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Exodus 32-34

Supplemental notes for the Daily Bible Study Bible Reading Plan

by Wayne Blank

Exodus Chapter 32

While Moses was up on Mount Horeb with The Lord (see also Why Did Christ Put Moses To Death?), the Israelites grew impatient.

The Golden Calf

"When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron, and said to him, "Up, make us gods, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him." (Exodus 32:1 RSV)

Aaron, by whatever bizarre reasoning, not only condoned the people's desire to mimic the idolatry that they had witnessed in Egypt (the golden calf, that they were about to make, was very likely their version of the Egyptian bull "god"), but actually led them in producing their idol of gold.

"And Aaron said to them, "Take off the rings of gold which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me." So all the people took off the rings of gold which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, and made a molten calf; and they said, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!" (Exodus 32:2-4 RSV)

The Lord saw what they were doing and would have annihilated them all, if not for Moses' plea.

"And The Lord said to Moses, "I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people; now therefore let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; but of you I will make a great nation."

But Moses besought The Lord his God, and said, "O Lord, why does Thy wrath burn hot against Thy people, whom Thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, 'With evil intent did He bring them forth, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth'? Turn from Thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against Thy people." (Exodus 32:9-12 RSV)

Moses was himself nevertheless overcome by anger when he saw the Israelites running wild about an idol. Although some regard it merely as a fit of anger, Moses' breaking the Ten Commandments (the stone tablets on which they were written, that is) was moreover a statement of how the Israelites were breaking them by their behavior (see The Decalogue).

"And Moses turned, and went down from the mountain with the two tables of the testimony in his hands, tables that were written on both sides; on the one side and on the other were they written. And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables." (Exodus 32:15-16 RSV)

"And as soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses' anger burned hot, and he threw the tables out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain." (Exodus 32:19 RSV)

The Levites remained loyal to one of their own, Moses.

"And when Moses saw that the people had broken loose, for Aaron had let them break loose, to their shame among their enemies, then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, "Who is on The Lord's side? Come to me." And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together to him.

And he said to them, "Thus says The Lord God of Israel, 'Put every man his sword on his side, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbor.'" And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses; and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men." (Exodus 32:25-28 RSV)

Exodus Chapter 33

The Lord then commanded the Israelites to prepare to leave Mount Sinai (see also Why Did Paul Say That Sinai Was In Arabia?) and head north, to the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Interestingly, The Lord decided to keep His distance from them at that point, "I will not go up among you, lest I consume you in the way, for you are a stiff-necked people" because they had chosen to become spiritually distant from Him.


"The Lord said to Moses, "Depart, go up hence, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham [see Abram and Sarai], Isaac [see Isaac's Faith And Obedience], and Jacob [see Jacob and Laban], saying, 'To your descendants I will give it.' And I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites [see The Land Of Canaan], the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you in the way, for you are a stiff-necked people." (Exodus 33:1-3 RSV)

The Lord did remain physically and spiritually close to Moses however; they met "outside the camp" in The Trysting Tent.

"Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off from the camp; and he called it the tent of meeting. And every one who sought The Lord would go out to the tent of meeting, which was outside the camp. Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose up, and every man stood at his tent door, and looked after Moses, until he had gone into the tent. When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the door of the tent, and The Lord would speak with Moses. And when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the door of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, every man at his tent door. Thus The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tent." (Exodus 33:7-11 RSV)

Exodus Chapter 34

The Lord then wrote a replacement set of The Ten Commandments. Note that Moses made the stone tablets and carried them up on the mountain and then back again (see the Fact Finder question below).

The Ten Commandments

"The Lord said to Moses, "Cut two tables of stone like the first; and I will write upon the tables the words that were on the first tables, which you broke. Be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself there to me on the top of the mountain." (Exodus 34:1-2 RSV)

While there, The Lord repeated The Law of God, not "the law of Moses."

"And The Lord said to Moses, "Write these words; in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel." And he was there with The Lord forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water [see The Forty Day Fasts]. And He wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments." (Exodus 34:27-28 RSV)

Moses' return from The Lord's mountain also produced a change in appearance.

"When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tables of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone [see The Shining] because he had been talking with God. And when Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them." (Exodus 34:29-31 RSV)

"And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face [see The Veil of Moses]; but whenever Moses went in before The Lord to speak with him, he took the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, the people of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses' face shone; and Moses would put the veil upon his face again, until he went in to speak with him." (Exodus 34:33-35 RSV)

Fact Finder: As stated in the Scripture quotes above, Moses made the stone tablets upon which The Lord wrote. What did they look like? How big were they?
See What Did The Ten Commandments Look Like?

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Copyright © Wayne Blank