June 1, 2015.
Daily Reading: Exodus 32-36.
Background: Exodus 29-31.
Concepts and Connections.
The golden calf: The account of the golden calf that Aaron and the people of Israel made when they thought Moses was not going to come back down from the mountain is a well known story in both Judaism and Christianity and provides some great insights to the character of God in the interaction with His people and lessons that we can draw from it. At this point, Moses had been up on the mountain for a very long time (all together, he was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights, see Exodus 24:18), and his delay grew wearisome on the people. They didn’t know what had happened to Moses, and likely assumed the worst. Even after all the signs they had seen, after being delivered by God time after time, they still did not have the faith in the Lord that one might think they should (God calls them a stiff-necked people in verse 9), for when they grew anxious of Moses’ absence, they told Aaron to make them gods to worship and protect them. Aaron consented and asked for all the gold earrings of the people, with which he fashioned a golden calf (note that the record explicitly says that Aaron fashioned the calf with his own hands). The people saw the calf and said “These be your gods, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” They had not forgotten their bondage in Egypt, yet they had forgotten who brought them out of it. Aaron made an alter before the calf and ironically called a feast to the Lord on the next day. And the people ate, drank and rose up to play.
When the people did this, God told Moses what the people had done and said that He was going to destroy the people for what they had done in making the false god. Note that the Lord says “your people” to Moses instead of “My people.” Though this was true as Moses was a part of the people of Israel, it might also hint at their abandonment from the Lord and His separation from them at this time. He was going to consume the people and then make Moses into a great nation. Moses’ true character and love for his people shows here as he pleads with the Lord for the people, making the point that if He destroys them, the Egyptians would see Him in a bad light. He also appeals to the promise that God had made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to multiply their seed exponentially (see Genesis 12:7, 13:15, 26:4, 28:13 and 35:11-12). Notice the sacrifice that Moses is making here. God has said that he would make Moses a great nation, which could still fulfill the promise to Abraham as Moses was a descendant of Abraham. Moses could have given up on the people, as they had caused him much grief throughout his time as their leader, and just went with God’s idea here to be blessed mightily. But Moses instead pleaded for the people, and God relented of the complete destruction that He was going to set against them.
However, just because Moses pleaded for the people before the Lord did not mean he was not angry with them. When he came off the mountain, he was first met by Joshua who had gone up on the mountain with him who said he heard the sound of war in the camp. Knowing what Joshua didn’t know, Moses denied that it was the sound of war, but rather sining. The people were rejoicing over their new gods, and Moses was about to crash the party, so to speak. When he got to the camp, he was so angry that he threw the tablets of the testimony that had been written with the finger of God, breaking them, and he took the calf that was made, ground it up and sprinkled it in the children of Israel’s drinking water. Then Moses confronted Aaron, who was supposed to be in charge of the people while he was gone, and asked him what happened. Notice how Aaron immediately passes all the blame, though he was the one who was responsible for the people. He throws the blame on the people, even saying that Moses knew that they were set on evil. He even takes no blame for the calf that he clearly fashioned himself, saying that he threw the earrings into the fire, and poof! a calf! Aaron was not willing to take any responsibility for what he had done and what he had allowed the people to do.
Moses’ anger burned hot, and he called out “Who is on the Lord’s side?” When the sons of Levi gathered to him, he told them to go out and kill some of the people as a punishment for their disobedience; 3,000 people fell on that day. Moses seems to cool down a bit the next day, but the children of Israel aren’t out of the water just yet. Moses prays for the people and pleads their case, and God chose not to destroy them, but that did not keep them from punishment. The Lord sends a plague on the people for their disobedience. This should be a reminder to us that there is consequence for sin, perhaps even if everything has been made right.
1. Sinai and the tent of meeting: After the situation with the golden calf and Moses’ intersession for the people, God tells Moses to get the people up and go to the land that He had promised to give to the offspring of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Lord would send an angel before them to drive out the inhabitants of the land, but it is interesting to note that God said that He Himself would not go with the people because they were a stiff-necked people and if He entered the presence of the people, He would consume them. The people knew the implication of this statement, that God was not with them (at least not fully), and they mourned when they heard it. Because God could not be inside of the camp, Moses would pitch a tent outside of the camp, called the tent of meeting, where anyone would go to if they were seeking God. When Moses went out to the tent of meeting, a pillar of cloud, the Lord’s presence, would descend on the tent and the people would watch and worship when they saw the cloud. Thus Moses would speak to God as one would talk with a friend. Note also the dedication and devotion that Joshua had to Moses and to the Lord, which would continue when he took over leadership after Moses died (see Joshua 1).
2. Moses’ intercession: As Moses would regularly go out to the tent of meeting, we are given here one of the discussions that took place between him and God, one in which he interceded for the people. We can get the sense of what was said in the previous chapter about Moses speaking to God as if speaking to a friend, as this is what this conversation feels like. Moses seems to be a little frustrated because the Lord has told him to get up and go into the promised land, but He has not told him the details (specifically who He would send with him) of the journey or plan. He also makes a point that the presence of the Lord, which He has withdrew from the people at this point, was the way that the children of Israel were distinct from the other nations of the world. The Lord grants Moses this request because he had found favor in His sight. Then Moses asks to see the face of God, but the Lord told him that this was not possible, lest Moses die from the encounter. Instead, in what might seem to be a bizarre action, God let Moses see His back when He past by the cleft of the rock that He put him in. We can truly get a sense of the close relationship that Moses and God had from this story.
The covenant renewed: Moses was once again called to go up on Mount Sinai to renew the covenant that the Lord had made with His people through the commandments that He gave Moses the first time he went up. Because he had broken the two stones with commandments on them, the Lord told Moses to cut out two new stones and bring them with him up on the mountain that he might revive again the words written on the two tablets of stone, specifically the Ten Commandments. The Lord declares here that He is a merciful and loving God, but He is also a righteous God that will not acquit punishment that is due when necessary. Moses prays for the sin of the people that it might be pardoned and that the Lord might once again go throughout their midst. When renewing the covenant, we get a shorter version of the commands of God and warnings that He gives the people. One warning of note is the warning against making any covenant with the people in the promised land, so that they aren’t driven out, as their gods would become a snare to the people, which became a problem in Joshua 9. The Lord reminds Moses of the feasts and festivals that they are to hold throughout the year, and also of the Sabbath day that the people were supposed to keep holy. Moses was once again on the mountain for forty days and forty nights, and when he came down, his face shone because he had been speaking with God. The people were afraid of Moses because of this, and he had to wear a veil any time that he came out from speaking to God because of the skin of his face. Paul refers to this veil when he is discussing the old and the new covenants with the Corinthian church (see II Corinthians 3:12-18).
The sabbath and the tabernacle: Moses went out to the people to tell them what the Lord had commanded them to do. Again, they were reminded of the Sabbath day, to do no work on that day, as it was to be a day of solemn rest to the Lord. Then Moses discusses the contribution that the Lord had asked of the people, a freewill offering according to how each man’s heart stirred him to give. (compare with Exodus 25:2-7). Note that it was not only money that the people could give to the Lord, but also materials, especially materials that could be used in the construction of the tabernacle. After Moses told the congregation of the freewill offering, they did just that, giving what their heart stirred them to give in order to construct the tabernacle. Once the contribution was taken care of, the Lord told Moses specific people that He had given special abilities/talents to in the realm of craftsmanship and building who were to work on the construction of the tabernacle according to the plan that He had given Moses. This goes to show that the Lord gives us certain talents that He expects us to use for HIs kingdom. Let us not neglect those talents for the work of the Lord.
Construction of the tabernacle: This chapter seems to be a continuation of the last thought of the previous chapter as it is about the craftsmen that were called to build the tabernacle according to the plan that had been given Moses. Notice the emphases on free will here. The people continued to bring free will offerings to build the temple even after there was more than enough to construct it. It got to the point where Moses had to officially send word out that no one should bring any more offering to the building of the tabernacle. Moreover, even those who came to build the tabernacle came on their own accord, as their heart stirred them. It seems that the children of Israel had finally committed to the Lord, at least for the time being, and were willing to follow His command and sacrifice for Him. The tabernacle was made according to the pattern give Moses (see Exodus 26).
Tomorrow’s Reading: I Kings 1-4.
Grace and peace.