April 18, 2014

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Old Testament: With Moses away, the Israelites sin

John F. Fink(Fifteenth in a series of columns)

Last week, we left Moses at the top of Mount Sinai where God gave him the stone tablets on which he had written the Ten Commandments. God called him to the summit after the Israelites ratified the covenant between God and them.

Moses was on the mountain, though, for 40 days. The Israelites didn’t know what had happened to him, so they asked Aaron to make them an image of God. Aaron collected gold earrings, melted the gold and fashioned a golden calf. He then built an altar for the calf. The people made sacrifices to the calf and started to celebrate.

On Mount Sinai, God knew what had happened and told Moses that he would destroy the Israelites, who already had broken their covenant with him. But Moses pleaded with God on behalf of the people and God relented.

Then Moses descended the mountain, carrying the stone tablets. When he caught sight of the golden calf and the people dancing, he became so angry that he threw the tablets down and broke them on the base of the mountain. He took the calf, fused it in a fire, ground it down to powder, and scattered it on the stream that flowed down Mount Sinai.

That wasn’t all. He also called the Levites and ordered them to go through the camp and slay with their swords, those who were especially guilty of the idolatry. They killed 3,000 people.

The next day Moses went back up the mountain and asked God’s forgiveness for the people’s grave sin. God replied that he would punish the people for their sin when it was the right time to do so. He then told Moses that he was to lead the Israelites to the land he swore to give to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, where they would drive out the six tribes living there.

Moses again remained on Mount Sinai for 40 days. He cut two new stone tablets on which he wrote the Ten Commandments. When he returned to the camp, his face was so radiant that the people couldn’t look at him. He had to put a veil over his face. He wore it except when he went into the meeting tent to converse with God.

Chapters 35-38 of the Book of Exodus report the construction of the Ark of the Covenant, the table on which it was to sit, the lampstand, the altar of incense, the altar of holocausts, and the court. All these were constructed under the supervision of a man named Bezalel and his assistant Oholiab.

The Ark was made of acacia wood, 45 inches long, 27 inches wide, and 27 inches high. The inside and outside were plated with gold, and a molding of gold was put around it.

Chapter 39 describes the elaborate vestments in which Aaron and his sons were to be clothed as they performed their priestly duties.

When all was prepared, Chapter 40 reports on the erection of the dwelling, including the placement of the commandments in the ark. †

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