabernacle of meeting according to Exodus 33:7), Moses took the veil off. Yet among the people, he put a veil on his face.
b. He put a veil on his face: It is easy to think that Moses wore the veil so the people would not be afraid to come near him (Exodus 34:30), or that the purpose of the veil was to protect others from the glorious radiance of Moses’ face. Yet the Apostle Paul explained the real purpose of the veil: not to hide the shining face of Moses, but so that the diminishing glory of his face would not be observed because the glory was fading.
i. Moses, who put a veil over his face, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away (2 Corinthians 3:13). The Old Covenant had a glory, but it was a fading glory. God didn’t want people to see the fading glory of the Old Covenant and lose confidence in Moses.
ii. The Old Covenant was great and glorious – but it looks pretty pale in comparison to the New Covenant. A bright autumn moon may look beautiful and give great light, but it is nothing compared to the noonday sun.
c. The skin of Moses’ face shone: The Hebrew verb for shone literally means, “shot forth beams” (Cole). It is also related to a Hebrew noun for “horn.” This is why the Latin Vulgate mistranslated this verb as “having horns,” and so in most medieval works of art Moses wears a pair of horns on his head.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission