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Relationship to Exodus. In chapters 1-18 Israel was brought into bondage in Egypt and then delivered by God through his prophet Moses. In chapters 19-24a God and Israel entered into the Sinai Covenant, in which Israel promised to obey God but no other gods, and God promised to give Israel the promised land of Canaan. Here in chapters 32-34 Israel breaks the Sinai Covenant, Moses repeatedly intercedes for Israel, and the covenant is renewed. The relationship of Chapters 32-34 to the rest of Exodus is discussed at Exodus.
Story. Chapters 32-34 consists of four major sections:
- Chapter 32a: Israel worships the golden calf, and Moses intercedes that God not destroy Israel. God sends Moses down from Mount Sinai because the Israelites have already broken the Sinai Covenant and the First Commandment by making and worshiping a golden calf. God announces his intention to destroy the Israelites and begin a new people all over again descended just from Moses. Moses intercedes with God to not destroy the Israelites.
- Chapter 32b: Moses punishes Israel and intercedes that God not blot out Israel from his Book. When Moses arrives in the Israelite camp, he breaks the two stone tablets. He also burns the golden calf, grinds it into powder, spreads it on the water and makes the Israelites drink. he also sends the Levites through the camp killing about 3,000 men. He also confronts Aaron for his role in the idolatry. Moses then intercedes with God that he not blot out Israel from his book.
- Chapter 33: God punishes Israel, and Moses intercedes that God accompany Israel into Canaan. God announces his intention to not go up into the promised land of Canaan with the Israelites. Moses speaks with the Lord face to face outside the camp. Moses intercedes with God a third time, this time that God go up into the land of Canaan with Israel.
- Chapter 34: Moses intercedes again that God go among Israel, and God blesses Israel by renewing the Sinai Covenant. Moses goes back up into Mount Sinai, where God announces his name. Moses intercedes again with God that he go among Israel. God again covenants with Israel, through Moses, to give Israel complete possession of the land of Canaan, conditioned on obedience to a few key commandments.
Outline. An outline of the complete book of Exodus, including Chapters 32-34, is found at Exodus: Outline and page map.
Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Chapters 32-34 include:
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- Ex 32:1-8: Israelites reject the king and law of Zion. Zion can be thought of as requiring four components: (1) a king; (2) a people; (3) a place; and (4) a law. (See the discussion of the components of Zion at Deuteronomy). Here at Mount Sinai, the 1st Generation that Moses led out of Egypt rejects both the king and the law of Zion when they make a golden calf to worship, instead of God, and in violation of the very first of the Ten Commandments that have just been received. (Ex 32:1-8). Later in Numbers, still less than two years out of Egypt, the 1st Generation will also reject the place of Zion (Num 14:1-4, 10), prompting the Lord's rejection of the 1st Generation as his people. (Num 14:12-35 (discussion)).
- Ex 33:11. This verse tells us that Moses and Lord spoke face to face the way someone speaks to their friend. Verses 20-23 suggest that Moses was not yet ready to see God's face. How can we explain the apparent contradiction in these passages of scripture in the same chapter? One possible explanation is that though Moses spoke face to face with the Lord he didn't actually see his face in doing so. This would be possible if their faces were separated by the vail of the temple (see Exodus 26:31-33).
- Another possibility is that the verses were written by different authors with differing viewpoints on the ability of prophets to actually see God.
- While this verse provides obvious theological support for the LDS doctrines surrounding the nature of God (i.e., God as a tangible, exalted man), it also provides insights into the nature of a prophet. Moses enjoys dialogue with God similar to dialogue between friends. This seems similar to the relationship Joseph Smith had with the Lord. In fact, in several revelations the Lord refers to Joseph (and others) as his friends (see, e.g., D&C 84:77, 93:45, 94:1). But such special relationships with the Lord (extending to being physically in his presence) appear rare. It highlights the importance of the position of a prophet. While spiritual gifts are available to all, prophets apparently have special access.
- Ex 33:20. This verse tells us that no man can see the face of the Lord and live. Other scriptures (e.g. [[Moses 1:11], Ether 3:13) teach us that some people have seen the face of God. (Is verse 11 of this same chapter one of those?) D&C 84:21-23 explains that it is through the ordinances and authority of the priesthood that we can see the face of God. Further these verses explain that Moses worked so that his people could share in this blessing, i.e. so they also could see the face of God.
- Ex 34:12: A covenant with the inhabitants of the land. See Judg 2:2 when Israel made a league with the Canaanites.
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Prompts for life application
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Prompts for further study
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- Ex 33:21-23: Though we know from other scriptures that people can see God D&C 84:21-23 these verses suggest that Moses was not yet prepared to see God's face. Thus we know through the ordinances of the priesthood that people can see God. In light of this, how do we make sense of these verses?
- Ex 34:7: What does it mean for the Lord to "visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon he children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation?"
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Translations and Lexicons.
Joseph Smith Translation
- The Joseph Smith Translation made changes to the following verses in Exodus 32-34. This list is complete:
- Ex 32:1, 12, 14, 23, 35
- Ex 33:1, 3, 20-23
- Ex 34:1-2, 4, 7, 14, 35
References cited on this page.
- Wayment, Thomas A., ed. The Complete Joseph Smith Translation of the Old Testament, p. 121-24. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2009. (ISBN 1606411314) BX8630.A2 2009
- Ex 34:27-28. See this comment and many other comments in this longish thread regarding how these two verses might be read from a literary vs. Documentary Hypothesis perspective.
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- Wayment, The Complete Joseph Smith Translation of the Old Testament, p. 121-24.