Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 5: Harmony of the Law, Part III, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
Exodus 34:1-10, 27-35
1. And the Lord said unto Moses, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first; and I will write upon these tables the words that were in the first tables, which thou brakest.
1. Et ait Jehova ad Mosen, Dola tibi duas tabulas instar priorum: et scribam in his tabulis verba quae fuerunt in tabulis prioribus quas fregisti.
2. And be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning unto mount Sinai, and present thyself there to me in the top of the mount.
2. Esto ergo paratus mane, et ascende mane montem Sinai: stesque mihi illic super verticem ipsius montis.
3. And no man shall come up with thee, neither let any man be seen throughout all the mount; neither let the flocks nor herds feed before that mount.
3. Nullus ascendat tecum, nec ullus videatur in toro monte, etiam oves ant boves non pascantur in prospectu montis hujus.
4. And he hewed two tables of stone, like unto the first: and Moses rose up early in the morning, and went up unto mount Sinai, as the Lord had commanded him, and took in his hand the two tables of stone.
4. Dolavit ergo duas tabulas lapideas instar priorum: consurgens Moses mane ascendit in montem Sinai, sicut praeceperat ei Jehova, et accepit in manu sua duas tabulas lapideas.
5. And the Lord descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord.
5. Tunc descendit Jehova in nube, et stetit coram eo illic, et clamavit in nomine Jehova.
6. And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth,
6. Transiens, inquam, Jehova ante eum, clamavit, Jehova, Jehova, Deus misericors et clemens, tardus ad iram, et multus misericordia et veritate:
7. Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, and transgression, and sin, and that will by no means clear theguilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.
7. Servans misericordiam millibus, auferens iniquitatem, et transgressionem, et peccatum, et innocentem non faciens, visitaris iniquitatem patrum super filios filiorum in tertios et quartos.
8. And Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped.
8. Festinans autem Moses inclinavit se ad terram, et adoravit,
9. And he said, If now I have found grace in thy sight, O Lord, let my Lord, I pray thee, go among us, (for it is a stiff-necked people,) and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for thine inheritance.
9. Dixitque, Si nunc inveni gratiam in oculis tuis, Domine mi, proficiscatur agedum Dominus meus in medio nostri: et quia populus durae cervicis est, propitius sis iniquitati nostrae et peccato nostro, ut possideas nos in hereditatem.
10. And he said, Behold, I make a covenant: before all thy people I will do marvels, such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation: and all the people among which thou art shall see the work of the Lord: for it is a terrible thing that I will do with thee.
10. Et dixit, Ecce, ego pereutiam foedus eoram toro populo tuo, et edam miracula quae non sunt creata in universa terra, et in cunctis nationibus: et videbit totus populus in eujus medio es, quod terribile sit opus Jehovae quod facio tecum.
27. And the Lord said unto Moses, Write thou these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel.
27. Et dixit Jehova ad Mosen, Scribe tibi verba haec: quia secundum verba haec pepigi foedus tecum, et cum Israele.
28. And he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water: and He wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.
28. Fuit autem ibi cum Jehova quadraginta dies, et quadraginta noctes: panem non edit et aquam non bibit: et scripsit in tabulis verba foederis, decem verba.
29. And it came to pass, when Moses came down from mount Sinai with the two tables of testimony in Moses’ hand, (when he came down from the mount,) that Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone while he talked with Him.
29. Factum est autem quum descenderet Moses e monte Sinai, habens duas tabulas testimonii in manu sun: quum ergo descenderet e monte, nesciebat quod resplenduisset cutis faciei suae quando loquutus erat cum eo.
30. And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone: and they were afraid to come nigh him.
30. Viditque Aharon et omnes filii Israel ipsum Mosen, et ecce, splendebat cutis faciei ejus: timueruntque accedere ad eum.
31. And Moses called unto them: and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned unto him: and Moses talked with them.
31. Et vocavit filius Moses: reversique sunt ad eum Aharon et omnes principes coetus. Tunc loquutus est Moses ad cos.
32. And afterward all the children of Israel came nigh: and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him in mount Sinai.
32. Deinde appropinquarunt omnes filii Israel, et praecepit eis cuncta quae loquutus fuerat Jehova cum eo in monte Sinai.
33. And till Moses had done speaking with them, he put a vail on his face.
33. Porro quum finem fecisset loquendi Moses cum eis, posuit velamen super faciem suam.
34. But when Moses went in before the Lord, to speak with him, he took the vail off, until he came out. And he came out, and spake unto the children of Israel that which he was commanded.
34. Quum vero ingrederetur Moses in conspectum Jehovae ad loquendum cum illo, auferebat velamen, donec egrederetur: egressus autem alloquebatur filios Israel quod jussus erat.
35. And the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone: and Moses put the vail upon his face again, until he went in to speak with Him.
35. Videbunt igitur filii Israel faciem Mosis, quod resplenderet curts faciei Mosis, et reducebat Moses velamen super factem suam, donec ingrederetur ad loquendum cum co.
1. And the Lord said unto Moses, Hew thee two tables of stone Although the renewal of the broken covenant was ratified by this pledge or visible symbol, still, lest His readiness to pardon should produce indifference, God would have some trace of their punishment remain, like a scar that continues after the wound is healed. In the first tables there had been no intervention of man’s workmanship; for God had delivered them to Moses engraven by His own secret power. A part of this great dignity is now withdrawn, when Moses is commanded to bring tables polished by the hand of man, on which God might write the Ten Commandments. Thus the ignominy of their crime was not altogether effaced, whilst nothing was withheld which might be necessary or profitable for their salvation. For nothing was wanting which might be a testimony of God’s grace, or a recommendation of the Law, so that they should receive it with reverence; they were only humbled by this mark, that the stones to which God entrusted His covenant were not fashioned by His hand, nor the produce of the sacred mount. The conceit by which some expound it, — that the Jews were instructed by this sign that the Law was of no effect, unless they should offer their stony hearts to God for Him to inscribe it upon them, — is frivolous; for the authority of Paul rather leads us the other way, where he fitly and faithfully interprets this passage, and compares the Law to a dead and deadly letter, because it was only engraven on tables of stone, whereas the doctrine of salvation requires “the fleshy tables of the heart.” (2Co 3:3.)
3. And no man shall come up with thee Again men as well as beasts are prohibited from access to the mount, as had been the case at the first promulgation of the Law, in order that the people might obediently receive the Law as if come down from heaven. Why God admitted no witness, is a question the answer to which must remain with God Himself. The miracle indeed would have been illustrious if the writing had appeared in a moment on the empty tables; but God would leave some room for faith, when He employed the intermediate agency of man. But still He amply provided what was sufficient to establish the dignity of the Law, when Moses brought the Ten Commandments written upon two tables which the people had lately seen taken up void and empty, whereas He could not have found in the mount a chisel or graving-tool. For 376 God so administers the dispensation of His heavenly doctrine as to prove the obedience and teachableness of believers, whilst He leaves no room for doubting.
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, 377 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 378 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 Ps 30:5, 379 “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 380 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, 381 “Clearing should ye be cleared?” (Jer. 25:29, Jer. 49:12,) 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 conneetedly, 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 382 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 383 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.
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. 384 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;” 385 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 possess us 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.
10. And he said, Behold, I make a covenant It is not specified with whom God would make the covenant. Some interpreters, 386 therefore, supply the name of Moses, and this they seem to do on probable grounds, especially since it is added at the end of the verse “the work 387 that I will do with thee.” But, inasmuch as Moses stipulated in the name of all, the meaning comes to the same thing, if we read, I will make a covenant openly with the whole people. By this promise, then, God, as it were, entirely restored the Israelites, for He declares that He will deal so marvellously in the discomfiture of the nations, as to prove that He is the peculiar God of that people; and this was to distinguish them from other nations, according to the prayer of Moses. he says that they shall all be eye-witnesses of this, that, being thus at length convinced by their own senses, they might sincerely and faithfully submit themselves to his dominion.
28. And he was there with the Lord forty days The number of forty days is repeated, in order that the second Tables might have no less credit than the first; for we have stated that Moses was withdrawn from the common life of men, that he might bring the Law, as it were, from heaven. If he had only been kept a few days in the mount, his authority would not have been ratified by so conspicuous a miracle; but the forty days obtained full credit for his mission, so that the people might know that he was sent by God; inasmuch as the endurance of a fast for so long a period exceeded the capacity of human nature. Wherefore, in order that the majesty of the Law might be indubitable, its minister was invested with angelic glory; and hence he expressly records that “he did neither eat bread, nor drink watch” since it was requisite that he should be distinguished from other mortals, in order that his official character might be unquestionable. Now, it must be borne in mind, that this was not a mere fast of temperance or sobriety, but of special privilege, whereby exemption from the infirmity of the flesh was vouchsafed to Moses for a time, in order that his condition might be different from the rest of the human race. For neither did he feel any hunger, nor did he struggle with any longing for food, nor desire meat and drink any more than one of the angels. Therefore this instance of abstinence was never alleged as an example by the Prophets, nor did any one attempt to imitate what they all knew to be by no means accorded to them. I except Elijah, who, being sent to revive the Law, when it was almost lost, like a second Moses, abstained also from eating and drinking for forty days. The reason for the fast of Christ was similar, (Mt 4:2;) for, in order to acquire full credit for tits Gospel, He desired to make it manifest that He was by no means inferior to Moses in this particular. Wherefore, 388 the less excusable is that error, which sprang from gross ignorance, when all, without exception, endeavored to rival the Son of God in their annual fast, as if a new promulgation of the Gospel was entrusted to them. For neither did Christ fast forty day’s more than once in His life; nor during the whole of that time, as it is clearly specified, did he experience hunger; and His heavenly Father separated Him from communion with men, when He was preparing Himself to undertake the office of teacher.
29. And it came to pass when Moses came down Another remarkable honor given to the Law is here narrated, viz., that the brightness of the heavenly glory appeared in the face of Moses; for it is said that his face gave forth rays, or was irradiated. The word is derived from קרן keren, a horn; and therefore it is probable that rays shone forth from his face, which rendered it luminous; and this effulgence God shed upon him, whilst He was speaking to him in the mount. It is not certain what was the reason why Moses himself was ignorant that he was thus illumined by God, except that it seems probable that it was concealed from him for a short time, in order that he might approach the people with more freedom, and thus that the miracle might be more evident from close inspection. When it is said afterwards, that Aaron and the children of Israel were so alarmed at the brightness, that “they were afraid to come nigh him,” I do not understand it, as if they fled from him immediately; for, since they were recalled by his voice, undoubtedly they had not seen the rays from a distance, but when they were in the act of receiving him, and he, on his part, delivering to them the commands of God. Therefore, what follows soon afterwards, that, when he had done speaking, he covered his face with a vail, 389 I refer to his first address, which He was obliged to break off on account of the departure or flight of the people, so that the meaning is, when He knew the cause of their alarm, He left off speaking, and covered his face with a vail; for he could not have known the reason of their flying except by inquiry. Some, in order to avoid the difficulty, separate the second clause from the first, and transpose their order; but this exposition appears to me to be forced. It seems, however, in my opinion, to be perfectly consistent that Moses, after he saw them departing in consternation, ceased from speaking, because they did not listen to him, and, when he discovered the reason, put on the vail. Hence arises a question, viz., How Moses could have borne the brightness of God’s glory, whilst the people could not bear the rays which shone from his face? But this is easily answered: that they were branded with this mark of disgrace, in order that they might confess how far by their ingratitude they had departed from God, since they were terrified at the sight of this servant. They were, therefore, humbled by this difference between them, that, whilst Moses securely advanced to them from his conference with God, although he bore upon him the indications of God’s terrible power, they, in fear and astonishment, recoiled from the sight of a mortal man.
After Paul has shewn the genuine object of this brightness, viz., that the Law should be glorious, he proceeds further, and shews that it was a presage of the future blindness which awaited the Jews. (2Co 3:13.) He begins, therefore, by saying, that although the Law was only a dead letter, and the ministration of death, yet it was graced with its own peculiar glory; and then adds what is accidental, that there was a vail before the face of Moses, because it would be the case that the Jews would not be able to see what is the main thing in the Law, nor to pay attention to its true end; and so it actually is, that since the coming of Christ, their senses have been blinded, and the vail is upon them, until Moses shall be 390 turned by them to Christ, who is the soul of the Law. But, since now in the Gospel God presents Himself with open face, we must take care that the prince of this world does not darken our minds, but rather that we may be transformed from glory to glory.
“Voyla comment Dieu dispense par bon moyen le cognoissance de sa Parole;” Behold how God dispenses in a good way the knowledge of His Word. — Fr.
So the V. “Stetit Moyses eum eo, invocans nomen Domini.”
A.V. “Long-suffering;” as also in Nu 14:18, and Ps 86:15. In Ne 9:17, and elsewhere, “slow to anger.” Heb., אר5 אפים long of nostrils, or anger.
See C.’s own translation. Calvin Soc. edit., vol. 5, p. 346.
נקה לא ינקה A.V., “Will by no means clear;” S. M. and C., “Not making (the guilty) innocent;” or, in C.’s own comment, “He will not with cleansing cleanse;” but C. presently acknowledges that it might be taken to mean, “He will not utterly cut off,” inasmuch as the verb נקה is sometimes used for to blot out, to destroy, to exterminate; to which class of meanings more than one lexicographer has assigned its use in this text. — W.
Bush gives a very careful note on this clause, which he says is “of exceedingly difficult interpretation,” and declares himself satisfied that the sense which C. condemns is the true one, viz., “‘who will not wholly, entirely, altogether clear,’ i.e., who, although merciful and gracious in his dispositions, strongly inclined to forgive, and actually forgiving in countless cases and abundant measure, is yet not unmindful of the claims of justice. He will not always suffer even the pardoned sinner to escape with entire impunity. He will mingle so much of the penal in his dealings as to evince that his clemency is not to be presumed upon.”
“Should ye be utterly unpunished?” “Art thou he, that shall altogether go unpunished?” — A. V.
Poole on Jer 49:12, after quoting C.’s translation, “impune feres?” adds, “Since, however, this phrase is explained very differently by others, both Ex 34:7, and Jer 25:29, as well as these words, may be thus rendered: Thou therefore thyself shalt be utterly cut off.”
“The translation of V. is, “Nullusque apud to per se innocens est.”
“Qu’ils n’ont point loisir de deliberer de ce qu’ils ont a faire, mais sont du premier coup abatus;” that they have no time to deliberate as to what they should do, but are abashed at once. — Fr.
“And take us for thine inheritance.” — A. V. “Inherit, or possess thou us.” — Heb.
Thus the LXX.; Καὶ εἶπε Κύριος πρὸς Μωυσὢν, ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ τίθημί σοι διαθήκην
“The thing.” — A.V.
For a fuller development of this argument, see Institutes, Book 4, chap. 12, sec. 20, 21; and Harm. of the Evangelists, vol. 1, p. 208. Calvin Soc. edit.
“Till Moses had done speaking with them, he put,” etc. — A. V. Rosenmuller translates it with C. and the LXX., “and, when,” etc. “We need not (says Willet) with Oleaster to transpose the words, ‘he put a vail upon his face, and so finished to speak unto the people;’ but either we may read with Junius,’ While he had finished to speak unto the people, he put a vail:’ or rather to read it in the praeter-pluperfect tense, with the Genevan version, ‘So Moses made an end of communing with them, and he had put a covering upon his face.’”
So C. translates the words in his Comment. on 2 Corinthians 3:16, ”and when he (i.e., Moses,) shall have turned to the Lord,” and thus defends it: “This passage has hitherto been badly rendered, for both Greek and Latin writers have thought that the word Israel was to be understoon, whereas Paul is speaking of Moses. he had said that a vial is upon the hearts of the Jews when Moses is read. He immediately adds, As soon as he will have turned to the Lord, the vial will be taken away. Who does not that this is said of Moses, that is, of the Law? For as Christ is the end of it, (Ro 10:4,) to which it ought to be referred, it was turned away in another direction, when the Jews shut out Christ from it.” Calvin Society edition, vol. 2, p. 183. Camerarius, in Poole, remarks on the difficulty of the passage, arising from the fact that the verb ἐπιστρέψὟ may either be the third person singular subjunctive active, or the second person singular of the first future middle; but he concludes, that “it seems somewhat harsh to apply it to Moses.”