Saturday, February 6, 2010


Exodus 32-34

In chapter 32, the people of Israel, impatient with Moses who has been forty days and nights on Mount Sinai with God, demand that Aaron make them a "god who will go before us." He tells them to give him their gold earrings and uses them to fashion a golden calf, which they proceed to worship as the god "who brought [them] up out of Egypt." He then announced a festival, so he built an altar and they sacrificed burnt offerings and offered fellowship offerings to the calf.

The Lord was angered at what the people had done, and tells Moses to leave him "that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them." But Moses "sought the favor of the LORD" and argued that the LORD should "relent and ... not bring disaster on your people," and the LORD relents.

Moses went down the mountain carrying the stone tablets on which God had engraved the Ten Commandments, and he and Joshua heard the sound of the people shouting. Joshua thought that it was the sound of war in the camp, but Moses said that it was neither victory nor defeat but singing. WHen he saw the calf and the dancing, "his anger burned" and he threw the tablets to the ground, breaking them. He took the calf and burned it in the fire, then "ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it." He asks Aaron what happened, and Aaron tells him. Then he saw that the people were running wild and out of control, so he stood at the entrance to the camp and called "whoever is for the LORD" to him, and "all the Levites rallied to him."

He told them that the LORD said to go "back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor," and they did so, killing about three thousand. The next day, Moses told the people that they had committed a great sin, but that he would go to the LORD and try to make atonement for them. The LORD told him that "whoever has stood against me I will blot out of my book," but that Moses should lead them to the promised land, and when the time came for God to punish, he would punish. And he struck the people with a plague because of "what they did with the calf Aaron had made."

Chapter 33 opens with the LORD telling Moses to leave Sinai and go to the land which has been promised to "Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." The LORD will send an Angel to drive out the inhabitants, but won't go with them, "because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way." The people were distressed by this, began to mourn, and no one put on any ornaments.

Moses took a tent and pitched it some distance from the camp and called it the "tent of meeting." "Anyone inquiring of the LORD would go to the tent of meeting." When Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance. Whenever the people saw that, they worshipped. After the LORD spoke to him, Moses would return to the camp, but Joshua did not leave the tent.

Moses asked the LORD to teach him the LORD's ways "if you are pleased with me," so that he could continue to find favor with the LORD, and encouraged him to "remember that this nation is your people." The LORD replied that his presence would go with them, and Moses asked that it if didn't, he not send them up from that place. "How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us?" The LORD said that he would do that and that he was pleased with them, and then Moses asked the LORD to show him his glory. The LORD said that he would cause "all my goodness" to pass in front of him but that he could not see the LORD's face, because "no one may see me and live."

In chapter 34, the LORD told Moses to chisel two stone tablets like the ones that he broke when he saw the golden calf, and to come up on to Mount Sinai alone and God would write on them "the words that were on the first tablets." And he did that, and the LORD came down in a cloud and proclaimed his name and that he was a "compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin." He also said that he "does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation." And Moses bowed and worshipped him, and asked for forgiveness for their sins.

The LORD said "I am making a covenant with you," and that through the nation of Israel, "the people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the LORD, will do for you." He reiterates many of the earlier commands and instructions about not worshipping idols or other gods, celebrating the feasts of unleavend bread and first fruits and ingathering and keeping the Sabbath. And he told Moses to write down all of these words, as they recorded the covenant. And Moses was on the mountain with the LORD for "forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water."

When Moses returned with the new tablets of the Testimony, his face was radiant, though he didn't know it, because he had spoken with the LORD. When Aaron and the others saw him, they were afraid of him. But he called to them and Aaron and the leaders came to him and he spoke to them. Then all the Israelites came to him and he gave them "all the commands the LORD had given him on Mount Sinai." After that, he put a veil over his face, but whenever he was in the presence of the LORD to speak to him, he took the veil off until he came out and told the Israelites what the LORD had commanded. Then he would put the veil back on.

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • Even given that we are all sinners and cannot follow all of God's laws, even if "with men it is impossible," this is still a stunning transgression. And it's one that is very hard for us to understand. Many of the temptations that the people of Israel face are temptations that we can understand. We are tempted to covetousness and gluttony, to greed and sexual immorality. But the appeal of melting down gold to form a golden calf to worship escapes us. Well, it escapes me, anyway.

    I do understand the argument that we make idols of things, of houses or lawns or specific cars, that we get too attached to "things" to the point of distorting our regard. But, even ignoring what they've just gone through, the proofs that have been offered to them, the glory on top of the mountain as God gives the law to Moses, it's hard to understand how a golden calf could provide any temptation to anyone.

  • Again, much as was the case with Sodom, God lets one of his covenant leaders talk him out of his wrath. First Abram and now Moses. And it's interesting that one of the arguments Moses makes is, in essence, "what will the Egyptians say?" He basically tells the LORD that destroying the people would open him up to mockery from the Egyptians.
  • Moses tells the Levites to go through the camp killing people. Or, more specifically, he tells them that the LORD wants them to go through the camp killing people. But we have no evidence that the LORD said that. Certainly, the writer of Exodus is not shy about putting words in the LORD's mouth, whether they all started there or not, but in this case, which appears to be an order to commit indiscriminate atrocities, the words are attributed to Moses alone. Did the LORD tell Moses to say it, and that part didn't get recorded? We don't know. Were there actually specific instructions for identifying the "brother and friend and neighbor" to be killed? We don't know.
  • It's hard to see how the Levites rampaging through the camp is an appropriate response to anything. And it's hard to reconcile that command with a "compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin."
  • Ex 33:3 is another example of a portrayal of the LORD that clashes with our modern, post-incarnation beliefs and expectations. The LORD's comment that he won't go because he "might destroy you" implies that either he isn't omniscient (doesn't know what will happen) or isn't omnipotent (can't control his own emotions.)
  • "Ornaments" would mean, I suspect, jewelry - earrings, bracelets, necklaces and the like.
  • "Forty days...without bread or water" sounds an awful lot like Jesus' temptation in the desert.
  • Twice in Exodus, Moses goes on to Mount Sinai, is there for forty days and forty nights, and comes down with God's law on two stone tablets. I can't help but wonder if the same story is being told twice. I recognize that the ending is different, but the essentials are the same.
  • I wonder what Moses' face looked like that it frightened everyone so much.

Psalms 6

Much like the Proverbs are little nuggets of advice or wisdom, the Psalms tend to be prayers. And it's hard to write a little bit about them. Where do you start? Where do you stop? I can write almost nothing or, I suspect, I could write quite a lot, analyzing any line. I'm not thrilled with either option. If anything "leaps out," I'll say so. Otherwise, when I'm in the book of Psalms, I'm going to try to look at them as prayers and find appropriate parts to make my own prayer.

For the director of music.
With stringed instruments.
According to sheminith.
A psalm of David.

O LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger
or discipline me in your wrath.

Be merciful to me, LORD, for I am faint;
O LORD, heal me, for my bones are in agony.

My soul is in anguish.
How long, O LORD, how long?

Turn, O LORD, and deliver me;
save me because of your unfailing love.

No one remembers you when he is dead.
Who praises you from the grave [b] ?

I am worn out from groaning;
all night long I flood my bed with weeping
and drench my couch with tears.

My eyes grow weak with sorrow;
they fail because of all my foes.

Away from me, all you who do evil,
for the LORD has heard my weeping.

The LORD has heard my cry for mercy;
the LORD accepts my prayer.

All my enemies will be ashamed and dismayed;
they will turn back in sudden disgrace.

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