Moses’ New Covenant

The account of Israel’s sin with the golden calf is flanked by the instructions for the Tabernacle and the construction of the Tabernacle. Israel breaks the Covenant and God makes a “new” one. As an easily-defined pericope, what are the chances that this section is “Covenant-shaped”?

The Covenant-Literary Structure of Exodus 32-34

As usual, once the boundaries of the passage under analysis are identified, best practice begins with a bird’s eye view. In this case, the subheadings of the ESV reflect perfectly the heptamerous structure of the account, necessitating only the addition of a title to chapter 32. Once this is done, the seven sections of the pericope can be seen not only to recapitulate the Covenant process, but also to refract beautifully the fundamental themes of the first seven books of the Bible, most of which, of course, were not in existence when these events occurred.

Creation: The Priesthood Corrupted (Exodus 32:1-35)
Genesis: The promises to Abraham were “Land” promises. But just as Adam was created in the Land and placed into the “Garden” as a kind of Firstfruits, so now Israel has matured to the point where the nation can be given priestly authority. The establishment of false worship by Aaron thus corresponds to Adam’s deference to the “wisdom” of the serpent. Israel’s desire for “gods who shall go before us” as tools of victory subverts the Lord’s authority in a similar fashion.1For more discussion on the significance of the golden calf, and the Covenant-structure of this chapter, see God Gave Them Up.

Division: The Command to Leave Sinai (Exodus 33:1-6)
Exodus: Just as Adam was sent from the Garden-sanctuary into the Land promised to him, but without the full blessing of God, so Israel is here commanded to go up to the Promised Land but without the presence of God, lest He consume them. The Exodus motif is here tied to the “de-glorification” of Israel when they are stripped of the ornaments which they had plundered from the Egyptians.

ETHICS 1 – Priesthood: Day 3
Ascension: The Tent of Meeting (Exodus 33:7-11)
Leviticus: Just as the Tabernacle and its priesthood were later expanded and glorified by David and Solomon as an established Temple, so here we see the  original tent which would soon be glorified as the Tabernacle. Like the tent of Noah, this tent served as a portable Sanctuary, a glory-cloud, a gate of heaven. In the Tabernacle architecture, Ascension corresponds to the Bronze Altar (as the Land) and the Table of “Facebread.” Here, Moses speaks face to face with God as a friend, or confidant, and this appears at the Oath step of this passage. Since the “firstfruits” table (Day 3) is also a promise of the greater glory of Day 7, this reference to Moses’ face gives us the reason for its glorification in the final section of the pericope. Interestingly, at the Succession step of the passage is the mention of Joshua, who would succeed Moses. Within the greater structure, this positioning of Joshua makes him an image of Moses, a “son” on the altar, lifted up as a kind of firstfruits.

ETHICS 2 – Kingdom: Day 4
Testing: Moses’ Intercession (Exodus 33:12-23)
Numbers: Moses demonstrates his spiritual might through intercession, wrestling with God in His heavenly court for the sake of the people, just as Abraham parried with God for the righteous in Sodom. This is true kingdom. God’s face is hidden from Moses as he is “passed over” on the mountain as Israel’s legal representative. Architecturally, the Lord reveals Himself as the true Lampstand, a burning bush on the mountain. This substitutionary act renders the broken tablets obsolete.

ETHICS 3 – Prophethood: Day 5
Maturity: Moses Makes New Tablets (Exodus 34:1-9)
Deuteronomy: Just as Moses would repeat the Law to a new generation of Israel after the condemnation of their parents in the book of Numbers, so here he makes a “new covenant” to replace the broken tablets. This time, the Lord passes before him on the mountain.

Conquest: The Covenant Renewed (Exodus 34:10-28)
Joshua: The Lord makes the Oath, reiterating the Mosaic Covenant, and the Sanctions are spoken in sacrificial-symbolic terms which reveal the Levitical order to be an expression of the promises to Abraham concerning the fruit of the Land the womb. This time, Moses needs no bread or water for the forty days, contrasting his priestly meekness with “Adamic” Israel who “ate and drank and rose up to play,” grasping kingdom before God’s time.

Glorification: The Shining Face of Moses (Exodus 34:29-35)
Judges: The intention of the Covenant process is the investiture of Man as God’s legal representative, or elohim. Just as Israel was to represent God to the nations, and represent the nations before God once in Canaan, judging wisely through self-government, here Moses’ glorification as the face of God prefigures the glorification of Christ, and possibly also reveals what was intended for Adam on Day 7. But Israel, like Adam, would fail to enter into God’s rest, and require purification and requalification through death and resurrection.

As hinted above, each of these seven sections also follows the Covenant-literary pattern, which highlights many more details as significant allusions to past events and prefigurements of future ones.

If you are new to this method of interpretation, please visit the Welcome page for some help to get you up to speed.

References   [ + ]

1. For more discussion on the significance of the golden calf, and the Covenant-structure of this chapter, see God Gave Them Up.

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