Bible Commentary: Exodus 34

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Exodus 34

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Covenant Relationship Renewed and a "Shining Example" 

Since Moses had broken the tablets of the Ten Commandments that God had given him previously, God instructs him to carve out of stone two more tablets so that God could again write His commandments, the basis of the covenant relationship between Him and His people. This was an act of tremendous mercy on the part of God, who, despite the Israelites' terrible disobedience, was willing to renew His covenant relationship with them.

God then passes before Moses, showing him part of His glory. As He does, He proclaims the glory of His character—focusing on His tremendous mercy and graciousness, the very thing that enables the covenant relationship to be renewed (verses 5-7). Yet He still warns that sin has consequences (verse 7). Upon hearing this, Moses is quick to again seek God's merciful pardon of the people's sins, also asking again that God would "go among" them (verse 9).

God's response? He renews the covenant relationship. And He begins this renewal with the wonderful announcement that He will do an "awesome thing" in driving out the inhabitants of Canaan from before the people (verses 10-12). The Israelites were to make no treaties with the Canaanites, to prevent their being corrupted by pagan customs and ideas. They were certainly not to adopt pagan worship practices.

God considered His relationship to Israel to be one of marriage (Jeremiah 3:1-14 Jeremiah 3:1-14 [1] They say, If a man put away his wife, and she go from him, and become another man's, shall he return to her again? shall not that land be greatly polluted? but you have played the harlot with many lovers; yet return again to me, said the LORD. [2] Lift up your eyes to the high places, and see where you have not been lien with. In the ways have you sat for them, as the Arabian in the wilderness; and you have polluted the land with your prostitutions and with your wickedness. [3] Therefore the showers have been withheld, and there has been no latter rain; and you had a whore's forehead, you refused to be ashamed. [4] Will you not from this time cry to me, My father, you are the guide of my youth? [5] Will he reserve his anger for ever? will he keep it to the end? Behold, you have spoken and done evil things as you could. [6] The LORD said also to me in the days of Josiah the king, Have you seen that which backsliding Israel has done? she is gone up on every high mountain and under every green tree, and there has played the harlot. [7] And I said after she had done all these things, Turn you to me. But she returned not. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it. [8] And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also. [9] And it came to pass through the lightness of her prostitution, that she defiled the land, and committed adultery with stones and with stocks. [10] And yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah has not turned to me with her whole heart, but feignedly, said the LORD. [11] And the LORD said to me, The backsliding Israel has justified herself more than treacherous Judah. [12] Go and proclaim these words toward the north, and say, Return, you backsliding Israel, said the LORD; and I will not cause my anger to fall on you: for I am merciful, said the LORD, and I will not keep anger for ever. [13] Only acknowledge your iniquity, that you have transgressed against the LORD your God, and have scattered your ways to the strangers under every green tree, and you have not obeyed my voice, said the LORD. [14] Turn, O backsliding children, said the LORD; for I am married to you: and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion:
American King James Version×
). For the Israelites to "play the harlot" with pagan gods (Exodus 34:15-16 Exodus 34:15-16 [15] Lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go a whoring after their gods, and do sacrifice to their gods, and one call you, and you eat of his sacrifice; [16] And you take of their daughters to your sons, and their daughters go a whoring after their gods, and make your sons go a whoring after their gods.
American King James Version×
)—to worship them or adopt their religious rites—was thus a kind of marital infidelity and spiritual adultery. But the phrase also had a direct literal application, as sexual rites with temple prostitutes, both male and female, was a major part of the disgusting and debasing pagan religions of the land the Israelites were to enter. Here, as with God's reaction to the golden calf incident in chapter 32, we see that pagan religious practices are abominable and utterly unacceptable to Him—something we should consider whenever we examine the origins of today's popular religious traditions and customs. Notice that God also warns in this context that intermarriage with those outside the true faith is a dangerous path that can lead to compromising His truth.

God then goes on to repeat some of the terms of the covenant that He gave in chapters 21-23. Exodus 34:26 Exodus 34:26The first of the first fruits of your land you shall bring to the house of the LORD your God. You shall not seethe a kid in his mother's milk.
American King James Version×
repeats the prohibition from 23:19 about boiling a young goat in its mother's milk. Regarding the earlier verse, The Jerome Biblical Commentary states: "The legislation in 19b (and in Dt 14:21) puzzled commentators for centuries; however, the discovery and publication of the Ras Shamra literature (UM [Cyrus H. Gordon, Ugaritic Manual, 1955] 52:14, "Birth of the Gods") have eliminated this conundrum. It is now clear that this practice was a cultic one among the Canaanite neighbors of the Hebrews. Hence, the Israelites were to refrain from it, lest they also adopt some of the Canaanite cultic inferences." Referring to the same verse, Matthew Henry's Commentary states: "At the feast of ingathering, as it is called (v. 16), they [the Israelites] must give God thanks for the harvest-mercies they had received, and must depend upon him for the next harvest, and must not think to receive benefit by that superstitious usage of some of the Gentiles, who, it is said, at the end of their harvest, seethed a kid in its dam's milk, and sprinkled that milk-pottage, in a magical way, upon their gardens and fields, to make them more fruitful next year. But Israel must abhor such foolish customs."

As we are to avoid customs that originated in pagan worship, it would still seem prudent to refrain from intentionally boiling a young goat in its own mother's milk. Yet, on the basis of the restriction in question, Orthodox Jews will not eat meat and dairy products together at all. In fact, these foods must be prepared in different places with different utensils in order to be considered "kosher" by them. The Jews see a general principle in these verses—that what was given to nourish life (milk) not be used to destroy it. However, this was clearly not God's intent. Abraham, who kept God's statutes and laws (Genesis 26:5 Genesis 26:5Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.
American King James Version×
), had Sarah prepare meat and milk products together to serve to God (the preincarnate Christ) and two angels: "So [Abraham] took butter and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree as they ate" (Genesis 18:8 Genesis 18:8And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat.
American King James Version×
). Thus, even God Himself, while manifested in physical form, ate milk and meat together. Yet some Jews, while admitting the restriction is a narrow one, will argue against eating meat and dairy products together on the basis that there might be a chance, however remote, that a particular milk product was derived from the mother of the animal being eaten. But if we applied remote possibilities to our diet in general, we could never eat anything, for fear that a molecule of something unclean had somehow gotten onto it. This is certainly not what God had in mind.

After being in the presence of God this time, Moses came down from the mountain with his face shining—a muted reflection of the glory that had shone upon him while in God's presence. It appears that this happened each time Moses met with God hereafter. Moses would then appear before the people—and they would know he had come from God because his face was shining. Then, as Paul later explained, he would put on a veil to conceal the fading of this temporary glory (2 Corinthians 3:7 2 Corinthians 3:7But if the ministration of death, written and engraved in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away:
American King James Version×
, 13). We may view Moses' shining face as typical of the glory of God's character as it is reflected in us. In seeing it, others will know that we represent God and have been close to Him. As time passes between our contacts with Him, our spiritual power and focus wanes, as does our example—something we don't want reflected. Then we go to God for renewal and are ready to let our light shine before others once again.


Supplementary Reading:  Be sure to read out booklet, Holidays or Holy Days: Does It Matter Which Days We Observe.