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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Exodus 34

 

 

Introduction

The Covenant Re-Established (Exodus 34:1-27).

We can analyse this passage as follows:

a The call by Yahweh to Moses to hew two tablets and be ready to come up into the mountain and present himself on the top of the mountain where Yahweh will ‘write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets’ (Exodus 34:1-3).

b Moses’ obedience to His command (Exodus 34:4).

c The Self-Proclamation of Yahweh as the One Who is merciful but does not clear the guilty (Exodus 34:5-7).

d The response of Moses to His proclamation which includes the thought that they are a stiffnecked people (Exodus 34:8-9).

e The fact that he is now renewing His covenant, accompanied by promises of the revelation of His power in achieving the success of His people (Exodus 34:10).

e The command to observe that covenant accompanied by a promise to drive out the Canaanites (Exodus 34:11).

d A warning against making any covenant with the Canaanites because of the awful consequences in idolatry and because Yahweh is named ‘Jealous’ and is a jealous God (Exodus 34:12-16).

c A covenant codicil containing ten ritual requirements as selected from Exodus 20-23 (Exodus 34:17-26).

b Yahweh’s command to Moses to, “Write these words, for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel” (Exodus 34:27).

a Moses is with Yahweh in the mount for forty days and forty nights, and neither eats bread nor drinks water. ‘And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten words’ (Exodus 34:28).

We note here in ‘a’ Yahweh’s promise that He will write on the tablets the words of the previous covenant, and in the parallel the fulfilment of the promise. In ‘b’ we have the description of Moses’ preparation of the tablets and in the parallel the commandment to write on them the covenant. Note especially the parallel of the words in italics confirming that it was Yahweh Who wrote the words of the covenant, and it is specifically said that they were the same words as written previously. In ‘c’ Yahweh’s self-proclamation is paralleled by the ritual response required by His people. In ‘d’ Moses’ response of penitence and admission that Israel are a stiffnecked people is paralleled by the warning not to make any covenant with the Canaanites lest they provoke Him to jealousy. In ‘e’ the renewing of the covenant is accompanied by an exhortation to observe that covenant.


Verses 1-4

Moses Prepares Two Tablets of Stone For The Re-establishment of The Covenant And Goes Up To Meet God (Exodus 34:1-4).

Exodus 34:1-3

‘And Yahweh said to Moses, “Hew for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets that you broke. And be ready by the morning and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself to me there on the top of the Mount. And no man shall come up with you, nor let any man be seen throughout the mount. Nor let the flocks nor the herds feed before that mount.”

The first tablets had been fashioned by God (Exodus 32:16; Exodus 24:12; Exodus 31:18). Now it was Moses who was to fashion the tablets. This in fact would bring out the part that Moses now played in the covenant. Previously the covenant had come from Yahweh directly to the people (Exodus 20:1-18). It was all of God, for they were His people. Now it comes through the mediation and intercession of Moses. They owe to him (as we have seen) the fact that they can once more enter the covenant.

But it will still be written by God. And it will still be the same covenant as before, now renewed by this act. We are not told what was written on the tablets, but two tablets written back and front must surely have contained more than the ten ‘words’, unless they were written in very large letters. (Otherwise why not make the tablets smaller. For assuming that they followed the pattern of the previous tablets they were large enough to be able to be thrown down and smashed). But we are told that the ten words, the basis of the covenant, were the essential basis of what was written (Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 10:4).

Be ready by the morning.” It would take Moses some time to fashion the tablets suitably, so he was given until the next day. But then he was to make suitable preparations, after which he was to present himself alone to Yahweh on top of the mountain.

But first he must give instructions that no one else enter the mountain, and that no cattle or flocks even come near the mountain. This was an extension of the provisions in Exodus 19:21-24. It was clear that some extraordinary appearance of Yahweh was to take place.

Exodus 34:4

‘And he hewed two tablets of stone like the first, and Moses rose up early in the morning and went up to Mount Sinai as Yahweh had commanded him, and took in his hand two tablets of stone.’

Moses did strictly as Yahweh had commanded him. He hewed two tablets of stone similar to the first. He also made a wooden chest to contain the tablets when he brought them back (Deuteronomy 10:1-5). But he did not take this with him. It was left in the camp to receive the tablets when he got back, probably in the Tent of Meeting. (Alternately that may have been a brief description of the Ark of the covenant, in which case it would be made later). They would be a reminder to the people that he was returning and that this time he would come with a confirmed covenant that stood firm.

Then next morning he rose early and went up Mount Sinai alone as Yahweh had commanded him. And with him he took the two empty tablets of stone.


Verses 5-7

Yahweh Makes A Proclamation Concerning Himself To His People’s Representative (Exodus 34:5-7).

Exodus 34:5

‘And Yahweh descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of Yahweh.’

As ever Yahweh is surrounded by cloud. The previous chapter has brought home why this was so as never before. His glory must be hidden or it would devastate whoever saw it. And He stood there with Moses. Here again He had come to speak with His friend. ‘He stood with him there’.

And proclaimed the name of Yahweh.” Compare Exodus 33:19. Thus all the glory of the previous appearance is manifested, although shielded by the cloud. He declared Who He was, He revealed What He is. The proclamation was mainly by a manifestation of Himself in the heart of Moses, a bringing home to him something of His very being.

To know someone’s name was to know him fully. Moses came to know ‘His name’ as proclaimed by Yahweh Himself. He received a full revelation of what Yahweh’s name meant, of what He is. He was enabled to appreciate the very nature of God . (We may compare the idea here with the revealing work of the Holy Spirit, only active in those who are His - 1 Corinthians 2:9-16).

Exodus 34:6-7

‘And Yahweh passed before him, and proclaimed, “Yahweh, Yahweh, a God full of compassion, and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in covenant love and truth. Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the children’s children, on the third and on the fourth generation.”

And Yahweh passed before him.” We cannot even begin to appreciate what Moses experienced here (compare Exodus 33:22). His whole being was taken up with God. And then Yahweh proclaimed Himself in His fullness.

We read the proclamation, Moses experienced the full reality of the proclamation, for it was not only communicated in words, it was communicated in spirit. As he stood there in awe the glory and holiness and love of Yahweh swept through him, suffusing his whole being. Words cannot even begin to describe what he must have experienced.

Note the order of the words. Compassion and graciousness, covenant love and truth, come first. Mercy and forgiveness are of the very being and essence of God. And yet the corollary of this must be the awful judgment for those who fail to respond to that mercy and forgiveness. He will by no means clear men who do not respond. Here Yahweh reveals the future for mankind. His offer will come to them, His compassion will reach out to them, but in the end only those who respond from the heart will experience His covenant faithfulness. Those who reject it will be condemned.

“Yahweh, Yahweh.” The duality is the duality of witness. This was a full manifestation of Yahweh witnessed in the very innermost being of Moses. As the words were spoken they would illuminate Moses’ heart and mind. This is a unique ascription to God. Yah Yahweh, while coming close, is not quite comparable with it (Isaiah 12:2).

A God full of compassion, and gracious.” This is part of His essential being, tender of heart, compassionate of spirit, and self-giving even to the unworthy. No words can really express it. If we add together all the compassion revealed by all the most compassionate of men throughout all history we only come up with a pale reflection of it. John later puts it simply in the terms ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:7-8). But there as here he has to temper it with ‘God is light’ (1 John 1:5). For in Him there is no darkness at all. It proclaims to us all that God wants to forgive and be forgiving. But He can only be so to those who will receive forgiveness.

Slow to anger, and plenteous in covenant love and truth.” The positive note continues, but with a slight hint of warning. He is slow to anger, anger is contrary to all that He wants to be, (but the hint is that angry He will be in the end towards the continually stubborn heart). He is plenteous in covenant love and truth. ‘Plenteous’ indicates an abundant supply. There is no stinting of His love to those within His covenant (chesed indicates Scripturally love within the covenant). There is no stinting of His trueness and faithfulness. But again it can only be in truth. Truth is essential to knowing God. ‘What is truth?’ asked Pilate, failing to recognise that the Truth stood before him. Only those who desire the truth can enjoy fully what He is.

Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” There is no limit to His desire to show mercy and forgive. ‘Thousands’ is broad in its significance, it indicates a countless multitude, which no man can number (Revelation 7:9). His mercy is preserved for all of them. He wants to forgive, He longs to forgive, and there is no limit to what He will forgive. The threefold ‘iniquity and transgression and sin’ indicates the totality of sin, sin in all its forms. The One Who was all compassion declared, ‘Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men’, but the caveat was that those who finally failed to respond, those who hardened themselves against the work of the Spirit, would remain unforgiven (Matthew 12:31). Hell is full of ungrateful, unresponsive people. For ‘He will by no means clear those who fail to respond’.

And who will by no means clear the guilty (leave unpunished, exempt from punishment), visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the children”s children, on the third and on the fourth generation.’ Again in the midst of the light the dark side has to be revealed. He does not automatically clear men. There is no automatic forgiveness. Forgiveness is offered all of His grace but it has to be received and accepted. For those who will not turn to Him and receive that forgiveness the awful power of iniquity will continue on through the generations. Man’s failure to respond to God affects not only himself but also his progeny.

So Yahweh reveals more of His glory to Moses as He had promised, but in what He reveals He makes clear that with the renewing of the covenant He has also forgiven His people for their major lapse. That is the clear implication of His words. But within them is included the warning that if they fail to take advantage of His forgiveness worse will follow.


Verse 8-9

The Response of Moses On Behalf Of Himself and The People (Exodus 34:8-9).

Exodus 34:8-9

‘And Moses reacted with great haste and bowed his head towards the earth and worshipped. And he said, “If now I have found favour in your sight, O sovereign Lord, let the Lord, I pray you, go in our midst. For it is a stiffnecked people. And pardon our iniquity, and our sin. and take us for your inheritance.”

This new revelation affects Moses deeply. ‘With great haste’ because he is so moved he bows down to the earth and worships. But he recognises from the revelation that Yahweh has made that He has declared Himself a forgiving God, and under their present circumstances that must specifically refer to the children of Israel. So he once again seeks confirmation that Yahweh will go up in their midst. It is true that they are a stiffnecked people, perverse, obstinate, slow in response, but he asks for full pardon for all they have done and that Yahweh will again take them as His inheritance (see Exodus 15:16; Exodus 19:5).

It is important to note that although Moses is God’s friend, he does not take advantage of that fact to presume. No one is more aware than he how deeply Israel has sinned. He is finding it difficult to accept that they are truly forgiven. He has cause to know what a stiffnecked people they are. This is why God’s revelation has come in this form, because God is aware of his problem. But at last he is coming to terms with it, and is willing to accept that it really is true. It seems that they really can begin again. So for the final time he seeks assurance that all really is well, that their sovereign Lord really will go up amongst them, that He really is pardoning their sin, that He really will again make them His inheritance. It has taken time to be able to accept it but after this wonderful display of the heart of God he can no longer be in doubt.

We may feel that he had had more than enough assurance (Exodus 33:14; Exodus 33:17), but we do not have Moses’ awareness of the holiness of God, and we were not there to see the depths and degradation of their sin. He had no doubt accepted Yahweh’s word, but it was only now that the niggle in his heart was able to subside. Many of us do understand his position. We too have in the past sinned in such a way that we found it hard to accept forgiveness. Not that we did not seek it. Not that we did not believe that God would do it. But we were so conscious of the awfulness of our sin that it took time to accept forgiveness fully. And though far above us in stature, he was a man of like passions as we are.


Verse 10

Yahweh Confirms That He Is Renewing The Covenant (Exodus 34:10).

God replies by confirming the covenant and guaranteeing the receipt of the inheritance. He does not need to repeat the ten words. He has already confirmed that they will be written on the new tablets that Moses has brought (Exodus 34:1). Instead He guarantees the fulfilment of the covenant in practical terms by promising the manifestation of His power and that He will do wonders on their behalf.

The fact that these marvels are to be ‘created’ stresses that they will be of Yahweh. He alone is the Creator. The verb for ‘create’ is never used unless Yahweh is involved. He will create marvels such as the world has never known, and no nation has ever experienced. In view of what He did in Egypt these are strong words. What He will do with His people will be awesome and terrible, even more terrible than He did in Egypt (compare Deuteronomy 10:21; Psalms 106:22). That He did do marvels we know, using extraordinary natural events to assist His people (e.g. Joshua 3:13; Joshua 6:20; Joshua 10:11-14; Judges 5:19-22). What He would have done had they been faithful and obedient and entered the land when He said is beyond our imagination.

Exodus 34:10

‘And he said, “Behold, I make a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels such as have not been created in all the earth, nor in any nation. And all the people among whom you are will see the work of Yahweh, for it will be a terrible thing that I will do with you.” ’

This is the promise that He is renewing the covenant, and that He is going to do wonders on their behalf which will manifest how terrible He is. Kings at the time constantly sought to establish to their people how terrible they were to rebels and to their enemies. In the same way the nations, with all their debased religion, among whom they are, will see what Yahweh will do, and will be filled with awe.


Verse 11

The Command to Observe That Covenant Accompanied by a Promise to Drive Out the Canaanites (34:11).

Exodus 34:11

“Observe what I command you this day. Behold I will drive out before you the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite and the Jebusite.”

Israel are to take care that they observe all that Yahweh has commanded them. This renewal of His promise to drive out the Canaanites is an assurance that their previous failure has been forgiven. But they must beware that it does not happen again.

The names of the nations to be driven out are the same as those mentioned regularly prior to this, but not in the same order. It is not a stereotyped list. Compare Exodus 3:8; Exodus 3:17; Exodus 23:23; Deuteronomy 20:17. Six is twice three indicating intensified completeness. In Exodus 13:5 five nations are mentioned. The Perizzites are lacking. This was probably because being in Egypt at the time Moses has in mind that in Egypt five was the number of completeness. In Deuteronomy 7:1 seven nations are mentioned, something which is accentuated. Seven is the number of divine completeness.


Verses 12-16

A Warning Against Making Any Covenant With the Canaanites And The Need To Destroy Their Idols Because of the Awful Consequences of Idolatry and Because Yahweh is Named ‘Jealous’ and Is A Jealous God (Exodus 34:12-16).

Exodus 34:12-14

“Take heed to yourself lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land where you are going, lest it be for a snare among you. But you shall break down their altars, and dash in pieces their pillars, and you will cut down their Asherah images, because you shall not worship any other god, for Yahweh whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.”

Conscious of their predilections and how they have failed in the past the main command here is that they should not to enter into covenant relationship with any in the land as depicted by the six previously mentioned groups, that is with Canaanites in the wider sense, those who follow Baalism. The alternative to making a covenant with them is to destroy or displace them, and this is emphasised by the command to destroy their gods, which no nation would allow unless utterly defeated. It should be noted that the command about gods here is a negative one even if it has a positive reason. It is not a direct command not to worship other gods, but a command to destroy them when they conquer the land because they are to worship none but Yahweh, and because they could be a snare to them. The picture of idolatry and sin as a subtle snare is common in Scripture.

Note the emphasis on how surely they must avoid idolatry by vigorously destroying all trace of it. They are to destroy their altars, dash in pieces the pillars that represent Baal, and cut down their wooden Asherah images. It is not enough to turn from sin. They must destroy all traces of it. We see here a forceful explanation and wise guidance concerning their practical and ritual behaviour once they enter the land.

Exodus 34:15-16

“Lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land and they go a-whoring after their gods, and do sacrifice to their gods, and one call you and you eat of his sacrifice. And you take of their daughters to your sons, and their daughters go a-whoring after their gods, and make your sons go a-whoring after their gods.”

The theme continues. God’s concern is that they might make treaties with the inhabitants of the land so that they become neighbours, and then get caught up in their idolatry, either by eating of their sacrifices, and thus participating in their orgies, or by the sons of Israelites marrying Canaanite women and being caught up in their idolatrous and sexually perverted practises (which is precisely what did happen). The only way they can remain pure is by driving the idolaters from the land.

Go a-whoring.” The Canaanite religion was debased and encouraged sexual impropriety. But the words also contain the thought of being unfaithful to the One to Whom they should be looking. To seek other gods was to behave like a whore.

There is nothing in all this that can be thought of as one or more ‘ten words’ or be compared with ‘the ten words’ spoken of implicitly in Exodus 34:1; Exodus 34:28. This is a command not to fraternise with the Canaanites nor to allow them to remain in the land, not a commandment or commandments with universal significance.


Verses 17-26

A Covenant Codicil Containing Ten Ritual Requirements Which Will Confirm Their Faithfulness to Their Overlord As Selected from Chapters 20-23 (Exodus 34:17-26).

In counteracting the temptation to idolatry Yahweh now pronounces what are seemingly ten reminders of what His ritual requirements concerning Himself in the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 20:1 to Exodus 23:33) were. The thought is that temptation is best fought by positive action rather than simply by rejection of the sin. The one who is busy about the Lord’s work will not have the time to be busy with sin.

Ten was a regular number used for lists, although the number word is not mentioned. Compare the ten Patriarchs in Genesis 5 and in Genesis 11 (paralleled elsewhere in lists). The ten plagues in Egypt. The ten ‘words’ in Exodus 20. It will be noted that apart from the first, the eighth and the tenth statements they are all ritual requirements, and that the first and last form an inclusio referring to idolatry.

But it must be admitted that the numbering of the instructions as ten may simply be due to the commentator, for the eighth may in fact be a continuation of the seventh (it is negative), which then means that we have only nine in the list, whilst the same may be true of the third which may be a continuation of the second (note that it is not a positive command). Exodus 34:13 may also need to be included among the commands. Thus it may well be argued that we do not have ten.

a 1). “You shall make yourself no molten gods.”

b 2). “You shall keep the feast of unleavened bread. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month of Abib. For in the month Abib you came out from Egypt.”

c 3). “All that opens the womb is mine, and all your cattle which are male, the firstlings of ox and sheep. And the firstling of an ass you will redeem with a lamb, and if you will not redeem it then you shall break its neck.

d 4). “All the firstborn of your sons you shall redeem, and none shall appear before me empty.”

e 5). “Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest. In ploughing time and in harvest you shall rest.”

e 6). “And you shall observe the feast of sevens, even of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year end.”

d 7). “Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the Lord Yahweh, the God of Israel. For I will cast out nations before you and enlarge your borders. Nor will any man desire your land when you go up to appear before Yahweh your God three times in the year.”

c 8). “You shall not offer the blood of my sacrifice with unleavened bread, nor shall the sacrifice of the feast of the Passover be left to the morning.”

b 9). “The first of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring to the house of Yahweh your God.

a 10). You shall not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk.”

Note the parallels. In ‘a’ the making of molten images is forbidden, and in the parallel pagan practises with regard to idolatry are forbidden. In ‘b’ the command is to keep the feast of unleavened bread and in the parallel the bringing of the first of the firstfruits to Yahweh is commanded. It was on the first day of unleavened bread that a sheaf of the firstfruits was presented before Yahweh (Leviticus 23:10-11), ‘the first of the firstfruits’, a symbol of all the firsfruits offered to Him. In ‘c’ all beasts that opened the womb were to be offered to Yahweh as an offering, (without having been tainted by work), and in the parallel the blood of sacrifices was not to be offered with unleavened bread, nor was the feast of the Passover to be left until the morning. The holiness of all must be preserved. The offering of firstlings was closely connected with Passover (Exodus 13:1), as was unleavened bread. We note also that these are the only two instructions which are not positive commands. In ‘d’ the firstborn of sons had to be redeemed, and no one was to appear before Yahweh empty. In the parallel all males were to appear before Yahweh three times a year. In ‘e’ they must work for six days and rest in the seventh day in both ploughing time and harvest, and in the parallel they must observe the feast of sevens, even of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year end, the former a rest day and the latter including rest days, both connected with harvest.

It should be noted that these ritual requirements closely parallel those in Exodus 20-23. The first one parallels Exodus 20:4. The second closely resembles Exodus 23:15. And the chiasmus there which includes it, and of which extracts are included below, confirms that Exodus 23 is primary.

Exodus 34:17

“You shall make yourself no molten gods.”

This stands as a direct command by itself and briefly parallels Exodus 20:4. Compare also Leviticus 19:4. It may, however, also be looked at as a tailpiece to the previous verses and has very much in mind the molten calf and the similar images they will find among the Canaanites. They are not to ape their previous sad behaviour with the molten calf (Exodus 32:8) when they arrive in the land, by making Baal-like images.

Having hopefully saved them from Canaanite religion Yahweh now outlines rather the positive things they should do, and there now follow a number of provisions whereby they will reveal themselves as true to Yahweh, and truly His people. Compare for these Exodus 23:14-19. These involve keeping the feast of unleavened bread; offering to Yahweh all that opens the womb, i.e. the firstborn; keeping the Sabbath day; observing the feast of weeks; the threefold appearance before Yahweh in order to maintain tribal unity; not to offer leavened bread with their sacrifices; not to leave anything of the feast of Passover until the morning; the requirement that they bring the firstfruits of their harvests to the house of Yahweh their God; and the command to avoid the magical practise of seething a kid in its mother’s milk. Most of these have been dealt with previously and simply sum up the things that reveal a good Israelite. Some are almost exact repetitions of what is in the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 23:14-19). Yahweh is therefore indicating that He now looks on them as good Israelites again.

Exodus 34:18

“You shall keep the feast of unleavened bread. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month of Abib. For in the month Abib you came out from Egypt.”

Compare for this Exodus 12:15-20; Exodus 23:15. Here also it is linked with the deliverance from Egypt. The unleavened bread would remind them of the haste with which they left Egypt because Yahweh was delivering them. It may well have been a regular feast before that, but in Egypt its significance had been changed. (The observing of the Passover is spoken of later, Exodus 34:25).

Exodus 34:19-20 a

“All that opens the womb is mine, and all your cattle which are male, the firstlings of ox and sheep. And the firstling of an ass you will redeem with a lamb, and if you will not redeem it then you shall break its neck.”

Compare here Exodus 13:2; Exodus 13:12-13 from which this command is constructed (although it is not strictly a command. It may well be that this is simply to be appended to 2). ), especially as in Exodus 23:15 the final phrase is linked with the feast of unleavened bread above. Thus all firstborns must be either offered to Yahweh sacrificially, ransomed, or have their necks broken if unclean. Usually an ass would be worth more than a lamb, and would thus be redeemed, but there would be cases where the ass was deformed or otherwise not valuable, then the alternative would be to break its neck. It could not be sacrificed because it was ‘unclean’. See for the whole Exodus 13:2; Exodus 13:12-13; Exodus 22:29-30.

Exodus 34:20 b

“All the firstborn of your sons you shall redeem, and none shall appear before me empty.”

The male firstborn of humans must be redeemed. This was a specific requirement. There must be no child sacrifice among the Israelites. They required redeeming because Yahweh had spared them in the night of judgment at the Passover. They therefore especially belonged to Him.

None shall appear before me empty.” This distinctive phrase is all embracing. See Exodus 23:15 where it comes after describing the feast of unleavened bread and Deuteronomy 16:16 where it follows mention of the three feasts. It is either a promise that such will be the fruitfulness of the land that ‘emptiness’ will be unknown, or an injunction to ensure that they bring their gifts to Yahweh. Here then it is either again a promise of many lambs and kids or a reminder that they must not come with empty hands. Their loyalty to Yahweh must be constantly demonstrated in gratitude for provision made.

Exodus 34:21

“Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest. In ploughing time and in harvest you shall rest.”

The newly founded Sabbath must be observed, even when it was ploughing time or harvest. Nothing must prevent the Sabbath rest which is for all. Even the most urgent of tasks must not interfere with it, the exception being in order to deal with their beasts daily needs. See Exodus 20:8-11; Exodus 23:12; Exodus 35:2-3. It was a specific sign that they were Yahweh’s (Exodus 31:13).

Exodus 34:22

“And you shall observe the feast of sevens, even of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year end.”

These two feasts are mentioned together, in order to prepare, along with the feast of unleavened bread, for the next verse. See also Exodus 23:16 where both feasts are spoken of together. Both are harvest festivals, one for wheat and the other for vintage. As a competent leader Moses would have made himself aware of what weather conditions were like in Canaan, and what harvests there were, and God obviously knew.

The year end.” That is, looking from the point of view of the farmer who would see the final harvest as the end of his agricultural year as the ‘year end’ agriculturally, after which all must begin again with the coming rains. Or it may signify that the yearly round of three feasts is over. Or indeed both. Israel had been told that they must officially observe the festal year commencing with Abib (Nisan), the time of the Passover (Exodus 12:2). But all farmers would also see their agricultural year as naturally ending at the vintage harvest. There were no calendars on the walls or methods of enforcing calendars in those days. Agriculturally vintage was the ‘year end’. That later this was so is evidenced by what was possibly a schoolboys’ tablet of about 10th century BC discovered at Gezer which outlines an agricultural calendar.

Exodus 34:23-24

“Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the Lord Yahweh, the God of Israel. For I will cast out nations before you and enlarge your borders. Nor will any man desire your land when you go up to appear before Yahweh your God three times in the year.”

Compare Exodus 23:17. The three feasts were to be times when all Israelite adult males came together to renew covenant, to worship together, and to hear the reading of parts of the Law. This was what would keep them united and keep Yahweh’s requirements before them. And there major intertribal decisions would then be reached. It would be necessary because once they were in the land they would be spread wide. God would enlarge their borders.

The assurance was also given that when they were engaged in these festivals Yahweh would ensure that no one from outside would look with ‘desire’ on their land and invade it (compare Proverbs 16:7). This promise is made uniquely here.

Exodus 34:25

“You shall not offer the blood of my sacrifice with unleavened bread, nor shall the sacrifice of the feast of the Passover be left to the morning.”

This is the only negative command in the list, and it may therefore be that it should be seen as a continuation of Exodus 34:23-24. For this instruction compare Exodus 23:18. ‘My sacrifice’ here is presumably referring to the Passover sacrifice, as the second clause suggests. The point behind it is that the Passover sacrifice must be offered without anything being added, and that therefore excludes offering with it a cereal offering of unleavened bread (compare Leviticus 2:4-10), or the unleavened bread which was a part of the seven day feast which followed Passover. It must be offered on its own. It stood uniquely as a reminder of the deliverance of the firstborn (compare Exodus 34:19, the connection is made in the chiasmus). All leavened bread will have been removed from their houses prior to that feast so that it is not saying that it can be offered with leavened bread. The offering of leavened bread was forbidden altogether (Leviticus 2:11-12) apart from with peace offerings (Leviticus 7:13). It suggests that He saw the Passover sacrifices as a special and unique bond between Him and His people, not to be intermingled with the Feast of Unleavened Bread. It was the prime reminder of the great deliverance on which His covenant was based. Both the blood of that sacrifice and the remnants after feasting were especially holy to Yahweh. But there is also here a parallel with verse 19 (see analysis), which also refers to offerings, and originated at the time of the Passover.

Exodus 34:26 a

“The first of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring to the house of Yahweh your God.”

Compare Exodus 23:19 a. The first of the firstfruits probably refers to the sheaf of the firstfruits brought to Yahweh on the first day of unleavened bread. But it may mean, and certainly symbolises, the choicest of the firstfruits or literally what ripens first. The point was that Yahweh would receive His portion before His people received theirs as an acknowledgement that what they received came from Him and belonged to Him. The firstfruits that grew were to be dedicated to Yahweh and would, in fact, be available to the priests. These were to be tokens of their gratitude for His provision. ‘The house of your God’ refers to the Dwellingplace. Wherever God revealed Himself could be called ‘the house of God’ (Genesis 28:17), for it meant a dwelling-place, where God had revealed Himself. Here it therefore meant the place where God was approached, the Tent of Meeting and later the Dwellingplace (Tabernacle).

Exodus 34:26 b

“You shall not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk.”

Compare Exodus 23:19 b. Elsewhere among the nations kids were quite possibly boiled in their mother’s milk so that the resulting magical mixture could be sprinkled on the fields hoping to produce fertility. This has been claimed as witnessed to, for example, in The Birth of the Gods, a Ugaritic text, but it is probable that the text was misunderstood. It was a practise forbidden to Israel. The fact that it is paralleled here (see analysis) with not making a molten image, and is included in this list of ritual requirements would seem to confirm its idolatrous connections.

So all these provisions are extracted from earlier enactments and repeated so as to re-establish the covenant.


Verse 27-28

Completion Of Yahweh’s Intentions In Exodus 34:1-4 (Exodus 34:27-28).

Exodus 34:27

‘And Yahweh said to Moses, “Write these words, for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.”

Moses is now told to write down the words spoken to him before Yahweh, as a symbol of the re-established covenant. ‘After the tenor of -’ looks back to a previous explanation, something that has been said or written previously (compare Genesis 43:7), again stressing that these are not original commandments.

Exodus 34:28

‘And he was there with Yahweh forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten words.’

Moses again remained in the mountain for over a moon period (compare Exodus 24:18), sustained solely by God. Going without food and water for so long a period was a recipe for disaster, but Moses came out from the experience unharmed. He may well have been in a state of suspended animation for a part of the time. Deuteronomy 9:9 tells us that this fasting also occurred on his first period in the Mount.

This is in contrast with the time when, with the elders, he had eaten and drunk before Yahweh (Exodus 24:11). This was no joyous celebration or covenant giving sealed by a covenant meal, but a solemn reception of revelation from God.

And he wrote on the tables the words of the covenant, the ten words.” The question here is, who is ‘he’. If we had been told nothing earlier we would read it as meaning Moses. But in Hebrew the antecedent can also refer to another who is mentioned as long as it is made clear in the context. And here it is made clear in the context. It is describing the fulfilment of Exodus 34:1 (see also Deuteronomy 10:2; Deuteronomy 10:4 which are very specific). Thus we must refer it back to ‘with Yahweh’. It was Yahweh who wrote on the tablets the ‘ten words’ of the covenant, as He said He would in Exodus 34:1, and they were the same as those on the original tablets (Exodus 34:1). Moses was probably in a state of ecstasy, either watching the process or oblivious of it. (The verse must be interpreted in its present context, for that is the context in which it is found. Any previous theoretical context is irrelevant as we have no way of telling what the exact theoretical words were in that theoretical context).


Verses 29-35

The Glory of Yahweh Appears on the Face of Moses (Exodus 34:29-35).

This passage may be analysed as follows:

a When Moses comes down the mountain the skin of his face shines, although he is unaware of it (Exodus 34:29).

b When Aaron and the children of Israel were aware of it they were afraid to approach him (Exodus 34:30).

c Moses calls Aaron and the rulers to him and obediently they return to him and Moses spoke with them (Exodus 34:31).

d All the children of Israel come near and he gives them the commands that Yahweh has given him in Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:32).

d When he had finished speaking he put on a veil (Exodus 34:33).

c When Moses went in before Yahweh to speak with Him, he took the veil off until he came out (Exodus 34:34 a).

b Then he came out and spoke to the children of Israel what Yahweh had commanded (Exodus 34:34 b).

a And the children of Israel then saw that the skin of his face shone, and he put the veil on his face until he again went in to speak with Yahweh (Exodus 34:35).

In ‘a’ Moses coming down from the mountain and his face shining is paralleled by Moses’ face shining and going in to speak with Yahweh. In ‘b’ Aaron and the children of Israel were afraid to approach him and in the parallel they have learned to bear it while he speaks to them what Yahweh has commanded. In ‘c’ Moses calls Aaron and the rulers to him so that he can speak with them, and they come despite the shining of the skin of his face, and in the parallel when he goes in to speak with Yahweh he takes off the veil so that his face is shining. Thus the two way communication takes place when he is unveiled and the skin of his face is shining. In’ d’ all the children of Israel approach to hear what Yahweh has commanded and hear him with unveiled face, but when he has finished he veils his face.

Exodus 34:29

‘And it came about that when Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in Moses’ hand, when he came down from the Mount, that Moses did not realise that the skin of his face shone as a result of his speaking with him.’

Note the repeated ‘came down from the Mount’ which is typical of ancient writings. The repetition means that the hearers recognise the emphasis and go along with it. It was because he had been in the Mount with Yahweh that his skin shone. He was carrying in his hands the two Tablets of Testimony. But Moses was unaware of the fact that his face was shining with an unearthly glow.

Note also the use of pronouns. ‘His speaking with him,’ As in Exodus 34:28 we have to gather who is who from context. Was it as a result of God speaking with Moses, or of Moses speaking with God? Either is possible.

Exodus 34:30

‘And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone and they were afraid to approach him.’

The shining of Moses’ face was such that even Aaron was reluctant to approach him. Nor would the children of Israel. There was too much of God about him. The distance that they stood back is shown by the fact that the verb ‘coming near’ is used of all Israel who could hardly all get very near.

Exodus 34:31-32

‘And Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke to them. And afterwards all the children of Israel came near, and he gave them in commandment all that Yahweh had spoken with him in Mount Sinai.’

But Moses would have none of it, and he called them to him. Whatever God’s purpose was in this it clearly included their facing up to this manifestation of His holiness as they received details of God’s command. Then Aaron and the tribal leaders took their courage in their hands and came to him, followed after a time by the whole of Israel. After that he gave them as commands all that Yahweh had said to him on the mountain. The unearthly glow on his face would bring home his words to them far better that any eloquence. The tablets he presumably deposited in the Tent of Meeting.

The rulers of the congregation (the gathering).” Those who were leaders, the ‘elders’. The congregation was a name used to describe the Yahweh-worshipping host of Israel (Exodus 12:3; Exodus 12:6, and often).

Exodus 34:33

‘And when Moses had finished speaking with them he put a veil on his face.’

Once he had finished delivering Yahweh’s words he put a veil on his face, no doubt at the request of the people who could no longer stand the glory that they saw, which even then was but a pale reflected glory. Had they endured it and let it speak to their hearts what a difference it might have made. But the people grumbled when they thought that God was not watching over them, and again grumbled when He manifested His presence in such a way that it spoke to their hearts. Like many they preferred God at a distance, but not too great a distance.

Exodus 34:34-35

‘But when Moses went in before Yahweh to speak with him, he took the veil off until he came out, and he came out and spoke to the children of Israel what he was commanded. And the children of Israel saw the face of Moses ,that the skin of Moses’ face shone. And Moses put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.’

From then on when Moses went into the Tent of Meeting to talk with Yahweh he took the veil off, and when he came out he would deliver Yahweh’s message to the people unveiled. But then he would don the veil until he again went in to speak with Yahweh. Thus did Yahweh’s message always come over with the sense of Yahweh’s holiness and glory supporting it, emphasising its unique importance. We are not told at what point this manifestation ceased.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Exodus 34:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/exodus-34.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, November 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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