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21. And the Lord said, Behold, there is a place by me This description may illdeed appear puerile, but it is well adapted to our imperfection; nor will any despise it who is duly conscious of his own imbecility and ignorance. There seems to be a contradiction between these two things, that the beauty of God should be shewn to Moses, and still that the sight of Him should be refused. This difficulty is here solved, for Moses was to see God only from behind. It is a similitude taken from men, whom we only partially recognise, if their face be turned away; for clear recognition is only obtained by seeing the face and countenance.
The fissure or hole in the rock was like a narrow and oblique window, which so far admits the sun’s rays as that one, who is shut up in a deep and obscure place, may receive some advantage from the light, yet never see the sun itself nor enjoy its brightness. Thus we, imprisoned as it were in our bodies, cannot behold God’s glory freely and directly; but He illuminates us obliquely, so that at least we see Him from behind. I do not speak of all, but of the most perfect amongst us, such as Moses was, who, although he obtained the extraordinary privilege which is here recorded, yet could not endure God’s glory through the infirmity of his flesh; and therefore the hand of God was interposed, so that he should only see Him in part. By God’s hand is meant the darkness wherewith He was covered, lest the eyes of Moses should be stretched in curiosity to see further than was lawful. Some 375375 “Tertullian referreth these backer or latter parts to the latter times of the Messiah: My glory which thou desirest to see, shall be revealed in the latter times.” — Willet in loco. Owen’s exposition of this passage is worthy of quotation: “The face of God, or the gracious majesty of his Being, his essential glory, is not to be seen of any in this life; we cannot see him as he is. But the glorious manifestation of himself we may behold and contemplate. This we may see as the back parts of God; that shadow of his excellencies which he casteth forth in the passing by us in his works and dispensations. This Moses shall see. And wherein did it consist? Why, in the revelation, and declaration of this name of God. Exodus 34:6, 7. To be known by this name, to be honored, feared, believed, as that declares him, is the great glory of God.” — Owen’s Expos. of Psalm 130. (Edin., edit. 1851, vol. 6, p. 481.) refer “my back parts” to the fullless of time, when Christ was manifested in the flesh, as if it were said, Thou shalt not see me until clothed in human nature; this is a subtle speculation, but by no means sound, nay, altogether wide of the genuine meaning.