Light from the Sidra

Ki Tisa ('When you take...')

Torah: Exodus 30:11-34:35. Haftarah: Ezekiel 36:16-38

The Name and the Glory

Two of the saddest stories I ever heard were from people whose spouses had been unfaithful to them on their wedding nights. Both were elderly but neither had fully recovered from the pain of being betrayed on what should have been the happiest night of their lives. One of the most tragic stories in the Bible is that of the prophet Hosea, who was called to marry a prostitute. As the heartbroken man of God had to endure the anguish of knowing his wife was sleeping with other men, he was able to empathise a little with Israel’s God who, for hundreds of years, had tolerated the unfaithfulness of his bride.

At Sinai, God entered into a marriage covenant with Israel. The stone tablets on which the Torah was inscribed were Israel’s ketubah, their marriage covenant document, as the prophet Jeremiah makes clear: ‘…the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD.’

In Exodus 24:7, the Israelites solemnly agreed, ‘All that YHWH has said we will do and be obedient.’ They said, ‘I will’ to their heavenly bridegroom, and no doubt they meant it. However, six weeks after Moses ascended Mt. Sinai to received the Torah tablets the people demanded that Aaron – who in Ex. 24:9-11 had seen the God of Israel and had eaten and drunk at his table – ‘make gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’

Before the ink on the ketubah was dry, so to speak, Aaron had created a golden calf and declared that it was the god that had brought them out of Egypt. The image represented Apis, probably the most important of all the sacred animals of Egypt. The Apis bull had been worshipped since the beginning of Egyptian history as a symbol of pharaoh’s courage, his great strength, virility and fighting spirit. Apis is believed by some scholars to have been a fertility god, hence the Israelite orgy before the golden calf. Israel was committing spiritual and physical adultery with a representation of an Egyptian god and a pharaoh that YHWH their God and King had defeated at the Red Sea.

When YHWH declared to Moses that he intended to destroy his unfaithful bride and make of him a great nation. Moses pleaded with God not to do so: ‘LORD, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians speak, and say, “He brought them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth”? Turn from Your fierce wrath, and relent from this harm to Your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever’ (Ex. 32:11-13).

Moses didn’t plead with God for Israel on the basis of any inherent good quality they possessed. He pleaded with God on the basis of his character, his reputation and the unconditional oath he had made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob almost 500 years previously. It is on the basis of those three things that God has preserved the nation of Israel for 4,000 years.

Overwhelmed by the prospect of leading this unfaithful nation to the Promised Land, Moses called on God to show him his glory, and God did so in a remarkable and unexpected way, he declared his name to Moses: ‘YHWH, YHWH God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation’ (Ex. 34:6,7).

When I was at school I was told that everything was made of atoms, the smallest ‘things’ that exist. We then learned that atoms were made up of even tinier bits of stuff, named electrons, protons, and neutrons, which were the smallest stuff possible. We now know that all these atoms, electrons, protons, neutrons and all the other sub-atomic particles are not ‘stuff’ at all but electrical particles with vast amounts of empty space between them. In fact, it turns out that you and I are mostly made up of empty space! We are pretty insubstantial! The Hebrew word for glory – kavod – means ‘weight,’ and the only thing in the universe that is solid, substantial and weighty is the glory of God. No wonder, then, that on the basis of God’s revelation of his glorious name, Moses could face the future.

God’s name, his character, is his glory. And when Moses returned to the camp carrying the tablets of Torah, the glory of God was radiating from his face. So much so that it terrified the Israelites and they made him put a veil over his face every time he addressed them. Eventually that glory faded away and from those facts we may draw some vital lessons.

First of all, the Torah was glorious because it was delivered to the Israelites with glory. Secondly, the fading glory on the face of Moses was an indication that the glory of the Torah would also fade away. Third, just as the Israelites were unable to look at the glory on the face of Moses the mediator of the covenant, they would not be able to see the full glory of the Torah. The Torah was not an end in itself. It served a particular purpose for a particular time before giving way to a far more glorious covenant, the New Covenant of Messiah under which the Torah would be written on ‘tablets’ of human hearts, and under which everyone would know YHWH because he would no longer remember their sins and iniquities (Jer. 31:31-34).

The Torah written on the heart provides an inner dynamic for faithfulness and obedience. It sets those under the New Covenant free to live as God intended us to live and sets in motion, through the power of the Ruach Kodesh, a process that transforms those under the New Covenant into the image of God in a way that reflects his glory to then world.

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