Light from the Sidra

Ki Tisa

Exodus 30:11-34:35.Haftarah.1 Kings 18:1-39

When I became a believer in Jesus, I wanted everyone else to believe in him too. However, I wasn’t very wise in my efforts to persuade them that I had seen the light. If there was an Olympic event getting up noses, I would have won gold.

Sylvia, with whom I worked, was no intellectual and, realising that it was no use arguing with me, said she would believe in God only if he “manifested himself” to her. I asked how she would react if someone stopped her in the street and told her he was God.

She wouldn’t buy that because God, if he existed, would be glowing and radiant. I then suggested to Sylvia that if she ever met a glowing individual she would run a mile in four seconds!

Moses was having a hard time with the Israelites. Even while he was on Mount Sinai receiving the blueprints for the Mishkan, the people of Israel broke their vow to do all Yahweh had commanded them to do. They broke the first of God’s mitzvot, the commandment to have no other gods beside him.

Even though Moses was willing to be blotted out of the Book of Life if God would forgive the people, God declined his offer. Although Moses stood as the mediator between God and the people, sin is serious. So serious that God cannot overlook it. Those who sin must either be blotted from God’s Book or atonement must be made.

God says his Presence will not go with the people but Moses pleads and reasons with God so that God – who is “not a man that he should repent” (Numbers 23:19) – agrees to go with the people. Moses then asks to see the glory of God.

Though many people tend to think of God as some insubstantial spirit. it turns out we are the ones who are insubstantial. Early in the twentieth century, British physicist Sir Arthur Eddington theorised that matter is 99.9999999999999% empty space. If you took away all that the empty space, all the subatomic particles in the six billion people on planet earth would fit into a volume only a little larger than a grain of rice. They could talk like that 100 years ago because, back then, atoms were thought to be microscopic solid particles. With the advent of quantum theory, however, it was found that electrons, protons, neutrons, and the other subatomic particles are just waves of energy, with no exact location in space, just a probability of being around at certain point in space and time. Solid matter had, literally, disappeared into empty space.

God existed eternally before the universe began, and the cosmos exists only because God upholds it. The Hebrew word for “glory” is kavod, a word that means “weight”. The world in which we live is insubstantial and transient. Mankind is like grass; here today and gone tomorrow. The only thing of weight and substance in the universe is God and his glory.

“And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed: ‘The LORD, the LORD, God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth; keeping mercy unto the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin; and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and unto the fourth generation’” (Exodus 34:5-7. JPS Translation).

God’s name is his glory because his name is his character. To know his name as he is to behold his glory. This means more that knowing how to pronounce the name of God, be it Jehovah, Yahowah, Yahweh or Yahveh. The divine qualities revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai are the glory of God.

The people broke the Torah and Moses, in anger, broke the two tablets of the Torah. The covenant had to be renewed and so Moses ascended Sinai once again to received the tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments. During the forty days he was with God on the mountain, the fellowship he enjoyed with God was so intimate that, unbeknown to himself, he began to reflect the divine glory. The people were terrified by the man with the shining face and asked him to cover up the glory when he appeared to them.

Every time Moses met with God in the Mishkan, he removed the veil over his face but whenever he spoke to the people he covered his face.

This incident tells us that the Torah and the covenant it accompanied was glorious. But it was a passing glory because eventually (we don’t know when) Moses was able to remove the veil; he did not need to wear it to the ends of his days.

What happens when the glory of a covenant fades away? Another covenant is needed. A covenant whose glory will not pass away is needed; a covenant with increasing glory would be best. Which is why, later in Israel’s history, after generations of covenant breaking on the part of his people, God announced in Jeremiah 31:31-34:

“Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; forasmuch as they broke My covenant, although I was a lord over them, saith the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the LORD, I will put My law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people;  and they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying: ‘Know the LORD’; for they shall all know Me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin will I remember no more” (JPS Translation).

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