Last week’s reading covered the last section of Exodus, beginning in chapter 24. Even though it may not look like much at first glance, there is actually a lot going on in these chapters.
From chapters 25 through 31, God is giving detailed instructions to Moses over a period of forty days (Exodus 24:15-18). God lays out directions for the construction of the Tabernacle, a place that he would be able to inhabit and commune with his people. Strangely enough, we find the exact same information being given in chapters 37 through 39, followed by the final assembly of the Tabernacle in chapter 40. Why is the information repeated? Couldn’t they just say, “Then they took the information from the tablets God had written for Moses and they constructed the Tabernacle”?
Ye of Little Faith
Beginning in chapter 32, we see that the Israelites have become restless. They have been complaining ever since they left Egypt. I can almost hear the children constantly asking their parents “are we there yet?” Tensions are high as they continue to travel toward the “promised land”; this place that they are told they came from and that the God who rescued them had given their ancestor Abraham so many centuries before. Now they are camped at the base of a mountain and the man who had performed all those miracles and who had led them through so many hardships has disappeared. Sure, they say he is talking to Yahweh, but he’s been gone for over a month and tensions are rising.
So what do they do? They fall back to what is familiar and comfortable. They ask Aaron to make and idol and, being the brother of Moses and the one who had performed God’s miracles along side him, he of course says… “Sure! Why not.” He then collects gold and jewelry from the people. But, where did they get all of this wealth? It’s the loot that they took from the Egyptians (Ex 11:1-3)! The reparations that God had foretold would be collected after their slavery (Gen 15:13-14) are used to make a golden calf that the Israelites begin to worship!
God warns Moses that the people have turned. He tells Moses, “Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you a great nation.” (Ex 32:10). God wants to wipe the slate clean and start over.
But Moses argues with God. He reminds him that he has made promises and has a reputation to uphold (Ex 32:11-13). I must say that reading this, I see a parallel with Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2:1-6, where he calls Jesus the mediator between us and God. Moses, fully aware of God’s unchanging nature and trustworthiness, tells God he can’t wipe out the Israelites. Even though they have turned, they are his chosen people and he cannot go back on his own word.
When Moses reaches the camp and sees what is happening, he shatters the tablets with God’s writing on the ground out of rage. After a brief chastisement (3000 killed and forcing them to drink water full of gold dust), Moses then returns to God and pleads for forgiveness on behalf of the nation (30-32). God relents (33-34), but sends a plague as punishment (35). He also tells them that he will not travel with them lest he destroy them, which seems to hit harder than the other punishments (33:1-6).