Monday, March 24, 2008

The Second Ten Commandments: Exodus 34

This post is part of a revolutionary Bible commentary by the Church of the Orange Sky.

After being mooned by God, Moses heads up the mountain again for the latest set of rules. Because Moses broke the first set of stone tablets, God promises to make a new pair. Strangely, the new Ten Commandments have nothing to do with the old ten (or at least, what we call the old Ten Commandments. These ones are, in order: don't make treaties with foreigners; don't make idols; celebrate the annual feasts; give every firstfruit and firstborn animal to God; respect the Sabbath; and don't cook a young goat in its mother's milk (there are actually ten commandments but I've combined a few for the sake of brevity). Interestingly, God requires Moses to write this set of commandments, perhaps because he's still grumpy over the original set getting smashed up. That's kind of strange because originally God promised to write on them at the beginning of the chapter. The new rules are specifically called "The Ten Commandments" in v. 28, leaving us to speculate as to when the Jews pulled a switcheroo and left us with the other Ten from chapter 20.

It might be going too far to call God insecure, but his introductory remarks to Moses in ch. 34 seem unnecessarily long and descriptive, and a trifle misleading, from what we've seen to date. God descends in his magic helicopter and announces, "The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation." He seems to have forgotten that a couple of days before, he was on the verge of annihilating the entire tribe, before Moses convinced him to rethink the plan.

God has grown increasingly concerned about the pagan tribes inhabiting Israel's promised land. He actually orders Moses twice not to "make a treaty with those who live in the land." All religious icons and idols are to be destroyed, and there is to be no intermarriage. God has little faith in his people, claiming that "when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices. And when you choose some of thier daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same." So, Israelite boys must not go out chasing the pagan girls. Fall for a pagan chick, and you'll fall for her god. You might think that a God with routinely impressive and devastating miracles would attract the wives of his followers, not lose them to some other god, but clearly this isn't the case.

Moses comes down the mountain and, unbeknownst to him, God has made his face glow. The Israelites are as afraid of a man glowing in the dark as we would be today, so they shy away from him. Eventually Moses approaches the leaders of the community and all the Israelites follow, to receive the new sets of commands. He takes advantage of the new glowing-face trick to institute another barrier of separation between himself and the people: Moses will now wear a veil except when he is meeting privately with God, and except when he emerges from those meetings to speak on God's behalf.