Part eight of the Exodus series begins with the one job that the Israelites had while Moses was up getting the laws from God. He said wait. That was all they had to do, wait for further instructions.
Moses went up the mountain to commune with God. Everyone knew where he was going and what he was doing and movies make it out to be one night but Moses was up there for over a month. Like in so many other cases, Moses was up there for 40 days and 40 nights. The people had started to wonder what happened to him. They seemed relatively convinced that he was never coming back and they plead with his brother.
I don’t know about you, but I feel like Aaron could have handled this better. Obviously, I wasn’t there, and the people could have been a bit of a mob or insistent in some undescribed way. All the same, Aaron doesn’t appear to have attempted to guide them down the right road. This is the man who is supposed to be in charge of guiding their souls from there on out. He just agrees to make them a god and then does it. Unlike the movie depictions that I remember of this moment and the teachings, this comes after the people already had the first set of laws and the ten commandments. This means that they and Aaron know that graven images is a no-no.
It’s only the third commandment and the one that includes that God is jealous and that this is the kind of “iniquity” that is visited upon generations to come. Moses is gone for what appears to be just long enough for them to start to worry that he’s never coming back and they decide to go back to a system of worship that they are used to seeing in Egypt, if not participating in while they were there. There’s no indication of just how the Israelites worshiped in Egypt from the text but they turn to this pretty quickly, despite that it’s against what God just told them to do.
The people are one thing, but Aaron. Aaron performed some of the plagues! What was he thinking? We aren’t given his thoughts, just his actions. He doesn’t even really try to justify it to Moses when confronted. He just relays that “they are set on evil” and that he threw the gold into the fire and “out came this calf”.
Out came the calf? So no molding or anything goes into this thing? Okay, sure and there was no way to avoid throwing the gold in the fire either, right?
God sends Moses back down to take care of business, but there’s even a moment when God has to be talked down off the ledge. He’s furious that the people can’t keep it together for 40 days and 40 nights. But Moses makes some compelling arguments and is sent down to deal with them and his brother. How does Moses choose to do this? Well, first he sends them all out on a murderous rampage that ends with the deaths of 3000 people. Wait, what? Yeah, I don’t get how that’s supposed to be helpful either. The only thing he does that makes sense is dispose of the calf, but it was a little a strange that he made them digest it.
Moses goes to ask forgiveness from God about the whole thing, asking to be killed as well if God cannot forgive everyone and this was the response he got:
Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book. But now go, lead the people to the place about which I have spoken to you; behold, my angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them.
This statement is followed by that a plague was brought on them for the calf.
Note: yes, the part where Moses gets so mad he slams down the tablets that God Himself had written on was in this chapter.
This chapter begins with God telling Moses that it’s time to leave Mt. Sinai. The conversation includes this line from God:
Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.
Which to me, means “I cannot even look at you right now, I am so disappointed” and rightfully so. It’s not like God had been asking a lot of them in the last few chapters. The chapters that detail what He wanted of them were specific and long, but that stuff hadn’t even been relayed to them yet. All the Israelites had so far were the ten commandments and those initial laws on retribution, social justice, slaves and how to celebrate the Sabbath and some festivals.
God does decide to visit Moses among them once they agree to not wear their ornaments or something like that, and there is a tent of meeting where God visits him and some safety notes on Moses’ behalf. He further relents to go with His people as they journey when Moses poses this question:
Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?
There’s a famous line in here too that is used when people talk about prayer, though I don’t think it’s good to pull out specific verses as examples out of context. I just wanted to share that it is in this chapter where it can be found. The line is this:
And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.
I’ve seen it used as an excuse as to why certain prayers weren’t answered while others are. Sure, it could be true that it is just this way, or other circumstances could be at play, or a thousand other things. It just doesn’t paint as benevolent a God as Christians otherwise proclaim but is brought out to make excuses when things don’t go our way. At the same time, it could also be a specific thing for a specific time. God was just furious with these very people and visited a plague on those responsible for the calf. Why would He make promises to be benevolent to this lot anymore? He just freed them from slavery and they couldn’t keep it together for 40 days without Moses.
Having broken the original tablets that Moses came down the mountain with, God told him to come back and get new ones. This was basically a do-over with the tablets. Moses was gone for the exact same amount of time, but no calf when he came back down. The people had apparently learned their lesson. Or the ringleaders were just dead and the people who were left had wanted nothing to do with it in the first place, no way to tell.
Some of the prior information is repeated in renewing the covenant and Moses comes back down the mountain another 40 days and 40 nights later. This time, his face is shining from having spoken to the Lord.
Yes, I’m aware of how odd this sounds, but that’s what it says! His face was shining and he even started wearing a veil when he was not with God because it would be so bright from having been with God.
So there are my feelings and impressions on chapters 32-34 of Exodus. Have you read it? What do you think?