1And when the people saw that Moses. In this narrative we perceive the detestable impiety of the people, their worse than base ingratitude, and their monstrous madness, mixed with stupidity. For their sakes Moses had been carried up above the state of terrestrial life, that he might receive the injunctions of his mission, and that his authority might be beyond the reach of controversy. They perversely declare that they know not what has become of him, nay, they speak contemptuously of him as of a person unknown to them. It is for this that Stephen severely blames them. This is that Moses (he says) whom your fathers rejected, though he was the minister of their salvation. (Act_7:35.) They confess that he had been their deliverer, yet they cannot tolerate his absence for a little time, nor are they affected with any reverence towards him, unless they have him before their eyes. Moreover, although God offered Himself as if present with them by day and by night in the pillar of fire, and in the cloud, they still despised so illustrious and lively an image of His glory and power, and desire to have Him represented to them in the shape of a dead idol. For what could they mean by saying, “make us gods which shall go before us?” Could they not see the pillar of fire and the cloud? Was not God’s paternal solicitude abundantly conspicuous every day in the manna? Was he not near them in ways innumerable?
Yet, accounting as nothing all these true, and sure, and manifest tokens of God’s presence, they desire to have a figure which may satisfy their vanity. And this was the original source of idolatry, that men supposed that they could not otherwise possess God, unless by subjecting Him to their own imagination. Nothing, however, can be more preposterous; for since the minds of men and all their senses sink far below the loftiness of God, when they try to bring Him down to the measure of their own weak capacity, they travesty Him. In a word, whatever man’s reason conceives of Him is mere falsehood; and nevertheless, this depraved longing can hardly be repressed, so fiercely does it burst out. They are also influenced by pride and presumption, when they do not hesitate to drag down His glory as it were from heaven, and to subject it to earthly elements. We now understand what motive chiefly impelled the Israelites to this madness in demanding that a figure of God should be set before them, viz., because they measured Him by their own senses. Wonderful indeed was their stupidity, to desire that a God should be made by mortal men, as if he could be a god, or could deserve to be accounted such who obtains his divinity at the caprice of men. Still, it is not probable that they were so absurd as to desire a new god to be created for them; but they call “gods” by metonymy those outward images, by looking at which the superstitious imagine that God is near them. And this is evident from the fact, that not only the noun but the verb also is in the plural number; for although they were satisfied with one God, still they in a manner cut Him to pieces by their various representations of Him. Nevertheless, however they may deceive themselves under this or that pretext, they still desire to be creators of God.
Those who suppose that confusion is implied by the word “delayed,” are, in my opinion, mistaken; for, although the word בשש, boshesh, with its third radical doubled, is derived from בוש, bush, which means to be ashamed, still it is clear from Jud_5:28, that it is used simply for to delay, where it is said, in the address of the mother of Sisera, “Why does his chariot delay (or defer) to come?”
Hence we may understand that hypocrites so fear God as that religion vanishes from their hearts, unless there be some task-master (exactor) standing by them to keep them in the path of duty. They duly obeyed Moses and reverenced his person; but, because they were only influenced by his presence, as soon as they were deprived of it they ceased to fear God. Thus, whilst Joshua was alive, and the other holy Judges, they seemed to be faithful in the exercise of piety, but when they were dead, they straightway relapsed into disobedience.
When the people saw that Moses delayed – How long this was before the expiration of the forty days, we cannot tell; but it certainly must have been some considerable time, as the ornaments must be collected, and the calf or ox, after having been founded, must require a considerable time to fashion it with the graving tool; and certainly not more than two or three persons could work on it at once. This work therefore, must have required several days.
The people gathered themselves together – They came in a tumultuous and seditious manner, insisting on having an object of religious worship made for them, as they intended under its direction to return to Egypt. See Act_7:39, Act_7:40.
As for this Moses, the man that brought us up – This seems to be the language of great contempt, and by it we may see the truth of the character given them by Aaron, Exo_32:22, they were set on mischief. It is likely they might have supposed that Moses had perished in the fire, which they saw had invested the top of the mountain into which he went.
Exo 32:1 Up, make us gods which shall go before us. They were weary of waiting for the promised land. They thought themselves detained too long at mount Sinai. They had a God that stayed with them, but they must have a God to go before them to the land flowing with milk and honey. They were weary of waiting for the return of Moses: As for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of Egypt, we know not what is become of him – Observe how slightly they speak of his person, this Moses: And how suspiciously of his delay, we know not what is become of him. And they were weary of waiting for a divine institution of religious worship among them, so they would have a worship of their own invention, probably such as they had seen among the Egyptians. They say, make us gods which shall go before us. Gods! How many would they have? Is not one sufficient? And what good would gods of their own making do them? They must have such Gods to go before them as could not go themselves farther than they were carried!
Unto Aaron – The chief authority during the absence of Moses was committed to Aaron and Hur Exo_24:14.
Make us gods – The substantive אלהים ‘elôhîym is plural in form and may denote gods. But according to the Hebrew idiom, the meaning need not be plural, and hence, the word is used as the common designation of the true God (Gen_1:1, etc. See Exo_21:6 note). It here denotes a god, and should be so rendered.
2. And Aaron said unto them, Break off the golden ear-rings. I doubt not but that Aaron, being overcome by the importunate clamor of the people, endeavored to escape by means of a subterfuge; still, this is no valid excuse for him, since he ought to have heartily opposed them in a direct reply, and sharply to have inveighed against their wicked renunciation of God. By commanding them to give him gold, he might have quieted their intemperate demands through dread of the expense; but it was a remedy more likely to be successful, to snatch from them those ornaments and trinkets of which women do not willingly allow themselves to be deprived. He therefore purposely requires of them a hateful, or at any rate a by no means pleasant thing, that he might thus impede their sinful design; but without success, for the power of superstition to carry people away is not less than that of lust. Perhaps also he had the tabernacle in view, lest they should sacrilegiously proceed to lay hands on the sacred vessels; and there was a probability that, if it remained uninjured, the sight of it might at length recall them to a better mind. Besides, the recollection of their recent profuse liberality might have extinguished or cooled their ardor, from the fear of being utterly drained. He says emphatically, “Break off the ear-rings from your wives and children,” that they may desist from the purpose out of dread of giving offense, since women are slow to part with such objects of gratification. But it is added immediately afterwards, that they were so blinded by the fervor of their foolish zeal, that they undervalued everything in comparison with their perverse desire, and thus the ornaments were taken from their ears. The readiness with which this was done was wonderful; and not by one person, or by a few, but by the whole people, as if in rivalry of each other. Even in these days ear-rings are worn by the Orientals, though it is not so common among us. Now, if unbelievers are so prodigal in their absurdities as to throw away thus carelessly and rashly whatever is precious to them, how shall their tenacity be excusable who are so niggardly in providing for the service of God? Hence let us learn to beware of foolishly squandering our possessions in unnecessary expenditure, and to be liberal where we ought; especially to be ready to spend ourselves, and what we have, when we know that our offerings are pleasing and acceptable to God.
Exo 32:2 And Aaron said break off the golden ear – rings – We do not find that he said one word to discountenance their proposal. Some suppose, that when Aaron bid them break off their ear – rings, he did it with design to crush the proposal, believing that, though their covetousness would have let them do it, yet their pride would not have suffered them to part with them.
Break off the golden earrings – It has been very generally held from early times, that Aaron did not willingly lend himself to the mad design of the multitude; but that, overcome by their importunity, he asked them to give up such possessions as he knew they would not willingly part with, in the hope of putting a check on them. Assuming this to have been his purpose, he took a wrong measure of their fanaticism, for all the people made the sacrifice at once Exo_32:3. His weakness, in any case, was unpardonable and called for the intercession of Moses Deu_9:20.
Exo 32:3 And all the people brake off the golden earrings, which were in their ears,…. The men took off their earrings, and persuaded their wives and children, or obliged them to part with theirs; though the Targum of Jonathan says the women refused to give their ornaments to their husbands, therefore all the people immediately broke off all the golden ornaments which were in their ears (x), so intent were they upon idolatry. This is to be understood not of every individual, but of the greatest part of the people; so apostle explains it of some of them, 1Co_10:7. Idolaters spare no cost nor pains to support their worship, and will strip themselves, their wives, and children, of their ornaments, to deck their idols; which may shame the worshippers of the true God, who are oftentimes too backward to contribute towards the maintenance of his worship and service:
and brought them unto Aaron: presently, the selfsame day; they soon forgot the commands enjoined them to have no other gods, save one, and to make no graven image to bow down to it, and their own words, Exo_24:7.
(x) So Pirke Eliezer, c. 45.
4. And he received them at their hand. He briefly narrates this base and shameful deed; yet sufficiently shows, that whilst Aaron yielded to their madness, he still desired to cure it, though, at the same time, he was weak and frightened, so as to pretend to give his assent, because he feared the consequences of the tumult as regarded himself. For why does he not command the ear-rings to be thrown into some chest, lest he should pollute himself by the contagion of the sacrilege? Since, therefore, he received them into his own hands, it was a sign of a servile and effeminate mind; and thus he is said to have been the founder, or sculptor of the calf, when it is nevertheless probable that workmen were employed upon it. But the infamy of the crime is justly brought upon him, inasmuch as he was its main author, and by his guilt betrayed the religion and honor of God.
The Hebrew word חרט, cheret, some translate a stylus or graving-tool, some a mould; the former think that the rough mass was formed by sculpture into the shape of a calf; the latter, that the calf was cast or founded; as we say, jetterenmousle, to cast in a mould. Ridiculous, however, is the fable, that when the gold was thrown into a furnace, it came forth like a calf without human workmanship; but thus licentiously do the Jews trifle with their fond inventions. The more probable conjecture is, that Aaron designedly sought a remedy for the people’s folly.
It was a disgraceful thing to prostrate themselves before a calf, in which there was no connection or affinity with the glory of God; and with this the Prophet expressly reproaches them, that “they changed their glory (i.e., God, in whom alone they should have gloried) into the similitude of an ox that eateth grass.” (Psa_106:20.) For, if it be insulting to God to force Him into the likeness of men, with how much greater and more inexcusable ignominy is His majesty defiled, when He is compared to brute animals? Still it had no effect towards bringing them to repentance; and this is expressed with much force immediately afterwards, when they said to each other, “These be thy gods, O Israel.” Surely the hideousness of the spectacle should have struck them with horror, so as to induce them voluntarily to condemn their own madness; but, on the contrary, they mutually exhort one another to obstinacy; for there is no doubt but that Moses indicates that they were like fans to each other, and thus that their frenzy was reciprocally excited. For, as Isaiah and Micah exhort believers, that each of them should stretch out his hand to his brother, and that they should say to each other, “Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord;” (Isa_2:3; Mic_4:2;) thus does perverse rivalry provoke unbelievers mutually to excite each other to progress in sin. Still they neither speak ironically nor in mockery of God, nor have any intention of falling away from Him; but they cover their sin against Him under a deceitful pretext, as if they denied that by their new and unwonted mode of worship, they desired to detract from the honor of their Redeemer; but rather that it was thus magnified because they worshipped Himself under a visible image. Thus now-a-days do the Papists boldly obtrude their fictitious rites upon God; and boast that they do more for Him by their additions and inventions than as if they merely continued within the bounds prescribed by Himself. But let us learn from this passage, that whatever colouring superstition may give to its idols, and by whatever titles it may dignify them, they remain idols still; for, however those who corrupt the pure worship of God by their inventions, may pride themselves on their good intentions, they still deny the true God, and substitute devils in His place.
Their conjecture is probable who suppose that, Aaron devised the calf in accordance with Egyptian superstition; for it is well known with what senseless worship that nation honored its god Anubis. It is true that they kept a live bull to be consulted as the supreme god; but, inasmuch as the people were accustomed to this fictitious deity, Aaron seems in obedience to their madness to have followed that old custom, from whence they had contracted the error, which was so deeply rooted in their hearts. Thus from bad examples does contagion easily creep into the hearts of those who were else untainted; nor is it without good reason that David protests that idols should be held in such abomination by him, that he would not even “take up their names into his lips,” (Psa_16:4;) for, unless we seriously abhor the ungodly, and withdraw ourselves as far as possible from their superstitions, they straightway infect us by their pestilential influence.
Fashioned it with a graving tool – There has been much controversy about the meaning of the word חרט cheret in the text: some make it a mould, others a garment, cloth, or apron; some a purse or bag, and others a graver. It is likely that some mould was made on this occasion, that the gold when fused was cast into it, and that afterwards it was brought into form and symmetry by the action of the chisel and graver.
These be thy gods, O Israel – The whole of this is a most strange and unaccountable transaction. Was it possible that the people could have so soon lost sight of the wonderful manifestations of God upon the mount? Was it possible that Aaron could have imagined that he could make any god that could help them? And yet it does not appear that he ever remonstrated with the people! Possibly he only intended to make them some symbolical representation of the Divine power and energy, that might be as evident to them as the pillar of cloud and fire had been, and to which God might attach an always present energy and influence; or in requiring them to sacrifice their ornaments, he might have supposed they would have desisted from urging their request: but all this is mere conjecture, with very little probability to support it. It must however be granted that Aaron does not appear to have even designed a worship that should supersede the worship of The Most High; hence we find him making proclamation, Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord, (יהוה); and we find farther that some of the proper rites of the true worship were observed on this occasion, for they brought burnt-offerings and peace-offerings, Exo_32:6, Exo_32:7 : hence it is evident he intended that the true God should be the object of their worship, though he permitted and even encouraged them to offer this worship through an idolatrous medium, the molten calf. It has been supposed that this was an exact resemblance of the famous Egyptian god Apis who was worshipped under the form of an ox, which worship the Israelites no doubt saw often practiced in Egypt. Some however think that this worship of Apis was not then established; but we have already had sufficient proof that different animals were sacred among the Egyptians, nor have we any account of any worship in Egypt earlier than that offered to Apis, under the figure of an Ox.
The sense approved by most modern critics is: and he received the gold at their hand and collected it in a bag and made it a molten calf. The Israelites must have been familiar with the ox-worship of the Egyptians; perhaps many of them had witnessed the rites of Mnevis at Heliopolis, almost; on the borders of the land of Goshen, and they could not have been unacquainted with the more famous rites of Apis at Memphis. It is expressly said that they yielded to the idolatry of Egypt while they were in bondage Jos_24:14; Eze_20:8; Eze_23:3, Eze_23:8; and this is in keeping with the earliest Jewish tradition (Philo). In the next verse, Aaron appears to speak of the calf as if it was a representative of Yahweh – “Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord.” The Israelites did not, it should be noted, worship a living Mnevis, or Apis, having a proper name, but only the golden type of the animal. The mystical notions connected with the ox by the Egyptian priests may have possessed their minds, and, when expressed in this modified and less gross manner, may have been applied to the Lord, who had really delivered them out of the hand of the Egyptians. Their sin then lay, not in their adopting another god, but in their pretending to worship a visible symbol of Him whom no symbol could represent. The close connection between the calves of Jeroboam and this calf is shown by the repetition of the formula, “which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt” 1Ki_12:28.
These be thy gods – This is thy god. See Exo_32:1 note.
30. And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses saidInasmuch as this judgment of God was terrible, lest the Israelites should altogether fall into despair, Moses addresses a consolation to them to calm their sorrow, promising that he will make entreaty to God in their behalf. Meanwhile, in order that they might betake themselves as humble suppliants to God’s mercy, he reminds them of the enormity of their sin. The Hebrew words literally mean, ye have sinned a great sin; there is, however, no ambiguity in the sense; for he would humble them by setting the greatness of their crime before them, in order that they may earnestly give themselves to repentance. To the same effect is the particle אולי, auli, which is often used to express uncertainty, but here, as in many other places, only denotes difficulty; lest, as is frequently the case, they should think of asking pardon unconcernedly and carelessly, and not with anxious earnestness. Thus, when Peter addresses Simon Magus, he bids him pray, “if perhaps” his iniquity may be forgiven him, ( Act_8:22;) not that he should vacillate or waver in his mind like those who are in suspense or doubt, but that terrified by the fear of God’s wrath, he should anxiously seek after the remedy.
Exo 32:30 And it came to pass on the morrow,…. The eighteenth day of Tammuz it was, the same writers say, that Moses implored the mercy of God for Israel. Jarchi on Exo_32:11 says it was on the seventeenth day the tables were broke, on the eighteenth the calf was burnt, and on the nineteenth that Moses went up to intercede for them:
that Moses said unto the people, ye have sinned a great sin; the sin of idolatry, see Exo_32:21 from whence it appears, that all that were guilty of it were not slain, perhaps only some of one tribe; and there was great reason to fear, that as wrath was gone forth it would not stop here, but others would fall a sacrifice to the divine displeasure; wherefore it is proposed by Moses to make application to the Lord on their behalf, that they might obtain mercy:
and I will go up unto the Lord: on the top of Mount Sinai:
peradventure I shall make atonement for your sin; not by any sacrifice offered, but by his prayers prevail with God to forgive their sin, and not punish any more for it: he had by his first prayer obtained of the Lord not to consume them off of the face of the earth, and utterly destroy them as a nation; but that he did not hinder but that resentment might be shown in a lesser degree, or by parts; as not 3000 men had been cut off, chiefly out of one tribe, if not altogether, the rest of the tribes might expect to be visited, according to the number of their delinquents.
31. And Moses returned unto the Lord This relation does not stand in its proper place, since, as we have already said, Moses does not exactly preserve the order of time. For we shall see in the next chapter that God refuses with respect to His angel what he here accords; since it is a mere quibble to say that a mere ordinary angel is here promised, in whom God will not so manifest His presence as He has done before. Therefore now Moses briefly records what he will afterwards more fully set forth, i.e.,how God was appeased and received the people back into favor, which was not the case until he was commanded to hew out or polish the new tables. And we know that it was a figure of speech in common use with the Hebrews to touch upon the chief points of a matter, and then to fill up, in the progress of the history, what had been omitted.
His prayer commences with confession; for in such a case of wicked ingratitude nothing remained but freely to acknowledge their guilt, so as to look nowhere else for safety in their state of ruin and despair but to the mercy of God; for hypocrites only inflame His wrath the more by extenuating their offenses. The particle אנא, ana,which we have followed others in translating “I beseech,” (obsecro,) is sometimes expressive of exhortation, and used like Agedum,(come on;) here it only signifies what the Latins express by amabo After having anticipated God’s judgment by the confession of their guilt, he nevertheless implores for pardon; and this with extreme earnestness, which is the reason why his address is suddenly broken off, for the sentence is imperfect, as is often the case in pathetic appeals, “if thou wilt forgive their sin.” I have no objection to make if any should construe the particle אם, im, “I would,” (utinam,)still in the vehemence of his feelings he seems to burst forth into an exclamation, “Oh, if thou wilt forgive;” though it may be but a modest petition, “Wilt thou forgive?” for, though the prayers of the saints flow from their confidence, still they have to struggle with doubts and questionings within themselves, whether God is willing to listen to them. Hence it arises that their prayers begin hesitatingly, until faith prevails.
What follows may in many respects appear to be absurd; for Moses both imperiously lays down the law to God, and in his eager impetuosity seeks to overthrow, as far as he can, His eternal counsel, and inconsiderately robs him of His justice. Surely all must condemn the pride of this address, Unless thou sparest the offenders, count me not as one of thy servants; nor can there seem to be less of folly in his attempt to bring to nought God’s eternal predestination. Besides, when he desires that he himself should be involved in the same punishment, what is this but to destroy all distinction, that God should rashly condemn the innocent with the transgressors? Nor would I indeed deny that Moses was carried away by such vehemence, that he speaks like one possessed. Still it must be observed, that when believers unburden their cares into God’s bosom, they do not always deal discreetly, nor with well-ordered language, but sometimes stammer, sometimes pour forth “groans which cannot be uttered,” sometimes pass by everything else, and lay hold of and press some particular petition. Assuredly there was nothing less present to the mind of Moses than to dictate to God; nor, if he had been asked, would he have said that what God had decreed respecting His elect before the creation of the world could be overthrown. Again, he knew that nothing was more foreign to the Judge of all the world than to destroy the innocent together with the reprobate. But since his care for the people, whose welfare he knew to be consigned to him by God, had absorbed, as it were, all his senses, nothing else occupies his mind but that they may be saved, whilst he does not entertain a single thought which interferes with this his great solicitude. Hence it is, that arrogating far too much to himself, he throws himself forward as the people’s surety, and forgets that he is predestined to salvation by God’s immutable counsel; and, finally, does not sufficiently consider what would be becoming in God.
Nor is Moses the only one who has been thus carried away; but Paul has gone even further, expressing himself thus in writing after full premeditation, “I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren.” (Rom_9:3.) The fact is, that intent on the welfare of the elect people, they neither of them examine critically into particulars, and therefore devote themselves in behalf of the whole Church; inasmuch as this general principle was deeply rooted in their minds, that if the welfare of the whole body were secured, it would be well with the individual members. Hence the question arises whether it is a pious feeling to prefer the salvation of others to our own? Some being afraid lest the example of Moses and Paul should be prejudicial, have said that they were only influenced by their zeal for God’s glory, when they devoted themselves to eternal destruction; and that they did not prefer the people’s salvation to their own. Even, however, though this should be accepted, still their words would have been hyperbolical; for, although God’s glory may well be preferred to a hundred worlds, yet He so far accommodates Himself to our ignorance, that He will not have the eternal salvation of believers brought into opposition with His glory; but has rather bound them inseparably together, as cause and effect. Moreover, it is abundantly clear that Moses and Paul did devote themselves to destruction out of regard to the general salvation. Let, therefore, that solution which I have advanced hold good, that their petition was so confused, that in the vehemence of their ardor they did not see the contradiction, like men beside themselves. Nor is it matter of surprise that they should have been in such perplexity, since they supposed that by the destruction of the elect people God’s faithfulness was abandoned, and He Himself in a manner brought to nought, if the eternal adoption wherewith He had honored the children of Abraham should fail.
By “the book,” in which God is said to have written His elect, must be understood, metaphorically, His decree. But the expression which Moses uses, asking to be blotted out of the number of the pious, is an incorrect one, since it cannot be that one who has been once elected should be ever reprobated; and those lunatics who, on this ground, overturn, as far as they can, that prime article of our faiith concerning God’s eternal predestination, thereby demonstrate their malice no less than their ignorance. David uses two expressions in the same sense, “blotted out,” and “not written:” “Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous.” (Psa_69:28.)
We cannot hence infer any change in the counsel of God; but this phrase is merely equivalent to saying, that God will at length make it manifest that the reprobate, who for a season are counted amongst the number of the elect, in no respect belong to the body of the Church. Thus the secret catalogue, in which the elect are written, is contrasted by Eze_13:9 with that external profession, which is often deceitful. Justly, therefore, does Christ bid His disciples rejoice, “because their names are written in heaven,” (Luk_10:20;) for, albeit the counsel of God, whereby we are predestinated to salvation, is incomprehensible to us, “nevertheless (as Paul testifies) this seal standeth sure, The Lord knoweth them that are his.” (2Ti_2:19.)
Moses returned unto the Lord – Before he went down from the mountain God had acquainted him with the general defection of the people, whereupon he immediately, without knowing the extent of their crime, began to make intercession for them; and God, having given him a general assurance that they should not be cut off, hastened him to go down, and bring them off from their idolatry. Having descended, he finds matters much worse than he expected, and ordered three thousand of the principal delinquents to be slain; but knowing that an evil so extensive must be highly provoking in the sight of the just and holy God, he finds it highly expedient that an atonement be made for the sin: for although he had the promise of God that as a nation they should not be exterminated, yet he had reason to believe that Divine justice must continue to contend with them, and prevent them from ever entering the promised land. That he was apprehensive that this would be the case, we may see plainly from the following verse.
Forgive their sin – ; and if not, blot me – out of thy book – It is probable that one part of Moses’ work during the forty days of his residence on the mount with God, was his regulating the muster-roll of all the tribes and families of Israel, in reference to the parts they were respectively to act in the different transactions in the wilderness, promised land, etc.; and this, being done under the immediate direction of God, is termed God’s book which he had written, (such muster-rolls, or registers, called also genealogies, the Jews have had from the remotest period of their history); and it is probable that God had told him, that those who should break the covenant which he had then made with them should be blotted out of that list, and never enter into the promised land. All this Moses appears to have particularly in view, and, without entering into any detail, immediately comes to the point which he knew was fixed when this list or muster-roll was made, namely, that those who should break the covenant should be blotted out, and never have any inheritance in the promised land: therefore he says, This people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold; thus they had broken the covenant, (see the first and second commandments), and by this had forfeited their right to Canaan. Yet now, he adds, if thou wilt forgive their sin, that they may yet attain the promised inheritance – ; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written – if thou wilt blot out their names from this register, and never suffer them to enter Canaan, blot me out also; for I cannot bear the thought of enjoying that blessedness, while my people and their posterity shall be for ever excluded. And God, in kindness to Moses, spared him the mortification of going into Canaan without taking the people with him. They had forfeited their lives, and were sentenced to die in the wilderness; and Moses’ prayer was answered in mercy to him, while the people suffered under the hand of justice. But the promise of God did not fail; for, although those who sinned were blotted out of the book, yet their posterity enjoyed the inheritance.
This seems to be the simple and pure light in which this place should be viewed; and in this sense St. Paul is to be understood, Rom_9:3, where he says: For I could wish that myself were Accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh; who are Israelites, to whom pertaineth the Adoption, and the Glory, and the Covenants. Moses could not survive the destruction of his people by the neighboring nations, nor their exclusion from the promised land; and St. Paul, seeing the Jews about to be cut off by the Roman sword for their rejection of the Gospel, was willing to be deprived of every earthly blessing, and even to become a sacrifice for them, if this might contribute to the preservation and salvation of the Jewish state. Both those eminent men, engaged in the same work, influenced by a spirit of unparalleled patriotism, were willing to forfeit every blessing of a secular kind, even die for the welfare of the people. But certainly, neither of them could wish to go to eternal perdition, to save their countrymen from being cut off, the one by the sword of the Philistines, the other by that of the Romans. Even the supposition is monstrous.
On this mode of interpretation we may at once see what is implied in the book of life, and being written in or blotted out of such a book. In the public registers, all that were born of a particular tribe were entered in the list of their respective families under that tribe. This was the book of life; but when any of those died, his name might be considered as blotted out from this list. Our baptismal registers, which record the births of all the inhabitants of a particular parish or district, and which are properly our books of life; and our bills of mortality, which are properly our books of death, or the lists of those who are thus blotted out from our baptismal registers or books of life; are very significant and illustrative remains of the ancient registers, or books of life and death among the Jews, the Greeks, the Romans, and most ancient nations. It is worthy of remark, that in China the names of the persons who have been tried on criminal processes are written in two distinct books, which are called the book of life and the book of death: those who have been acquitted, or who have not been capitally convicted, are written in the former; those who have been found guilty, in the latter. These two books are presented to the emperor by his ministers, who, as sovereign, has a right to erase any name from either: to place the living among the dead, that he may die; or the dead, that is, the person condemned to death, among the living, that he may be preserved. Thus he blots out of the book of life or the book of death according to his sovereign pleasure, on the representation of his ministers, or the intercession of friends, etc. An ancient and extremely rich picture, in my own possession, representing this circumstance, painted in China, was thus interpreted to me by a native Chinese.
Albert Barnes Ex 32:32
Thy book – The figure is taken from the enrollment of the names of citizens. This is its first occurrence in the Scriptures. See the marginal references. and Isa_4:3; Dan_12:1; Luk_10:20; Phi_4:3; Rev_3:5, etc.
John Calvin Exo 32:33
33. Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out In these words God adapts Himself to the comprehension of the human mind, when He says, “him will I blot out;” for hypocrites make such false profession of His name, that they are not accounted aliens, until God openly renounces them: and hence their manifest rejection is called erasure. Moreover, God reproves the preposterous request of Moses, inasmuch as it does not consist with His justice to reject the innocent; whence it follows, that Moses had prayed inconsiderately. The sum is, that God, whenever He punishes the ungodly and iniquitous, pays them the wages which they have earned; whereas He never punishes the just. Yet it is to be observed, that when God declares that he will be the avenger of sins, His mercy is not excluded, whereby He buries the transgressions of His people, so that they come not into mind. Thus, when Paul says, “Neither fornicators, nor adulterers, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor murderers, nor revilers, shall possess the kingdom of God,” (1Co_6:9;) it would be incorrect to conclude that they were all shut out from the hope of salvation; since he only speaks of the reprobate, who never repent, so that being converted they may obtain grace.
Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out – As if the Divine Being had said: “All my conduct is regulated by infinite justice and righteousness: in no case shall the innocent ever suffer for the guilty. That no man may transgress through ignorance, I have given you my law, and thus published my covenant; the people themselves have acknowledged its justice and equity, and have voluntarily ratified it. He then that sins against me, (for sin is the transgression of the law, 1 Jo_3:4, and the law must be published and known that it may be binding), him will I blot out of my book.” And is it not remarkable that to these conditions of the covenant God strictly adhered, so that not one soul of these transgressors ever entered into the promised rest! Here was justice. And yet, though they deserved death, they were spared! Here was mercy. Thus, as far as justice would permit, mercy extended; and as far as mercy would permit, justice proceeded. Behold, O reader, the Goodness and Severity of God! Mercy saves all that Justice can spare; and Justice destroys all that Mercy should not save.
Each offender was to suffer for his own sin. Compare Exo_20:5; Eze_18:4, Eze_18:20. Moses was not to be taken at his word. He was to fulfill his appointed mission of leading on the people toward the land of promise.
34. Therefore now go, lead the people In these words God shews that He is appeased, for it was a sure sign of His reconciliation that His angel is appointed to guide them during the rest of their way. The exposition which some give, that an angel is now promised to take care of them, such as Daniel testifies to have been sometimes assigned even to heathen nations, and an instance of which we shall see in the next chapter, is but a poor conjecture; besides, God declares that though the people have departed from the faith, still He stood firm to His agreement as to their enjoyment of the promised inheritance.
His postponement of their punishment is an indirect reproof of the people’s wickedness, as though He had said that they were of so perverse a nature that they would hereafter give many fresh occasions for it. If any object that, whenever God afterwards punished other sins, He did not then take into account this act of idolatry, I reply that it is no new thing with God, when men contract again fresh guilt, to accumulate their punishments, and also to call to judgment many sins together under one general punishment. Besides, we know that God casts the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation. Lastly, there is nothing to prevent Him from visiting at another time with temporal punishments the iniquity which He has once pardoned; for wherefore did He then forgive them? Was it not lest the truth of His covenant, should perish? Those, then, whom He thus was unwilling to destroy, He might at His own time call up again for punishment, provided the chastisement were but moderate. Hence let us learn not to flatter ourselves, if ever God suspends His judgment, nor to abuse His long-suffering, as if we had escaped with impunity.
Exo 32:34 Therefore now go, lead the people unto the place of which I have spoken unto thee,…. That is, to the land of Canaan, which he had promised to their fathers and to them, and had directed Moses to bring them to:
behold, mine angel shall go before thee: and not I, as Jarchi interprets it; not the Angel of the covenant, and of his presence, as in Exo_23:20 but a created angel, which, though a favour, was a lessening of the mercy before promised and granted; and which gave the people a great deal of concern, though Moses by his supplications got the former blessing restored, Exo_33:2,
nevertheless, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them; that is, when he should visit them in a way of correction for other sins, he would visit them in like manner for this sin, the worship of the golden calf; and so Jarchi well explains it,”when I visit upon them their iniquities, I will visit upon them a little of this iniquity, with the rest of iniquities; and there is no punishment (adds he) comes upon Israel, in which there is not something of the punishment of the sin of the calf;”and the Jews have a saying (t), that”there is not a generation in which there is not an ounce of the sin of the calf.”
(t) T. Hieros. Taanith, fol. 68. 3.
5. And the Lord descended in the cloud It is by no means to be doubted but that the cloud received Moses into it in the sight of the people, so that, after having been separated from the common life of men for forty days, he should again come forth like a new man. Thus did this visible demonstration of God’s glory avail to awaken faith in the commandments.
The descent of God, which is here recorded, indicates no change of place, as if God, who fills heaven and earth, and whose immensity is universally diffused, altered His position, but it has reference to the perceptions of men, because under the appearance of the cloud God testified that He met Moses. Therefore, according to the usual phrase of Scripture, the sacred name of God is applied to the visible symbol; not that the empty cloud was a figure of the absent Deity, but because it testified His presence according to the comprehension of men.
At the end of the verse, “to call in the name of the Lord,” is equivalent to proclaiming His name, or promulgating what God would make known to His servant. This expression, indeed, frequently occurs with reference to prayers. Some, therefore, understand it of Moses, that he called on the name of the Lord. In this opinion there is no absurdity; let us be at liberty, then, to take it as applying either to Moses or to God Himself, i.e.,either that God Himself proclaimed in a loud voice His power, and righteousness, and goodness, or that Moses himself professed his piety before God. But what immediately follows must necessarily be referred to God, when He passed by, to cry out and to dignify Himself with His true titles. First of all, the name of Jehovah is uttered twice by way of emphasis, in order that Moses might be rendered more attentive. The name אל el, is added, which, originally derived from strength,is often used for God, and is one of His names. By these words, therefore, His eternity and boundless power are expressed. Next, He proclaims His clemency and mercy; nor is He contented with a single word, but, after having called Himself “merciful,” He claims the praise of clemency, inasmuch as He has no more peculiar attribute than His goodness and gratuitous beneficence. The nature also of His goodness and clemency is specified, viz., that He is not only placable, and ready, and disposed, to pardon, but that He patiently waits for those who have sinned, and invites them to repentance by His long-suffering. For this reason He is called “slow to anger,” as if He would abstain from severity did not man’s wickedness compel Him to execute punishment on his sins.
Afterwards He proclaims the greatness of His mercy and truth, and on these two supports the confidence of the pious is based, whilst they embrace the mercy offered to them, and securely repose on the faithfulness and certainty of the promises. Everywhere, therefore, in the Psalms, where mention is made of God’s goodness, His truth is connected with it as its inseparable companion. Another reason also is because God’s mercy cannot be comprehended, except upon the testimony of His word, the certainty of which must needs be well assured lest our salvation should be wavering and insecure. What follows, that God keeps mercy to a thousand generations, we have expounded in chapter 20; whilst, on the other hand, the punishments which He requires for men’s sins are only extended to the third and fourth generation, because His clemency surpasses His judgment, as is said in Psa_30:5, “There is only a moment in his anger, but life in his favor;” and although this only relates properly to believers, yet it flows from a general principle. To the same effect is the next clause, “forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin;” for thus the greatness of His clemency is set forth, inasmuch as He not only pardons light offenses, but the very grossest sins; and again, remits not only sin in one case, but is propitious to sinners by whom He has been a hundred times offended. Hence, therefore, appears the extent of His goodness, since He blots out an infinite mass of iniquities.
Lest, however, this indulgence should be perverted into a license for sin, it is afterwards added, by way of correction, “with cleansing He will not cleanse,” which, with the Chaldee interpreter and others, I understand as applying to His severe judgment against the reprobate and obstinate; for I do not like their opinion who say that, although God indeed pardons sins, yet He still moderately chastises those who have sinned; since this is a poor conjecture, that punishment is required though the guilt is remitted; and besides, it is altogether untrue, inasmuch as it is manifest, from experience that God passes over many sins without punishment. But what I have stated is very suitable, that, lest impunity should beget audaciousness, after God has spoken of His mercy, He adds an exception, viz., that the iniquity is by no means pardoned, which is accompanied by obstinacy. And hence the Prophets seem to have quoted from this passage, “Clearing should ye be cleared?” ( Jer_25:29,) when they address the reprobate, to whom pardon is denied. The words, therefore, may be properly paraphrased thus: Although God is pitiful and even ready to pardon, yet He does not therefore spare the despisers, but is a severe avenger of their impiety. Nevertheless, the opposite meaning would not be inappropriate here, “With cutting off He will not cut off;” for this is sometimes the sense of the verb נקה, nakah;and it would thus be read connectedly, that God pardons iniquities because He does not wish entirely to cut off the human race; for who shall escape if God should choose to call to judgment the sins even of believers? And perhaps Jeremiah alluded to this passage, where he mitigates the severity of the vengeance of which he had been speaking by this same expression, for there it can only be translated, “With cutting off I will not cut thee off.” If this be preferred, it will be the assignment of the reason why God pardons sins, viz., because He is unwilling to cut off men, which would be the case if He insisted on the utmost rigor of the Law. Some thus explain it, That God pardons sins, because no one is innocent in His sight; as if it were said, that all are destitute of the glory of righteousness, and thence their only refuge is in the mercy of God. This is true indeed, but not so nmch an exposition as a plausible conceit.
And the Lord passed by – and proclaimed, The Lord, etc. – It would be much better to read this verse thus: “And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed Jehovah,” that is, showed Moses fully what was implied in this august name. Moses had requested God to show him his glory, (see the preceding chapter, Exo_33:18 (note)), and God promised to proclaim or fully declare the name Jehovah, (Exo_33:19); by which proclamation or interpretation Moses should see how God would “be gracious to whom he would be gracious,” and how he would “be merciful to those to whom he would show mercy. Here therefore God fulfils that promise by proclaiming this name. It has long been a question, what is the meaning of the word יהוה Jehovah, Yehovah, Yehue, Yehveh, or Yeve, Jeue, Jao, Iao, Jhueh, and Jove; for it has been as variously pronounced as it has been differently interpreted. Some have maintained that it is utterly inexplicable; these of course have offered no mode of interpretation. Others say that it implies the essence of the Divine nature. Others, that it expresses the doctrine of the Trinity connected with the incarnation; the letter י yod standing for the Father, ה he for the Son, and ו vau (the connecting particle) for the Holy Spirit: and they add that the ה he being repeated in the word, signifies the human nature united to the Divine in the incarnation. These speculations are calculated to give very little satisfaction. How strange is it that none of these learned men have discovered that God himself interprets this name in Exo_34:6,! “And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed יהוה Yehovah the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty.” These words contain the proper interpretation of the venerable and glorious name Jehovah. But it will be necessary to consider them in detail.
The different names in this and the following verse have been considered as so many attributes of the Divine nature. Commentators divide them into eleven, thus: –
1. יהוה Jehovah.
2. אל EL, the strong or mighty God.
3. רחום Rachum, the merciful Being, who is full of tenderness and compassion.
4. חנון Channun, the gracious One; he whose nature is goodness itself; the loving God.
5. ארך אפים Erech Appayim, long-suffering; the Being who, because of his goodness and tenderness, is not easily irritated, but suffers long and is kind.
6. רב Rab, the great or mighty One.
7. חסד Chesed, the bountiful Being; he who is exuberant in his beneficence.
8. אמת Emeth, the truth or true One; he alone who can neither deceive nor be deceived, who is the fountain of truth, and from whom all wisdom and knowledge must be derived.
9. נצר חסד Notser Chesed, the preserver of bountifulness; he whose beneficence never ends, keeping mercy for thousands of generations, showing compassion and mercy while the world endures.
10. נשא עון ופשע וחטאה Nose avon vaphesha vechattaah, he who bears away iniquity and transgression and sin: properly, the Redeemer, the Pardoner, the Forgiver; the Being whose prerogative alone it is to forgive sin and save the soul. ינקה(לו) נקה לא Nakkeh lo yenakkeh, the righteous Judge, who distributes justice with an impartial hand, with whom no innocent person can ever be condemned.
11. פקד עון Poked avon, etc.; he who visits iniquity, who punishes transgressors, and from whose justice no sinner can escape. The God of retributive and vindictive justice.
These eleven attributes, as they have been termed, are all included in the name Jehovah, and are, as we have before seen, the proper interpretation of it; but the meaning of several of these words has been variously understood.
Exo 34:6 And the Lord passed by before him – Fixed views of God are reserved for the future state; the best we have in this world are transient. And 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. The proclaiming of it notes the universal extent of God’s mercy; he is not only good to Israel, but good to all. The God with whom we have to do is a great God. He is Jehovah, the Lord, that hath 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 goodness with a holy awe, and to encourage us to depend upon these mercies. He is a good God. His greatness and goodness illustrate each other. That 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.
1st, He is merciful, This speaks his pity, and tender companion, 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.
2ndly, He is gracious. This speaks both freeness, and kindness: it speaks him not only to have a compassion to his creatures, but a complacency in them, and in doing good to them; and this of his own good – will, not for the sake of any thing in them.
3dly, He is long – suffering. This is a branch of God’s goodness which our wickedness gives occasion for. He is long – suffering, that is, he is slow to anger, and delays the executions of his justice, he waits to be gracious, and lengthens out the offers of his mercy.
4thly, He is abundant in goodness and truth. This speaks plentiful goodness; it abounds above our deserts, above our conception. 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 speaks promised goodness, goodness and truth put together, goodness engaged by promise.
5thly, He keepeth mercy for thousands. This speaks, Mercy extended to thousands of persons. When he gives to some, still he keeps for others, and is never exhausted: Mercy entailed upon thousands of generations, even to those upon whom the ends of the world are come; nay, the line of it is drawn parallel with that of eternity itself.
6thly, He forgiveth iniquity, transgression and sin – Pardoning mercy is instanced in, because in that divine grace is most magnified, and because that it is that opens the door to all other gifts of grace. He forgives offences of all sorts, iniquity, transgression and sin, multiplies his pardons, and with him is plenteous redemption. He is a just and holy God. For,
1st, He will by no means clear the guilty. He will not clear the impenitently guilty, those that go on still in their trespasses; he will not clear the guilty without satisfaction to his justice.
2dly, He visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children – Especially for the punishment of idolaters. Yet he keepeth not his anger for ever, but visits to the third and fourth generation only, while he keeps mercy for thousands – This is God’s name for ever, and this is his memorial unto all generations.
Exo 34:7 Keeping mercy for thousands,…. In his own heart, in his purposes and decrees, in his counsels and covenant, in his Son, with whom he keeps it for ever, and for all in him, Psa_89:28 and they are many who are ordained to eternal life, for whom Christ gave his life a ransom, and for whom his blood was shed for the remission of their sins; and whom he justifies by his knowledge, and at last brings to glory as the great Captain of their salvation; these are even a number which no man can number. All the Targums render it to a thousand generations; and Jarchi interprets of two thousand generations. The first letter in the word, rendered “keeping”, is longer than is usual, in the Hebrew text; which, according to the Jews (h), denotes the largeness of the grace of God, its great extent and long continuance:
forgiving iniquity, and transgression, and sin; the word used signifies a lifting it up, and taking it away: thus Jehovah has taken it from the sinner, and put it on his Son, who has borne it, and made satisfaction for it; and in so doing has taken it quite away, so as to be seen no more; and, through the application of his blood to the conscience of a sinner, it is taken away from thence, and removed as far as the east is from the west; from whence it appears, that it is in Christ, and for his sake, that God forgives sin, even through his blood, righteousness, sacrifice, and satisfaction; and this forgiveness is of all sin, of all sorts of sin, original or actual, greater or lesser, public or private, open or secret, of omission or commission, of heart, lip, and life. The Jews sometimes distinguish these three words; “iniquity”, they say, signifies sins through pride and presumption; “transgression” intends rebellions against God; and “sin”, what is committed through error and mistake (i); and much to this sense is Jarchi’s interpretation of these words; they no doubt include all manner of sin, which God for Christ’s sake forgives:
and will by no means clear the guilty; without a full and proper satisfaction to justice; which is provided in Christ, whom God has set forth to be the propitiation for sin, to declare his righteousness, that he might appear to be just, while he justifies and pardons those that believe in Jesus; otherwise all the world are guilty before God, and none would be cleared; but those for whom satisfaction is made, and a righteousness wrought out, they are cleared, acquitted, and discharged, and they only: or “though he will by no means let it go unpunished” (k); that is, sin, expressed by the several words preceding; and so to this purpose is this phrase translated in Jer_30:11 and the meaning is, that though God pardons sin, all manner of sin, and so displays his grace and mercy, yet he takes care of the honour of his justice, and never suffers any sin to go unpunished, either on the sinner, or on the surety. Pardon of sin always proceeds upon the redemption that is through the blood of Christ, and is a branch of it, see Rom_3:24. Some understand these words as relating not to the justice, but to the mercy and goodness of God; and render the words, either “in extirpating he will not extirpate”, as Maimonides (l); and as Jonathan translates the same phrase in Jer_30:11 “in destroying I will not destroy”; and so De Dieu here, “in emptying he will not empty”, or destroy; and this sense is thought to be most agreeable to the prayer of Moses, and the promise of God, that his goodness and glory should pass before him, to which the other sense seems contrary; but the justice of God is as much his glory, and in it lies his goodness, as well as his grace and mercy; besides, the following words cannot be thought to be so expressive of the grace, and mercy, and goodness of God, but of his punitive justice, and so the objection would still remain:
visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the childrens’ children, unto the third and to the fourth generation; See Gill on Exo_20:5.
(h) Vid. Buxtorf. Tiberiad. c. 14. p. 38. (i) Maimon. & Bartenora in Misn. Yoma, c. 4. sect. 2. (k) ונקה לא ינקה “et impunita minime dimittens”, Tigurine version; “et non exercens impunitatem”, Coccei Lexic. in voce נקה. (l) Moreh Nevochim, par. 1. c. 54.
That will by no means clear the guilty – This last clause is rather difficult; literally translated it signifies, in clearing he will not clear. But the Samaritan, reading לו lo, to him, instead of the negative לא lo, not, renders the clause thus: With whom the innocent shall be innocent; i.e., an innocent or holy person shall never be treated as if he were a transgressor, by this just and holy God. The Arabic version has it, He justifies and is not justified; and the Septuagint is nearly as our English text, και ου καθαριει τον ενοχον, and he doth not purify the guilty. The Alexandrian copy of the Septuagint, edited by Dr. Grabe, has και τον ενοχον καθαρισμω ου καθαριει, and the guilty he will not cleanse with a purification-offering. The Coptic is to the same purpose. The Vulgate is a paraphrase: nullusque apud te per se innocens est, “and no person is innocent by or of himself before thee.” This gives a sound theological sense, stating a great truth, That no man can make an atonement for his own sins, or purify his own heart; and that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.
8. And Moses made haste, and bowed his head This haste shews that Moses was astounded when he first beheld the brightness; for thus does God, when He reveals Himself, immediately ravish the godly into such admiration of Him, that there is no time for delay. This prayer follows, that God would journey with His people, and bear with their frowardness; for, since God had said that He could not possibly dwell with so stiff-necked and intractable a people, Moses proposes the remedy, viz., after he has confessed that the people are of a hardened and stubborn spirit, he still expresses a hope of their safety, if God will be pitiful in sparing them. What follows is worthy of observation, “that thou mayest possess us;” for the copula has the force of the causal particle, as if he had said, That God could not enjoy the inheritance He had chosen, unless by pardoning their sins. And surely so it is; for such is man’s frailty, that they would straightway fall from grace were they not reconciled to God. Nor was this spoken only of this ancient people, but refers also to us; for, in order that God should possessus too, it is needful that our sins should be constantly pardoned, as this embassy, according to Paul, daily resounds in the Church. (2Co_5:20.) Consequently, not only does the origin of our salvation flow from gratuitous adoption, but its continual progress even to the end can only be accomplished by God’s freely reconciling us to Himself.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
Moses bowed … and worshipped — In the East, people bow the head to royalty, and are silent when it passes by, while in the West, they take off their hats and shout.
Exo 34:8 And Moses made haste, and bowed his head – Thus he expressed his humble reverence and adoration of God’s glory, together with his joy in this discovery God had made of himself, and his thankfulness for it. Then likewise he expressed 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 of such a God as Jehovah had now proclaimed himself to be. Let this God be our God for ever and ever!
Keil nad Delitzsch
On this manifestation of mercy, Moses repeated the prayer that Jehovah would go in the midst of Israel. It is true the Lord had already promised that His face should go with them (Exo_33:14); but as Moses had asked for a sign of the glory of the Lord as a seal to the promise, it was perfectly natural that, when this petition was granted, he should lay hold of the grace that had been revealed to him as it never had been before, and endeavour to give even greater stability to the covenant. To this end he repeated his former intercession on behalf of the nation, at the same time making this confession, “For it is a stiff-necked people; therefore forgive our iniquity and our sin, and make us the inheritance.” Moses spoke collectively, including himself in the nation in the presence of God. The reason which he assigned pointed to the deep root of corruption that had broken out in the worship of the golden calf, and was appropriately pleaded as a motive for asking forgiveness, inasmuch as God Himself had assigned the natural corruption of the human race as a reason why He would not destroy it again with a flood (Gen_8:21). Wrath was mitigated by a regard to the natural condition. – נָחַל in the Kal, with an accusative of the person, does not mean to lead a person into the inheritance, but to make a person into an inheritance; here, therefore, to make Israel the possession of Jehovah (Deu_4:20; Deu_9:26, cf. Zec_2:12).
Exo 34:9 And he said, I pray thee go among us – For thy presence is all to our safety and success. And pardon our iniquity and our sin – Else we cannot expect thee to go among us. And take us for thine inheritance – Which thou wilt have a particular eye to, and concern for. These things God had already promised Moses; and yet he prays for them, not as doubting the sincerity of God’s grants, but as one solicitous for the ratification of them. 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, Exo_33:3. Yea, saith Moses, the rather go along with us; for the worse they are, the more need they have of thy presence. Moses sees them so stiff – necked, that 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.