What Is the Good News of Yeshua? (Part 12)
As Moses neared the camp, he began to see and hear the sights and sounds of sin rising from the people. During his forty-seven-day absence while he was on the mountain with God, the people had “sinned a great sin” (32:30), having “turned aside quickly from the way that [God] had commanded them” (32:8). With the willful and ignorant assistance of Israel’s soon-to-be high priest, the people threw off their oath, cast their gold earrings into the idolatrous shape of a calf, bowed down to it, and triumphantly announced, “These are your gods, O [Israel], who brought you up out of the land of Egypt” (32:4).
His rage kindled within him, Moses threw the tablets of God’s testimony out of his hands, shattering them to pieces at the foot of the mountain (32:19). The events that followed are as perplexing as they are unsettling, for when Moses arrived in the camp, he immediately burned up the golden calf, ground it into powder, scattered it upon the people’s water, and made them drink it. Moses then stood at the gate of the camp and called out to the people “Who is for Adonai?” (32:26), and all the sons of Moses’ own tribe flew to his side. Then Moses, according to the word of the God of Commandments, sent the men into the camp to purge and purify Israel. And that day 3,000 men—instead of the whole community of Israel—died (32:28).
Though God’s anger had now been stoked by His people, He nevertheless remained close with Moses, speaking to him “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (33:11). He instructed Moses to chisel out two new stone tablets, and then to ascend the mountain again, where God would once more descend in the cloud and stand there with him (34:5). Then the God of Israel passed before Moses, and made the unambiguous, astonishing proclamation that, toward His stiff-necked people, He would forever be
“Adonai—compassionate and merciful God, slow to anger, and abundant in loving-kindness and truth, keeping loving-kindness for thousands, taking away guilt and violation and sin (and will not acquit absolutely, charging the guilt of fathers on their children, and on their children’s children, on a third generation, and on a fourth).” (Exodus 34:6-7, mjlt)
The God of Commandments would be as merciful as He would be severe. He would be as forgiving as unforgetful. Not powerless, but almighty; not mute, but explicit; this God would not tolerate the violation of His commands—the committing of sins. He would communicate His instructions to His people clearly, and then hold them accountable. His love would extend as far and as deep as His wrath would burn hot and high. Israel’s love of God, expressed through obedience to His commands, would be all that would determine which extreme His people would receive.
Was this merely a power-hungry God, commanding obedience and love through the threat of punishment and death? How could anyone ever gain full assurance of hope with such a consuming and volatile love? Would a people who had already proven themselves incapable of keeping commands cause their sins to be forgotten forever? Was holiness and death and sacrifice really the only way to save the world?
After spending forty days with God on the mountain, Moses reentered the camp, gathered the people, and at last gave them all the instructions that the God of Commandments had given him. As they remained at the mountain’s foot for the next seven months, the people would devote themselves continually to the construction of the Tent of Meeting and all its implements. Finally, on the first day of the first month in the second year (40:17), Israel set up the Tent and consecrated her mediators, just as God had said. And the cloud of the God of Commandments “covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of Adonai had filled” it (40:34)—Israel’s God was pleased with Israel’s law-giver, His dwelling place, and His people.
Following four hundred and thirty years in a land not their own, God had finally established His multiplied, covenantal people, and given them their singular covenantal commands—something far different and significantly more exacting than anything He had ever done before. He did this not to set aside the promises of blessing he had made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but rather to guarantee their fulfillment.
In giving Israel such extensive, specific instructions, the God of Commandments knew that they—like us all—would inevitably disobey. But “where the sin abounded, the unmerited favor overabounded” (Ro. 5:20), giving God the opportunity to accomplish something truly life-saving—something the sinful people of planet Earth would never deserve, and could never do for themselves. These commands for Israel, then—unyielding, intricate, all-encompassing, and required—are nevertheless holy, righteous and good (Ro. 7:12,14). And yet, they would not be the ultimate means of making Israel righteous (Ro. 3:20-22). In being zealous for this Torah (Acts 21:20), Israel would be aiming at its climactic, perfect goal (Ro. 10:4)… one she would not see for a very long time.