We have spent several studies in Exodus 33 with a view to knowing God. This was Moses’ passionate pursuit, not because he was merely curious but rather because he was desirous for the glory of God.
Moses was concerned for the fame of God’s name of God and so he requested that God reveal something of His weightiness to him. Moses also desired to experience the heaviness of God (the sum of all of His perfections) because he wanted the children of Israel to experience it. And it was in this role as mediator that Moses had been interceding and had made his request for the knowledge of God. It was in this role as intercessor that Moses made his largest request, “Please show me your glory” (33:18).
The Lord agreed to his request in vv. 19-23 where He gave Moses some instructions concerning what to expect as well as what not to expect.
As of our most recent study, this vision had yet to be fulfilled. Moses had been promised that his request would be granted and, as we enter chapter 34, we find him with the hope of glory on his heart. And it is a hope that would soon be fulfilled.
For the next several studies in Exodus 34 we will be looking at this hope of glory. Ultimately, the knowledge of God is a hope of glory. This hope of glory was at the heart of our Lord’s intercessory prayer as recorded in John 17. Listen, in part, to His prayer:
Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. . . .
I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.
Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me. And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”
(John 17:1-3, 20-36)
Our greater Moses said that to know God is to know His glory, and this is an eternal pursuit. It is a hope that will be continually and eternally realised.
The apostle Paul said the same thing when he told the Colossian believers that the gospel of God could be defined as “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). Since Christ will always be in us, so will this hope of glory. Paul told the Roman believers that because we have been justified through faith alone in Christ alone by grace alone that we “rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2). Further, he also wrote that the Holy Spirit encourages our hearts through the oft-difficult journey to this glory (vv. 3-5). In other words, the Holy Spirit continues to keep before us this hope of glory. This glory is certain for those who have responded faithfully to “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
In this study we will spend our time basking in the light of the radiant revelation of glory as recorded in vv. 1-9. May the Lord be pleased to stir in us a greater and a more confident hope of glory. As we will see, the glory here revealed is gospel glory.
A Hopeful Invitation
If we will know God relationally then we must know God on His terms. We must know the God who is, as He is—not as we want Him to be.
As the chapter opens we await in anticipation the Lord’s manifestation of His glory. But first things must be first. Before Moses ever saw the glory of God, He first received an important instruction.
And the LORD said to Moses, “Cut two tablets of stone like the first ones, and I will write on these tablets the words that were on the first tablets which you broke. So be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself to Me there on the top of the mountain. And no man shall come up with you, and let no man be seen throughout all the mountain; let neither flocks nor herds feed before that mountain.”
So he cut two tablets of stone like the first ones. Then Moses rose early in the morning and went up Mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him; and he took in his hand the two tablets of stone.
A Loving Implication—the Tablets
The Lord was certainly going to fulfil His promise to Moses to show him His glory. A place had been prepared on Mount Sinai where that would happen. And so here the Lord took the initiative to invite Moses to come up to Him. Moses would be there for another 40 days and nights (v. 28). But how would things go while he was gone? After all, the covenant had been broken and so the people seemingly had nothing to restrain them. Were they now free to live as they pleased? Hardly!
In this passage we see that the Lord was going to re-establish His covenant with them. This is illustrated by His instruction to Moses to bring up two tablets of stone, on which God would then write all the words of the Ten Commandments (v. 28). This was clearly a hopeful declaration. God was going to reaffirm His covenant. The people would be able to know God after all!
It should be noted here that, although God was preparing to show Moses His glory, clearly the Lord had a bigger picture than merely satisfying Moses’ holy desire. Rather, in some, way this revelation of God’s glory would result in the people of God also coming to know something of God’s glory (cf. vv. 29-35). In a very real sense, the hope of glory, which Moses expected, was closely connected to the hope of glory for those he represented—even if they were not aware of it.
But before this could occur the foundation of God’s law had to be re-established. God only reveals His glory to those who have been confronted with His law.
Consider the fact that Jesus began His earthly ministry by declaring the law (Matthew 5-7). According to Romans 7, it is necessary for us to first feel the weight of God’s law before we will ever know anything of His grace. The testimony of Scripture is unanimous: We need a lawful foundation if we have any hope of glory. We need to see the holiness of God if we will desire the hope of glory. And this comes via His holy law.
A Lawful Preparation—the Terms
The Lord makes it very clear by His instruction here to Moses that there still existed an estrangement between God and the people. There are some similarities between this passage and Exodus 19 when God gave to Moses the original tablets, but there are also some differences.
First, God provided the original tablets, but here Moses was to do so. At the very least this indicates that something had changed. Perhaps it indicates God’s present relational estrangement. The first tablets had been broken as a token that the first covenant had been broken; now a second set of tablets was necessary for a second covenant.
Second, in the original scene, Moses was accompanied by the elders and Aaron part of the way up the mountain, and Joshua went even further. But here Moses was to go up alone. Everyone else must stay away from the mountain. Possibly one reason was because the idolatrous tendency of the people required the help of others—like Joshua—to restrain them. Aaron had blown it and so perhaps he himself would require some additional moral support from a plurality of leaders.
Whatever the precise reasons, Moses alone was allowed to go up, otherwise God’s wrath might wax hot against the others. The law that God would give would produce condemnation. It was not safe for anyone except the chosen mediator to be in God’s presence. This is precisely what the law is designed by God to accomplish: to confront, convict, and condemn so as lead to conversion (see Romans 8:1-4).
The lesson here for us is that God reveals Himself not to the merely curious but rather to those who have an interest in the covenant—those who are interested in knowing Him; those who desire to be delivered from the curse of being covenant breakers. If you are flippant about the holiness of God and your sin against Him then you are not ready to see the glory of God. You have no hope of glory until you are horrified by sin, and this comes about by confrontation with the holy law of God. God establishes the terms by which we can approach Him. Perhaps especially in our day we need to hear this. As Ligon Duncan says, “So what do we learn from this? In contrast to the spontaneous slip shod worship of the golden calf, the covenant approach to God is careful, it’s respectful, and it’s in accordance with God’s commands. God will be approached carefully, He will be approached according to His command, and fellowship with Him will entail moral conformity to Him.”1
Some continue to reject the gospel of God for the simple reason that they do not sense their guilt before God. And where there is no guilt there is no sense of the need for grace. Where there is no bad news there is no appreciation of good news.
If you are one such individual then you need to ask the Lord to show you your guilt as revealed by His law. Then—and only then—will you find yourself crying out to see the glory of His grace and the grace of His glory. May the revelation which follows humble you.
A Hopeful Proclamation
Moses had trekked up the mountain with two stone tablets. That was a heavy burden to bear. He was well aware of the recent transgression of the people and the consequent breaking of the covenant. He may be have wondered what the law had to do with seeing the glory of God. What did law have to do with his desire to know God?
I trust we have just seen, in many ways, that it has everything to do with it. There can be no hope of glory where there is no heaviness of grief. And as he carried the tablets up the mountain, he was soon to experience a wonderful vision of God’s glory.
Now the LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. And the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.”
There was nothing therapeutic about this form of Christianity. Many “Christian” leaders today encourage whatever makes us feel better, but I very much doubt that Moses was whistling as he made his way up the mountain. The tablets were a painful reminder of how the people whom he represented had broken God’s law.
One characteristic of the therapeutic Christianity of our time is the tendency to redefine sin as “sicknesses” or “syndromes.” Drunkenness has been termed “alcoholism” and defined as a “disease.” The word “pathological” has been attached to a number of sins—lying, for example—to excuse sin. Such tendencies have no biblical justification whatsoever.
We cannot minimise the guilt of sinners and of our own sin. “People who can be glib about grace, have never tasted grace.”2 It is in such a grievous context that we hear the hopeful proclamation: “Jehovah Saves!”
A Gracious Descent
In v. 5 we see the beginning of the fulfilment of God’s promise to Moses (cf. 33:19-23). God’s self-disclosure came about by God’s gracious condescension. The Bible tells us that “the LORD descended” (cf. 19:18).
Moses could not go up any higher than the highest point of Sinai so the Lord graciously came to him. God took the initiative to reveal Himself to the mediator on behalf of those whom he represented (a sinful mediator you will recall). The hope of glory is always the work of God and He is always prevenient in it.
In your quest for the hope of glory you need to realise that you can only reach so far, but that is never far enough. But God in His grace reaches down to us. Seek Him. When you have reached your extremity you are ready to experience God’s opportunity of grace. I have often said that many people will end up in hell by the means of sheer laziness. If you want to avoid eternal condemnation, then ask, seek and knock. Seek and you will find! Press toward the mark. Climb until you come to the realisation that all of your climbing will get you nowhere unless God comes down to you.
And, of course, the good news is that God has come down to us in the person of His Son.
A Glorious Disclosure
Verses 6-7 form the heart of the passage. But before delving into its exposition let’s consider again what was on the heart of Moses.
He was burdened to know God’s ways (33:13) with His people and for this reason he desired further revelation. Yes, he knew that the Lord had promised to go with the nation as they journeyed onward, but he was no doubt wondering in what capacity. As Wiersbe puts it, “Moses had won God’s promise to accompany the people in their journey, but would He forgive the people for their sins? Would He accompany them like a policeman watching a criminal or like a Father caring for His beloved children?”3 Thankfully Moses received his answer.
In these verses Moses came face to face with the weight of glory. God revealed His name, by which Moses came to see the weightiness of God as displayed in His willingness to forgive sinners. The name of the Lord is an expression of what He is and what He does. And who He is, is a holy God who amazingly condescends to forgive the very ones to whom He has given His law. The sum of God’s character is that He loves to save. That is heavy!
It is interesting that this revelation of God does not mention His holiness per se, and yet the revelation of God’s merciful and forgiving disposition is so striking because we know that He is holy. His law (vv. 1-4) has prepared us to be amazed by His grace. Such a revelation is what we each so desperately and daily need.
Let’s look at each part of this revelation.
As the Lord passed before Moses, He spoke. He identified Himself as “The Lord, the Lord God.” Some translations offer a slightly different rendering: “The LORD, the LORD, a God . . .” Either way, the emphasis is upon God’s essential essence as expressed in the name Yahweh; as the one who is self-existent and self-sufficient. He is the “I AM.” He simply is. “In the name ‘Yahweh’ all of God’s attributes are to be found in combination.”4 This is why God is weighty in glory. This name also speaks of His sovereignty and power.
Yahweh is unchangeable, immutable. It is amazing that the God who is so “together” and self-satisfied is willing to forgive sinners—sinners whom He does not need! Does this not highlight His love?
Further it should be noted that Yahweh is God’s covenant name. The self-existent, self-sufficient, sovereign of the universe has made a promise to His people. And since by His nature and His name He cannot change, we have every reason and right to feel secure in His promise to forgive us!
“God” is a translation of the Hebrew word el, which speaks of God’s strength and power. Putting the two terms together indicates that “His eternity and boundless power are expressed.”5 And in what follows we should be greatly encouraged that God’s boundless power is expressed in the exercise of His kindness to sinners.
Listen to how Matthew Henry defines these particulars of God’s name.
“Merciful” means that God is “condescending, full of compassion, ready to forgive the sinner, to relieve the needy, and to rescue the miserable.” That He is “gracious” indicates that He is “kind, and ready to bestow undeserved benefits.” “Longsuffering” describes the fact that He is “slow to anger, bearing the provocations of his rebellious creatures with patience, affording space for repentance, not delighting in their misery, but only punishing when it is absolutely required.”
Yahweh is “abounding in goodness,” which means that “the riches of his bounty are infinite; the whole creation is filled with them; even sinners receive them abundantly, though they abuse them, and are ungrateful.” He abounds also in “truth,” which means that “all he reveals is infallible truth, all he proposes is in sincerity, all he promises is in perfect faithfulness.”
“Forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” shows that “his mercy and goodness extend to the full and free forgiveness of every kind and degree of sin.”6
Note that God speaks here of “iniquity,” “transgressions” and “sin.” “Iniquity” speaks of twisted depravity. “Transgressions” speaks of rebellion. The word actually refers to rebellion against a covenant king and therefore speaks of treason. “Sin” is a general word for missing the mark and speaks of any moral failure.
Let’s pause here for a moment to dwell on this very wonderful revelation of God. The overriding theme of these attributes is that God is easy to live with. I do not say that lightly but the truth cannot be avoided. These attributes of God should weigh very heavy on us—in a most delightful way. The holy, self-existent, self-sufficient, self-satisfied, eternally unchanging (because eternally perfect) God is characterised by a desire to forgive sinners. As someone has commented, “we are looking at the most important statement of forgiveness in the Old Testament.”7
God’s glory is most clearly seen in that He loves to save sinners. That cannot be said enough! He desires and is willing and is able to forgive sinners of every type of sin and every possible amount of sin. And when you contemplate how sinful you are—how many different categories of sin of which you are guilty—and when you contemplate how many sins you commit each day, then certainly this revelation of God should delight your soul.
I fear that all too often we view God as a lightweight when it comes to His willingness to forgive sinners—all kinds of sinners, including you and me! Luther once rebuked Melanchthon (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) for not sinning in a bigger way. Melanchthon was discouraged by his sins of doubt, etc. and so Luther, emphasising God’s ability and willingness to forgive all sin, told his friend to sin in a big way and enjoy the largeness of God’s forgiveness.
If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners.
Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.
We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2 Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign.
It suffices that through God’s glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day. Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meagre sacrifice for our sins?
Pray hard for you are quite a sinner.8
Luther’s point is taken. God is a gracious God.
In fact, this formula in the revelation of God’s name became something of a standard covenantal formula from this point onward in the history of the nation of Israel. Such a covenantal reminder was a great encouragement to a nation that was so often guilty of sin. Certainly you and I can relate to that. Consider some examples.
With reference to Moses interceding for the rebellious people who refused to believe the faithful report of the twelve spies, we read, “The LORD is longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He by no means clears the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation” (Numbers 14:18).
With reference to Hezekiah’s reforms and his encouragement to the nation to repent, the historian wrote, “For if you return to the LORD, your brethren and your children will be treated with compassion by those who lead them captive, so that they may come back to this land; for the LORD your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn His face from you if you return to Him” (2 Chronicles 30:9).
Nehemiah’s intercessory prayer for God’s remnant leaned upon this covenantal name: “They refused to obey, and they were not mindful of Your wonders that You did among them. But they hardened their necks, and in their rebellion they appointed a leader to return to their bondage. But You are God, ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abundant in kindness, and did not forsake them” (Nehemiah 9:17).
David prayed for mercy when beleaguered by problems and enemies: “But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth” (Psalm 86:15). And with reference to this very passage in Exodus, David wrote,
He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the children of Israel. The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; as far as the East is from the West, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are but dust.
This text highlights the fact of God’s immeasurable grace and mercy. Currid relates the following story to illustrate the significance of God removing our sins from us “as far as the East is from the West.”
J. Wilbur Chapman, who wrote “Jesus, What a Friend for Sinners!,” told the story of a German mathematics professor who was converted under his ministry and became a member of his congregation. One morning during a men’s study at the church, Chapman commented that God had taken our sins as far as the east is from the west. He turned to the mathematics professor and asked him, “How far is the east from the west?” The man responded in tears, saying, “Men, you cannot measure, for if you put your stake here and keep the east ahead of you and west behind you, you can go around the world and come back to your stake, and east will still be ahead of you and west behind you. The distance is immeasurable. And thank God, that is where my sins have gone.”9
When the believer is facing trials and the temptation to feel dejected and rejected, he would do well to heed the words of the psalmist: “Unto the upright there arises light in the darkness; He is gracious, and full of compassion, and righteous” (Psalm 112:4). Having experienced God’s deliverance from difficulties the psalmist declared: “Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; yes, our God is merciful” (Psalm 116:5).
The prophet encouraged repentance with this formula: “So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm” (Joel 2:13). Another prophet was offended that God would show mercy to the repentant (Jonah 4:2)!
In sum God was saying through this revelation, “If you really want to know me, it’s not about seeing what I look like—it’s about knowing my infinite perfections, especially as I display them in the salvation of sinners.”10
God is so much more willing to forgive than we realise. Let us be paupers no more! May God’s covenantal name embolden us to come to Him with each and every sin in search of forgiveness.
Thou art coming to a King,
large petitions with you bring;
for His grace and power are such,
none can ever ask too much.
But though God is ready to forgive, let us also realise the other side. He is also just. Commenting on the phrase “by no means clearing the guilty,” Henry writes, “All this mercy and grace are united with the most entire hatred of all moral evil, and absolute determination to punish it. The holiness and justice of God are a part of his goodness and love, as exercised towards all his creatures.”11
Note the context of this statement. Its juxtaposition here is in fact purposeful for it is precisely because God is so ready to forgive that He is so offended when His grace is despised. In the words of Kaiser, “The other side of our merciful and loving God is his justice and righteousness. Woe to them who reject God’s grace!”12
The prophet recognised this and so proclaimed, “The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked. The LORD has His way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of His feet” (Nahum 1:3).
God graciously revealed both the certainty of forgiveness and the certainty of judgement. It all depends on how you respond to His glory. Those who love Him (demonstrated by conviction and confession of sin) will find mercy to thousands of generations while those who hate Him will experience God’s chastening to the third and even the fourth generation (see Exodus 20:4- 6; Deuteronomy 5:8-10).
Just what does this mean? I don’t believe that the emphasis is on some form of “generational curse.” It does not indicate some form of demonic attachment to one’s family line. What it does mean is that if you hate the Lord (as indicated by a refusal to repent of your idolatry), then it is very likely that it will take several generations before such hatred of the Lord will leave the family. In other words, if you do not take advantage of the offer of forgiveness then your hatred of the Lord will be reproduced for generations to come. Why not break the cycle today? Repent and believe the gospel!
How will you respond to the hope of glory as displayed in the gospel of God? Will you spurn it or submit to it? Whether you experience the goodness or the severity of God is ultimately your choice. “Behind every display of divine goodness stands a threat of severity in judgment if that goodness is scorned. If we do not let it draw us to God in gratitude and responsive love, we have only ourselves to blame when God turns against us.”13
Before leaving this section we need to see something extremely significant. Though Moses had asked to see God’s glory, you will note that what he actually received was a sermon! God showed His glory through His proclamation. No doubt God did appear physically to Him, as promised at the end of chapter 33. But what impressed Moses most was the words that God spoke. It appears, in fact, that the proclamation had such an impression upon him that the physical appearance was deemed insignificant enough to even record!
If we will see God’s glory then we need God-centred proclamation. Nothing else will suffice. Brevard Childs comments, “The revelation of God is in terms of his attributes rather than his appearance.”14 Motyer says it well:
The major revelation was not, however, what Moses saw but by what he heard (34:5-27): the word of God in disclosure (5-8) and direction (8-26). Moses was commanded not to draw a picture of what he saw but to write a record of what he heard (27). The people of God are to find all their assurance and confidence in the Word of God, and it is in his word that we too can look, with veiled faces, upon the face of Jesus and, with reassured feet, go forward.15
A Hopeful Humiliation
Having received this glorious vision of God’s majesty,
Moses made haste and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped. Then he said, “If now I have found grace in Your sight, O Lord, let my Lord, I pray, go among us, even though we are a stiff-necked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Your inheritance.”
As we approach the end of this study we see once again into the character of Israel’s human mediator, which points powerfully to the character the believer’s ultimate Mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us tread carefully on this holy ground. Moses did!
A Humble Response
In v. 8 we see Moses’ humble response to the revelation of God’s glory. He was moved by the glorious revelation of the goodness of God, and showed it by reverently bowing to Him—and doing so quickly! Spontaneously, Moses bowed in response and worshipped. This is the only intelligent response in the presence of greatness.
Having been exposed to the covenantal name of God, Moses was humbled by God’s grace. God’s eager willingness to forgive sinners quickly humbled this man of God. Moses fell, as it were, under the weighty truth of God’s mercy to the undeserving. This gospel revelation was heavy. The weight of God’s glory as displayed in His grace revealed to Moses the immeasurable worth of God. And so he bowed and ascribed to God the worth that was His due.
All who have experienced God’s forgiveness are quick to acknowledge His worth. And that leaves no room for self. Indeed, there is only one acceptable posture for those who have been moved by the goodness of God: self-humiliation. When one has been made aware of God’s grace then such a hope of glory will produce humility. It will produce lowliness of mind or self-humiliation.
A Hopeful Request
Moses had received what he had asked for. The LORD had shown to him a portion of His glory. He had humbled himself before a great and gracious God. He was enjoying the glory of God.
But this vision of the glory of God also produced in him a hope of the glory of God in the lives of others. He had a hope of the glory of God for those whom he represented.
In v. 9 Moses (again) interceded for his people. “If now I have found grace in Your sight, O Lord, let my Lord, I pray, go among us, even though we are a stiff-necked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Your inheritance.” You may wonder what led him to do this. After all, had not God already granted Moses’ request that He would accompany them on their journey? Had God not stated that He would not destroy the people?
The answer to these questions is yes, but in all the back-and-forth between Moses and God the one thing most necessary for the hope of glory had not yet occurred. That is, there had as yet been no granting of forgiveness to the people. Think about that as you review the scenes from chapters 32 until our present text.
In 32:32 Moses interceded for the people and prayed, “Yet now, if You will forgive their sin—but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written.” We stand amazed by God’s response. Instead of accepting Moses’ plea God rejected it (32:33).
God’s refusal to forgive the people at this point is precisely why Moses—time and again—interceded for the people. The irrepressible mediator would not give up. He was determined that those whom he represented receive forgiveness for their sins against God. Moses was determined that God be reconciled to sinners. And now that he had received this marvellously weighty revelation of the graciousness of God, Moses was encouraged to intercede once more for them.
Let me state it another way: Moses wanted more than the attendance of God on their journey; He wanted God’s acceptance of the people. God’s acceptance was their need more than merely His accompaniment. He wanted more than the presence of God amongst the people; he wanted the people to be God’s possession (v. 9).
Pink noted, “A truly marvelous concept is that, one to which our poor minds are quite incapable of rising—that the great and self-sufficient God should deem Himself enriched by worms of the earth whom He hath saved by His grace.”16
Moses wanted more than the people to have a revelation from God; he wanted the people to have a relationship with God as Father. He wanted more than God’s adoption of the people; he wanted God’s affection for the people. In short, Moses was motivated by the hope of glory for those who deserved the hopelessness of guilt. Moses knew by experience the hope of glory and this motivated him to intercede on behalf of others so they too would know by experience the hope of glory. Pink helpfully observes, “Seeing that God was ‘merciful, gracious, longsuffering,’ He was just the One suited to a ‘stiffnecked’ people. None but He could bear with them. . . . Moses not only acknowledged the truth of God’s charge, but, in wondrous faith, turns it into a plea for Him to continue in Israel’s midst!”17 And so it is with Jesus.
Moses’ desire that the guilty would come to know the hope of glory is precisely what motivated Jesus Christ to humble Himself and to become obedient to death on the cross. In Philippians 2 we read that the Lord Jesus “emptied Himself.” That is, He laid aside His robes of glory, humbled Himself and became obedient to death on a cross. And this self-humiliation was motivated by the hope of glory. “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11).
Jesus, motivated by a vision of the glory of God, humbled Himself before the Father and before a watching universe. But, like Moses, His humble response before God resulted in the hope of glory for others.
Our hope of glory is intimately connected to the mediatorial ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. His death resulted in His eternal glory and is the basis for our hope of glory. This is nowhere more clearly seen than in His High Priestly prayer as recorded in John 17.
Jesus wanted the Father to have the same affection for His disciples that the Father had for Him. And Jesus desired that His disciples would know this. He wanted them to have this assurance of acceptance; this assurance of an affectionate adoption (see John 17:26).
What Jesus wanted for them is what He wants for all those who call upon Him for salvation. Jesus wants His disciples to know, not merely about God, but rather to know God. Ryken, as usual, says it clearly, “Jesus has satisfied the claims of God’s justice. Now everyone who believes in him knows the Lord as the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, and forgiving all kinds of sin.”18 To know God is to know the hope of glory. Do you?
As Matthew Henry so ably comments, “Mercy and forgiveness are never exercised by our holy and righteous God, but through the atonement of the death of Christ, and to those who believe in his name.”11
You will note that, when Moses prayed as Israel’s mediator, he identified with their sin. The mediator identified with sinners. He referred to “our iniquity,” “our sin” and “us” as God’s inheritance. This is remarkable. After all, Moses was not guilty of idolatry in chapter 32! And yet he identified with them as though he was guilty.
That is precisely what a mediator does. And it is an admittedly weak picture of what the sinless Son of God did for all who believe on Him.
He who is the eternal God, who had always been perfect in glory, became sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of the glorious God in Him. And with that comes the hope of glory. Hallelujah, what a Saviour!
Finally, we must consider the question, did God respond favourably to Moses’ prayer? Earlier (32:32) God rejected Moses’ plea for forgiveness. How did God respond here? Verse 10 tells us: “And He said, ‘Behold I make a covenant.’”
If you have been paying careful attention you have been already given a glimpse of the answer to that question in the opening verses of the chapter. The loving implication of the presence of the tablets is that God planned to be reconciled to His people. That is, the covenant declared in v. 10 was provided for in v. 1! God asked Moses for the tablets He was carrying and recorded afresh the words of covenant with His people. He covenanted with those whom He had forgiven.
Such it is with God’s everlasting covenant. Before the foundation of the world, God provided a covenant for believing sinners. John Flavel helpfully imagines how the discussion unfolded between the Father and the Son before the foundation of the world.
Hence judge, how reasonable it is that believers should embrace the hardest terms of obedience unto Christ, who complied with such hard terms for their salvation: they were hard and difficult terms indeed, on which Christ received you from the Father’s hand: it was, as you have heard, to pour out his soul unto death, or not to enjoy a soul of you. Here you may suppose the Father to say, when driving his bargain with Christ for you.
Father: My Son, here is a company of poor miserable souls, that have utterly undone themselves, and now lie open to my justice! Justice demands satisfaction for them, or will satisfy itself in the eternal ruin of them: What shall be done for these souls? And thus Christ returns.
Son: O my Father, such is my love to, and pity for them, that rather than they shall perish eternally, I will be responsible for them as their Surety; bring in all thy bills, that I may see what they owe thee; Lord, bring them all in, that there may be no after-reckonings with them; at my hand shalt thou require it. I will rather choose to suffer thy wrath than they should suffer it: upon me, my Father, upon me be all their debt.
Father: But, my Son, if thou undertake for them, thou must reckon to pay the Last mite, expect no abatements; if I spare them, I will not spare thee.
Son: Content, Father, let it be so; charge it all upon me, I am able to discharge it: and though it prove a kind of undoing to me, though it impoverish all my riches, empty all my treasures, (for so indeed it did, 2 Cor. 8:9 “Though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor”) yet I am content to undertake it. Blush, ungrateful believers, O let shame cover your faces; judge in yourselves now, hath Christ deserved that you should stand with him for trifles, that you should shrink at a few petty difficulties, and complain, this is hard, and that is harsh? O if you knew the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in this his wonderful condescension for you, you could not do it.
Flavel then applies this: “Blush, ungrateful believers, O let shame cover your faces; judge in yourselves now, has Christ deserved that you should stand with him for trifles, that you should shrink at a few petty difficulties, and complain, this is hard, and that is harsh? O if you knew the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in this his wonderful condescension for you, you could not do it.”20
When Jesus came to earth, He put that covenant into full effect. His cross was not an afterthought but rather He was slain before the foundation of the world. Those who respond to the hopeful invitation will experience the hopeful proclamation and will participate in the saving benefits of the one who came in hopeful humiliation—because He died in hopeful anticipation of His glorious resurrection.
Oh sinner—oh sinning saint—the Mediator never fails to secure your forgiveness! “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37). That, my friend, is written in stone. By God’s grace, may it be written in your heart. Such a promise, truly, is the hope of glory.
- J. Ligon Duncan, “The Lord Passes By,” http://goo.gl/UXXLx. ↩
- Duncan, “The Lord Passes By,” http://goo.gl/UXXLx. ↩
- Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Delivered: Finding Freedom by Following God (Colorado Springs: Chariot Victor Publishing, 1998), 171. ↩
- John D. Currid, Study Commentary on Exodus, 2 vols. (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2001), 2:309. ↩
- John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, 22 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), 3.1.386. ↩
- Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, 3 vols. (Nashville: Royal Publishers, 1979), 1:217. ↩
- Currid, Study Commentary on Exodus, 2:310. ↩
- Martin Luther, “Let Your Sins Be Strong,” http://goo.gl/i6fgJ. ↩
- Currid, Study Commentary on Exodus, 2:311-12. ↩
- Philip Graham Ryken, Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2005), 1040. ↩
- Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, 1:217. ↩
- Walter Kaiser, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 12 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), 2:486. ↩
- J. I. Packer, Knowing God (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1973), 148. ↩
- Ryken, Exodus, 1040. ↩
- Alec Motyer, The Message of Exodus: The Days of Our Pilgrimage (Leicester, Inter-Varsity Press, 2005), 310. ↩
- A. W. Pink, Gleanings in Exodus (Chicago: Moody Press, 1981), 355. ↩
- Pink, Gleanings in Exodus, 354. ↩
- Ryken, Exodus, 1047. ↩
- Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, 1:217. ↩
- John Flavel, “The Fountain of Love,” http://goo.gl/ilZ0c. ↩