The Word Made Fresh
1The LORD said, “Moses, make two more stone tablets like the ones you broke. I will write on them the words that were on the first two. 2Have them ready in the morning and bring them up to the top of Mt. Sinai. Present yourself to me there. 3Come alone and don’t allow anyone to be seen anywhere on the mountain. Do not even allow the flocks and herds to graze at the foot of the mountain.”
4Moses chiseled out the two stone tablets and rose early the next morning and climbed Mt. Sinai with the tablets in his hands as the Lord had told him. 5The LORD came down in the cloud and stood with Moses on the mountain and Moses heard the name, “The LORD,” announced, 6and the LORD was there, and Moses heard a voice call out, “The LORD, the LORD, warmhearted and gracious and abounding in love that is steadfast and faithful, 7demonstrating love to thousands and forgiving sinfulness and law-breaking and sin; in no way ignoring the guilty, but laying the guilt of parents on their children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation.”
8Moses immediately bowed his head in worship, 9and said, “If you approve of me, O Lord, I beg you to go with us. Yes, this is a stubborn people, but forgive our mistakes and our sins and claim us as your own.”
10“This is my promise,” said the LORD. “In sight of all your people, I will do things that have never been done on the earth or in any nation. All the people you live among will be witnesses to my deeds, and what I do with you will be unsurpassed. Listen to what I’m telling you today: I will drive out from before you the Amorites, Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. 12By no means are you to make treaties with the inhabitants of the land you are going to. If you do, it will entrap you. 13You must pull down their altars and shatter their stone markers and overturn their idols, 14because you must not worship any other god. I, the LORD, am a jealous God. 15Do not make any agreements with inhabitants in the land. If you do, their ritual prostitutes will entice you to honor their gods, and they will be very inviting to you and, before you realize what you are doing, you will be dining on their animal sacrifices. 16You will wind up marrying their daughters to your sons, and they will prostitute themselves before their gods and entice your sons to prostitute themselves as well.
17“Do not cast any idols.
18“Don’t forget to observe the feast of unleavened bread. For seven days the only bread you may eat during the observance must be without yeast, just as I specified. It is to be observed during the month of Abib, because that is the month you came out of Egypt.
19“Every firstborn animal from among your livestock, cattle and sheep, belongs to me. 20A donkey’s firstborn colt must be bought back, redeemed from me by sacrificing a lamb. If you do not redeem it, you must break its neck. All your firstborn sons must be redeemed as I commanded.
“No one should come before me empty-handed.
21“You may work for six days, but you must rest on the seventh day, even in planting time and harvest time.
22“You must keep the celebration of weeks at the beginning of the wheat harvest and during the harvesting at the turn of the year.
23“On three occasions every year all your men must appear before the LORD, the God of Israel, 24because I am going to remove the peoples you encounter and increase your territory. No one will dare attempt to take your land when you go to appear before the LORD on those three occasions.
25“Never use yeast with the blood of sacrifice, and never keep the Passover sacrifice overnight.
26“The best of the harvest you must bring to the LORD’s house.
“You must not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.”
27Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write down these words, for these words are part of the agreement I have made with you and Israel.”
28Moses was with the LORD on the mountain for forty days and nights and ate no bread and drank no water. He wrote on the tablets of stone the words of the agreement, the ten commandments.
29Moses came down the mountain and as he descended with the two tablets containing the commandments, he did not realize that his face was shining because he had been with God. 30When Aaron and all the Israelites saw him they were afraid to approach him, 31but Moses called out, and Aaron and the leaders of the people came, and Moses spoke with them.
32Then all the people gathered around, and Moses shared with them the laws the LORD had given him on Mt. Sinai. 33When he finished speaking with them he covered his face with a veil. 34Whenever he went to speak to the LORD he took the veil off, and when he returned and told the Israelites what God had said to him, 35the Israelites would see his face shining, and then Moses would replace the veil and keep it on until he went in to speak with the LORD again.
1-9: On the earlier occasion God had given Moses the two tablets inscribed with the commandments (31:18). This time Moses is to cut two tablets like the first ones, and is to take them up the mountain alone. No one else is to be seen in the area, and the animals are not even allowed to graze in front of the mountain. The LORD comes down upon the mountain in the cloud and stands with Moses and proclaims God’s name and nature. “The LORD” (Yahweh) is the revealed name of God that was given to Moses during Moses’ encounter with the burning bush (3:13-15). “Merciful and gracious” are attributes of God found mostly in the Psalms (Psalm 85:15, 103:8, 111:4 and 145:8). This is the only place in the Torah where those attributes are given. Verse 6 contains the first occurrence of “slow to anger” as an attribute of God, and it suggests that God is becoming more patient over time dealing with these cantankerous people. Showing “steadfast love to the thousandth generation,” and “visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children to the third and fourth generation” was what God said when Moses was given the Ten Commandments (see 20:5-6). Moses begs God to reconsider and go with them.
10: In response, God offers a new covenant and promises to perform even greater marvels than they have yet seen.
11-16: God gives Moses instructions that will apply when they enter the land to which God is going to lead them. God will drive out the indigenous people from the land and warns Moses not to make treaties with any of them or else they will be enticed to intermarry and that will lead to worship of the pagan gods of the land. Their religious shrines are to be destroyed.
17: There follows a potpourri of laws, some of which echo the ten commandments, like this one forbidding the casting of idols (like the one Aaron cast for the people the first time Moses was up there).
18: The keeping of the festival of unleavened bread, or Passover, was given even before they left Egypt (see chapter 12).
19-20: The offering of firstborn animals and redemption of firstborn sons was covered in chapter 13.
21-24: The keeping of Sabbath and observance of three festivals is repeated.
25: Some of the Passover rules are repeated.
26: The rule about offering of first fruits and the curious taboo against boiling a kid in its mother’s milk are repeated.
27-28: Some confusion surrounds these verses. What exactly is Moses to write, the Ten Commandments or the grab-bag of rules just iterated? And who is going to write the words of the Ten Commandments, Moses or the LORD? The text presents the curious possibility that two sets of tablets are being prepared.
29-35: This second encounter with God leaves a visible glow on Moses’ face so that he wears a veil from then on except when he goes into the tent to speak with the LORD. However, the veil is never mentioned again in the Old Testament after this chapter, leaving the impression that the shining face is a temporary condition. Paul uses this story of Moses’ veil as a metaphor for the stubbornness of the Jews (2 Corinthians 3:13-18).
A great deal of care is taken to ensure that the Israelites will not be influenced by the religious practices of the people in the land they are going to. All the rules and regulations they are given during their time in the wilderness result in shaping religious practices that God approves. We will learn that the lure of some of the fertility cults in the promised land will be hard to resist. It should be a lesson for us as well in our own day and time: be faithful in your worship of the LORD, creator of heaven and earth, and resist being allured by promises of fame and fortune and popularity.