THE REQUEST TO SEE GOD'S GLORY, AND THE REPLY TO IT. Having obtained the full restoration of the people to God's favour, Moses felt emboldened to ask a boon for himself. He had already been admitted to closer communion with God than any one of the race of man since Adam in Paradise. But what had been granted him, instead of satisfying, only made him desirous of something further, something closer, something than which nothing more close could be imagined. So he asks to see the unveiled glory of God (Exodus 33:18). He asks, that is, to see exactly that which man in the flesh cannot see, or at any rate cannot see and live. But, of course, he does not know this. God, in reply, tells him he shall see all that can be seen of him—more than anything which he has seen before. He shall see "all his goodness"—he shall have another revelation of the name of God (Exodus 33:18); and, further, he shall be so placed as to see as much as mortal man can behold of "his glory"—God will pass by him, and when he has passed, Moses shall be allowed to look after him, and see what is here called "his back." This was probably some afterglow or reflection from the Divine glory, which language must have been as inadequate to describe as it was to embody the "unspeakable words" heard by St. Paul in the "third heaven," and declared by him "impossible for a man to utter" (2 Corinthians 12:4).
Show me thy glory. The glory of God had been seen by Moses to a certain extent, when God "descended in fire" upon Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:18). It had been seen with more distinctness when he was called up and "went into the midst of the cloud" (Exodus 24:18). But he felt, nevertheless, that he had not as vet really beheld it. He longed for that ineffable blessing of the full "beatific vision," which is promised to us after death, if we die in the faith and fear of Christ (1 Corinthians 13:12). "Increase of appetite doth grow by what it feeds on"—and the veiled splendours that he had been allowed to see only made him hunger the more for the unveiled radiance that he had not seen as vet.
I will make all my goodness pass before thee. It is not quite clear what this means, or how it was fulfilled—whether the reference is to the revelation of God's goodness in Exodus 34:7, or to the entire experience that Moses would have of God in his later life. It is against the former view, that, if we take it, we can assign to the ensuing clause no distinct and separate sense. I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee. See Exodus 34:5, Exodus 34:6. And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious—i.e; I am not bound to do all this for thee. It is of my free grace that I do it. I intend, however, to be gracious, and show mercy to thee, because thou hast found favour in my eyes.
No man can see me and live. The inability proclaimed in these words is not an absolute inability to see God, but an inability to see and survive the sight. Jacob, when he wrestled with the angel, marvelled that he could see God, even in that intermediate way, and live (Genesis 32:30). It may well be that actually to see God, while we are in the flesh, would kill us.
Behold, there is a place by me. No sufficient indication is given by these words, or by any other words in Scripture, of the exact locality of the manifestation to Moses. The so-called" traditions "are worthless; and we can only say that the scene was probably some portion of the upper part of the Ras Sufsafeh.
I will put thee in a clift of the rock, The "clift" has been identified with the "cave of Elijah" (1 Kings 19:9); but the words used are different; and even were they the same, no identity could be established. It is rather in the broader lines of their missions and characters that resemblance is to be sought between Moses and Elijah than in the minuter details of their careers. Cover thee with my hand—i.e; "at once conceal thee and protect thee." Without these precautions, it is implied, the nearness of the Divine Presence might have had injurious effects.
Thou shalt see my back parts. Literally, "my back." The anthropomorphisms of the passage are numerous and strong—they must, of course, be regarded as accommodations to human ideas. After the Divine Presence had passed by, Moses was to be permitted to look out, and would see so much of the Divine glory as he would be able to bear; but still something far short of that which he had desired to see. The explanation that "the back of God" means "his works—the consequences of his activity" (Kalisch) is fanciful, and not borne out by the context. My face cannot be seen. See above, Exodus 33:20; and. compare John 1:18; John 6:46; 1 Timothy 1:17; 1 John 4:12.
The craving for close communion with God,
may be considered—
I. AS BASED ON A NATURAL INSTINCT. Man without God—without the consciousness of being sustained and upheld by an eternal omnipotent being—can have no strength or confidence in the present, no hope in the future. He is a feeble part of the vast mechanism of a great incomprehensible universe—a form which matter has assumed for a time—powerless to shape his future—the sport of circumstance. From this his better nature revolts, and, like some marine organism, throws out tentacles to seek a hold on some firm solid object without him. God is the only such object truly firm and stable; and hence man may be said to have a natural desire for God. As soon as the idea of God is in any way brought before him, he feels that it exactly answers an instinctive craving of his nature. His soul goes out to it—seizes it—appropriates it—rests on it as a sure prop and stay. Intellectually, the idea clears up the riddle of the universe; morally, gives a firm foundation to right and wrong, explains the authority of conscience, and supplies a motive for virtue; even physically it has a value, reducing the infinitude of nature within limits, and furnishing a reasonable origin to nature's laws.
II. As A TEST OF SPIRITUALITY. Man needs the idea of God, and cannot be satisfied without it; but whether, having got it, he shall thrust it into the background, or ever more and more cling to it, and seek to realise it, depends on his spiritual condition. Adam and Eve, after they had sinned, "hid themselves from the presence of God amongst the trees of the garden" (Genesis 3:8). The Gergesenes "besought Christ that he would depart out of their coasts" (Matthew 8:34). The guilty conscience cannot bear the near presence of the Most High, shrinks from the keen inspection of the all-seeing Eye, would fain skulk and hide among the bushes. The worldly heart is indifferent to the thought of God—turns away from it in the present—reserves it for a more convenient season. Only the spiritually minded delight in dwelling on the thought of God—seek him constantly—crave for communion with him. Only they can say with sincerity-" As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God" (Psalms 42:1, Psalms 42:2). They, however, can, and do say this continually. And the more communion they obtain, the more they desire. It is after Moses had entered into the cloud, and "spoken with God face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend" (Exodus 33:11), that he beseeches him to "show him his glory." We cannot while on earth obtain the full communion for which our spiritual nature craves. We cannot therefore while on earth be satisfied, but must ever be craving for something more, ever crying—"Nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!" Only in heaven, if we be found worthy, shall we "see face to face, and know as we are known" (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Clifts in the rock. God has many places of safety—"clifts in the rock"—where he puts us when trials approach. "As our day is, so is our strength." Bereavemeat comes upon us, and he elevates us on a pinnacle of faith to which we had never before mounted. Poverty and disgrace fall on us, and he gives us insensibility to them. Pain comes, and he enables us to see that pain is exactly the chastening we want, and to thank him for it. We do not cry out, with the Stoic, "How sweet!" for "no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous" (Hebrews 12:11); yet we have the spiritual strength to cry out to him—"How kind! How gracious!" The best "clift in the rock," is that cleft in the "Rock of Ages," which the soldier's spear made, wherein, if we please, we may lie hidden from every danger that can assail us.
"Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee!"
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
Shew me thy glory.
On this incident, remark—
I. THE GOOD MAN THIRSTS FOR EVER FULLER MANIFESTATIONS OF THE DIVINE GLORY. The more he knows of God, the more he would know. The nearer he gets, he presses nearer still. He "longs" to see God's power and glory" (Psalms 63:2). He prays to see as much of it as may be possible to him on earth. He will only be satisfied when admitted to the full vision of it in heaven (Psalms 16:11; Psalms 17:15; 1 John 3:2).
II. GOD'S GLORY IS TWOFOLD—ESSENTIAL AND ETHICAL.
1. God's essential glory. This is the glory which pertains to his existence. It is compared in Scripture to the white dazzling light—"light which no man can approach unto" (1 Timothy 6:16).
2. God's ethical glory. This is the glory of his character. It was revealed when God proclaimed his "name" to Moses (Exodus 33:19; Exodus 34:5-8).
III. MAN, IN HIS PRESENT STATE OF EXISTENCE, CAN RECEIVE THE VISION OF GOD'S ESSENTIAL GLORY ONLY UNDER GREAT LIMITATIONS. The full discovery of it would slay him (Exodus 33:20). Moses beheld it but partially, hid in a clift of the rock—saw but its reflection (Exodus 33:21-23). Even thus to perceive it implied an exaltation of the consciousness—an opening of the spiritual eyes—not vouchsafed to ordinary men. A mediate revelation is at present all that is possible to us. We have this in the reflection of the Creator's glory in creation (Psalms 19:1, Psalms 19:2).
IV. GOD'S ETHICAL GLORY ADMITS OF BEING REVEALED WITH MUCH GREATER FULNESS.
1. No barrier, either to the revelation or the perception of it, exists in physical conditions. It is glory of character. It is discerned by the same faculties by which we discern spiritual beauty and goodness in the characters of our fellow-men.
2. God has revealed it. We are not straitened in him. He has kept nothing back. He has made his goodness pass before us. He has revealed his name. The Divine Son is a perfect embodiment of the moral glory of the Father (John 1:14).
3. The sole barrier to the perception of it is the limitation of moral capacity in ourselves. It is in ourselves we are straitened. We lack the purity of heart necessary to give right spiritual discernment. Our perception of the glory of truth, righteousness, holiness, love, and mercy in God, will be in precise proportion to the degree in which these qualities are formed in our own natures.—J.O.
On this note—
I. GOD IS SOVEREIGN IN THE EXERCISE OF HIS MERCY. He dispenses it to whom he will. He is free and unconstrained in its bestowal. The sinner cannot claim it as a right. He is not entitled to reckon upon it, save as the free promise of God gives him a warrant to do so. He dare not dictate to God what he shall do. God is sovereign as respects
He gives no account of his matters to any one. He allows none to challenge him.
II. GOD'S SOVEREIGNTY IS BEST STUDIED ON ITS SIDE OF MERCY. This is the easier and more approachable side. It is the least disputable. It does not raise the same dark and knotty problems as the other side—"Whom he will he hardeneth" (Romans 9:18). The contemplation of it is purely delightful and consolatory. It is, besides, the side to which the other—the side of judgment—is subordinate. See this sovereignty of God illustrated in the history of Israel—
III. GOD'S SOVEREIGNTY IN THE EXERCISE OF MERCY IS NOT ARBITRARINESS. (See on Exodus 6:14-28.) It has, as there shown, its self-imposed limitations and inherent laws of operation. It is holy, wise, and good. It aims, we may believe, at the ultimate salvation of the largest number possible, consistently with all the interests involved.—J.O.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
Exodus 33:1 -32
The restoration to Divine favour completed.
This is a chapter which, beginning very gloomily, ends very gloriously. In the beginning Jehovah seems as if bidding farewell to the people for whom he had done so much; but at the close he is seen giving a revelation to Moses their leader, which must have sent him forth to resume his arduous work with greater encouragements than he ever had before. It is therefore very interesting to trace how this change was brought about.
I. WE SEE THE PEOPLE ARE BROUGHT TO A MEASURE OF PENITENCE. We cannot assume that this penitence went very deep, so far as the general apprehension of unworthiness of conduct was concerned. But there was this depth in it, that the people perceived they had done something wrong, something insulting to Jehovah, something very dangerous to their own prospects. And how had this been brought about? Simply by the statement of Jehovah that he would not go up with those who had hitherto been his people. He would not go—the real truth was that he could not go. The sin of the people, their reckless, thoughtless trifling with holy things made his presence among them a peril. Something, indeed, had to be done to get these people from Horeb to Canaan, and settle them in possession; but that could be done by a sort of exercise of physical force. So much Jehovah could do for these Israelites, howsoever idolatrous they became. But his great blessing for them was not in the mere possession of Canaan, with its temporal riches and comforts. The temporal riches of Canaan were no more than those of any other land, save as God himself was in the midst of those who possessed the riches. What a humiliating thing to consider that God had to threaten withdrawal from his people in a sort of exercise of mercy. Suppose for a moment that the people had continued obdurate, what would the end have been? They would, indeed, have gone forward and got Canaan, and then sunk back, so that Israelite would have had no more importance in the history of the world and the development of God's purposes than Amorite, Hittite, or any of the other tribes mentioned in Exodus 33:2.
II. CONSIDER THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE SEPARATED TABERNACLE. In all probability this was the tent of Moses, and if so, we see at once a beautiful mingling of grace with necessary severity. Moses was prompted to separate from the people, but not to depart from them. Jehovah could not come down in the pillar of cloud into the midst of the camp; and for this no reason needs be sought other than the peril to the people flowing from his holiness. Thus there was everything to fill the minds of the people with a suitable mingling of humility and hope. Moses, true type of the greater Mediator yet to come, gave a point where God and the people could meet together. Jehovah will not depart, unless, so to speak, he is driven away. These people could not bear his presence; and yet—apparent contradiction—they could not do without him. Individual Israelites made it plain by their seeking Jehovah that they could not do without him; and he in his never-failing loving-kindness and pity, provided for such. The fate of the nation was trembling in the balance; but ample access and counsel were secured to the individual believerse There was a definite and favoured place for every individual who in his need sought the Lord. National trouble did not eclipse, it rather intensified and aggravated, individual trouble and need.
III. NOTE THE POINTS OF INTEREST IN THE CONVERSATION BETWEEN MOSES AND JEHOVAH WITH WHICH THIS CHAPTER CONCLUDES.
1. There is what we may call the holy boldness of Moses. There is an illustration here of the importunity and great confidence with which God's people should persist in their approaches to the throne of the heavenly grace. Only just before God had spoken in great anger; and Moses, when he became aware from his own observation of the extent of the people's transgression, approached Jehovah with the utmost deference. Pat as time went on, and he was able to take all the elements of the position more and more into consideration, he felt himself shut up to persistent waiting upon God. A return to God's favour and guidance is the only way out of the difficulty; and therefore Moses cannot but be bold and pertinacious in doing his best to secure that way.
2. He makes the most out of God's favour to him as an individual. Not only have the people been apostate and reckless, but their very apostasy and recklessness bring out into stronger relief the clinging obedience of Moses. He has done well, and, more than that, Jehovah has approved him; and now, therefore, he pleads that the approval may not be in word only, but in deed; not in the promise of some future and distant recompense, but in deliverance from a present difficulty near at hand. Moses is not slow to avail himself of every legitimate consideration which he may plead with God. There were times when he would have been the first to allow and indeed affirm his unworthiness before God; but God had counted him worthy, and in his present need he avails himself of God's gracious regard to gain as much as he can for his needy brethren. Thus some slight hint is given to us of the way in which, for Christ's sake, God regards men. God had made it plain to Moses that he regarded him; and in effect Moses says, "If this regard be real, I will try it by large requests for my people." So let us feel that from the undisputed regard of God for the person, obedience, and everything belonging to his well-beloved Son, there will also come a regard to all the intercessions of that Son on behalf of a world so much alienated from God; and yet the more it is alienated, only the more in need of his mercy and deliverance.
3. The determined manner in which Moses associates himself with his people. He and Israel were as one. He may not in so many words speak of them as his people; on the contrary, he very emphatically alludes to them, in addressing Jehovah, as "thy people;" but we feel that underneath mere expressions there lies this natural and beautiful resolution, not to be separated from those who were one with him in blood. He felt that if Israel was to be frowned upon, he could not, so far as his consciousness was concerned, be favoured; and so we are led to think of the intimate association of Jesus with the children of men. Human nature is his nature; and however unworthy and polluted human nature often shows itself, however low it may sink in forgetfulness of its original constitution and purpose, the fact remains that the Word of God became flesh, and the consequent kinship and claim must ever be recognised.
4. The cry to God for a revelation of his glory. Much intercourse Moses had enjoyed with Jehovah, and often had he heard the voice that gave commandment and guidance. Indeed, as our minds go back over the past experience of Moses, and we consider how much he had been through, this strikes us at first as a somewhat puzzling request:—"I beseech thee show me thy glory." But the puzzle rises rather from unspirituality in our minds than from anything in the circumstances of Moses himself. Consider well the point to which he had attained, the distance which there was between him and his brethren, heart-infected as they still were with image-worship, and there will seem little wonder that in the heart of this lonely servant of God there should rise desires for what strength and satisfaction might come to him from the vision of God. He had asked much for his people, and it was fitting that he should ask something for himself. And he asked something worthy, something pleasing to God, something of highest profit to himself, even as Solomon did later on. He asked that he might no longer have to deal with a voice as behind a vail, but might see the face from which that voice came. The request was right and acceptable; but it could not be fully granted. What a fact to ponder over! What a humbling and yet hope-inspiring fact that sinful man cannot look upon the glory of the Lord and live! What of Divine glory is manifested to us has to be manifested in a way that is safe; and surely this is part of the salvation wherewith we are saved, that by-and-bye, when all pollution is cleansed away, we may be able to bear visions and revelations which, if they were to be attempted now, would only destroy us.—Y.
HOMILIES BY J. URQUHART
Mercy vailed in judgment.
I. GOD'S SEPARATION FROM THE PEOPLE AND ITS EFFECTS.
1. The separation.
2. Its effects.
(3) They were troubled by fear of judgment, for the Lord had said, "I will come up into the midst of thee in a moment and consume thee." These are the effects of the Spirit's work to-day. The same cry is lifted:—"Flee from the wrath to come."
II. THE SEPARATION OF GOD'S PEOPLE FROM THE MIDST OF SURROUNDING SIN AND ITS RESULTS.
1. Its necessity as a testimony to God's separation from sin. This is the duty of the Church to-day:—"Come ye out from among them and be ye separate." The tabernacle of the congregation, meant though it be for all, must be pitched "without the camp."
2. The results.
Intercession and its reward.
I. THE INTERCESSOR'S POWER.
1. God, who had disowned Israel, and refused to go with them, consents to go with him:—"My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest." The first step in successful intercession for others is the receiving of power to serve God among them. This is the dropping which foretells the shower.
2. God is brought back by persistent asking into the midst of Israel:—"I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken" (Exodus 33:17). We must not be content till our whole desire is given us. He can make not only our words a power to others, but also his own presence felt by them.
II. THE INTERCESSOR'S PLEAS.
1. God's love to himself:—"Thou hast said I know thee by name," etc. The realisation of our personal interest in God's love is the basis of intercession for others. It gives confidence that God will hear us. It gives hope. He who has blessed us can also bless them.
2. God's relation to them for whom he entreats:—"Consider that this nation is thy people." We can urge on behalf of the vilest that God created them, and gave Christ to die for them.
3. That God's presence and favour are needful to make himself and the people what God desires them to become:—"So shall we be separated." They can be consecrated only by the might of God's revealed love.
III. THE INTERCESSOR'S REWARD: THE VISION OF GOD'S GLORY.
1. "And he said, Show me thy glory." The lifting up of availing prayer for others quickens our desire to know more of him with whom we speak.
2. The full vision of God is for the sinless life. The splendour of the Divine purity would slay us. John fell at Christ's feet as one dead.
3. How the fuller vision granted in the present may be had.
4. The place of vision:—"A rock," "by me." Taking our stand upon Christ, the glory of God's words and deeds breaks upon us.
5. The place of safety, "in a clift of the rock." Only in the riven side of Jesus the vision of God is not to condemnation and death, but to justification and life.—U.