Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. This place. Mount Sinai, (Menochius) or the tabernacle, ver. 7. (Calmet)
Ver. 3. I will not go: “in majesty” (Chaldean) and “brightness,” Arabic. The angel shall go in his own name, and shall not perform such great miracles. My tabernacle shall be removed to a respectful distance, lest, not being able to endure the barefaced impiety of the people, I slay you in my fury. God addresses Moses, as the representative of the nation, (Menochius) and adopts the language of men, appearing as a king, who cannot bear to be insulted to his face. (Haydock)
Ver. 4. Ornaments. Chaldean and Syriac, “arms.” They had brought jewels, &c., out of Egypt. (Menochius)
Ver. 5. Once, &c. “In a moment.” (Pagnin.) — Shall destroy, if you prove rebellious any more, as I foresee you will. — Lay aside, as you have done. — To thee, according to the measure of your repentance or negligence. (Menochius)
Ver. 6. By Horeb, or at the foot of the mount. Some think they put them on no more in the wilderness; (Calmet) or at least till they had obtained the tables of the law again, in testimony of God’s reconciliation with them. (Salien.)
Ver. 7. Tabernacle: not that which God had described, which was set up later, (chap. xl.) but one destined for public and private prayer. (Menochius) — Afar, a thousand yards. (Thalmud and Villet.) — Covenant; or alliance, which God had entered into with the people. (Tirinus) — The Hebrew may signify, “of the assembly or congregation,” because there the people met to hear the divine doctrine explained, and to offer up their prayers. — Camp. Thus were the people reminded of their excommunication, or separation, from the God whom they had so wantonly abandoned, and whose protection and presence were their only support and comfort. (Haydock) — The record of the covenant was also probably torn, as Moses was ordered to write it again, chap. xxxiv. 27. (Tirinus)
Ver. 8. Rose up, out of respect to their prince, who was not their mediator also. (Haydock)
Ver. 9. He spoke. The angel, conducting the pillar, spoke in God’s name. (Menochius)
Ver. 10. And worshipped. This the Samaritan copy omits. The people bowed towards Moses and the angel. (Calmet)
Ver. 11. Face to face. That is, in a most familiar manner. Though, as we learn from this very chapter, Moses could not see the face of the Lord. (Challoner) — The angel assumed a human form, (Menochius) which Moses knew could not fully display the majesty of God; and hence he begs to see his face, or his glory, (ver. 13, 18,) which God declares is impossible for any mortal to do, ver. 20. (Haydock) — He addresses him, however, with unusual condescension, and speaks to him without any ambiguity, “without any medium,” as the Arabic expresses it. Other prophets were instructed by visions, and were filled with terror, Daniel x. 8. — Young man, though 50 years old, and the general who defeated the Amalecites, chap. xvii. 13. Puer means a servant also, in which capacity Josue waited on Moses, and was alone allowed to be present with him in the tabernacle. He did not sleep there, (Calmet) but guarded it from all profanation. Some say he was still called young, because he was unmarried; in which sense the Chaldean styles him hullema, which corresponds with the Hebrew halma, a virgin. (Serarius) (Tirinus)
Ver. 12. To the Lord. This conversation probably took place on Mount Horeb, (ver. 22,) after God had threatened that he would not go up with the people, chap. xxxii. 34. And here (ver. 3,) Moses, considering that God would thus withdraw his special providence from his people, begins to expostulate with him; and first, having mentioned with gratitude, the repeated kindnesses of God towards himself, he begs to be informed what angel shall accompany him, and then proceeds to beg that God would still shew his wonted favour to the penitent Hebrews, and conduct them himself, as he had done before the transgression. We do not read before, that God said to Moses, I know thee by name; (St. Augustine, q. 193,) but he had used that expression in some conversation with him, as he did afterwards, ver. 17. (Haydock)
Ver. 13. Face. Hebrew, “way.” Be thou our guide. — Thy people. Acknowledge them again. Moses begs not for any special favour for himself, but only for the Hebrews. (Salien.)
Ver. 14. Face. Arabic, “light.” Syriac, “walk in my presence,” and fear not. The Messias is called the angel of his face, Isaias lxiii. 9. — Rest. I will grant thy request. (Calmet)
Ver. 15. Thyself. Moses desires a farther explanation, or a positive assurance that God would conduct them. — By all, ab omnibus, distinguished in glory from all others. (Chaldean)
Ver. 18. Glory, or face, ver. 13, 20. The angel was robed in darkness, which Moses begs may be removed. Tertullian supposes, he wished to behold the Messias. Many think he desired to contemplate the divine essence. (St. Augustine, q. 161.; Philo; &c.) But, could he be ignorant that such a request could not be granted? (Calmet) — God promised to shew him all good, or the beatific vision after death. (Haydock)
Ver. 19. All good, that could reasonably be desired. “I will pass before thee in all my glory,” (Septuagint) and principally in my beneficence, chap. xxxiv. 6, 7. (Calmet) — I will shew thee what great favours I have in reserve for Israel. Divines dispute whether Moses saw the divine essence. (St. Thomas Aquinas, 1. p, q. 12, a. 11.) (Menochius) — If he requested to do so now, it seems to be denied, ver. 20. and John i. 17. (Tirinus) — Proclaim, &c. When I pass, I will repeat some of my glorious titles, and particularly that I am merciful. (Menochius) — Yet I will shew mercy with discretion, and will punish some of you. (Calmet)
Ver. 20. My face, even in my assumed form. (Menochius) — The effulgence would cause death, as was commonly believed, Genesis xiii. 16. To behold the divine essence, we must be divested of our mortal body, 1 Corinthians ii. 9. (St. Gregory of Nazianzus, or. 49.) (Haydock) — Moses, therefore, did not see it on earth, though he had greater favours shewn to him than the other prophets, Numbers xii. 6. (Theodoret, q. 68; St. Chrysostom; &c.) (Worthington)
Ver. 23. See my back parts. The Lord, by his angel, usually spoke to Moses in the pillar of the cloud, so that he could not see the glory of Him that spoke familiarly with him. In the vision here mentioned, he was allowed to see something of Him, in an assumed corporeal form: not in the face, the rays of which were too bright for mortal eye to bear, but to view Him as it were behind, when his face was turned from him. (Challoner) — Thus our curiosity is repressed. (Du Hamel) — Servius observes, on Virgil, that the “gods mostly declare themselves by suddenly disappearing. They will not shew their faces.” (Iliad. N. Grotius) — The rock was Christ, (Du Hamel) in whose sacred humanity we discern, at a distance, the majesty of God. (St. Augustine, q. 154.) Moses saw the hinder parts of God, or what should happen to Jesus Christ in the latter days of the synagogue. (Origen, hom. 12.) By this wonderful vision, God was pleased to declare that he was appeased. (Haydock)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
The people mourn for their sin. Moses pitcheth the tabernacle without the camp. He converseth familiarly with God. Desireth to see his glory.
1 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: God, get thee up from this place, thou and thy people which thou hast brought out of the land of Egypt, into the land concerning which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying: *To thy seed I will give it:
2 *And I will send an angel before thee, that I may cast out the **Chanaanite, and the Amorrhite, and the Hethite, and the Pherezite, and the Hevite, and the Jebusite,
3 That thou mayst enter into the land that floweth with milk and honey. For I will not go up with thee, *because thou art a stiff-necked people; lest I destroy thee in the way.
4 And the people hearing these very bad tidings, mourned: and no man put on his ornaments according to custom.
5 And the Lord said to Moses: Say to the children of Israel: Thou are a stiff-necked people, once I shall come up in the midst of thee, and shall destroy thee. Now presently lay aside thy ornaments, that I may know what to do to thee.
6 So the children of Israel laid aside their ornaments by Mount Horeb.
7 Moses also taking the tabernacle, pitched it without the camp afar off, and called the name thereof, The tabernacle of the covenant. And all the people, that had any question, went forth to the tabernacle of the covenant, without the camp.
8 And when Moses went forth to the tabernacle, all the people rose up, and every one stood in the door of his pavilion, and they beheld the back of Moses, till he went into the tabernacle.
9 And when he was gone into the tabernacle of the covenant, the pillar of the cloud came down, and stood at the door, and he spoke with Moses.
10 And all saw that the pillar of the cloud stood at the door of the tabernacle. And they stood and worshipped at the doors of their tents.
11 And the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man is wont to speak to his friend. And when he returned into the camp, his servant Josue, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not from the tabernacle.
12 And Moses said to the Lord: Thou commandest me to lead forth this people; and thou dost not let me know whom thou wilt send with me, especially whereas thou hast said: I know thee by name, and thou hast found favour in my sight.
13 If therefore I have found favour in thy sight, shew me thy face, that I may know thee, and may find grace before thy eyes: look upon thy people this nation.
14 And the Lord said: My face shall go before thee, and I will give thee rest.
15 And Moses said: If thou thyself dost not go before, bring us not out of this place.
16 For how shall we be able to know, I and thy people, that we have found grace in thy sight, unless thou walk with us, that we may be glorified by all people that dwell upon the earth?
17 And the Lord said to Moses: This word also, which thou hast spoken, will I do; for thou hast found grace before me, and thee I have known by name.
18 And he said: Shew me thy glory.
19 He answered: I will shew thee all good, and I will proclaim in the name of the Lord before thee: *and I will have mercy on whom I will, and I will be merciful to whom it shall please me.
20 And again he said: Thou canst not see my face: for man shall not see me, and live.
21 And again he said: Behold there is a place with me, and thou shalt stand upon the rock.
22 And when my glory shall pass, I will set thee in a hole of the rock, and protect thee with my right-hand till I pass:
23 And I will take away my hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face thou canst not see.
1: Genesis xii. 7.
2: Exodus xxxii. 34. — ** Deuteronomy vii. 22.; Josue xxiv. 11.
3: Exodus xxxii. 9.; Deuteronomy ix. 13
19: Romans ix. 15.