Epistles of Thomas

February 5, 2009

Exodus 31-33

Filed under: Old Testament — Thomas @ 11:33
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The plans laid out in the preceding chapters may have seemed overwhelming to the Israelites so God assures them that everything is provided for. God has chosen Bezalel and has filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills for the job. He has also chosen Oholiab to help him and has given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything commanded. God concludes his mountain session with Moses by reminding him that even with all this work to do they must observe the Sabbath. Anyone who works on that day should be put to death because they have rejected God. Thus Moses’ time on the mountain is concluded: “When the Lord finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the covenant law, the tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God” (31:18).

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the people persuaded Aaron to make a golden calf so they would have an image to worship. After spending centuries in Egypt surrounded by the images of gods, the Hebrews seemed to have some trouble conceiving of God without an attendant idol. God informed Moses of this event and made a not so idol threat: “Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation” (32:10). Moses pleaded with God for his people, reminding God of the promise he made to Abraham, Isaac and Israel to make a great people of their descendants. God relented and spared the people. Moses took the precious tablets with him down the mountain “They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.” When Moses saw what was going on he took the precious tablets and shattered them at the foot of the mountain. He then ground the idol to dust and forced the people to drink it. Moses demands to know from Aaron what happened and Aaron passes the blame of on the people (sounds like Adam and Eve?). He says “Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!” This is a direct contradiction of the truth recorded in 32:4 which says he fashioned the idol with a tool.

The Levites rallied to Moses and killed 3000 of the people that day. The chapter ends with the statement that “the Lord struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made” (Ex 32:35) but it doesn’t record how many people died this way. It demonstrates that their idolatry has lead to the plagues/disease of Egypt to fall on them as God had warned (15:26). All of this drives home the fact that God is holy and must be honoured. Moses is commanded to “Tell the Israelites, ‘You are a stiff-necked people. If I were to go with you even for a moment, I might destroy you (33:5). This reality is something that the Jewish people will struggle with for all time. The later prophets promise that there is a day coming when God will pour out his Spirit on the people and they will no longer be stiff necked. In Acts 7:51 Stephen applies this label one last time in the Bible and is stoned for his efforts. He realises that if they continue to reject Holy Spirit there is no hope for them because he was God’s solution as foretold in the prophets (Cf. Joel 2; Zeph 9; Zech 7:12).

Moses realised that without God all was lost. Moses said to God, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” (33:15-16). God promises to go with Moses because he is pleased to know him by name. Then Moses makes the audacious request to see God’s glory. God assures Moses that he will make the glory of his name known to the people but no one can see his face and live. He does offer to let Moses see his back as he goes by and Moses has to be content with that.

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