No sooner had Moses got to the top of the mount than God gave him the meeting (Exod. 34:5): The Lord descended, by some sensible token of his presence, and manifestation of his glory. His descending bespeaks his condescension; he humbles himself to take cognizance of those that humble themselves to walk with him. Ps. 113:6; Lord, what is man, that he should be thus visited? He descended in the cloud, probably that pillar of cloud which had hitherto gone before Israel, and had the day before met Moses at the door of the tabernacle. This cloud was to strike an awe upon Moses, that the familiarity he was admitted to might not breed contempt. The disciples feared, when they entered the cloud. His making a cloud his pavilion intimated that, though he made known much of himself, yet there was much more concealed. Now observe,
I. How God proclaimed his name (Exod. 34:6, 7): he did it in transitu—as he passed by him. Fixed views of God are reserved for the future state; the best we have in this world are transient. God now was performing what he had promised Moses, the day before, that his glory should pass by, Exod. 33:22. He proclaimed the name of the Lord, by which he would make himself known. He had made himself known to Moses in the glory of his self-existence and self-sufficiency when he proclaimed that name, I am that I am; now he makes himself known in the glory of his grace, and goodness, and all-sufficiency to us. Now that God is about to publish a second edition of the law he prefaces it with this proclamation; for it is God’s grace or goodness that gives the law, especially the remedial law. The pardon of Israel’s sin in worshipping the calf was now to pass the seals; and God, by this declaration, would let them know that he pardoned ex mero motu—merely out of his own good pleasure, not for their merits’ sake, but from his own inclination to forgive. The proclaiming of it denotes the universal extent of God’s mercy. He is not only good to Israel, but good to all; let all take notice of it. He that hath an ear, let him hear, and know, and believe,
1. That the God with whom we have to do is a great God. He is Jehovah, the Lord, who has his being of himself, and is the fountain of all being, Jehovah-El, the Lord, the strong God, a God of almighty power himself, and the original of all power. This is prefixed before the display of his mercy, to teach us to think and to speak even of God’s grace and goodness with great seriousness and a holy awe, and to encourage us to depend upon these mercies; they are not the mercies of a man, that is frail and feeble, false and fickle, but the mercies of the Lord, the Lord God; therefore sure mercies, and sovereign mercies, mercies that may be trusted, but not tempted.
2. That he is a good God. His greatness and goodness illustrate and set off each other. That the terror of his greatness may not make us afraid, we are told how good he is; and, that we may not presume upon his goodness, we are told how great he is. Many words are here heaped up, to acquaint us with, and convince us of, God’s goodness, and to show how much his goodness is both his glory and his delight, yet without any tautology. (1.) He is merciful. This bespeaks his tender compassion, like that of a father to his children. This is put first, because it is the first wheel in all the instances of God’s good-will to fallen man, whose misery makes him an object of pity, Jdg. 10:16; Isa. 63:9. Let us not then have either hard thoughts of God or hard hearts towards our brethren. (2.) He is gracious. This bespeaks both freeness and kindness; it intimates not only that he has a compassion to his creatures, but a complacency in them and in doing good to them, and this of his own good-will, and not for the sake of any thing in them. His mercy is grace, free grace; this teaches us to be not only pitiful, but courteous, 1 Pet. 3:8. (3.) He is long-suffering. This is a branch of God’s goodness which the wickedness of sinners gives occasion for; that of Israel had done so: they had tried his patience, and experienced it. He is long-suffering, that is, he is slow to anger, and delays the execution of his justice; he waits to be gracious, and lengthens out the offers of his mercy. (4.) He is abundant in goodness and truth. This bespeaks plentiful goodness, goodness abounding above our deserts, above our conception and expression. The springs of mercy are always full, the streams of mercy always flowing; there is mercy enough in God, enough for all, enough for each, enough for ever. It bespeaks promised goodness, goodness and truth put together, goodness engaged by promise, and his faithfulness pledged for the security of it. He not only does good, but by his promise he raises our expectation of it, and even binds himself to show mercy. (5.) He keepeth mercy for thousands. This denotes, [1.] Mercy extended to thousands of persons. When he gives to some, still he keeps for others, and is never exhausted; he has mercy enough for all the thousands of Israel, when they shall multiply as the sand. [2.] Mercy entailed upon thousands of generations, even those upon whom the ends of the world have come; nay, the line of it is drawn parallel with that of eternity itself. (6.) He for giveth iniquity, transgression, and sin. Pardoning mercy is specified, because in this divine grace is most magnified, and because in this divine grace is most magnified, and because it is this which opens the door to all other gifts of his divine grace, and because of this he had lately given a very pregnant proof. He forgives offences of all sorts—iniquity, transgression, and sin, multiplies his pardons; and with him is plenteous redemption.
3. That he is a just and holy God. For, (1.) He will by no means clear the guilty. Some read it so as to express a mitigation of wrath, even when he does punish: When he empties, he will not make quite desolate; that is, “He does not proceed to the greatest extremity, till there be no remedy.” As we read it, we must expound it that he will by no means connive at the guilty, as if he took no notice of their sin. Or, he will not clear the impenitently guilty, that go on still in their trespasses: he will not clear the guilty without some satisfaction to his justice, and necessary vindications of the honour of his government. (2.) He visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children. He may justly do it, for all souls are his, and there is a malignity in sin that taints the blood. He sometimes will do it, especially for the punishment of idolaters. Thus he shows his hatred to sin, and displeasure against it; yet he keepeth not his anger for ever, but visits to the third and fourth generation only, while he keepeth his mercy for thousands. Well, this is God’s name for ever, and this is his memorial unto all generations.
II. How Moses received this declaration which God made of himself, and of his grace and mercy. It should seem as if Moses accepted this as a sufficient answer to his request that God would show him his glory; for we read not that he went into the cleft of the rock, whence to gain a sight of God’s back parts. Perhaps this satisfied him, and he desired no more; as we read not that Thomas did thrust his hand into Christ’s side, though Christ invited him to do it. God having thus proclaimed his name, Moses says, “It is enough, I expect no more till I come to heaven;” at least he did not think fit to relate what he saw. Now we are here told,
1. What impression it made upon him: Moses made haste, and bowed his head, Exod. 34:8. Thus he expressed, (1.) His humble reverence and adoration of God’s glory, giving him the honour due to that name he had thus proclaimed. Even the goodness of God must be looked upon by us with a profound veneration and holy awe. (2.) His joy in this discovery which God had made of himself, and his thankfulness for it. We have reason gratefully to acknowledge God’s goodness to us, not only in the real instances of it, but in the declarations he has made of it by his word; not only that he is, and will be, gracious to us, but that he is pleased to let us know it. (3.) His holy submission to the will of God, made known in this declaration, subscribing to his justice as well as mercy, and putting himself and his people Israel under the government and direction of such a God as Jehovah had now proclaimed himself to be. Let this God be our God for ever and ever.
2. What improvement he made of it. He immediately grounded a prayer upon it (Exod. 34:9); and a more earnest affectionate prayer it is, (1.) For the presence of God with his people Israel in the wilderness: “I pray thee, go among us, for thy presence is all in all to our safety and success.” (2.) For pardon of sin: “O pardon our iniquity and our sin, else we cannot expect thee to go among us.” And, (3.) For the privileges of a peculiar people: “Take us for thy inheritance, which thou wilt have a particular eye to, and concern for, and delight in.” These things God had already promised, and given Moses assurances of, and yet he prays for them, not as doubting the sincerity of God’s grants, but as one solicitous for the ratification of them. God’s promises are intended, not to supersede, but to direct and encourage, prayer. Those who have some good hopes, through grace, that their sins are pardoned, must yet continue to pray for pardon, for the renewing of their pardon, and the clearing of it more and more to their souls. The more we see of God’s goodness the more ashamed we should be of our own sins, and the more earnest for an interest in it. God had said, in the close of the proclamation, that he would visit the iniquity upon the children; and Moses here deprecates that. “Lord, do not only pardon it to them, but to their children, and let our covenant-relation to thee be entailed upon our posterity, as an inheritance.” Thus Moses, like a man of a truly public spirit, intercedes even for the children that should be born. But it is a strange plea he urges: For it is a stiff-necked people. God had given this as a reason why he would not go along with them, Exod. 33:3. “Yea,” says Moses, “the rather go along with us; for the worse they are the more need they have of thy presence and grace to make them better.” Moses sees them so stiff-necked that, for his part, he has neither patience nor power enough to deal with them. “Therefore, Lord, do thou go among us, else they will never be kept in awe. Thou wilt spare, and bear with them, for thou art God, and not man,” Hos. 11:9.
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