Meditations in Exodus: 76. Affirming the Future
Ex 34:10 Then the LORD said: “I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the LORD, will do for you.
Moses has just heard the Lord describe himself and so, “Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshiped. “O Lord, if I have found favor in your eyes,” he said, “then let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as your inheritance.” (v.8,9) He has been reassured about the Lord’s nature and so he reiterates his request for the Lord to go with them and taking the words the Lord has spoken, he picks up on some of them and requests, “forgive our wickedness and our sin,” so that the Lord may take them as His inheritance. Unless He forgives them there is no hope for the future.
It is possible we take our forgiveness for granted but the basics of the process that leads to our salvation is conviction, repentance, forgiveness, salvation. Whenever there is repentance, forgiveness always follows, of this we can be assured.
But then the Lord reiterates what is going on, what all these encounters on the mountain are all about: “Then the LORD said: “I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the LORD, will do for you.” (v.10) These words, remember, are accompanied by the rewriting of the two tablets of stone, and it is these tablets therefore that constitute the basic covenant agreement. There are two sides to any agreement. The Lord’s side of it, stated above, is that He will be with them and perform wonders which will result in them taking the Promised Land: “I will drive out before you the Amorites, Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.” (v.11b)
Their side of the covenant is to “Obey what I command you today.” (v.11a) and included in that is to “Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land where you are going, or they will be a snare among you. Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and cut down their Asherah poles. Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” (v.12-14) The Lord will clear the land of people, Israel are to clear the land of all the signs of idol worship of those departing inhabitants.
Yet it is to go further than this, because they are to overcome any temptation to enter into agreements with those inhabitants: “Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices. And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same.” (v.15,16) There is always the temptation to want to be like those around you and be liked by them, but the trouble is that these inhabitants of Canaan follow some terrible practices including occult worship and sacrificing children to their goods. These horrors must never be part of the people of God.
Verses 17 to 26 that follow on here, are virtually word for word duplicates of what is found in the earlier laws in 23:14-19, which are the elements of those earlier laws to do with how they go about living specifically in the new Promised Land as God’s people. At the end of them, “the LORD said to Moses, “Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” (v.27) This all take place while, “Moses was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant–the Ten Commandments.” (v.28) The ‘he’ in this last part, we assume to mean the Lord for earlier He had said he would rewrite them. (34:1)
Moses comes back down the mountain with a shining face (v.29,30) as we have noted before, and makes contact again with Aaron and the leaders (v.31) and then he reiterates all the commands to the people (v.32). Chapter 35 to 40 are all about establishing the Tabernacle as the place for meeting with God and at the end of chapter 40 we read, “And so Moses finished the work,” (40:33) and, “Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.” (v.34,35) The book concludes: “In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out–until the day it lifted. So the cloud of the LORD was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel during all their travels.” (v.36-38)
I have refrained from making further comments about some of these verses because I would like to sum up by asking, what have all these happenings at Mount Sinai been about?
First and foremost they have been about revealing things about God; He is a God who clearly wants contact with human beings, although He is aware that such contact could take the lives of humans who come too close, and so in His love for us, He holds Himself at a Distance and limits our contact.
Second, and as an expression of that, there have been all the comings and goings of establishing the covenant, an agreement initiated by God, between God and Israel whereby the Lord promises to be there for Israel and Israel promise to obey Him. To put content to that agreement, the Lord gives them the Ten Commandments and then several chapters of lesser laws to be followed to maintain law and order in the community. Part of that specifically warns about what to do and what not to do when they enter the Promised Land.
So there are two things that seem to predominate and crop up again and again in the second half of the book of Exodus (chapters 19 to 40) and they are laws and the presence of God. Both these things make Israel unique and both of these things say to Israel, you have no excuse for bad behaviour – and that is going to become important as we follow Israel northwards to take the Land. So much for them, what about us. Well we have the laws (the Bible) and we have the presence of God (the indwelling Holy Spirit). More than that, and this makes us even more accountable than Israel, one might say, is that we have all the knowledge of Jesus coming and dying for us. Israel had the testimony of the deliverance from Egypt, and the Passover and our equivalent is the life and ministry of Jesus and the Cross. We have no excuses. Right, get ready, we will next follow Israel as they start out on their journey to the Land.
(And there we’ll pause up following Israel for a while and move on to a series of short meditations again)