The Story of Moses Pt.6 (Exodus ch. 32-40)

The Final part of the overview of Exodus with some commentary.

Exodus Chapter 32:
After the 40-day meeting between God and Moses on the mountain, the people of Israel grew restless and decided to make an idol. They pressured Aaron into making them a new god, so he took their gold earrings from their wives and children, melted them down, and made a golden calf. The people then worshipped the calf as “the god that brought them out of Egypt”. Aaron built an altar in front of the calf and declared that the next day will be a festival for God. The next morning the people sacrificed burnt and peace offerings to the calf and indulged in revelry and drunkenness. God told Moses about the idolatry happening in the camp at that moment. God pointed out how they had already broke the first two commandments (only after 41 days). God then threatened to destroy the people and start over with Moses. Moses appealed to God, by reminding him of his reputation and his promise to Abraham. Moses said the Egyptians may say that the Israelite God rescued them just to kill them in the wilderness. In addition, God made a promise to bring Abraham’s descendants (all of the 12 tribes of Israel) to the promised land, so God couldn’t start over with Moses without breaking that promise. God received Moses’ concern and turned away from that thought.

Moses came down the mountain with two tablets of the 10 commandments. Joshua heard a loud noise coming from the camp and thought a conflict was happening. Moses reassured him that it wasn’t a war but a party. When they came near the camp, Moses saw the golden calf and the celebration going on around it. He smashed the stone tablets at the foot of the mountain in anger. He burned the calf idol and ground it into powder. Then he poured the powder into the water and forced the people to drink it. He scolded Aaron for allowing this to happen. Aaron replied that he was only doing what they asked. Moses then stood at the entrance and gathered the righteous Levites together. He ordered them to kill idolatrous members of the Levites and their families and they killed about 3000 of them. Moses said because they obeyed God and got rid of the Idolaters they have his blessing. The next day Moses told the rest of the people that they committed a grievous sin and that he would intercede on their behalf. Moses said that if God was going to destroy them all, then Moses was willing to die with them. God promised that Moses and the righteous will be spared but the wicked would be punished and he sent a plague against the Israelites.

Comment: Some people object to God’s anger at the Israelites in Exodus 32 (as well as Numbers 14) because he threatened to kill them off and start over, which would violate his promise to Jacob that all of his children will inherit the promised land of Canaan because they are from Abraham’s seed (Gen 35:12, Gen 48:21-22, Gen 50:22-26), and thus making God a covenant breaker and untrustworthy.

While God had every right to “divorce” and destroy them for breaking the covenant, God remained faithful to his promise even though they were unfaithful. It’s clear that God did not actually intend to kill them all and start over with Moses, but rather he led Moses into a dialogue that would reveal that he would not break his promise to Israel (Jacob). This conversation was a device he used to show that God is trustworthy despite how he feels when we fail and what we deserve as sinful people. He can only tell them a command or give them a promise so many times. This time he went the other direction and threatened to blot them out. Sinners in this situation would simply coward in fear knowing that they deserve it, but the righteous would come boldly to the throne of grace and remind God of his promises so that they may obtain mercy (Heb 4:16). This is what Moses did, he interceded on behalf of Israel both times. God wants us to remind him of his word and his promises and show him that we do believe in them. The act of doing this can strengthen our faith, it’s a way for us to remember God’s love for us and his promises to give us victory, as well as a way for us to remember to keep his commands and stay out of sin and in the blessing aspect of the covenant. Similarly, Abraham intercedes for Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18, he asks God to do what is right and not punish the righteous with the wicked and God agreed to spare the whole city if there are at least 10 righteous people. There weren’t even 10 but for Abraham’s sake, God spared Lot and his family because of Lot’s righteous actions. In Hosea chapters 1-3, God has Hosea marry a prostitute named Gomer, and she cheats by prostituting herself, then another man pimps her out. Divorcing her is his legal right because of her adultery, however, God tells him to buy her back from her lover and reconcile with her. This ends up becoming a metaphor for what God will do with Israel after the exile, despite their idolatry. When we are unfaithful he will remain faithful (2 Tim 2:13).

This is similar to Jesus’ conversation with the Phoenician woman in Matthew 15:21-28, and Mark 7:24-30, where she asked him to exorcise the demon from her daughter and he says that the children (Israel’s) bread should not go to the dogs (Gentiles). Critics see this as Jesus insulting the woman’s daughter by calling her a dog. The greek text uses the word κυνάριον (kunarion) which is a little dog or pet dog. Some parts of the bible reference a wild dog or κύων (kuón) in the greek, which is used as an insult when not referring to a literal dog. Since he uses the former, he is calling her daughter a pet puppy (a beloved member of the family), in comparison to the children of Israel. She knows this and still believes he will help her and he does.

Jesus has never objected to helping Gentiles before. He often did so without any fuss. For example, the Roman centurion who caused Jesus to marvel as his faith (Matt 8:5-13), and the men with the legion of demons in Matt 8:28-34 and Mark 5:1-20. In fact, after visiting the Phoenician woman near Tyre in Syria, he goes to Sidon (also in Syria) and heals a deaf man (Mark 7:31-37). Then he returns to Galilee and goes to Decapolis east of the Jordan river (the legion of demons was previously cast out in this area), and he ministers to Gentiles. Here he feeds 4000 families with seven loaves and a few fish (Matt 15: 32-39, Mark 8:1-10). This is similar to what he does for the 5000 Jewish families in Galilee with the five loaves and two fish. Note, the second time they go the Decapolis, the people were more welcoming. Previously when he exorcised the legion of demons they told him to leave out of fear, but the former possessed men stayed behind to testify about their deliverance as Jesus instructed. In addition, there was the Samaritan woman at the well who was one of the few people he told directly outside of his disciples that he was the Messiah (John 4:21-30). Usually, he kept it a secret and he even silenced demon-possessed people who were always trying to spoil his ministry by revealing who he was too early (Mark 1:21-28, Mark 3:11-12).

This is why in Acts 10 before God sends Peter to the Gentile Cornelius to minister to him so he could receive the holy spirit, God shows Peter a vision of unclean food. Even though he is hungry Peter rejects the food because they are unclean animals. God responds by saying, “Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean” (Acts 10:15). Then God sends him with Cornelius’ servants to minister to him. Afterward, Cornelius’ household gets saved and receives the holy spirit, and Peter realizes that this salvation that Jesus paid for includes the Gentiles as they are. In Acts 11 Peter informs all the other messianic Jews, who criticized him for going into a Gentile’s house, that Gentiles are to be included in the convent as they are (no need for circumcision or kosher food diets) since they received the holy spirit. The others received what he said when they heard the testimony of Cornelius. In Acts 10:15 God was reminding Peter of what Jesus said in Matt 15:10-11 when he told the Sanhedrin council that what a person eats doesn’t defile them. This connects with Jesus’ interaction with the Phoenician woman since she was a gentile, and gentiles didn’t follow kosher food laws. Peter was expected to apply this idea to Gentiles as a whole. This was said so he could see that in the new covenant a person is not defined by what they eat or whether or not they are related to Abraham or not. Instead, all can receive the Holy Spirit of God and be saved without converting to Judaism. The full revelation of this came in Acts chapters 10 and 11, but the lesson started in Matthew 15 (and Mark 7). Sometimes God has a back-forth conversation that seems insulting or contradicting in order to reveal something deeper.

Exodus Chapter 33:
God instructed them to carry on with the trip to Canaan without him, he would send an angel ahead to drive out the Canaanites and get them there safely. The people responded with morning and sadness, and they stopped wearing the fine jewelry and fancy clothes they got from the Egyptians. They would stop wearing those things the rest of the way to Canaan. At that point, Moses set up a special “Tent of Meeting” outside of the camp to meet with God. Anyone who wanted to make a request to God would go to this special Tent. Whenever Moses went out to the Tent of Meeting, all the people would get up and stand in the entrances of their own tents. Whenever Moses went in, the pillar of cloud would come down and hover at its entrance while God spoke with Moses. The people watched while standing at the entrance of their tents and bowed when the cloud came down. Inside the Tent, God would speak to Moses, face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Moses would return to the camp when he was done, but Joshua son of Nun, his assistant would remain behind in the Tent. One day Moses asked God to reveal himself more to him and to promise that he will go with them to the promised land. Moses then asked God to show him his glory, so God agreed to show him as long as Moses didn’t look at his face, for no one can look at God’s face and live. He had Moses stand behind a rock, and look at him through a crevice. God covered the crevice with his hand until he passed by so that Moses can see his back.

Exodus Chapter 34:
God had Moses cut two new stones so that he could write the 10 commandments again. Moses went up the mountain again for 40 days. This time no one is to come with Moses or even go near the mountain. Even the flocks are to stay away from the mountain. God’s cloud covered the mountain and met with Moses. God made this oath: “YHWH! The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin. But I do not excuse the guilty. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children and grandchildren; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations.” God says that despite the stubbornness of these people he would go with them and Moses worships him.

God promises to perform great miracles among them and defeat their enemies ahead of them. However, they must promise not to make any treaties or oaths with the Canaanites. Nor adopt the Canaanite culture or religious practices. They must destroy their temples, altars, idol statues, and anything detestable amongst them according to their covenant. The Israelites are to never worship the Canaanite gods nor invoke their names. The Israelites must not eat at their sacred meals or marry their women. Otherwise, they will be trapped in the sin of idolatry and other devious behaviors of the Canaanites.

God reminds the Israelites of these things: They must remember to celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread (Pesach/Passover), midway through the first month of the year (Abib/Nisan) for a whole week, and they can’t eat any yeast. The firstborn of all livestock belongs to God as a sacrifice on the altar. Unclean animals like donkeys are an exception they can be killed outside the camp, or substituted with a clean animal. Human boys however are always to be redeemed. Everyone must bring an offering when they come to God. They must not forget the Sabbath rest on the 7th day of each week. They should also have the Festival of the Harvest (Shavuot/ Pentecost) for the first crop of the wheat harvest, and the Festival of Ingathering (Sukkot/Feast of Tabernacles) for the last harvest of the year. Three times each year (at these three festivals) every man in Israel must appear before God. God will bless the Israelites and defeat their enemies as they celebrate these festivals. They must not leave any Passover meat overnight, nor burn any yeast bread with sacrificial offerings. They must remember to bring the best of the harvest. He sums that rule up with this idiom: “You must not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.”

Moses wrote everything down and finally left the mountain after 40 days, he ate no food and drank no water. When he came down with the new tablets his face was glowing and the Israelites were frightened. Moses gave them all of God’s instructions and covered his glowing face with a veil when around the people, but he took it off when consulting with God in the Meeting Tent.

Exodus Chapters 35-40:
Moses reminds the people to remember the Sabbath and then gives them the instructions for the Tabernacle. He asks the people to donate acacia wood, gold, silver, bronze, fine linen, yarn (in blue, red, and purple), goatskins, gemstones, spices, incense, and olive oil. Bezalel son of Uri, grandson of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, were blessed with the best skills for the job and they would lead the other craftsmen and women, in the manufacturing all of the objects for the Tabernacle.

The people donated all the necessary resources until there was more than enough and Moses had to stop them. Belazel lead the production of the sacred objects in the Tabernacle, the framework beams, the coverings, curtains, the outer courtyard fencing, as well as the priest’s clothing. The Levites compiled the figures, as Moses directed, and Ithamar son of Aaron the priest served as recorder. The community gave 994 kg of gold, 2,407 kg of bronze, and 3,420 kg of silver (which came from the census tax). The tax was collected from 603,550 men who had reached their twentieth birthday. The silver bases totaled 3400 kg (34 kg for each base). The remaining 20.2 kg of silver was used to make the hooks and rings and to overlay the tops of the posts.

Moses inspected it when they finished it and it was good. The Tabernacle faced east, and they put the Ark inside the Most Holy Place, and the gold altar just outside the Most Holy Place, in the Sanctuary. Then the lampstand on the south side and the golden table on the north of the Sanctuary. The bronze altar and washbasin went outside the Tabernacle entrance curtain. All of this was surrounded by the linen curtains of the courtyard boundary, with special entrance curtains to the east. The uniforms for Aaron, the high priest, and his sons were also finished and fitted. Moses anointed the Tabernacle and all of its furnishings. Then he washed and anointed Aaron and his sons with the oil, and did the ordination ceremony with bread, the bull, and the two ram offerings. The lampstand was lit, the Presence Bread was made and placed on the table, and the incense burned on the gold altar.

Then Moses offered a burnt offering and a grain offering on the bronze altar, filled the washbasin, and hung the curtains for the entrances. God’s glory cloud filled the Tabernacle with his presence. When God’s presence was in the Tabernacle, Moses could not enter. God’s presence was a cloud by day and a fire by night. They stayed camped when God was in the Tabernacle but got ready to move when his presence lifted up above the Tabernacle.

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