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Exodus 33:5

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

Now put off thy ornaments from thee - "The Septuagint, in their translation, suppose that the children of Israel not only laid aside their ear-rings, and such like ornaments, in a time of professed deep humiliation before God, but their upper or more beautiful garments too. Moses says nothing of this last circumstance; but as it is a modern practice, so it appears by their version to have been as ancient as their time, and probably took place long before that. The Septuagint gives us this as the translation of the passage: 'The people, having heard this sad declaration, mourned with lamentations. And the Lord said unto the children of Israel, Now, therefore, put off your robes of glory, and your ornaments, and I will show you the things I will do unto you. And the children of Israel put off their ornaments and robes by the mount, by Horeb.'

"If it had not been the custom to put off their upper garments in times of deep mourning, in the days that the Septuagint translation was made, they would not have inserted this circumstance in the account Moses gives of their mourning, and concerning which he was silent. They must have supposed too that this practice might be in use in those elder times.

"That it is now practiced in the east, appears from the account Pitts gives of the ceremonies of the Mohammedan pilgrimage to Mecca. 'A few days after this we came to a place called Rabbock, about four days' sail on this side of Mecca, where all the hagges or pilgrims, (excepting those of the female sex) do enter into hirrawem or ihram, i.e., they take off all their clothes, covering themselves with two hirrawems, or large white cotton wrappers; one they put about their middle, which reaches down to their ankles; with the other they cover the upper part of their body, except the head; and they wear no other thing on their bodies but these wrappers, only a pair of grimgameca, that is thin-soled shoes like sandals, the over-leather of which covers only the toes, the insteps being all naked. In this manner, like humble penitents, they go from Rabbock until they come to Mecca, to approach the temple, many times enduring the scorching heat of the sun until the very skin is burnt off their backs and arms, and their heads swollen to a very great degree.' - pp. 115,116. Presently after he informs us 'that the time of their wearing this mortifying habit is about the space of seven days.' Again, (p. 138): 'It was a sight, indeed, able to pierce one's heart, to behold so many thousands in their garments of humility and mortification, with their naked heads, and cheeks watered with tears; and to hear their grievous sighs and sobs, begging earnestly for the remission of their sins, promising newness of life, using a form of penitential expressions, and thus continuing for the space of four or five hours.'

"The Septuagint suppose the Israelites made much the same appearance as these Mohammedan pilgrims, when Israel stood in anguish of soul at the foot of Mount Horeb, though Moses says nothing of putting off any of their vestments.

"Some passages of the Jewish prophets seem to confirm the notion of their stripping themselves of some of their clothes in times of deep humiliation, particularly Micah 1:8; : Therefore I will wail and howl; I will go stripped and naked; I will make a wailing like the dragons, and mourning as the owls.

"Saul's stripping himself, mentioned 1 Samuel 19:24, is perhaps to be understood of his assuming the appearance of those that were deeply engaged in devotional exercises, into which he was unintentionally brought by the prophetic influences that came upon him, and in which he saw others engaged." - Harmer's Observat., vol. iv., p. 172.

The ancient Jewish commentators were of opinion that the Israelites had the name יהוה Jehovah inscribed on them in such a way as to ensure them the Divine protection; and that this, inscribed probably on a plate of gold, was considered their choicest ornament; and that when they gave their ornaments to make the golden calf, this was given by many, in consequence of which they were considered as naked and defenceless. All the remaining parts of their ornaments, which it is likely were all emblematical of spiritual things, God commands them here to lay off; for they could not with propriety bear the symbols of the Divine protection, who had forfeited that protection for their transgression.

That I may know what to do unto thee - For it seems that while they had these emblematic ornaments on them, they were still considered as under the Divine protection. These were a shield to them, which God commands them to throw aside. Though many had parted with their choicest ornaments, yet not all, only a few comparatively, of the wives, daughters, and sons of 600,000 men, could have been thus stripped to make one golden calf. The major part still had these ornaments, and they are now commanded to lay them aside.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

I will come up … - Better; If I were to go up for one moment in the midst of thee, I should consume thee.

That I may know … - By that sign of their repentance Yahweh would decide in what way they were to be punished.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
Those whom God pardons, must be made to know what their sin deserved. "Let them go forward as they are;" this was very expressive of God's displeasure. Though he promises to make good his covenant with Abraham, in giving them Canaan, yet he denies them the tokens of his presence they had been blessed with. The people mourned for their sin. Of all the bitter fruits and consequences of sin, true penitents most lament, and dread most, God's departure from them. Canaan itself would be no pleasant land without the Lord's presence. Those who parted with ornaments to maintain sin, could do no less than lay aside ornaments, in token of sorrow and shame for it.
Ellen G. White
Spiritual Gifts, vol. 3, 286-7

“And the Lord said unto Moses, Depart, and go up hence, thou and the people which thou hast brought up out of the land of Egypt, unto the land which I sware unto Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, Unto thy seed will I give it. And I will send an Angel before thee, and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite. Unto a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in the midst of thee; for thou art a stiff-necked people, lest I consume thee in the way. And when the people heard these evil tidings, they mourned. And no man did put on him his ornaments. For the Lord had said unto Moses, Say unto the children of Israel, Ye are a stiff-necked people. I will come up into the midst of thee in a moment, and consume thee; therefore now put off thy ornaments from thee, that I may know what to do unto thee. And the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments by the mount Horeb. And Moses took the tabernacle and pitched it without the camp, afar off from the camp, and called it the tabernacle of the congregation. And it came to pass that every one which sought the Lord, went out unto the tabernacle of the congregation, which was without the camp.” 3SG 286.1

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Ellen G. White
Patriarchs and Prophets, 327-8

In deep sadness the people had buried their dead. Three thousand had fallen by the sword; a plague had soon after broken out in the encampment; and now the message came to them that the divine Presence would no longer accompany them in their journeyings. Jehovah had declared, “I will not go up in the midst of thee; for thou art a stiffnecked people: lest I consume thee in the way.” And the command was given, “Put off thy ornaments from thee, that I may know what to do unto thee.” Now there was mourning throughout the encampment. In penitence and humiliation “the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments by the mount Horeb.” PP 327.1

By the divine direction the tent that had served as a temporary place of worship was removed “afar off from the camp.” This was still further evidence that God had withdrawn His presence from them. He would reveal Himself to Moses, but not to such a people. The rebuke was keenly felt, and to the conscience-smitten multitudes it seemed a foreboding of greater calamity. Had not the Lord separated Moses from the camp that He might utterly destroy them? But they were not left without hope. The tent was pitched without the encampment, but Moses called it “the tabernacle of the congregation.” All who were truly penitent, and desired to return to the Lord, were directed to repair thither to confess their sins and seek His mercy. When they returned to their tents Moses entered the tabernacle. With agonizing interest the people watched for some token that his intercessions in their behalf were accepted. If God should condescend to meet with him, they might hope that they were not to be utterly consumed. When the cloudy pillar descended, and stood at the entrance of the tabernacle, the people wept for joy, and they “rose up and worshiped, every man in his tent door.” PP 327.2

Moses knew well the perversity and blindness of those who were placed under his care; he knew the difficulties with which he must contend. But he had learned that in order to prevail with the people, he must have help from God. He pleaded for a clearer revelation of God's will and for an assurance of His presence: “See, Thou sayest unto me, Bring up this people: and Thou hast not let me know whom Thou wilt send with me. Yet Thou hast said, I know thee by name, and thou hast also found grace in My sight. Now therefore, I pray Thee, if I have found grace in Thy sight, show me now Thy way, that I may know Thee, that I may find grace in Thy sight: and consider that this nation is Thy people.” PP 327.3

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