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33. Moses and the Glory of the Lord
And the Lord said unto Moses, Depart, and go up hence, thou and the people which thou hast brought up out of the land of Egypt, unto the land which I sware unto Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, Unto thy seed will I give it: 2And I will send an angel before thee; and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite: 3Unto a land flowing with milk and honey: for I will not go up in the midst of thee; for thou art a stiffnecked people: lest I consume thee in the way.
4And when the people heard these evil tidings, they mourned: and no man did put on him his ornaments. 5For the Lord had said unto Moses, Say unto the children of Israel, Ye are a stiffnecked people: I will come up into the midst of thee in a moment, and consume thee: therefore now put off thy ornaments from thee, that I may know what to do unto thee. 6And the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments by the mount Horeb. 7And Moses took the tabernacle, and pitched it without the camp, afar off from the camp, and called it the Tabernacle of the congregation. And it came to pass, that every one which sought the Lord went out unto the tabernacle of the congregation, which was without the camp. 8And it came to pass, when Moses went out unto the tabernacle, that all the people rose up, and stood every man at his tent door, and looked after Moses, until he was gone into the tabernacle. 9And it came to pass, as Moses entered into the tabernacle, the cloudy pillar descended, and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the Lord talked with Moses. 10And all the people saw the cloudy pillar stand at the tabernacle door: and all the people rose up and worshipped, every man in his tent door. 11And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend. And he turned again into the camp: but his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the tabernacle.
12And Moses said unto the Lord, See, thou sayest unto me, Bring up this people: and thou hast not let me know whom thou wilt send with me. Yet thou hast said, I know thee by name, and thou hast also found grace in my sight. 13Now therefore, I pray thee, if I have found grace in thy sight, shew me now thy way, that I may know thee, that I may find grace in thy sight: and consider that this nation is thy people. 14And he said, My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest. 15And he said unto him, If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence. 16For wherein shall it be known here that I and thy people have found grace in thy sight? is it not in that thou goest with us? so shall we be separated, I and thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth. 17And the Lord said unto Moses, I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken: for thou hast found grace in my sight, and I know thee by name. 18And he said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory. 19And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy. 20And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live. 21And the Lord said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock: 22And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: 23And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.
4. And when the people heard these evil tidings Hence it more clearly appears that, as I have said, it was like a thunderbolt to them when God withdrew Himself from the people; for this divorce is more fatal than innumerable deaths. It might indeed at first sight seem delightful to be the masters of a rich and fertile land; but dull as the people generally were, God smote them suddenly, so that all its delights became insipid, and its fruitfulness like famine itself, when they perceived that they would be but fatted unto the day of slaughter. A useful piece of instruction is to be gained from hence, viz., that if we neglect God’s favor and are captivated by the sweetness of His blessings, we are ensnared like fishes on a hook. God promised the Israelites what might attract them for a little season: He denied them what they should have alone desired, that He would be their God. The evil tidings affected them with sorrow, for they felt that men cannot be happy unless God be propitious; nay, that nothing can be more wretched than to be alienated from Him. “It is good for me to draw near to God,” (Psalm 73:28,) says David; and elsewhere, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,” (Psalm 33:12, and Psalm 144:15;) again, “the Lord is the portion of mine inheritance, my lot is fallen in pleasant places.” (Psalm 16:5, 6.) This, therefore, is the climax of all miseries to have God against us, whilst we are fed by His bounty; and consequently the Israelites began to shew some wisdom, when, awaking from their lethargy, they counted all other things as naught, unless God should pursue them with His paternal favor. We infer from the grossness of their stupidity, that it was brought to pass by a special gift of God, that they were affected with such sorrow as to conduct them to a solemn mourning. First, Moses says that they did not put on their ornaments, and then that they were commanded by God to put them off; but this will be perfectly consistent if we take the latter as explanatory, as if he had said that they did not wear their ornaments because God had forbidden it, by enjoining them to mourn.
God here assumes the character of an angry judge, preparing to inflict vengeance in His wrath, in the words, “I will come up into the midst of thee in a moment, and consume thee;” in order that their alarm may humble them the more, and stir them up to earnest prayer. It was avisible sign of mourning to He in squalidhess and uncleanness, that thus their penitence might be openly testified; for there was no efficacy in the rite and ceremony to propitiate God, except in so far as the inward affection of the mind manifested itself by a true and genuine confession. For we must bear in mind what God requires by Joel, (2:13,) that we should “rend our heart, and not our garments;” nevertheless, whilst He cares not for the outward appearance, nay, whilst He abominates hypocrisy, still, if the sinner has truly repented, it cannot be but that, humbly acknowledging his guilt, he will add the outward profession of it. For if Paul, who was guiltless of any offense, deemed that the Corinthians were to be mourned for by him when they had not “repented of their uncleanness, and fornication, and lasciviousness,” because God humbled him in their sin, (2 Corinthians 12:21;) how should not those mourn publicly who are conscious of their own guilt, especially when, being convicted by the judgment of men, they are summoned to the tribunal of God? And therefore it is not without reason that he elsewhere teaches, that the sorrow which worketh repentance should also bring forth these other fruits, viz., carefulness, clearing of themselves, indignation, fear, vehement desire, zeal, revenge. (2 Corinthians 7:10, 11.) For the sake of example also, sinners should not only grieve in silence before God, but willingly undergo the penalty of ignominy before men, so as by self-condenmation to confess that God is a just Judge, to provoke others to imitate them, and, by this warning of human frailty to prevent them from a similar fall.
After, however, God has inspired them with fear, He allays His anger as it were, and declares that He will consider what He will do with them, in order that they may gather courage to ask for pardon; for, although he does not actually pardon them, He sufficiently arouses them to hope, by giving them some taste of His mercy; for, by seeming to leave them in suspense, it is not with the intention that they should approach Him hesitatingly to ask forgiveness, but that their anxiety may urge them more and more to earnest prayer, and keep them in a state of humility.