Good morning! Today in Exodus 30-32 we finish the description of the tabernacle’s furnishings, then run into the story of idolatry and retribution which is known by the Golden Calf.
I don’t have much more to say about the tabernacle furniture, but note the half-shekel “flat tax” in chapter 30, which goes to support the upkeep of the sanctuary. In other parts of the Bible, a census of families is a bad thing (I’m not sure why), but the evident divine displeasure that registration causes is supposed to be fixed by the giving of money for the tabernacle. This, and the protection of secret formulas for incense and anointing oil, show a concern for institutional self-preservation which feels more human than divine in origin. The Sabbath’s importance comes through again in chapter 31, with capital punishment declared for anyone who profanes the day. Note the explicit reference to divine resting after six days of creation—here’s another reason scholars think that the first Creation story was written by a Priestly author.
The Golden Calf story in Exodus 32 returns to an earlier pattern, where the people lack patience and rebel against Moses’ leadership, then God gets angry and punishes them for their mistrust. Here it looks like God is ready to be done with the Hebrew people, but Moses sticks by them. He essentially tells God: “You chose them—now you deal with them. And if you don’t, wipe me out with them too.” This shows a daring interaction with God that I find encouraging. How good if those of us who talk to God would feel the empowerment to claim what God has promised, and ask for it to still come to pass. It’s hugely significant when verse 14 says that “The Lord changed his mind….” This helpfully challenges a common modern assumption that God is unchanging, and increases the biblical regard for Moses as a man who could bring this great change about.
In contrast, Aaron comes out of this episode with a pretty sullied character. He acts falsely in creating the idol, and then lies about it to Moses afterward. This is all the more surprising since the story comes on the heels of chapter after chapter describing the importance of the priest’s duties and the various ways of honoring Aaron as High Priest. It’s interesting to consider the different factions which might have led to the pro-Aaron accounts of priestly holiness and the anti-Aaron story of the golden calf which follows it.
Finally, what Moses does with the sons of Levi echoes an earlier pattern from Genesis. In the context of a disordered, unruly camp, Moses commands the sons of Levi to put their family allegiances aside and kill other Israelites as a manifestation of divine judgment. Their ability to do this is reckoned to them as righteousness, setting them apart as zealots for the faith who truly do serve God above anything else. In this light, it’s the same command that God gave Abraham concerning Isaac—choose allegiance to God or to your kin. I’m no more comfortable with this story than with that one, but the generous reader might find here a certain strength to do the unpleasant right rather than go with the popular wrong. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. Tomorrow’s passage is Exodus 33-35. Thanks for reading!