March 9, 2012

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Biblical readings: Concluding the Book of Exodus

John F. FinkChapters 22 through 40 of the Book of Exodus are the biblical readings in the Office of Readings next week, although several of the chapters are skipped. They give details about the building of the dwelling for the Ark of the Covenant and of the Ark itself, and rules regarding the offering of sacrifices.

After God gave Moses the Ten Commandments in Chapter 20, he continued to establish other laws. Chapter 21 contains laws regarding slaves, personal injury and property damage. Next week's Office of Readings, though, begins with Chapter 22 "you shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt" (Ex 22:20). It's a commandment repeated often in the Old Testament, including only 20 verses later.

There follow numerous other laws that the Israelites were expected to obey. One of them, "You shall not boil a kid in its mother's milk" (Ex 23:19b), became the kosher rule that Jews may not eat meat and dairy products in the same meal.

The Israelites had a ceremony during which they ratified the covenant with God. Then God called Moses back up Mount Sinai to give him the stone tablets on which he had written the commandments. Moses was gone for 40 days. The Office of Readings then skips Chapters 25-31.

When he had been gone such a long time, the Israelites wondered what happened to him. Even though they had just ratified their covenant with God, the Israelites resorted to idolatry, breaking the First Commandment—and Aaron went along with them.

He made a golden calf that the people worshiped, identifying it with the gods who brought them out of Egypt.

Centuries later, King Jeroboam did something similar, making two golden calves and telling the people, "Here is your God, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt" (1 Kgs 12:28).

God was angry with the Israelites, who "so soon turned aside from the way I pointed out to them" (Ex 32:8), and threatened to destroy them. But Moses pleaded with God, much as Abraham had done, and God relented.

But Moses, too, was angry with the people so he "threw the tablets down and broke them on the base of the mountain. Taking the calf they had made, he fused it in the fire and then ground it down to powder, which he scattered on the water and made the Israelites drink" (Ex 32:19-20).

God then renewed his covenant with the Israelites. This time, he shows himself as "a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity, continuing his kindness for a thousand generations, and forgiving wickedness and crime and sin; yet not declaring the guilty guiltless" (Ex 34:6-7).

Again, Moses stayed 40 days and 40 nights on the mountain while God prepared new tablets containing the Ten Commandments.

The Book of Exodus ends with the erection of the dwelling place for God. "In the daytime the cloud of the Lord was seen over the dwelling; whereas at night, fire was seen in the cloud" (Ex 40:38). †

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