Verse 21. "Behold, there is a place by me" - There seems to be a reference here to a well-known place on the mount where God was accustomed to meet with Moses. This was a rock; and it appears there was a cleft or cave in it, in which Moses was to stand while the Divine Majesty was pleased to show him all that human nature was capable of bearing: but this appears to have referred more to the counsels of his mercy and goodness, relative to his purpose of redeeming the human race, than to any visible appearance of the Divine Majesty itself. See on "Exodus xxxiii. 18".
1. THE conclusion of this chapter is very obscure: we can scarcely pretend to say, in any precise manner, what it means; and it is very probable that the whole concerned Moses alone. He was in great perplexity and doubt; he was afraid that God was about to abandon this people; and he well knew that if he did so, their destruction must be the consequence. He had received general directions to decamp, and lead the people towards the promised land; but this was accompanied with a threat that Jehovah would not go with them. The prospect that was before him was exceedingly gloomy and discouraging; and it was rendered the more so because God predicted their persevering stiffneckedness, and gave this as one reason why he would not go up among them, for their provocations would be so great and so frequent that his justice would be so provoked as to break through in a moment and consume them. Moses, well knowing that God must have some great and important designs in delivering them and bringing them thus far, earnestly entreated him to give him some discovery of it, that his own mind might be satisfied. God mercifully condescends to meet his wishes in such a way as no doubt gave him full satisfaction; but as this referred to himself alone the circumstances are not related, as probably they could be of no farther use to us than the mere gratifying of a principle of curiosity.
2. On some occasions to be kept in the dark is as instructive as to be brought into the light. In many cases those words of the prophet are strictly applicable. Verily, thou art a God, who HIDEST THYSELF, O God of Israel, the saviour! One point we see here very plainly, that while the people continued obstinate and rebellious, that presence of God by which his approbation was signified could not be manifested among them; and yet, without his presence to guide, protect, and provide for them, they could neither go up nor be saved. This presence is promised, and on the fulfillment of the promise the safety of Israel depended. The Church of God is often now in such a state that the approbation of God cannot be manifested in it; and yet if his presence were wholly withdrawn, truth would fall in the streets, equity go backward, and the Church must become extinct. How have the seeds of light and life been preserved during the long, dark, and cold periods when error was triumphant, and the pure worship of God adulterated by the impurities of idolatry and the thick darkness of superstition, by the presence of his endless mercy, preserving his own truth in circumstances in which he could not show his approbation! He was with the Church in the wilderness, and preserved the living oracles, kept alive the heavenly seeds, and is now showing forth the glory of those designs which before he concealed from mankind. He cannot err because he is infinitely wise; he can do nothing that is unkind, because he delighteth in mercy. We, as yet, see only through a glass darkly; by and by we shall see face to face. The Lord's presence is with his people; and those who trust in him have confident rest in his mercy.