Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary

Verses 28-35 (Exodus 34:28-35)

Here is, I. The continuance of Moses in the mount, where he was miraculously sustained, Exod. 34:28. He was there in very intimate communion with God, without interruption, forty days and forty nights, and did not think it long. When we are weary of an hour or two spent in attendance upon God and adoration of him, we should think how many days and nights Moses spent with him, and of the eternal day we hope to spend in praising him. During all this time Moses did neither eat nor drink. Though he had before been kept so long fasting, yet he did not, this second time, take up so many days? provision along with him, but believed that man lives not by bread alone, and encouraged himself with the experience he had of the truth of it. So long he continued without meat and drink (and probably without sleep too), for, 1. The power of God supported him, that he did not need it. He who made the body can nourish it without ordinary means, which he uses, but is not tied to. The life is more than meat. 2. His communion with God entertained him, so that he did not desire it. He had meat to eat which the world knew not of, for it was his meat and drink to hear the word of God and pray. The abundant satisfaction his soul had in the word of God and the visions of the Almighty made him forget the body and the pleasures of it. When God would treat his favourite Moses, it was not with meat and drink, but with his light, law, and love, with the knowledge of himself and his will; then man did indeed eat angels? food. See what we should value as the truest pleasure. The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, neither the abundance nor delicacy of food, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. As Moses, so Elijah and Christ, fasted forty days and forty nights. The more dead we are to the delights of sense the better prepared we are for the pleasures of heaven.

II. The coming down of Moses from the mount, greatly enriched and miraculously adorned.

1. He came down enriched with the best treasure; for he brought in his hands the two tables of the law, written with the finger of God, Exod. 34:28, 29. It is a great favour to have the law given us; this favour was shown to Israel, Ps. 147:19, 20. It is a great honour to be employed in delivering God?s law to others; this honour was done to Moses.

2. He came down adorned with the best beauty; for the skin of his face shone, Exod. 34:29. This time of his being in the mount he heard only what he had heard before, but he saw more of the glory of God, which having with open face beheld, he was in some measure changed into the same image from glory to glory, 2 Cor. 3:18. The last time he came down from the mount with the glory of a magistrate, to frown upon and chastise Israel?s idolatry; now with the glory of an angel, with tidings of peace and reconciliation. Then he came with a rod, now with the spirit of meekness. Now,

(1.) This may be looked upon, [1.] As a great honour done to Moses, that the people might never again question his mission nor think nor speak lightly of him. He carried his credentials in his very countenance, which, some think, retained, as long as he lived, some remainders of this glory, which perhaps contributed to the vigour of his old age; that eye could not wax dim which had seen God, nor that face become wrinkled which had shone with his glory. The Israelites could not look him in the face but they must there read his commission. Thus it was done to the man whom the King of kings did delight to honour. Yet, after this, they murmured against him; for the most sensible proofs will not of themselves conquer an obstinate infidelity. The shining of Moses?s face was a great honour to him; yet that was no glory, in comparison with the glory which excelled. We read of our Lord Jesus, not only that his face shone as the sun, but his whole body also, for his raiment was white and glistering, Luke 9:29. But, when he came down from the mount, he quite laid aside that glory, it being his will that we should walk by faith, not by sight. [2.] It was also a great favour to the people, and an encouragement to them, that God put this glory upon him, who was their intercessor, thereby giving them assurance that he was accepted, and they through him. Thus the advancement of Christ, our advocate with the Father, is the great support of our faith. [3.] It was the effect of his sight of God. Communion with God, First, Makes the face to shine in true honour. Serious godliness puts a lustre upon a man?s countenance, such as commands esteem and affection. Secondly, It should make the face to shine in universal holiness. When we have been in the mount with God, we should let our light shine before men, in humility, meekness, and all the instances of a heavenly conversation; thus must the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us, even the beauty of holiness, that all we converse with may take knowledge of us that we have been with Jesus, Acts 4:13.

(2.) Concerning the shining of Moses?s face observe here, [1.] Moses was not aware of it himself: He wist not that the skin of his face shone, Exod. 34:29. Thus, First, It is the infelicity of some that, though their faces shine in true grace, yet they do not know it, to take the comfort of it. Their friends see much of God in them, but they themselves are ready to think they have no grace. Secondly, It is the humility of others that, though their faces shine in eminent gifts and usefulness, yet they do not know it, to be puffed up with it. Whatever beauty God puts upon us, we should still be filled with a humble sense of our own unworthiness, and manifold infirmities, as will make us even overlook and forget that which makes our faces shine. [2.] Aaron and the children of Israel saw it, and were afraid, Exod. 34:30. The truth of it was attested by a multitude of witnesses, who were also conscious of the terror of it. It not only dazzled their eyes, but struck such an awe upon them as obliged them to retire. Probably they doubted whether it were a token of God?s favour or of his displeasure; and, though it seemed most likely to be a good omen, yet, being conscious of guilt, they feared the worst, especially remembering the posture Moses found them in when he came last down from the mount. Holiness will command reverence; but the sense of sin makes men afraid of their friends, and even of that which really is a favour to them. [3.] Moses put a veil upon his face, when he perceived that it shone, Exod. 34:33, 35. First, This teaches us all a lesson of modesty and humility. We must be content to have our excellences obscured, and a veil drawn over them, not coveting to make a fair show in the flesh. Those that are truly desirous to be owned and accepted of God will likewise desire not to be taken notice of nor applauded by men. Qui bene latuit, bene vixit?There is a laudable concealment. Secondly, It teaches ministers to accommodate themselves to the capacities of people, and to preach to them as they are able to bear it. Let all that art and all that learning be veiled which tend to amusement rather than edification, and let the strong condescend to the infirmities of the weak. Thirdly, This veil signified the darkness of that dispensation. The ceremonial institutions had in them much of Christ, much of the grace of the gospel, but a veil was drawn over it, so that the children of Israel could not distinctly and stedfastly see those good things to come which the law had the shadow of. It was beauty veiled, gold in the mine, a pearl in the shell; but, thanks be to God, by the gospel life and immortality are brought to light, the veil is taken away from off the Old Testament; yet still it remains upon the hearts of those who shut their eyes against the light. Thus the apostle expounds this passage, 2 Cor. 3:13-15. [4.] When Moses went in before the Lord, to speak with him in the tabernacle of meeting, he put off the veil, Exod. 34:34. Then there was no occasion for it, and, before God, every man does and must appear unveiled; for all things are naked and open before the eyes of him with whom we have to do, and it is folly for us to think of concealing or disguising any thing. Every veil must be thrown aside when we come to present ourselves unto the Lord. This signified also, as it is explained (2 Cor. 3:16), that when a soul turns to the Lord the veil shall be taken away, and with open face it may behold his glory. And when we shall come before the Lord in heaven, to be there for ever speaking with him, the veil shall not only be taken off from the divine glory, but from our hearts and eyes, that we may see as we are seen, and know as we are known.

- Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary