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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Exodus 31

 

 

Introduction

III. Israel at Sinai (XIX.-XL.).

The division Num 19-40 presents difficulties due to its very importance, see introduction to Ex. (last paragraph). But Num 25-31, 35-40 readily fall apart from the rest, as containing P's account of the Tabernacle (see on Exodus 25:1), the introduction to which is found in Exodus 19:1-2 a and Exodus 24:15 b - Exodus 24:18 a, Exodus 34:29-35 being a link section. All critics confess that in the remainder many details must remain doubtful. The Oxf. Hex. is for the most part followed here. It does not differ very widely from Baentsch, who has made a special study of this part. Gressmann's drastic reconstruction is highly suggestive in particulars, but as a whole is over-bold. The noteworthy fact is that both J and E preserve important traditions. In each there is an older stratum preserving these elements of the national memory of the religious and political confederation of the tribes: an awful appearance of God upon Sinai-Horeb (Exodus 19 JE, Exodus 20:18-21 E), and the giving of a sacred code, the (Ten) Covenant Words, inscribed upon stone tablets (Exodus 31:18 b E, Exodus 34:28 J) and sealed by a solemn sacrificial feast (Exodus 24:5 E, Exodus 24:11 J). Now these passages concur in presenting a favourable view of Israel at this period: he is the son gratefully responding to the compassionate love of his Father (cf. Exodus 4:22*), or the lowly bride returning the affection of her Husband. And this agrees with the view of the period taken by all the pre-exilic prophets who refer to it (see Hosea 2:15; Hosea 11:1; Hosea 11:3 f., Hosea 12:9; Hosea 12:13, Amos 2:9-11; Amos 3:1 f., Jeremiah 2:1-3; Jeremiah 2:34). Even Ezekiel's severe view rather points to the ancestral heathenism of the tribes (Egyptian, Exodus 23:3, but Canaanite or Amorite-Hittite, Exodus 16:3) than to any apostasy just at this epoch. Only Hosea 9:11, if it refers to the incident Numbers 25:1-5 JE, implies such a lapse. On these grounds it is probable that Numbers 32 JE (the Golden Calf and its destruction E, and the vengeance of the Levites J), together with not a little expansion elsewhere, belongs to a later stage in the moulding of the tradition. The order of incidents is hard to follow, because the editor who united J and E, in his care to preserve as much as possible of both, took the story of the tablets in J as a re-giving and rewriting of them with a renewal of the broken covenant. Much of Numbers 33 containing the colloquies with the Divine Leader belongs to this stage. All this, of course, involves a considerable disturbance of the Bible order and representation in Ex., which, but for one section, is substantially followed by D. But the essence of the great religious facts is irrefragably secure: Israel did, by whatever stages short or long, emerge from a condition little removed from contemporary heathenism, and learned to worship one gracious and holy God (p. 84). Differences concern only the manner and form of events, and their times. Later historians have so accustomed us to having at least the main events fitted neatly into their centuries B.C. or A.D. that we find it hard to think that serious writers could be centuries out in their reckoning. But just as prophets saw future events near and distant in a foreshortened perspective, so it may be that the Bible historians—called "the former prophets" (pp. 38, 244) by the Jews—saw their instances of the nation's glory and shame as more closely crowded together than they actually were. The main thing is that they actually saw them, and that, too, in the mirror of eternity." Throughout the whole we see the material, as it were, in a plastic state. As older conceptions were outgrown new touches could modify the details, though, fortunately for our chances of recognising the earlier levels of inspiration, traces of the old were not always obliterated. Sometimes we must suppose that these modifications had already been made during the period of oral tradition.


Verses 1-18

These two chapters form an appendix to Exodus 25-29. The golden incense altar finds no place in Exodus 25 or Exodus 26:33-36 or Leviticus 16 (where the annual rite of Exodus 30:10 is ignored). Instead we hear of censers in Leviticus 16:12 and Numbers 16:6 f., while the great altar in the court is called "the altar," as if no other were recognised. Similarly Exodus 30:30, requiring the unction of Aaron's sons, betrays itself as later than the series of passages in which the High Priest alone receives it, being often indeed called "the anointed priest." Hence these features, mention of the incense altar, reference to anointing of priests, and distinctive naming of "the brazen altar" or "the altar of burnt-offering," are all marks of secondary elements, wherever they occur. From their contents or phraseology the other sections of Exodus 30 f. betray themselves as supplements.

Exodus 31:1-11 Ps. The Inspiration of the Craftsmen (cf. Exodus 35:30 to Exodus 36:3).—The inclusion of the incense altar and laver in their proper places in the list of things to be made (Exodus 31:7-11) shows that this section also is part of the appendix. It contains a clear recognition of the Divine calling of the artist, and of the principle that only the best of man's handiwork is good enough for the sanctuary (Exodus 31:3 f.). The chief of the craftsmen is Bezalel, and his colleague is Oholiab (Exodus 31:6). The name Bezalel is late in form, and he is in 1 Chronicles 2:19 f. noted as of Calebite descent, while Oholiab is a foreign name and he is a Danite. Following M‘Neile, we may conjecture that some old, obscure tradition connected the Danites with the Calebites and Judahites in the south, and finked them with the sanctuary (cf. Judges 18*). The phrase "finely wrought garments" in Exodus 31:10, perhaps meaning with plaiting like basket-work, is not in Exodus 28 P, but recurs in Exodus 35:19, Exodus 39:1, Exo. 41 Ps.

Exodus 31:12-17 Ps. (Exodus 31:12 b - Exodus 31:14 a H). The Sabbath.—One of the late editors, devoted to the institution of the Sabbath (pp. 101f.), and seeing deep into its religious value, has expanded an older law into what M‘Neile calls "the locus classicus" on Sabbath observance in the OT. The weekly rest-day is the sacrament of time, linking God and His people in mutual remembrance, and revealing the invisible God to an unbelieving world. Read in Exodus 31:13, as in the close parallel, Ezekiel 20:12, "that men may know that I am Yahweh, which sanctify you." The older law of H punished the profanation of the Sabbath with death (Exodus 31:14); the later demands a "sabbath of entire rest," breach bringing death upon the excommunicated offender (Exodus 31:14 b - Exodus 31:15, cf. Numbers 16:35). The disuse of sacrifice among the Jews had emphasised it as the mark of a "perpetual covenant." The strong phrase for the Divine rest after creation, "was refreshed" (lit. "took breath"), supports the view that the priestly writer is here dependent upon an earlier writing from simpler age.

Exodus 31:18 a P, Exodus 31:18 b E. The Tables of Stone.—This is now a link verse, leading up to Exodus 32-34, by relating the gift of "the two tables of the testimony" (cf. Exodus 25:12; Exodus 25:21 b P), "the tables of stone, written with the finger of God" (cf. Deuteronomy 9:10, based on E).

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Exodus 31:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/exodus-31.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 13th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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