Gateway to the Classics: Moses and the Exodus by Rev. J. Paterson Smyth
Moses and the Exodus by  Rev. J. Paterson Smyth

Lesson XIV

The Glory of Moses and the Glory of God

Read Exodus XXXII. 30 etc.,
and XXXIII. and XXXIV. 4-8.

§ 1. Moses' Glory

L AST scene ended with the stern judgment on the sin of the people. On whom was it executed? Evidently on those who persisted in their sin. It had to be done, else worse would follow. But did it pain God? Did it pain Moses? We see that by what happened "on the morrow." What? (v.  30). The camp was mourning over the new-made graves. The people were miserable in the depression and reaction after their yesterday's sin. Don't you think Moses was very sorrowful for them and longing to have them forgiven and happy? Tell me exactly what he promised? (v.  30). "I will go up, peradventure—I know not if I can, but peradventure I shall make an atonement  for your sin." What is atonement? What do we mean by Christ's atonement? How must atonement be made? By sacrificing oneself.  What do you think Moses had in his mind when he spoke of making atonement?

The poor, dazed, dejected people listened, but how little they understood the deep purpose in his heart, the price that he purposed to pay! If I understand his purpose aright, I think it is one of the grandest things in the whole Bible story, and, in my mind, lifts up Moses to the highest place among men. Don't you think he had some guess as to the idea of atonement, the innocent suffering for the guilty? The ordinance of the Day of Atonement afterwards (Leviticus xvi.) would indicate that. At any rate I think I know the purpose in his heart as he silently climbed that dread mount in the sight of the people? What purpose? That he would offer himself as a sin offering if God would accept—that he, the prince and leader, would die for the people if God would take his life as a ransom for theirs. Oh, how grandly close to God his life was growing. Only yesterday God had tested him on the top of the mountain. How? (xxxii. 10). By in some way letting the suggestion come to him that he should let Israel be destroyed for their sin and he himself become the father of a great nation. But he would not have anything for himself at the cost of his people. He prayed and pleaded with God for their forgiveness. Now he goes far higher. He will sacrifice himself for them.

Try to think of him as he passes into the cloud. Listen to him as he draws near to the presence of God. Tell me his words: "Blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book." What book? The book of life. Not merely kill me. I think it even means: "Cast me out of Thy presence for ever and ever in this world and the world to come "! For even if the people knew little of a world to come, surely Moses knew. Did God accept his self-sacrifice? No, a mere human life could not atone for a people. But was it not grand all the same? Long afterwards another great Israelite expressed a similar wish, though he did not offer it definitely like Moses (Romans ix. 3). Who was that Israelite? Don't you think that the men who feel such things have grown very near to God? Why do you think that self-sacrifice is of the nature of God? Ah! Yes. The feeling of Moses and St. Paul was but a faint likeness of the feeling that brought the Son of God to die upon the Cross "for us men and for our salvation."

And I think it must be thus for ever. As any man grows nearer to the nature of Christ the promptings of self-sacrifice must be deeper and deeper. Even through all eternity I could never imagine that our Lord and those grown like Him would be different from that. And yet, if so, how will they bear the thought of the souls that shall be lost? It is an awful mystery. Our Lord gives us solemn, terrible warnings about the future of those who have missed of God. How one wonders about it all! Will God and those who grow like Him be satisfied about the lost? Or will the longing be there for ever to go out into the darkness, "to go after that which is lost until they find it"? How little we know! What a great deal we have yet to learn in the hereafter!

§ 2. God's Glory

That was Moses' glory, and the story leads us on now to think of God's glory, of which that of Moses was but a faint shadow. All such acts of self-sacrifice lift up the life towards God. So Moses' communion with God grew closer and deeper.

Tell me about the communion with God in the Tabernacle of the Congregation? (Notice in R.V. it is more correctly translated "The Tent of Meeting" (with God)—see Note. )  What a deep impression it made on the people. How do you know? (xxxiii. 8). They crowded to their doors to watch as he went in, and then with awe and wonder they watched the Pillar of Cloud come and stand at the door, the visible sign of God's close communion with His servant. What a marvellous, glorious, unearthly life the man lived. How we would wish for such a life. How certain he must have always felt that God was present and attending to his prayers. How very real the unseen Spirit Life would seem to him! Could we ever expect that in our case? Perhaps not in the same degree, but surely if we are earnest in our prayers and in practising the sense of God's presence we, too, shall have much of that communion which was so dear to Moses.

But even that did not satisfy him. What more did he want? (xxxiii. 18). Hungering more and more for the Divine presence, he dared at length to desire and pray that he might see the unveiled glory of God, the beatific vision which shall be granted by-and-by to the blest in heaven. How greatly he must have loved and trusted God to dare ask that! Was this granted? Why not? (v.  20). It was not possible for human nature. The glory would dazzle and shrivel him up. But in some mysterious way God granted a part of his servant's desire. And God's answer is very instructive to us. Moses asked, "Show me Thy GLORY" and God said, what? "I will make all My GOODNESS pass before thee." What does that teach? Surely that goodness  is God's glory. Tell me how God revealed His glory (xxxiv. 5-7). We cannot understand or describe it. It was not shown to Moses' bodily eye, but somehow to his soul or spirit, and the revelation was all of goodness and love. Repeat the words (vv.  6, 7), "The Lord God, merciful and gracious, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin." Surely it is some hint of what we shall see and know in Heaven. Do you remember our Lord's prayer that we should get what Moses wanted? (John xvii. 24.) "That they may behold My glory." What glory? Not crimson and ermine and gold and jewels, such as we imagine glory at the coronation of a king. No. What was Christ's glory on earth? The glory of Unselfishness, Self-sacrifice, Love. How glorious it seems even with all our ignorance and earthly limitations! He who took little children in His arms, who pictured God in the story of the Prodigal, of the Good Samaritan, of the Shepherd seeking His lost sheep—who died in bitter agony for His murderers and prayed as He died, "Father, forgive them." Even to our poor, stupid, earthly eyes these things seem glorious. Think what His glory by-and-by will be, which "Eye hath not seen nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into man's heart to conceive." And His children shall see that glory. We sometimes wish we had been present at some of His words and deeds on earth, as the Apostles were. Why, what is all that the Apostles ever saw to what is before us by-and-by, to behold His glory, to share in it, to be caught up into that Divine Love and Self-sacrifice till we are willing, with Moses and St. Paul, to lose, if it were possible, our very heaven itself for the sake of our brethren—willing, if such were possible, to go out into the outer darkness seeking that which is lost until we find it.

Surely it was Moses' own self-sacrifice that made him fit to be admitted after his death to God's councils in Paradise about the atonement of Christ. Why do I think he was? Yes. Because of his coming out from Paradise to the Mount of Transfiguration to talk with our Lord of "His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem." (Luke ix. 30, 31). Was not that a grand reward that God had for him in the Unseen Life? (See closing chapter).


XXXIII. 7. The Tabernacle of the Congregation  should be "The Tent of Meeting," i.e. of meeting with God. The latter word signifies meeting  in its most general sense, and is always used without the article before it. It does not mean a church within which the people should worship. The idea connected with it is that of Jehovah meeting with Moses or with the priests or (in only a few cases) with the people gathered into a congregation at the entrance. The English translation is not supported by the old Versions nor by the best critical authorities.

Most probably it was Moses' own tent that he thus brought out and used for this purpose till he should erect the appointed Tabernacle (see Ch. xxxv.). It was pitched "without the camp," in order that the people might feel that they had forfeited God's presence by their sin.

V.  20. Such passages show how we are to interpret the expressions "face to face" (v.  11), "mouth to mouth" (Numbers xii. 8).

It was vouchsafed to St. Paul as it had been to Moses to have special "visions and revelations of the Lord" (2 Corinthians xii. 1-4). He was "caught up into the third heaven and heard unspeakable words which it is not possible  for man to utter." But he had also, like Moses, to find the narrow reach of the intellect of man in the region of Godhead. It was long after this experience in Paradise that he spoke of the Lord as "dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto, whom no man hath seen nor can see." . . . So it still remains true, "No man hath seen God at any time." (John i. 18).—Speaker's Commentary.

Questions for Lesson XIV

Recall awful sin and punishment in last lesson.

Did Moses continue angry?

How was Moses somewhat like God in his anger?

Tell the lovely thing he did for his people's sake.

How was this somewhat like what God has done for us?

Moses asked: Show me Thy glory. What was the answer? What does this teach as to the real glory of God?

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