Today’s reading begins with the calling of Oholiab and Bezalel to craft the Tabernacle furnishings and concludes with a description of Moses after his encounters with God.
Oholiab and Bezalel were specifically singled out by God to craft the furnishings of the Tabernacle. Apparently these two men were highly skilled in crafting objects and God desired for their skill sets to be used. It must have been quite a high and holy honor for these two men to have been singled out as God’s craftsmen. After the calling of Oholiab and Bezelel, God gave some additional instructions to Moses regarding the Sabbath on two stone tablets that were written with the finger of God.
During this extended instructional period, the people of Israel became restless. They believed that Moses had died on the mountain and that he would not be returning. The people lost faith in God and desired to make for themselves idols of gold that they could see and touch. They lacked faith in the unseen God. The story of how the people came to have the golden calf and then the aftermath of this are at once tragic but also leaves one to shake his head.
The people request of Aaron that he make them a golden calf for a god that they could worship. Aaron agrees and has all of the people who desire this idol bring him gold. Aaron takes the gold and fashions it into a golden calf. God tells Moses to go back to his people because they have committed sin before God. Upon seeing what the people have done, in a fit of anger, Moses throws down the tablets the God had written and breaks them.
When Moses questions his brother Aaron as to what happened, Aaron gives Moses a ridiculous and–if not for the sinfulness of the act–comic explanation: “So I said to them, ‘Let any who have fold take it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.” Really, that was Aaron’s explanation as to how the golden calf came to be. This sin led to tragic consequences because at the command of Moses, the sons of Levi went through all of the camp and slew three thousand men. In addition on the following day, God sent a plague amongst the people to punish them for their sin.
After this time, God commanded Moses to leave the wilderness of Sinai and make their way towards the land of promise. The LORD, still angered by the actions of the people in making an idol, told Moses that he intended to wipe out the people and make a new nation beginning with Moses and his descendants. Moses interceded on behalf of the people and God relented from the destruction that He had intended.
God revealed Himself to Moses and allowed him to glimpse His glory, though not of His face, but of his back. God had a special relationship with Moses and this special event gave Moses confidence that God would be with him for the journey to the Promised Land. Due to the fact that Moses had destroyed the first tablets that God had given him when he was angered by actions of the people Israel, the LORD had to once again write the laws for the people of Israel. Moses cut two tablets of stone and for one last time he went up the Mount of Sinai and God rewrote on the stones the law that he had given Moses at the first.
Moses was with God on Mount Sinai for 40 days and nights without food or water and when he returned his face was glowing with the glory of God’s presence. From that point forward, Moses uncovered his face in the presence of the people to instruct them as to what God had told him, but would then place a veil over his face afterward. Moses only uncovered himself when he went in to speak with the LORD in the tent of meeting over which the glory of the LORD descended and to relay the instructions of the LORD to the people. At all other times he kept his face covered.