Gleanings In Exodus
by A. W. Pink
66. God’s Governmental Principles
Our present passage gives the sequel to what was before us in Exodus 19 and Exodus 24. Up to Exodus 19 God had dealt with Israel on the ground of His unconditional covenant with Abraham: see Genesis 15:18; Exodus 2:24; 6:3, 4. The last thing recorded before Israel reached Sinai was the miraculous giving of the water at Rephidim, and concerning that the Psalmist tells us, "He opened the rock, and the waters gushed out; they ran in the dry places like a river. For He remembered His holy promise, Abraham His servant" (105:41, 42). But at Sinai, God’s relationship to Israel was placed upon a different basis.
In Exodus 19:5 we find God, from the mount, bidding Moses say unto the people, "Now therefore, if ye will obey My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people: for the earth is Mine." In connection with the covenant that He had made with Abraham there was nothing which Israel could "keep;" there were no conditions attached to it, no stipulations, no proviso’s. It was unconditional so far as Abraham and his descendants were concerned. It was a covenant of pure grace, and it was on the ground of that covenant God will again take up Israel after this dispensation is over. But at Sinai God proposed another covenant, to which there should be two parties—Himself and Israel: It was a conditional covenant, a covenant which Israel must "keep" if they were to enjoy the blessings attached thereto; note carefully the "if" in 19:5.
The charter of the Siniatic covenant was the two tables of stone, upon which were engraved the ten commandments, see Exodus 34:27, 28, Deuteronomy 4:13. The terms of this covenant Israel freely accepted (19:8, 24:3), and accordingly, it was solemnly ratified my blood (24:4-8). In proposing this covenant, God had two things before Him: the maintaining of His own rights, and the good of His people. Grace ever reigns "through righteousness" (Rom. 5:20, and in His sovereign benignity to Abraham’s seed, God must uphold the claims of His throne. But this was also for their good: God’s commands "are not grievous" (1 John 5:3), and in keeping of them there is great reward. In article 28 of this series we sought to show that, so far from redemption setting aside the rights of God over His creatures, it supplies an additional motive for recognizing and meeting them.
Now at the close of Exodus 24 we hear Jehovah saying to Mines, "Come up to Me into the mount, and be there: and I will give thee tables of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written; that thou mayest teach them (v. 12). Accordingly Moses, accompanied by his minister Joshua, goes up into the mount, and as v. 18 tells us, he was "in the mount forty days and forty nights." The next seven chapters are occupied with a description of the Tabernacle, details of which God also gave to Moses on that occasion. Then, in Exodus 32, we learn how the people below had been conducting themselves during the absence of their leader: the great sin of the golden calf, with its idolatrous worship, had been committed. Nothing but the intercession of the typical mediator had saved them from utter extermination by the wrath of God. As we have seen, they were severely chastised for their wickedness, the Tent of meeting was removed outside the camp, and following Israel’s repentance and Moses’ repeated supplication, they were restored again to communion with God.
Therefore the next thing we read is, "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 on the first tables, which thou breakest. 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. 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" (34:1-3). Thus, as we have said in the opening sentence of this article, our present passage gives the sequel to what was before us in Exodus 19 and 24. Though Israel had, during the interval, sinned so grievously. Moses must return to Jehovah and receive from Him the inscribed tables of stone. No purpose of the Most High can fail. To the outward eye it may appear that the wickedness of the creature is thwarting, or at least hindering, the execution of His counsels. But it is only seeming; in reality it is not so: "My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure" (Isa. 46:10), in His sure and unchanging declaration.
The ground we have sought to review above is especially rich in its typical teaching. The first tables of stone were broken (32:19) in view of Israel’s sin—a figure of man’s inability to keep God’s Law. The first tables of stone were provided by Jehovah Himself "I will give thee" (24:12). but the second were to be supplied by Moses himself: "hew thee" (34:1)—type of Christ the Mediator who declared, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill" (Matthew 5:17). Accordingly, the second set of tables were securely deposited in the ark (Deut. 10:5)—type, again, of Him who said, "I delight to do Thy will, O My God: Yea, Thy law is within My heart" (Ps. 40:8).
Again; the covenant which God made with Abraham at the beginning (Gen. 15), and on the ground of which He had delivered Israel from Egypt and brought them unto Himself, foreshadowed that eternal covenant which God made with Christ (2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 1:2; Hebrews 13:20), on the basis of which God’s people are saved and blest Ephesians 1:3, 4). The covenant God made with Israel at Sinai, which brought in the establishing of His rights and the good of His people on earth, foreshadowed the present government of God over His people, pressing upon us our responsibilities and obligations, making known to us the terms on which we receive blessings from Him in this life, and revealing the principles which regulate God Himself in His dealings with us. As these will receive amplification in what follows, we pass on now to notice one other typical feature of importance and preciousness.
In the interval between the two ascents of Moses into the mount to receive from Jehovah the engraved tables of stone, we have the solemn account of Israel’s wickedness; but where sin abounded "grace did much more abound." Very blessed is it to see illustrated there that word in Psalm 76:10, "Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee." Israel’s sin, so far from defeating the purpose of God, only provided occasion for Him to reveal the wondrous provisions which He has made for His failing people: seen in the unfailing love and prevailing intercession of the typical mediator. It is this which has been before us in the last few articles, finding its glorious climax in the making known of the mercy of God—that wondrous spring in the Divine character which ministers to those who have failed to respond to His grace—and the making of His "goodness" to pass before Moses (33:10). That "goodness" was inseparably connected with the proclamation of "the name of the Lord," and what that signified we shall learn from our present passage.
"One other remark should be made. Satan had come in, and for the moment seemed as if he had succeeded in frustrating the purposes of God with respect to His people. But Satan is never so completely defeated as in his apparent victories. This is nowhere so fully illustrated as in the cross, but the same thing is perceived in connection with the golden calf. This was Satan’s work; but the failure of Israel becomes the occasion through the mediation of Moses, which God in His grace had provided, of the fuller revelation of God, and of His mingling grace with law. The activity of Satan does but work out the purposes of God, and his wrath is made to praise Him against whom all his malice and enmity are directed" (Ed. Dennett).
"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" (v. 4). The typical teaching of this verse brings out an important truth which is now very frequently denied, namely, that God’s redeemed are still under law: not as a condition of salvation, but as the Divine rule for their walk. Let it be remembered that what we have here in Exodus 34 follows right after what is recorded in chapter 33, where we have a most manifest and lovely foreshadowing of the intercession of our great High Priest on high.
Many are the New Testament passages which give us the antitype of this. Said the Lord Jesus to His disciples, "If ye love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14:15), which is, obviously, parallel with, "Showing mercy unto thousands of them that love Me, and keep My commandments" (Ex. 20:6). In perfect accord with this, is that word in Romans 13:10, "Love is the fulfilling of the law." The law has not been abrogated, nor is love lawless. Equally plain is that word in 1 Corinthians 9:21, where the apostle affirms that New Testament saints are "under the law to Christ." Nor does Romans 6:14 set this aside, for God’s Word does not contradict itself. When the apostle there says, "Ye are not under the law, but under grace," he is referring to our justification, not to our walk as believers. "
"And the Lord descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord" (v. 5). This at once introduces to us a subject of much importance, but, alas, like many another, sadly neglected today: the teaching of Holy Writ concerning the Name of the Lord. God is very jealous of His name as the third commandment in the Decalogue shows: the Lord will not hold guiltless that one who taketh His name in vain. In the prayer which Christ taught His disciples, the first petition is "Hallowed be Thy name." In Proverbs 18:10 we read, "The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it and is safe." From Malachi 3:16 we learn that God has written a book of remembrance "for them that feared the Lord and that thought upon His name." While the last chapter of Scripture tells us that God’s name shall be in the foreheads of His people (22:4).
"And the Lord descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord." This was the fulfillment of the promise which He had made to Moses in 33:19. There He had said, "I will make all My goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee. To proclaim His "name" signified to reveal Himself, to make Himself known. Just as the angel said to Joseph concerning the Child Mary was to bear, "Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21): the "name" Jesus revealed what He was—the Divine Savior. Or, just as Christ commanded His disciples to baptize "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19), because it is thus that the Triune God now stands revealed.
The particular character in which Jehovah was about to reveal Himself to Moses is best perceived by noting the place and circumstances of this gracious manifestation of Himself. It was upon Sinai, in connection with the giving of the Law. It was, as we have said above, at the time when the Lord was enforcing His own rights on the people, following upon the exercise of His grace toward them. It was when Jehovah took His place in Israel’s midst as their king. It was there, upon the Mount that He made known that "righteousness and judgment are the habitation of His throne" (Ps. 97:2). Many are the scriptures which connect the "mount" with Divine government. For example, it was upon the mount (Matthew 5:1) that the Lord Jesus proclaimed the principles which are to regulate those who are the subjects of "the kingdom of heaven." It was on the "holy mount" that He was transfigured (Matthew 17), which set forth in vivid tableau the features which shall attend the establishment of His Messianic kingdom here on earth. While in Zechariah 14:4 we are told, that when He returns with the "government upon His shoulder" (Isa. 9:6), "His feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives."
At the burning bush Jehovah proclaimed His name, but there it was not a making known of the principles which regulate Him in the government of His people, rather was it a revelation of what He is in Himself—the great "I AM," the all-sufficient, self-subsisting One, "with whom is no variableness neither shadow of turning" (James 1:7). How appropriate was such a revelation of Himself on that occasion! Moses was about to appear, first, to his oppressed brethren, who would, at the onset, welcome him, but subsequently blame him because of their increased burdens; later before Pharaoh, who would first display an haughty and defiant spirit, and then a vacillating and temporizing one. Well was it for Moses to lay firm hold of the glorious fact that he was an ambassador of the great "I AM."
"And the Lord descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord." With this should be compared, or rather contrasted what we read of in John 17. There we find our Savior rendering an account of His work to the One who had sent Him here; and, as He entered into detail, the first thing that He says is, "I have manifested Thy name." But how different was this from what we have in Exodus 34: There it was God making Himself known in government; here it was God made manifest by the Son in grace. This is at once evidenced by the words immediately following, "I have manifested Thy name unto the men which Thou gavest Me out of the world: Thine they were, and Thou gavest them Me"; it was grace, pure and simple, eternal and sovereign, which gave us to Christ. So again in the 26th verse we hear our have High Priest saying to the Father, "I declared unto them Thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them." Ah, that was grace, the "riches of His grace" (Eph. 1:7), Yea, "the glory of His grace" (Eph. 1:6).
"And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, 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 children’s children, unto the third and fourth generation" (vv. 6, 7). These are the most important as well as the most blessed verses in our passage. In them the Lord makes known the principles or attributes which are exercised in the government of His people. The perfections of that government appear in that seven principles are here enumerated. A careful study of them supplies the key to and explains all the subsequent dealings of God with Israel.
It is a most profitable exercise to go through the remainder of the Old Testament in view of these verses: by them much light is thrown upon the later history of Israel. Many are the passages in the prophets which have their roots in Exodus 34:6, 7; many are the prayers whose appeals were based upon their contents. But that which is the most important for us to heed is that, here we have proclaimed what marked the "ways" of Jehovah with Israel. As we trace His dealings with them from Sinai onwards, it will be found that each one of these seven attributes were in constant exercise. Let us now consider, though briefly, each one separately.
"The Lord God merciful." How unspeakably precious is it to mark that this is mentioned first. It is, we might say, the fount from which all the others flow: because God is merciful, He is "gracious, longsuffering, abundant in goodness" etc. Mercy was the hope of David when he had sinned so grievously: "Let us fall now into the hand of the Lord, for His mercies are great" (2 Sam. 24:14. Solomon owned God’s "mercy" to Israel (1 Kings 3:6: 8:23). So Jehosaphat (2 Chron. 20: 21). So too Nehemiah at a later date: mark how he called the constant mercy of God to Israel: 9:19, 27, 28, 31. So too did Daniel encourage himself in the mercy of God: 9:9, 18. To Jeremiah God said, "Go and proclaim these words toward the north, and say, return, thou backsliding Israel, saith the Lord; and I will not cause Mine anger to fall upon you: for I am merciful, saith the Lord" (3:12).
It is on the ground of "mercy" that God will take up Israel again in a coming day. He shall say, "For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee" (Isa. 54:7). "And I will show mercies unto you, that he may have mercy upon you, and cause you to return to your own land" (Jer. 42:12). So the Lord Jesus shall yet say "And I will strengthen the house of Judah, and I will save the house of Joseph, and I will bring them again to place them; for I have mercy upon them: and they shall be as though I had not cast them off" (Zech. 10:6).
"And gracious." This tells us the ground on which God bestows His mercies: it is not for anything in man or from him, but solely because of His own benignity. All of God’s mercies are gifts, free Favors to a people entirely devoid of any worthiness. Many are the appeals to the grace of God recorded in the Old Testament. David cried, "O God, the proud are risen against me, and the assemblies of violent men have sought after my soul; and have not set Thee before them. But Thou O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious" (Ps. 86:14, 15). Hezekiah appealed to the Divine clemency (2 Chron. 30:9). So did Jonah (4:2) assured the people in his day, "therefore will the Lord wait, that He may be gracious unto you" (Isa. 30:18). Through Joel God said to Israel, "Rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for He is gracious" (2:13). While in the last book of the Old Testament the prophet exhorted, "And now, I pray you, beseech God that He will be gracious unto us" (1:9).
"Longsuffering." How strikingly did the whole history of Israel bear witness to the wondrous patience of God! The word long-suffering signifies "slow to anger." It was to the "longsuffering" of Jehovah that Moses first appealed when Israel had sinned so grievously at Kadesh-barnea (Num. 14:18). It was the realization of God’s great patience which staved David’s heart (Ps. 145:8). To it Nehemiah referred when reviewing Israel’s history and God’s long forebearance with them (9:18). In Nahum’s brief but powerful message we read, "The Lord is slow to anger and great in power" (1:3). The Lord Jesus pointed to the same perfection when He said to the Jews. "O Jerusalem. Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together" (Matthew 23:37).
"Abundant in goodness." The Hebrew word for goodness is more frequently translated "kindness." David acknowledged it when he said, "Blessed be the Lord; for He hath showed me His marvelous kindness in a strong city" (Ps. 41:21). So too Nehemiah (9:17). In a coming day the Lord will say to Israel. "In a little wrath I hid My face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee" (Isa. 54:8). The Hebrew word is also rendered "loving-kindness." Frequent mention of it is made in the Psalm: "For Thy lovingkindness is before mine eves" (26:3); "How excellent is Thy lovingkindness, O God!" (36:7): "We have thought of Thy lovingkindness, O God, in the midst of Thy temple" (48:9). Isaiah said, "I will mention the lovingkindnesses of the Lord" (63:7). Through Jeremiah God said, "But let him that glorieth glory in this. that he understandeth and knoweth Me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight" (9:24).
"And truth." The Hebrew word signifies "steadfastness." It is rendered "verity" in Psalm 111:7: "The works of His hands are verity and judgment." It is translated "faithful" in Nehemiah 7:2. To the men of Jabesh-gilead David said, "The Lord show kindness and truth unto you" (2 Sam. 2:6). Unto Jehovah the Psalmist sang, "For Thy mercy is great above the heavens: and Thy truth reacheth unto the clouds" (Ps. 108:4). God is faithful to His covenant-engagements, true to both His promisings and His threatenings.
"Keeping mercy for thousands—forgiving iniquity and transgressions and sin." How often God pardoned Israel for her sins! "And they remembered that God was their rock, and the high God their redeemer. Nevertheless they did flatter Him with their mouth, and they lied unto Him with their tongues. For their heart was not right with Him, neither were they steadfast in His covenant. But He, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not: yea, many a time turned He His anger away" (Ps. 78:35-38). So in a coming day the Lord will say, "I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more" (Jer. 31:34).
"And that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and fourth generation." Though God pardons, often He does not remit the consequences of sin: "Thou wast a God that forgavest them, though Thou tookest vengeance of their inventions" (Ps. 99:8). To this day the Jews are suffering because of the sins of their fore-fathers.
It only remains for us to add that, inasmuch as God changes not, the seven principles contemplated above now regulate His government of Christendom corporately and the Christian individually. How merciful, how gracious, how longsuffering, has God been to those who profess His name! How good, how faithful, how forgiving, all through these nineteen centuries! Yet the sins of the fathers have also been visited upon their children. Today we are suffering from the compromisings, unfaithfulness, sectarianism, pride, and wickedness, of those who went before us. May the Lord bless to the reader what has been according to His own Word.