The New Tablets of the Covenant, 1-28

34:1  The LORD said to Moses, “Cut out two tablets of stone like the first, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you smashed. 34:2 Be prepared in the morning, and go up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and station yourself for me there on the top of the mountain. 34:3 No one is to come up with you; do not let anyone be seen anywhere on the mountain; not even the flocks or the herds may graze in front of that mountain.” 34:4 So Moses cut out two tablets of stone like the first; early in the morning he went up to Mount Sinai, just as the LORD had commanded him, and he took in his hand the two tablets of stone.

“The first tablets, which you smashed” – Was the Lord displeased with Moses for having smashed the first set of tablets (Ex 32:19)?

The second giving of the law closely mirrors the first.

34:5 The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there and proclaimed the LORD by name. 34:6 The LORD passed by before him and proclaimed: “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in loyal love and faithfulness, 34:7 keeping loyal love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin. But he by no means leaves the guilty unpunished, responding to the transgression of fathers by dealing with children and children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.”

The Lord passed by before him – Here, in v6f, is the fulfilment of God’s promise in Ex 33:19-23.

The compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in loyal love and faithfulness, 34:7 keeping loyal love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin – These divine characteristics are echoed in Neh 9:17; Ps 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jon 4:2.  They also echo the words accompanying the 2nd commandment, Ex 20:5f.

‘This is a loadstone to draw sinners to him, Ex 34:6. Here are six expressions to set forth God’s mercy, and but one to set forth his justice.’ (Thomas Watson)

He does not leave the guilty unpunished – Vv. 6f have piled up expressions concerning God’s love and compassion, making this caveat yet more striking. ‘Forgiveness is rooted in the nature of God as gracious. But his forgiveness is not indiscriminate. He will ‘by no means clear the guilty’. On man’s side there is the need for penitence if he is to be forgiven. While this is not put into a formal demand, it is everywhere implied. Penitent sinners are forgiven. Impenitent men, who still go on in their wicked way, are not.’ (NBD)

As Chester remarks, there is a tension here: God forgives sin, and God punishes sin.  It will take the fuller revelation of the NT to resolve that tension, when we learn that ‘the Word was made flesh and tabernacled among us, full of grace and truth’ (Jn 1:14). ‘God tells Moses, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). But now John has looked into the face of God and seen his glory. In the Son, we see God’s glory, and we live.’

Following Kaiser, we may note the following divine attributes unfolded in this self-declaration:

  1. God is compassionate.  He is predisposed towards us as poor, miserable sinners.  He is inclined to grant us forgiveness and relief.  See Eph 2:47; 1 Pet 1:3.
  2. God is gracious.  We were full of demerit, but he has lavished upon us gift after gift, most noticeably those of forgiveness and reconciliation.
  3. God is slow to anger.  We provoke him terribly, but he stays his hand and restores us to his favour.
  4. God abounds in loyal love and faithfulness.  We may step aside from his good plan for our lives, but he sticks with us, time and again allowing his love to trump his justice.

Kaiser concludes: ‘By now God’s invitation to us is abundantly clear.  Why would anyone attempt to live with the guilt and despair of their sins?  Why would we wish to risk so much for so little?  Why would believers live like spiritual paupers and act with such mediocre results in their own churches and in the spread of the gospel around the world?’

Selvaggio notes that God did not only reveal himself physically to Moses: he also spoke to him: ‘God’s revelation was twofold. First, he revealed his glory in a physical manner by passing in front of Moses. Moses could see God’s veiled glory. But there was more than just seeing here. God also spoke to Moses. He revealed his glory through sight and sound. God’s voice spoke to Moses and shared words which express the very heart of God’s character, much like the “I am” declaration of Exodus 3:13–15. The revelation of God’s covenant character as being a compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love, and forgiving God is just as profound as the “I AM” declaration. The words that God spoke as he passed in front of Moses reveal so much about God’s character and nature that they are repeated numerous times throughout the Old Testament (e.g., Num. 14:18; Neh. 9:17; Pss. 103:8, 17; 145:8; Jer. 32:18–19; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2). Moses both saw and heard God’s glory.’

34:8 Moses quickly bowed to the ground and worshiped 34:9 and said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, let my Lord go among us, for we are a stiff-necked people; pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.”

The Lord has already declared his forgiving nature.  Moses is clearly looking for confirmation of this.  ‘And can it be…?’ sings Charles Wesley, and Moses seems of the same mind.

Moses doubt may be expressed in part by his use of ‘adonai’, rather than ‘yhwh’, to address God at this point.  Enns observes that ‘Moses uses this word three other times in Exodus, in each case when expressing some doubt as to his mission (Ex 4:10, 13; 5:22).’

34:10 He said, “See, I am going to make a covenant before all your people. I will do wonders such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation. All the people among whom you live will see the work of the LORD, for it is a fearful thing that I am doing with you.

‘God responds to Moses’ doubt not by reprimanding him but by giving him what he wants, some sign of his continued presence with his people.’ (Enns)

“I am going to make a covenant” – In fact, this will be a renewal of the covenant.

34:11 “Obey what I am commanding you this day. I am going to drive out before you the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite. 34:12 Be careful not to make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land where you are going, lest it become a snare among you. 34:13 Rather you must destroy their altars, smash their images, and cut down their Asherah poles. 34:14 For you must not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. 34:15 Be careful not to make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to their gods, and someone invites you, you will eat from his sacrifice; 34:16 and you then take his daughters for your sons, and when his daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will make your sons prostitute themselves to their gods as well. 34:17 You must not make yourselves molten gods.

‘What follows in verses 11–28 is essentially a repetition of a number of things we have seen in previous sections of Exodus—in the Passover section (vv. 18–20, 25), Ten Commandments (vv. 14, 17, 21), and the Book of the Covenant (vv. 22–24, 26). Even the reference to “wonders” in Ex 34:10, although referring to what God “will do” for Israel, calls to mind the wonders of the plagues and the crossing of the Red Sea (see Ex 3:20; 15:11, the only other occurrences of the root plʾ, in Exodus).’ (Enns)  All this, says Enns, is to emphasise that what is going on his is essentially a renewal of the covenant.

v14 ‘It is written that Yahweh, “whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Ex 34:14). Now jealousy is the resentment of rivals, and whether it is good or evil depends on whether the rival has any business to be there. To be jealous of someone who threatens to outshine us in beauty, brains or sport is sinful, because we cannot claim a monopoly of talen in those areas. If, on the other hand, a third party enters a marriage, the jealousy of the injured person, who is being displaced, is righteous, because the intruder has not right to be there. It is the same with God, who says, “I am the Lord, that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols” (Isa 42:8). Our Creator and Redeemer has a right to our exclusive allegiance, and is “jealous” if we transfer it to anyone or anything else.’ (John Stott, Authentic Christianity, 24)

34:18 “You must keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. For seven days you must eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you; do this at the appointed time of the month Abib, for in the month Abib you came out of Egypt.
34:19 “Every firstborn of the womb belongs to me, even every firstborn of your cattle that is a male, whether ox or sheep. 34:20 Now the firstling of a donkey you may redeem with a lamb, but if you do not redeem it, then break its neck. You must redeem all the firstborn of your sons.
“No one will appear before me empty-handed.
34:21 “On six days you may labor, but on the seventh day you must rest; even at the time of plowing and of harvest you are to rest.

‘The Sabbath showed that Israel’s life…possessed the element of “free time”. The Sabbath was a rejection of greedy snatching at the whole of time. Even in busy periods (ploughing, harvest) the Sabbath was to be observed (cf Ex 34:21)…Rather than being simply an interlude between periods of work, it was the climax of the week. Unfortunately, the Sabbath’s restful and fundamental characteristics were obscured by the Pharisees’ pedantry in New Testament times. Ensuring that no “work” took place on the Sabbath became very hard work, and celebrating the delights of freedom began to feel like a duty.’ (Banks, The Tyranny of Time, 184)

34:22 “You must observe the Feast of Weeks—the firstfruits of the harvest of wheat—and the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year. 34:23 At three times in the year all your men must appear before the Lord GOD, the God of Israel. 34:24 For I will drive out the nations before you and enlarge your borders; no one will covet your land when you go up to appear before the LORD your God three times in the year.
34:25 “You must not offer the blood of my sacrifice with yeast; the sacrifice from the feast of Passover must not remain until the following morning.
34:26 “The first of the firstfruits of your soil you must bring to the house of the LORD your God.
You must not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.”
34:27 The LORD said to Moses, “Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” 34:28 So he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did not eat bread, and he did not drink water. He wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.

The Radiant Face of Moses, 29-35

34:29  Now when Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand—when he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone while he talked with him. 34:30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to approach him. 34:31 But Moses called to them, so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and Moses spoke to them. 34:32 After this all the Israelites approached, and he commanded them all that the LORD had spoken to him on Mount Sinai. 34:33 When Moses finished speaking with them, he would put a veil on his face. 34:34 But when Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he would remove the veil until he came out. Then he would come out and tell the Israelites what he had been commanded. 34:35 When the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone, Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with the LORD.

His face was radiant – ‘Although the reason why Moses’ face shines is not made explicit in the text, it is probably to impress on the people that God’s authority and presence rest unequivocally with Moses.’ (Enns)

‘Moses’ glow is actually an afterglow from being in God’s presence. As Cassuto remarks, “something of the Divine glory remained with him.”’ (Enns)

‘The difference between Moses and Christ is that Moses both sees and reflects God’s glory imperfectly. I am not being too hard on Moses. The intimacy he enjoyed with God was unique in the Old Testament. But the fullness of God’s glory did dwell in Christ. Note Hebrews 1:3: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory.” Christ reflected God’s glory to his people fully because he beheld the glory of the Father fully—a fullness best expressed in Christ’s own words, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Moses would never have dared say that.’ (Enns)

‘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. We only read of two men whose faces shone, and both were very meek. The one is Moses, in the Old Testament, the other is Stephen in the New Testament, whose last words proved his meekness. When the Jews were stoning him, he prayed, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” (Acts 7:60). Gentleness of nature and lowliness of mind are a fine background on which God may lay the brightness of his glory.’ (The Best of Spurgeon, 233)

v33 The veil was needed, not when Moses face the Lord, but when he faced the people.  ‘We may think of Moses’ veil functioning in a similar way to the veil or curtain in the tabernacle. Just as the people could not enter the Most Holy Place to behold God’s glory, now they cannot behold the glory of God reflected in Moses.’ (Enns)

In Paul’s teaching, 2 Cor 3:7-18, Moses wore a veil, not to hide the glory, but to hide the fading of the glory.  The gospel, on the other hand, has surpassing glory.  Unlike Moses, we do not put a veil over our faces, because the glory which we reflect is not fading away.  Because of this, Paul goes on to say in 2 Cor 4:1-18, we do not lose heart.  We are enabled to persevere in every circumstance.  And if unbelievers cannot see God’s glory reflected in us, it is because, in their sin, a veil has been placed over their eyes.

‘The main thrust of chapters 32–34 now becomes clear. It is not so much a story of rebellion as it is a story of God’s forgiveness and Moses’ role in making this happen. It is in these chapters that Moses’ role as intercessor, as mediator of the covenant, reaches its zenith. If we wish to point to the episode that makes Moses truly special, that makes him deserving of all the honor, attention, and respect he has received through the ages, it is his shielding an ungrateful people from the end they most certainly deserve, even if it means taking their place and bearing the full weight, horror, and ignominy of God’s anger. The world will not see the likes of this again for many generations.’ (Enns)

Not a fickle God, but a fickle people

‘In a manner of speaking, God has been pouring his heart out. He hand-picked a man to act as deliverer and mediator. He opened up the powers of heaven against the Egyptians. He brought heaven to earth for them in the form of the law and the tabernacle. Yet, no sooner does he do these things than the people, not God, become fickle. This is not only a story of the people’s rebellion against God, but of their rejection of something God has been planning and working out since the time of Abraham. It is a rejection of God himself.’ (Enns)