For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2005 James Melough

34:1.  “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.”


God’s willingness to rewrite the tables of the law reveals His patient grace, and His unwillingness to execute judgment except as a last resort, it being written that judgment is “His strange work,” Isaiah 28:21, strange being used here in the sense of something done reluctantly, Calvary being the dramatic evidence of His aversion to executing judgment against men, for there He exacted upon His sinless Son the sentence due to all others, so that those who trust that Son as Savior might be exonerated, and receive His priceless, blood-bought gift of eternal life.


34:2.  “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.


The twice repeated “early in the morning” stresses the importance of the matter.  The morning is literally the beginning of a new day, and here it speaks symbolically of the beginning of a new era: the dispensation of law; and its being given on mount Sinai, meaning my thorns, has an ominous significance, for thorns are synonymous with sin, their first appearance being indicative of the earth’s sinful, and therefore cursed state, see Genesis 3:17-18, “... cursed is the ground for thy sake ... thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee ....”.  The giving of the law on mount Sinai therefore, alerts us to what is made clear throughout Scripture: the law was not given as a way of life, but rather as the catalyst that would expose man’s utterly sinful state, and need of a savior, for it is only awareness of his condemned condition, with its dreadful attendant consequences, that impels men to seek a savior.


34:3.  “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.” 


The wide extent of the interdiction emphasizes the fact that the law touches every aspect of man’s life, while the penalty for infraction declares its deadly character, the impossibility of man’s being saved by law keeping being announced in Romans 3:19-20, “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.  Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”  Since no man can meet its perfect standard, the law can only declare all men guilty, and point them to Christ as the only One Who can save them from its dread sentence, He having borne that penalty when He took our guilty place, and yielded up His sinless life to expiate our sin.


The command to keep the flocks and herds away from the mount reminds us that Adam’s transgression has affected all creation, “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.  And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, that is, the redemption of our body.” Romans 8:22-23.


34:4.  “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.”


“... early in the morning” continues to declare the urgency of the matter.


34:5.  “And the Lord descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord.”


The Lord’s appearing in the form of a cloud was to spare Moses’ life, for, as discussed already, man in his natural body would be destroyed by the unveiled appearance of Deity.  Scholars disagree as to whether it was God or Moses who proclaimed the name of the Lord.  As to why it was proclaimed, those who attribute the announcement to Jehovah believe that it involved His explanation of the meanings of His name; those who believe that it came from the lips of Moses, maintain that it was an exclamation of worship. 


34:6.  “And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth,”


First, God declared that He is the only God, all others being the figment of man’s corrupt mind.  Then He described His nature.  He is merciful, willing to bestow undeserved blessing, patient, and overflowing in goodness, His promises never being broken.  The immutability of His word however, is fraught with solemn significance, for while it pledges eternal blessing to the believer, it assures the unrepentant sinner of everlasting torment in the terrible lake of fire.


34:7.  “Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the childrens’ children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.”


“... thousands” in the present context means not just thousands of people, but thousands of generations of believers.  There is no mercy for those who die in unbelief.


“... iniquity” means moral evil: “transgression” relates to revolt or rebellion against God’s commands: and “sin” is the general term used to describe habitual disobedience.


“... that will by no means clear the guilty,” is generally understood to mean that even where sin has been repented of and forsaken, the offender, though forgiven, is not thereby relieved from having to suffer the consequences of his wrongdoing, e.g., there are those who have been genuinely converted while serving a just prison sentence, but their conversion doesn’t release them from prison until their sentence has been completed.


“... visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, etc.,” has been much misunderstood.  Scripture makes it abundantly clear that God does not punish the child for the father’s sin, “The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin,” Deuteronomy 24:16.  What is being stated in this verse is that very often the father’s failure to teach the child right from wrong, results in the child’s conduct being evil rather than good, with the result that the child suffers the consequences of his own wrongdoing.


34:8.  “And Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshiped.”


Moses’ reverence in God’s presence rebukes the irreverence becoming increasingly prevalent today, as displayed in dress, flippant speech, and general conduct, not just amongst unbelievers, but also on the part of those professing to be believers.


34:9.  “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 stiffnecked people; and pardon our iniquity and sin, and take us for thine inheritance.”


Moses’ love for the people precluded his being satisfied with blessing just for himself: he sought the same blessing for the people; and God commands us to have the same love for fellow believers, see John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.  By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”


His love for the people didn’t blind Moses to their faults: he confessed that they were “a stiffnecked (stubborn, rebellious) people,” but in spite of that, he sought only their good; and in this God would teach us to have the same spirit of love for our brethren and sisters, for the flaws we so easily find in them, are just as apparent in us.


Relative to iniquity and sin: basically iniquity has to do with the deliberate distortion of God’s Word so as to try to make it appear that the evil committed isn’t really evil; while sin refers generally to any and every disobedience of God’s commands.


“... take us for thine inheritance” is simply the plea that in spite of their sin, God acknowledge Israel as His own special people, those He has set apart from all the other nations to be the objects of His singular blessing.


During this present dispensation of grace Israel has been temporally set aside, and we who comprise the Church have been taken up to be the recipients of even richer blessing, not earthly, but spiritual and heavenly.  Following the now imminent rapture of the Church however, God will again take up Israel, and by means of the Tribulation judgments bring a remnant of them to repentant faith in Christ, that remnant being the revived Israel that will inherit millennial blessings.


“... for thine inheritance” means “for your very own.”


34:10.  “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.”


A covenant is an agreement between two or more people to do or not to do what is specified in the agreement, so the clear implication here is that God’s blessing Israel would be contingent on her keeping her part of the contract: she must be obedient, for God will never bless disobedience.


In response to her compliance He would perform miracles for her blessing.


The same principle governs His dealings with us.  If we would be blessed we must be obedient.


Terrible is used here in the sense of being awe-inspiring, marvelous, tremendous, terrifying


34:11.  “Observe thou that which I command thee this day: behold, I drive out before thee the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite.


For the spiritual significance of the names of these tribes see comments on 33:2.


34:12.  “Take heed to thyself, lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land whither thou goest, lest it be for a snare in the midst of thee:”


This is the OT equivalent of the command given believers in 1 Cor 6:14, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?  and what communion hath light with darkness?  And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?  And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them: and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”


Nor is this command limited to marriage: it includes business partnerships and social relationships.  The unconverted will be won for Christ only as we maintain a separated position, and faithfully present them with the gospel, Abraham being an outstanding example of such a separated man.  His nephew Lot choose to live in a house in Sodom, meaning fettered, see Genesis 13:12, while Abraham dwelt apart in his tent in the plain of Mamre, which means causing fatness, Genesis 13:18; and when judgment was about to fall, the Sodomites mocked Lot when he sought to warn them, see Genesis 19:9, but of separated Abraham they later said, “thou art a mighty prince among us,” Genesis 23:6. 


You don’t pull a man out of a quicksand by jumping in beside him, where you will sink with him: you will save him only as you stand in a separate place upon a rock or on solid ground.


34:13.  “But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves:”


This command is obeyed today, not by doing literally what is commanded here, but by faithfully preaching the gospel, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds; casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ,” 2 Corinthians 10:4-5.


34:14.  “For thou shalt worship no other god: for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.”


In the present context “jealous” is also rendered zealous, ardent, impassioned.  Jehovah, the only true God, will not tolerate the offering of worship to any one or any thing, other than Himself, for He alone is the Creator of everything else.  To worship any one or thing other than Him is to tacitly ascribe to it the omnipotence which belongs only to Him.


34:15.  “Lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go a whoring after their gods, and do sacrifice unto their gods, and one call thee, and thou eat of his sacrifice;”


The command to Israel to keep themselves separate from the surrounding nations, continues with this injunction not to enter into any agreement whatsoever with them, because of the danger of being invited to a feast in which the food had been offered first in sacrifice to an idol.  The corresponding NT instruction relative to a similar situation is given in 1 Corinthians 10:27-28, “If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake.  But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake ....”  No food is proscribed except that which we know to have been part of a pagan sacrifice, in which case the host might mistake my eating as being endorsement of idolatry, God’s command being, “Abstain from all appearance of evil,” 1 Thessalonians 5:22.


34:16.  “And thou take of their daughters unto thy sons, and their daughters go a whoring after their gods, and make thy sons go a whoring after their gods.”


Here the dictum relates specifically to marriage, the equivalent NT command being specific, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers ....” 2 Corinthians 6:14.  As noted already however, this latter NT ordinance relates not just to marriage, but to every situation that would involve the alliance of believer and unbeliever.  God forbids all such unions.


34:17.  “Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.”


This interdiction is not confined to molten images only: it includes anything that might be worshiped as a god, its mention here being to emphasize the command given in 20:3-5, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.  Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God ....”


Before hastening to condemn the idolatry of the pagan we should be sure that we ourselves aren’t also to be charged with idolism, e.g., the worship of money, fame, pleasure, clothes, education, our homes, our children, to name but a few.


34:18.  “The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep.  Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, as I commanded thee, in the time of the month Abib: for in the month Abib thou camest out from Egypt.”


For comments on Abib and unleavened bread, see 23:15.


34:19.  “All that openeth the matrix is mine; and every firstling among thy cattle, whether ox or sheep, that is male.”


As Creator God has first claim on everything born on this planet, for man, having introduced sin into the world, has brought the sentence of death upon the whole creation, so that unless redeemed, everything must die.  The female, incidentally, is reckoned as being in the male.


34:20.  “But the firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb: and if thou redeem him not, then shalt thou break his neck. All the firstborn of thy sons thou shalt redeem.  And none shall appear before me empty.”


Man is represented by the ass, it being written that, “Vain man would be wise, though man be born like a wild ass’s colt,” Job 11:12.  He is in need of redemption by reason of the fact, that as descended from Adam, he is born with Adam’s fallen sinful nature, and is therefore incapable of producing anything except sin in his life, hence his need of being born again spiritually as declared by the Lord Jesus Christ in John 3:3,7, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see (enter) the kingdom of God .... Ye must be born again.”


The redemption of the ass with a lamb scarcely needs comment, for surely none will fail to see in the lamb a type of Christ, as declared by John the Baptist in John 1:29 when he pointed to Christ, and said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”


The firstborn’s need of redemption is also related to the fact that he represents the flesh, what we are by natural birth: condemned and in need of a Savior; and it is significant in this connection that throughout Scripture every firstborn is rejected in favor of the secondborn, e.g., Cain and Abel; Ishmael and Isaac; Esau and Jacob; Reuben and Joseph; Manasseh and Ephraim, etc.  Israel’s first king Saul was rejected in favor of David.  All of this demonstrates the principle that in order to enter heaven men must have a second, a spiritual birth, the Lord Himself declaring, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see (enter) the kingdom of God .... Ye must be born again,” John 3:3-7, for “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God,” 1 Corinthians 15:50.


The ass that wasn’t redeemed with a lamb had its neck broken, this being the symbolic announcement of the truth that the man who refuses to trust in Christ as his Savior will never enter heaven, but will instead die the second death, i.e., be cast into the eternal torment of the lake of fire, see Revelation 20:14-15.


“And none shall appear before me empty,” is also rendered empty-handed: without an offering.  The lesson being taught here is that those who die without having trusted in Christ as Savior will be banished into hell for having rejected the pardon procured for them at incalculable cost: the Lord’s vicarious death, He being the sacrificial Lamb given by the Father to expiate their sin, and fit them for heaven, God’s warning being sounded by the writer of Hebrews, in the words, “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” Hebrews 2:3.


34:21.  “Six days shalt thou work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest: in earing time and in harvest thou shalt rest.”


Even the exigency of plowing and seeding, and of harvesting could not be adduced as reason for working on the seventh day.  See also comments on 20:8-11.


34:22.  “And thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, of the first-fruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year’s end.”


The feast of weeks was also known as the feast of harvest: the day of firstfruits, and later simply as Pentecost because it was observed on the fiftieth day from the sabbath on which Passover began.  See comments on 23:16.


34:23.  “Thrice in the year shall all your menchildren appear before the Lord God, the God of Israel.”


Since three is the number of manifestation or resurrection, and since the woman is viewed as being in the man, this thrice-annual assembly signified that Israel were those whom God had redeemed, and resurrected, as it were, out of Egyptian bondage to be His unique heritage.  The special worship presented during these gatherings foreshadows that which we are to offer, not just thrice yearly, but as directed in Hebrws 13:15, “By Him (Christ) therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.” 


The purest worship that can be presented is the sacrifice of an obedient life, see 1 Samuel 15:22, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifiece, and to hearken than the fat of rams,” the Lord Himself declaring, “If ye love me, keep my commandments .... He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him .... John 14:15, 21.


“... the Lord God, the God of Israel” is the assurance that He Who is the only God is Israel’s God.  The so-called gods worshiped by the nations were mere figments of their deluded minds.


34:24.  “For I will cast out the nations before thee, and enlarge thy borders: neither shall any man desire thy land, when thou shalt go up to appear before the Lord thy God thrice in the year.”


It was not by Israel’s puny power that the Canaanites were to be driven out, but by the omnipotent hand of Jehovah, in Whose sight “... the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance .... All nations before Him are as nothing; and they are counted to Him less than nothing, and vanity,” Isaiah 40:15-17, so that the Psalmist could exult, “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me?”  That same confidence is ours.


They would suffer no loss as a result of obeying God, nor will any man.


It is disobedience that brings loss, and in this connection it is necessary to remember that while obedience may cost us the loss of earthly riches, God’s recompense will be a transcendent eternal reward in heaven.  Many Christians forfeit that heavenly imperishable treasure by scrabbling for earth’s transient wealth, thus stealing from God the time that should be devoted to His service, and which He would reward in a measure beyond anything the mind of man can imagine.


Of Moses, whose obedience cost him much in the way of worldly wealth, it is written that he esteemed “the reproach of Christ (reproach borne for Christ’s sake) greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward,” Heb 11:26.  He who has been endowed with Moses’ wisdom stands in the company of the truly wise.


34:25.  “Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven; neither shall the sacrifice of the feast of passover be left unto the morning.”


Leaven always represents sin, and the warning here is against engaging in the hypocritical charade of attempting to offer worship without having first confessed, repented of, and forsaken, every known sin.


See comments on 12:10 relative to the command forbidding the leaving of any of the Passover lamb until the morning.


34:26.  “The first of the firstfruits of thy land thou shalt bring unto the house of the Lord thy God.  Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother’s milk.”


The offering of the firstfruits was the symbolic acknowledgement of God as the Giver, not only of the harvest, but of all things.


See comments on 23:19 relative to the command not to boil a kid in its mother’s milk.


34:27.  “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.”


All that God had commanded Moses was to be written down, thus preserving it from alteration; and any doubt as to the necessity of that safeguard is dispelled by the myriad ways in which man has sought to manipulate Scripture so as to escape its censure of his evil ways.


In the present instance tenor means purpose and character: on this basis: in accordance with: these are the terms of


34:28.  “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.”


Four or any multiple thereof is the scriptural number of testing, so that the forty days and forty nights are in consonance with the character of the Law: it is the divine standard by which our conduct is measured.


The fact that Moses neither ate bread, nor drank water during that time serves to emphasize the heavenly character of the Law.


It has been given to measure man’s obedience, but because man is a fallen creature it can only reveal that he is incapable of rendering the obedience that would save him from hell, and fit him for heaven.  It can only condemn him, as it is written, “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.  Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight; for by the law is the knowledge of sin,” Romans 3:19-20.


Since ten is the number of God in government, as twelve is the number associated with those who are under that government - e.g., the twelve tribes of Israel - there being ten commandments is in perfect keeping with the character of the One Who has promulgated that perfect Law.


34:29.  “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 (knew) not that the skin of his face shone while he talked with him.”


“shone” is also translated became radiant: was in a glow: emitted rays of light: sent forth beams: irradiated with glory.


A man cannot spend time in the presence of God without a change being wrought in his life.  His face will not literally shine as did that of Moses, but there will be an ongoing transformation of his character that will be evident to those who have any contact with him, as it is written, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord,” 2 Corinthians 3:18, “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of the darkness, hath shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” 2 Corinthians 4:6.


34:30.  “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 (near) him.”


Even the reflected effulgence of the divine glory repels sinful man, for that all-revealing light exposes his own wretched state, and his unfitness for the divine presence.


34:31.  “And Moses called unto them; and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned unto him: and Moses talked with them.”


God reveals His holiness, not to repulse men, but to expose their sinful state, and to impel them to cry out as did the Philippian jailor, “What must I do to be saved?” His answer being the same now as then, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved ....” Acts 16:30-31.  And as Moses talked with them when they returned to him, so does God talk, through the written Word, with those who return to Him in penitent faith.


Our evaluation of the privilege of holding conversation with God is accurately measured by the amount of time we spend in prayer, and in the study of Scripture, for in prayer we talk with Him; and in the Scriptures He speaks with us.


34:32.  “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.”


His giving them “in commandment” all that God had said warns us that God’s commands are not electives.  His word is to be obeyed, obedience bringing blessing; and disobedience, chastisement.


34:33.  “And till Moses had done speaking with them, he put a veil on his face.”


The type is fulfilled today as we study the Scriptures, for it is in them that God reveals Himself to us; there being, as it were, a veil over them, so that we discern Him imperfectly “because of the infirmity of your (our) flesh,” Romans 6:19.  We grieve and quench the Holy Spirit so much that He cannot reveal to us all that He desires.


34:34.  “But when Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he took the veil off, until he came out.  And he came out, and spake unto the children of Israel that which he was commanded.”


Since the glory radiating from Moses’ face was the reflection of the Divine glory, there was obviously no need to veil his face when he stood in God’s presence, but the veil had to be replaced when he came out to convey God’s commandments to the people, for the glory, it seems, would have blinded them.  While praying we bow our heads and close our eyes in symbolic acknowledgement that we are in that same majestic glorious Presence.


34:35.  “And the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone: and Moses put the veil upon his face again, until he went in to speak with Him.”


A more accurate rendering of this verse is that the people would have seen the Divine glory radiating from Moses’ face had he not worn the veil until the next time he went in to speak with Jehovah.

[Exodus 35]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough