Light from the Sidra

Ki Tissa

Exodus 30:11 - 34:35

After reading Sidra Ki Tissa we should sigh with relief. Things could have been very different for Israel because of the incident of the golden calf. Because of Israel’s idolatry the Almighty threatened to destroy them and start again with Moses, then later he threatened to withdraw his presence and leave them to themselves.  Either eventuality would have been disastrous for Israel. We can only marvel at the patience of the LORD.

Moses described the making of the calf as “a great sin”, and how right he was. The evidence of God’s power and presence was before Israel’s very eyes as Sinai was covered with a cloud which concealed the consuming fire that marked God’s presence. Moses went into the cloud to receive the Torah but the people wanted to move on to the land of promise, and they wanted gods to lead them there. Sadly, Aaron submitted to the people’s wishes. He made the idol and proclaimed a feast to the LORD, who was now represented by the golden calf. Within days of receiving the very first commandment from the very mouth of God himself, the nation broke it. Is it surprising that when Moses came down from the mountain and saw what was happening he smashed the tablets of stone? Israel had broken the covenant. What could be done?

Moses realised the situation was very serious and immediately set about doing all he could to ensure that God would continue to be with Israel. He destroyed the calf, mixed the gold in water and made them drink it as a punishment. He called them to show their zeal for God by putting to death those near to them who were unrepentant. Finally, and most amazingly, Moses offered himself to God as an atonement for the sin of Israel, although his offer proved to be unacceptable to the LORD.

None of this was enough to ensure the continuing presence of God with his chosen people. The LORD said to Moses that he would not go with them. God’s anger and displeasure were deep and he wanted it to sink in. They were to remove their ornaments. To make the point even more forcibly, Moses took his tent far outside the camp of Israel; only there would God meet with him. It is there that Moses again pleaded with the LORD to go with them, and he especially asked God to show him his ways and reveal something of his glory.

The LORD in his great grace responded to all Moses’ requests and eventually the covenant was renewed. God again wrote the ten words and repeated some of the ordinances of the covenant.

We should breathe a sigh of relief. The sin was indeed great and God nearly brought the covenant to an end.  Moses acted decisively and prayed urgently for the people, and God was gracious despite the great provocation of Israel.

Too many comments on this Sidra rush to the defence of Aaron and the people. But there can be no defence. Moses knew that, which is why he smashed the tablets of stone and rebuked Aaron.

What does this have to say about Israel today? Is God’s presence known? Surely not, for the Hebrew word for Dispersion, “Galut”, means he is displeased and has turned his back on the people.  What “golden calf” is there in Israel today that has caused such offence to God? To answer that question we need to ask what was at the heart of the problem at Sinai. Remember what happened when Moses came out from God’s presence? His face shone and the people were afraid and could not look at him. Moses was not afraid. It seems he could dwell in God’s presence; but they could not. That was why they preferred to have a golden calf.

Is this not what has happened in history? God made his presence known in the Messiah, who came to Israel in grace and humility, with power to work miracles, speaking truth and rebuking sin. But, as Malachi wrote in the second verse of chapter 3 of his prophecy, “But who may abide the day of his coming...for he is like a refiner’s fire and a launderer’s soap” . Israel again turned away and created a religion they could be comfortable with - Talmudic Judaism, the modern golden calf.

But the LORD is still the same merciful and patient God. Forgiveness can be received and his presence known through repentance and faith in Messiah Jesus. Yes, it will be costly, but faithfulness to God had a price in Moses’ day too. God’s faithful ones then had to go outside the camp to worship at Moses’ tent. The same principle remains today.

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