Part 1: Exegetical Essay
Throughout the Old Testament, the Lord plays many roles and can be characterized in many different ways based on the relationships and the ways in which he interacts with the people Ancient Israel. Ancient Israel was chosen by the Lord to be His people and to live out the words and teachings that the Lord gave them and to be a blessing to the World. In Exodus 34: 1-10, the Lord is merciful enough to re create the ten words on the two tablets. This passage shows the grace and mercy that God has for ancient Israel, however, even if sins are forgiven they are not forgotten. This passage aims to teach the ancient Israelites that they are not God, and that their Lord God is capable of amazing things, especially concerning the love the Lord has for them. In reading and dissecting this passage, it is imperative to break it down into sections and hold the intention that the things that are said are directed towards ancient Israel.
The first section consists of the Lord speaking to Moses and commanding him to make two new tablets and bring them to him. To give some context, the first two tablets were written on by the Lord and contained the ten words that consisted of ways in which ancient Israel needed to live. Moses was instructed to make a new set because he broke the first set out of anger when seeing the Israelites disobeying the Lord and creating idols. Tablets in the ancient world, and in this context, refer to two hewn stone tablets . Moses was then instructed to meet the Lord on Mount Sinai the next morning, bringing the two tablets. He was instructed to make sure that the entire mountain was plain in sight and that he was alone. This dialogue shows the importance of the matter and that the Lord wanted to make sure no one was around. I think this section also shows the importance of the tablets and the ten commandments, or words, to the Lord. These commandments were very important because, “… they provide the foundational definition of an appropriate relationship between the Israelites and The Lord and among individual Israelites under the terms of the covenant”. This is interesting because of the fact that the Israelites disobeyed the Lord and essentially broke the covenant in creating idols, which is sinful to the Lord. This is disrespectful to the Lord because: 1) the Lord has told them many times to not worship any other gods, or create any idols and 2) Icons are mere idols, not divine images . However in exploring this sinfulness, it is also shows the mercy of the Lord and that He is willing to forgive. Along with His proven mercy, the Lords characteristics also consist of jealousy. It is seen throughout scripture that the Lord can be jealous at times. The word “jealous” is often used to described the Lord when His people go against his prohibition of the worshiping of other the gods . This sort of instance was the root cause of Moses needing to go back up on Mount Sinai with two new tablets, because he broke the first two due to the Israelites worshiping idols. This falls directly under the definition of when the Lord will be characterized as jealous.
The next section consists of Moses following through on the Lord’s command, and he met the Lord on Mount Sinai in the morning bringing the two new tablets with him. The Lord then descended from the clouds and stood with Moses. This is just another instance in the Bible where the Lord gets personal with His people. Instead of communicating through the divine image that He is, the Lord decides to come down onto the level of Moses, showing that He cares about the relationship with the people. Furthermore, I think that this section mainly shows the faith that Moses has in the Lord. He understands that the Lord is almighty and will do great things for the people if they just believe.
The section to follow is the proclamation of the the Lord. I think it is essential to break down each part of this proclamation. The proclamation begins with stating, “the Lord” twice. The word “Lord” already gives a meaning of power and superiority, but the fact that it is stated twice is showing what the Lord is about to say is important and should be listened to carefully and thoughtfully. The statement was that the Lord is merciful and gracious. After taking the approach that in the proclamation “the Lord” being repeated probably means that The Lord is about to say something of great importance, we see that “mercy” and “gracious” are what followed. In looking at the definition of “mercy” it is stated that it is an essential quality of the Lord . Also, “grace” is a term usually used to discuss the relationship between people and the divine, indicating that the Lord often shows favor towards humans . It is next followed by stating that the Lord is one that is, “ … slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…” (Exod 34:6, NRSV).
In looking at the proclamation as a whole, the structure of it involves the Lord proclaiming pleasant things that He is capable of, and does frequently for the people. All of the things that are said throughout this proclamation would be considered good, however the only thing that might bring a negative connotation is when it states, “… yet by no means clearing the guilty” (Exod 34:7). I find this interesting because the statement right before this, in the same verse, states “forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin”. I think that it is important to realize that forgiveness is different than forgetting. Yes, The Lord is willing to forgive, and does a lot, but this should also not lead anyone to believe that they can sin and expect to just be forgiven, because sin comes with consequences . To expand on this, this proclamation goes with the entire theme of Exodus 34: 1-10, where forgiveness plays an important part. The Lord is merciful and forgiving beyond what should be expected, after countless sins and acts of disobedience by ancient Israel, the Lord still forgives. The proclamation then goes on to say that instead of clearing the guilty, they must visit the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children (Exod 34:7). As stated earlier, sins do not come without consequences, I think the rest of the proclamation goes to show and continue to expand on the fact that the Lord loves these Ancient Israelites. This is shown because instead of stating a consequence, it is stated to look at the iniquity of the parents down the generations. When talking about generations it is important to know who is being referred to. “In ancient Israel there existed a patrilineal, segmentary lineage system in which each of its households belonged to a lineage. These lineages, in which membership and inheritance were based on the father, made up a clan” . When the Lord said to look at the iniquity of the parents, upon the children, and the children’s children, down to third and fourth generations, he is looking at the iniquity of the parents, not the children. So instead of placing the blame on solely the child, the Lord looks down the lineage, looking at the sins of the entire family.
In looking at the word “iniquity”, also known as, “ʿāwōn”, it is stated, “ʿāwōn denotes a concrete action, but within Israelite holistic thinking it also entails consequences such as guilt and punishment” . This proves the point that with regards to sin, consequences do arise, but with this proclamation to the Israelites, The Lord is not concerned with the consequences, rather in his relationships with the people.
The next section is Moses’ action towards the proclamation of the Lord. He bowed his head and worshiped, basically pleading that the Lord have mercy on them, Ancient Israel, and to forgive them for their sins. The first thing I want to look at is worship, and what it look likes. In looking up the word “worship”, it was stated, “…the Torah is satisfied to penetrate every level of Israelite society with certain nonnegotiable norms: especially the worship of Yahweh alone, without help of images” . I think The Lord is pleased when people worship and give themselves to Him, and just pour out their hearts, but is not so pleased when images are created, whether the images are for Him, or other gods. The Lord is so great that it is impossible to embody Him to any image.
This was quick thinking for Moses to immediately follow the Lord’s proclamation with worship to Him, and may have helped the case of bringing the covenant of the Lord with the Israelites. In breaking down the prayer of Moses, there are a few things that are interesting. The first part of the prayer consists of Moses stating, if he has now found favor in the sight of the Lord, let the Lord go with them (Exod 34:9). Now first looking at “favor” or “ḥēn” it is stated, “…With ḥēn the emphasis shifts to the disposition of the one who shows favor rather than the experience of the recipient of grace…” . This helps translate to what I think Moses is trying to say: Moses hopes that God forgo any punishment towards the ancient Israelites because he hopes that the Lord has now found ḥēn in the ancient Israelites. Not because the Israelites are deserving of the Lords grace, which they are not, but because they have found favor in the sight of the Lord. The next part of Moses’ speech formula consists of him asking that the Lord takes them for his inheritance, after pardoning them of their iniquity and sins. This is interesting because before this in the Lords proclamation, the Lord said Himself that He is a God that is forgiving of iniquity, transgression, and sin. Moses then follows this with pleading for the forgiveness of the Israelites, and taking them for the Lord’s inheritance. Another interesting point is that up to this point in the passage, Moses has not spoken. The structure of the passage so far follows this pattern: (1) the Lord speaks (2) Moses listens and follows the commands of the Lord (3) the Lord speaks (4) the Lord proclaims, then finally (5) Moses responds to the proclamation through worship and speaks aloud. This structure helps in proving that this passage is focusing on what the Lord is trying to say to the Israelites, and what the Lord is trying to show to them, which is how much He cares for them.
The last section of this passage consists of a speech formula of the Lord. In this final speech by the Lord, He made a covenant and told the people the things that He will do, things that have never been done before. Lastly stating that he will do something awesome with them. Ultimately, it seems as though the Lord is trying to make a point between humanity and the Lord God Himself, making it clear that He is all-powerful, the almighty, the all-knowing, and that humans will never be able to achieve great things without Him. This can be seen when the Lord says He will perform things that have never been done on the Earth or in any nation. This final part of the passage wraps up the theme of the entire passage.
Now in looking at the structure of the passage as a whole, it follows this sequence: (1) the Lord speaks (2) Moses listens and follows the commands of the Lord (3) the Lord speaks (4) the Lord proclaims (5) Moses responds to the proclamation through worship and speaks aloud (6) the Lord speaks, making a covenant with the people, heeding to what Moses had said. In looking at this structure, it is noticed that Moses only speaks one time, which is right after the Lord makes the proclamation, then the passage continues to proceed with the Lord’s final words, making a covenant with the people. This covenant made with the people may be surprising, but after exploring this passage as a whole, the Lord is willing to forgive and is merciful. In looking up the word “forgiveness” there was a quote which gave a great explanation as to the reasoning behind the covenant, “The covenant did not exist to show humans that they could obey God and thus please him. Rather, it existed to show them that even with the best will they could not attain his holy character in themselves. This is what both the Pentateuch and the rest of the OT show” . This is essentially what we explored a little earlier in this section, where God is proving a point and trying to make it clear to the people that, alone, Ancient Israel cannot achieve the things that they want, but in trusting in God, there are no limits.
In Exodus 34: 1-10, Moses is faced by God on the top of Mount Sinai, where God tells Moses the characteristics that He holds: He is merciful and gracious , slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, forgiving transgression and sin. The passage also illustrates the mercy that God is capable of showing to ancient Israel, and that God is capable of doing things that have never been done before. Furthermore, the Lord is merciful enough to re create the ten words on the two tablets. It goes on and shows the grace and mercy that God has for ancient Israel, however, even if sins are forgiven they are not forgotten. This passage aims to teach the ancient Israelites that they are not God, and that their Lord God is capable of amazing things, especially concerning the love the Lord has for them. To conclude, in looking at the overall theme of the passage, there are three important things that the Lord is trying to convey to the Israelites. Firstly, the Lord wants the people to know that he is a loving God, not a God of anger and wrath; he is willing to forgive those who have sinned. Although he is a merciful God, the sins of the forgiven do not go unforgotten. Secondly, the Lord conveys that, through Him, the boundaries are limitless. He makes sure to show the people that they need Him, because He can do all things. Although this sounds a little arrogant, it is out of love for the people. Lastly, this leads to the ultimate message, God is willing to make a covenant with people who have been in the wrong and have committed countless amounts of sinless acts, but no matter what they do, He will always have unconditional love for them.
Part 2: Theological Application
In reading Exodus 34: 1-10. There were many different teachings and messages that the Lord was trying to communicate to Ancient Israel. However, I think that theses messages can also be applied to our lives today. Firstly, the Lord wants the people to know that he is a loving God, not a God of anger and wrath; he is willing to forgive those who have sinned. Although he is a merciful God, the sins of the forgiven do not go forgotten. I think this can apply to our lives today. The process of forgiveness is mutual; the sinner must have a desire to better, and truly be sorry for what has been done, then the Lord will see this and act accordingly.
Secondly, the Lord shows that, through him, the boundaries are limitless. He makes sure to show the people that they need Him. I think that this can also apply to our lives today. Often times people are so keen to putting other things before God, hence making “idols”. However the Lord is trying to tell us that we do not need any of these so called “luxuries” to live a full and happy life. What we need is to give our all to God, because through him, we can achieve anything.
Lastly, God shows his ultimate mercy by making a covenant with people who have been in the wrong countless amounts of times. I think this goes to show no matter how many times we think we have screwed up, there is always a chance for forgiveness.
Whether we are looking at the ancient Israelites, or at present times, we can see how great the Lord is. As long as there is trust in the Lord, the Lord will provide.
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