Come Follow Me: Exodus 24; 31-34


First a bit of context. The Israelites have escaped Egypt by virtue of the Red Sea and are now wandering through the desert of the Sinai Peninsula. At this point, they have paused near Mt. Sinai where Moses receives the law including famously the ten commandments as well as other instructions. The first map shows the possible route of the Exodus. The second map is a zoomed out version of the area with modern day geography.

Exodus 24

Preceding Exodus 24, Moses received the law from God, but the people had not yet heard it, neither is God done with instruction. Still to come is information about the tabernacle, its purpose, instructions on how to build it and ultimately how to administer it. The tabernacle is the means through which the people of Israel will gain access to God through regular ritual, ordinance and a reminder of their ever-present covenants. However, none of that has happened at this point. It’s not obvious Moses even anticipates or understands what’s still left to learn. In chapter 24, he appears anxious to connect with his people. Also it’s important to recall the nature of the covenant that God is so desperately trying to make alive in this people He has chosen, repeated beautifully in Exodus 19:4-6

Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on aeagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will aobey my voice indeed, and keep my bcovenant, then ye shall be a cpeculiar dtreasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a akingdom of bpriests, and an choly dnation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.

Exodus 19:4-6

In verses Exodus 24:1-3, God calls Moses and those who will become the priestly leaders back up to the mountain for more instruction. Verse 1 “Come up unto the Lord, though, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel.” Moses alone will ascent to where God will instruct, but Aaron and others so designated will ascend partway.

But Moses does not immediately head this call. Instead, perhaps realizing he might be up on the mountain for awhile, attempts to nurture, succor and ultimately bind the people to the laws through covenant. He builds an altar, representing God and twelve pillars, representing the people. He gives them the law, sacrifices oxen, sprinkles blood on both the altar and the people, although people here likely means the twelve pillars.

This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord now makes with you concerning all these commands.

Exodus 24:8

Once this ordinance completes, he heads up with Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and seventy of the elders of Israel as instructed to meet with the Lord. On their way up, in verse 10, they “saw the God of Israel” and in verse 11 “they saw God, and did eat and drink”.

Finally, Moses leaves his companions behind and ascends further into the clouds that cover the mountain (verse 15). Here God is hidden from Moses in the clouds for six days until on the seventh, Moses is called in. Perhaps the delay was needed to give Moses some time to prepare. Nevertheless, the Israelites witness a “consuming fire on the top of the mountain (verse 17) remaining there with the Lord for 40 days and 40 nights (verse 18).

Exodus 31

Exodus 25-31 contains the record of the instruction, consisting mostly of creating a sacred space, the tabernacle that will travel with the Israelites through the wilderness, a place God may dwell with His people. Chapter 31, however, describes sacred time. But first, in the early verses, Bazelel and Aholiab are identified as men with special skill, ability and knowledge to make the designs for the tabernacle. Next, though the Lord establishes a sign of the covenant through Sabbath observance. Sacred time, a time to rest, rejuvenate and to look upward. Coming to a group of people who endured 400 years of slavery, working taskmasters, building monuments to the Pharoah, having one day in seven as rest must have come as a relief.

Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my asabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you.

Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual acovenant.

It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in asix days the Lord bmade heaven and earth, and on the cseventh day he drested, and was erefreshed.

Exodus 31:13, 16, 17

Exodus 31 concludes with a pronouncement that God wrote “tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God”. Is there anywhere else in the text that describes words written directly by God? Interesting that before Moses embarked on this journey to God, he wrote down his knowledge of the law, on his second trip up into the mountains, he comes down with God’s written law.

Exodus 32

The last thing the Israelites see is what appears to be a consuming fire on the mountaintop in the very place Moses was heading, then they do not hear him for 40 days. It’s good to remember, again, these are former slaves to the Pharaoh, who were rescued by God without asking for it or really fully understanding it. God does all the work, orchestrated through increasing negotiations between Moses and Aaron and the Pharaoh. They were called into the Exodus by Moses, who was also learning how to lead this people. It’s within that context, we get the iconic story of the golden calf with some amount of sympathy.

In verse 1, the people entreat Aaron to “make us gods”. They had so little experience with God and that experience was mediated through Moses who was now absent. They were homeless, wandering in the desert, hungering for direction.

Aaron, the entrusted leader with Moses away, concedes to their demands, asking them to bring all of the golden earrings they brought with them from Egypt and with that gold, Aaron creates a calf (verse 4). The next day, they rise up, offer burnt offerings and sit down to eat, drink and play, somewhat of an echo of the rituals Moses lead in chapter 24. Perhaps this was an attempt by Aaron to mimic Moses, merging influences from Egypt (the calf) with the rituals witnessed.

Meanwhile, Moses still on the top of the mountain in communion with God, hears from God that his people have corrupted themselves. God wants to give up and start anew with Moses.

And the Lord said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a astiffnecked people: Now therefore let me alone, that my awrath may wax hot against them, and that I may bconsume them: and I will make of thee a great cnation.

Exodus 32: 9-10

Moses, echoing Abraham’s earlier negotiations, pushes back, reminding God that He delivered them from Egypt and what would people think if that deliverance ended with their destruction in the desert. He further reminds God of the covenants he made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Sometimes we all need someone to intercede on our behalf. Sometimes we need to intercede on another’s behalf. God knew what was happening, but not sure Moses in fact did. Verse 19:

And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he asaw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses’ banger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and cbrake them beneath the mount.

Exodus 32:19

When Moses actually witnesses the scene, he loses it, breaks the very tables God created, grinds the calf to a powder and makes the people drink it. He then confronts Aaron who attempts to shifts blame to the people and softens his own role in the ordeal in verse 24:

And I said unto them, Whosoever hath any gold, let them break it off. So they gave it me: then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf.

Exodus 32:24

Perhaps for the first time seeing things the way God sees them, realizing desperate action is required, calls for a purge. The sons of Levi volunteer and ultimately kill 3000 men. More contrite, Moses returns to the Lord hoping to find redemption:

And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses said unto the people, Ye have asinned a great sin: and now I will go up unto the Lord; bperadventure I shall make an catonement for your sin.

Exodus 32:30

Moses pleads on behalf of his people for forgiveness and then offers to pay the punishment, telling God to “blot” him out fo the book. God does neither. Further reconciliation is required.

Exodus 33

God must now deal with the reality of a people not fully consecrated to him and responds accordingly. The promises are still there. The land of milk and honey promised to them awaits, but perhaps for their offspring. God will no longer be able to be in their midst, but an angel shall “go before thee”. They still had the tabernacle, but it was moved outside of camp requiring anyone who sought the Lord to leave camp to do it.

In addition, the people mourned this loss as they realized the extent of their disconnection from God. In verse 4, “when the people heard these evil tidings, they mourned: and no man did put on him his ornaments”. They couldn’t connect to God, they eskewed all reminders of the idol that brought on that separation.

The rest of the chapter describes Moses interaction with God in the tabernacle. Here, Moses begins his own transformation, closing his own gap with God as he earnestly strives to atone for the sins of the people he leads. The Lord speaking to Moses “face to face” (verse 11). In verse 13, Moses prays to God, recognizing he has found grace, that God should “consider this nation they people.” Verse 16, Moses pleads for more intimate knowledge of God’s ways and further reconciliation for Israel. How shall the people know they have found grace if they remain separated from God. Verse 17, God concedes on Moses’ behalf. The chapter concludes when God gives Moses a view of his person.

Exodus 34

Having dealt with the incident of idolatry, Moses returns to the mountain for forty more days. Nobody journeys with him even part of the way. This chapter describes the nature of God, “merciful and gracious, longsuffering, abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (verse 6, 7).

Moses pleads that God “take us (the people) for thine inheritance” (verse 9). Next, God warns against intermixing with the culture and the religion of the people they encounter. Again a reiteration to “make thee no molten gods” verse 17. This chapter appears to be a reiteration of the earlier law against idolatry and a plea to sanctify the sabbath.

The tablets Moses had previously destroyed get replaced again with the ten commandments (verse 28). When he returns, his face radiates. The people of Israel reclaim their conduit to God through Moses their prophet.


This lesson centers the message round Israel’s mistaken impulse to create the golden calf. Moses had already spent time receiving the law, he comes down and attempts to bind the people through a blood ordinance to God and then leaves them for forty days to receive instruction on the tabernacle. While gone, the people fall into idolatry. Moses returns, deals with it and then returns back to God to ultimately receive forgiveness, reconciliation, and ultimately spends an additional 40 days receiving the covenant anew.

What can we learn from this episode? How are we beholden to idols? How can we dedicate and consecrate our lives to God? How can we enjoy God’s presence in our lives? What can we learn about repentance and our own efforts at true atonement? What do we learn about the nature of God from these episodes?



The central doctrine driving Christianity is Jesus’s victory over sin and death that is both remembered and celebrated during this Easter season. I grew up with certain narratives about how to view, interpret and internalize Christ’s atonement in ways that I simultaneously took for granted and was completely mystified by. Historically, my Easter experiences haven’t been moments of deep reckoning with these mysteries. Rather, my Sunday experiences have the same basic feel week after week with only slight variations even during religious holidays. Tomorrow, there will be Easter themed talks, our choir has been working on an Easter musical number they will perform and it’s my turn to teach Sunday School.

This year in Sunday school, we’ve been studying the Old Testament, timed to be working through the Exodus story just as the Easter and Passover religious holidays arrive. To really parse this out with the detail it deserves is going to take some time and is beyond the scope of both this post, my training and my Sunday School lesson tomorrow, but hopefully I can point out broad themes.

The Exodus

Before Exodus, Israel was a person (previously named Jacob) who had twelve sons who all ended up in Egypt because a famine forced this migration after Jacob’s favorite son, Joseph, had been sold by his jealous brothers into slavery in Egypt. Joseph, by good fortune and revelatory skill, rose up to become second only to the Pharaoh in power and instituted a program to store food in preparation for that very famine that drove his family into Egypt with him. Joseph’s family prospered in Egypt because of Joseph’s position and power, receiving their own land, special privileges and access to resources that were broadly unavailable to the rest of the country. This privilege worked against them in subsequent generations. The next Pharaoh, not having the same feelings of loyalty toward Joseph’s progeny, worried that their increasing numbers posed a threat and as a result imposed escalating levels of burden in an attempts to control and reduce their numbers and power.

This is the setup for Exodus, the pharaoh, the wicked dictator suppressing and enslaving the chosen people of Israel. God calls first Moses and then through Moses, Aaron to lead the people out of Egypt in a manner that there would be no question of God’s intervention. These attempts consisted of an increasingly virulent Godly interventions that culminate in a sacrifice. The Lord required each family in Israel to sacrifice a “lamb without blemish, a male of the first year” (Exodus 12:5) then they shall take the blood and “strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses.” (Exodus 12:7). The Lord would then “pass through the land of Egypt this night, and smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast” (verse 12). Those with blood on their door will be passed over. This event would then be memorialized in ritual as a way to keep this miracle in the memory of subsequent generations (verse 27).

And of course on the night of the passover, the people leave Egypt only to be held up on the borders of the red sea with Egyptians armies bearing down on them. God rescues them, famously, by the parting of the seas allowing Israel to escape.

In the book, Founding God’s Nation, Reading Exodus, Leon Kass makes the case that the oppressive Egyptian Pharaoh was decisive in turning Israel into a nation. Rather than allowing Jewish integration into the Egyptian economy, culture and eventual inter-marriage, similar to what happened with Joseph who married an Egyptian and had fully assimilated into the culture, the Pharaoh treated this people like the other, a group to be feared and oppressed, and ultimately enslaved with escalations that turned into multiple attempts to murder their children. It’s through this oppression that God intervened, turned this people, previously bound together simply through genealogical lineage into a covenant people chosen by God.

The Exodus is the founding story for the people of Israel. The passover is remembered through covenant and ritual. Through subsequent generations they managed to regain control of the land promised to Abraham only to lose it to later oppressive regimes, notably Babylon and ultimately Rome.

Through those years, different notable prophets record prophetic and aspirational predictions of an eventual King that will rescue, restore and ultimately reign.

I think it’s worth a pause to consider how important the Exodus story has been in US history, inspired from the this interview with Rabbi Meir Soloveichik that makes note that the US founding, the slave emancipation and the civil rights movement took inspiration from Exodus. The Mormon exodus from Nauvoo to Salt Lake City was also inspired by this Biblical story. It’s impossible to underestimate the influence and effect the Exodus story has had on the world.
Specific examples:

America’s Founding

  • Thomas Paine compared the British monarch to the Pharoh
  • The third most cited biblical text during the Revolutionary War was Exodus 15’s “Song of the Sea”.
  • Both Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson suggested stories from Moses become the seal of the United States.
  • Pastor Eli Forbes in his eulogy of Washington called Moses the “Washington of Israel”.


Civil Rights

Jesus – Atonement

A Bit of Roman Historical Context – Inspired by NT Wright’s book Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters

Jesus was born into the world during the Roman empire’s rule over Israel. Rome had a form of a Republic with various checks and balances. Julius Caesar a military leader of notable success made himself Roman dictator in 49 BC but was assassinated in 44 BC and later deified so that his successor, Caesar Augustus could claim the label, son of God. By the time Jesus came on the scene, Caesar Augustus was an absolute monarch of Rome with some claim to divinity. In that time Herod was appointed ruler over Jerusalem given the name “King of the Jews”. Rome by this time was also overpopulated, relying heavily on the import of resources from Northern Africa and other regions through which Jerusalem was situated. Rome really needed stability and cooperation within the region of Israel to sustain its empire.

The Jewish people knew in their bones the story of Exodus, God’s promises for Israel and the prophecies of a new Messiah. They felt like it was their destiny and their promise to overthrow Rome and re-establish Israel. Judas the Hammer was an early example of someone who attempted this with some success although it ultimately ended in failure. Simon bar Kokhba was another, later attempt of this that also had some early success followed by ultimate failure.

This is the context Jesus appears on the scene, with Rome in control feeling they have divine authority for their empire with every incentive and power to suppress uprisings that happen to arise. And a Jewish people who feel their history in their bones, recorded in scripture, bound by covenant, looking forward to a restoration of their nation. Within the Jewish people, there were some who cooperated and found favor with Roman rule, and others who sought opportunities to undermine the empire in hopes of being worthy to help usher in the fulfillment of prophecy.

Jesus knew the history, understood the prophecies and through the course of his three year ministry, offered a completely different interpretation of its fulfillment in ways that even his closes followers had trouble immediately understanding.

The events that lead up to Christ’s resurrection follow a well documented series of events, timed to correspond to passover, the ritualistic celebration of Israel’s redemption from Egypt.

  1. Palm Sunday – Jesus rides triumphantly into Jerusalem, prophesied in Zechariah 9:9
  2. Monday – Jesus cleanses the temple.
  3. Tuesday – Jesus laments over Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives
  4. Wednesday – Rest
  5. Thursday – Passover and the Last Supper ((Zechariah 11:12-13)
  6. Friday – Trial, Crucifixion, Death and Burial
    1. Isaiah 53:4,7
    2. Psalm 22:16, 18
    3. Psalm 69:21
    4. Isaiah 53:9
  7. Saturday – Day in the tomb
  8. Sunday – Resurrection
    1. Daniel 12:2

First of all, aligning these events with the passover marks a transition. Just as Exodus transitioned God’s work from the familial to the national. Christ pushed this work out into the world. Christ’s work was most definitely both religious and political in ways that subverted both Roman and Jewish narratives. Romans needed this redemption just as much as the Jews. Their political systems needed redemption as well. Jesus work was radically non-violent and sacrificial. Jesus offered himself up as the sacrifice and it was through that sacrifice we find redemption, from both sin and death.

How Can We Make that Sacrifice Resonant In Our lives – Ideas Inspired by An Early Resurrection among other Sources

Christ’s sacrifice calls us into sacrifice. Christ’s death is an invitation for our death – the death of our old self and resurrection into a new life in Christ. This message of death and renewal is everywhere. The cold dark season of winter brings forth new life in the spring. The darkness of evening followed by the light of the morning. So, we are called daily to sacrifice our old self to a life in Christ, which means a life fully and completely connected and alive. In this sense death is a form of surrender. We give up realizing that on our own we are hopelessly not enough. Our best efforts will always come up short. We will eventually die. So we surrender in Christ and then become renewed in Christ. How is this done? In the way it’s always been done. We seal this intention through covenant and ordinance and then live into these promises through regular, daily efforts, through constant and consistent sacrifice and consecration.

I think we can look at what’s expected of us by looking at what was expected of Christ’s closest followers. The book of Acts provides a good example. In the lives of Peter, Paul, Stephen and others, we see to live in Christ means acting like Christ, becoming as Christ was, fully engaged in the world, attempted to redeem it through sacrifice, obedience and covenant.

That is the Easter message.