Westminster Theological Journal 44 (1982) 71-87

Copyright © 1982 by Westminster Theological Seminary, cited with permission.




                      A STUDY IN EXODUS 32-34










THE thesis of this paper is that the narrative of Exodus 32-34

is a basic unity, that it is more likely to stem from one original

hand than from a number of contributors plus the final redactor,

and that the connections and materials of the narrative itself re-

veal and support such a unity.  There is no claim here that diffi-

culties are non-existent--only that a real basic unity inheres in

the narrative if it is approached by way of its canonical presenta-

tion.  This in turn suggests a methodology: that the text is to be

approached holistically with a serious attempt to discern an inter-

nal consistency if it be there.  This is not to rule out the place of

(source) analysis; it is to say that analysis has a tendency to

begin too soon, and thus not really to "hear" the text.  Most of

our attention will be focused on literary concerns with some con-

cluding remarks about the theology of the unit.


                                    The Basic Unity of the Narrative


     First of all, it is necessary to deal briefly with the tradition of

32:1-6 which forms the backdrop for all three chapters.  It is, of

course, rather common to see this tradition taken as a polemic

against Jeroboam I's calf worship at Dan and Bethel, the tradi-

tion projecting the condemnation backwards in order to denounce

it out of the mouth of Moses.1  But this is open to question.  In 1

Kings 12 the cult stems from Jeroboam's initiative, while here


     1 So Martin Noth, A History of Pentateuchal Traditions (Englewood

Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1972) 143; George W. Coats, Rebellion in the

Wilderness (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1968) 185; and Ronald E.

Clements, Exodus (The Cambridge Bible Commentary; Cambridge:

CUP, 1972) 206. For Jeroboam, see 1 Kgs 12:26ff.





the groundswell comes from the people.  Moreover, if we are

intended to see Aaron in the role of Jeroboam, then the repre-

sentation is truly inept, for Aaron is here a sort of weak and

pressured victim, while Jeroboam appears as the strong instiga-

tor.  A more astute polemic than this would be needed--Aaron

would have had to be cast into more of an image of Jeroboam

than this.

     Some deny that Aaron's role in vv 1b-4 is original; the original

picture of vv 5f. shows him to be only a victim of the people's fait

accompli.2  Noth, who takes this view, bases the excision of vv

1b-4 on the idea that vv 21-24, which seek to excuse Aaron, are

secondary.  Thus his role in vv 1b-4 must be likewise.  I feel this

misses the intent of vv 21-24 (wholly aside from whether they

are original), for rather than excuse Aaron they tend to blast

him as a sort of Caspar Milquetoast.  There is no need to ques-

tion the unity of vv 1-6.3

     Incidentally, there may be good grounds for following NEB at

v 5a in repointing the form wayyar' as wayyira' (= "then Aaron

feared" instead of "when Aaron saw"; NEB follows Syriac;

against NEB, I would retain the plural verb of MT in v 4).  In

this case, the idea would be that when Aaron saw what the peo-

ple were making of the calf (v 4), he became alarmed and tried

to steer the affair back to some semblance of Yahwism by pro-

claiming a feast to Yahweh for the next day.  One could have a

diluted if not an orthodox Yahwism.4  Now let us consider the

larger complex.


     2 Martin Noth, Exodus (OT Library; Philadelphia: Westminster Press,

1962) 244f.

     3 B. S. Childs, The Book of Exodus (OT Library; Philadelphia: West-

minster Press, 1974) 558f.

     4 I have not dealt with the historical antecedents of the calf/bull worship

here.  See, among others, Lloyd R Bailey, "The Golden Calf," HUCA 42

(1971) 97-115, and John N. Oswalt, "The Golden Calves and the Egyptian

Concept of Deity," EvQ 45 (1973) 13-20.  Whatever kind of worship

this was intended to be, the cultic confession ("these are your gods, Israel,

who brought you up from the land of Egypt," 32:4, 8) with its plural sub-

ject and verb ('eloheyka . . . he'eluka) shows the writer branded it as

idolatry.  The plural subject and verb are sometimes thought to fit Jero-

boam's two calves more appropriately (1 Kgs 12:28), but this ignores the

fact that there was only one at each cult center, thus making the plural

no more suitable for 1 Kgs 12 than for Exod 32.  On the problem of the




     1.  Evidence of structural design supports the unity of chap. 32.

     If one considers the flow of chap. 32 (through v 29) a definite

pattern seems to emerge.  In tabular form it would look like this:


Idolatry originates, vv 1-6                Idolatry discovered, vv 15-19a

Expression of Yahweh's wrath,        Expression of Moses' wrath,

                                    vv 7-10                                   vv 19b-21 (or, 20)

Quest to conciliate God,                  Quest to conciliate Moses,

                                    vv 11-13                                             vv 22-24

Total judgment restrained,                Partial judgment executed,

                                    v 14                                                     vv 25-29


     Viewed as such the narrative appears to have a thematic,

parallel development.  Of course this is true only of the extant

text.  However, a common literary analysis holds the basic nar-

rative to have consisted only of vv 1-6, 15-20, 35,5 while vv 7-

14 are usually suspected as being Deuteronomic.  This latter

point--aside from vv 25-29 (see below)--wipes out three

elements of the narrative as depicted in the above table.  How-

ever, it is only with vv 7-14 that the chapter possesses the

symmetry I have attempted to sketch.  It might be observed that

part of the problem rests with vv 7-8: they are held to be too

anticipatory of vv 15ff. as to make Moses' wrath inexplicable

since he would have known everything beforehand.6  Yet Driver

sees no difficulty here:  "Moses' anger may naturally have been

kindled by the spectacle of the doings in the camp, the full char-

acter of which he did not before realize."7  Childs would also

retain vv 7-8.8  Of course, if the extant narrative does possess

this structural unity it may simply mean that it has been so

arranged by a redactor using his various materials in a skillful


"Jeroboam" and "Aaron" traditions, one would do well to ponder the

comments of historian Marc Bloch, The Historian's Craft (New York:

Vintage, 1953) 123f., 130f.

     5 J. P. Hyatt, Exodus (New Century Bible; London: Oliphants, 1971)

301; also Georg Beer, Exodus (HAT; Tubingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1939)

153, except for vv 17-18.

     6 Elias Auerbach, Moses (Detroit: Wayne State, 1975) 123.

     7 S. R. Driver, The Book of Exodus (Cambridge Bible for Schools and

Colleges; Cambridge: The University Press, 1911) 350.

     8 Childs, Book of Exodus, 559.




manner.  This is recognized.  However, one of the main reasons

for dividing the chapter is usually its alleged lack of unity (see

most commentaries).  It is the latter which is being questioned


     There is another manner in which the narrative may be viewed

which may indicate a conscious unity behind it.  This pattern

centers around the sequence in which key persons and items are

introduced.  It may be set out as follows:


      People rebelling, v 1

           Aaron's role, vv 2ff.

                 Calf produced, v 4

                       Two tablets intact, vv 15-16

                       Two tablets broken, v 19

                  Calf destroyed. v 20

            Anger at Aaron, vv 21-24

        People judged, vv 25-29


     This pattern indicates that the primary elements of the narra-

tive are introduced in a particular order in the first portion of

the chapter and then are "picked up" and dealt with in exactly

the reverse order in the second half of the chapter.  Insofar as this

may betray conscious literary design it argues for the unity of

the piece.

     The key function of vv 15-16 in this scheme should be ob-

served.  The full and elaborate description of the tables is neces-

sary and reveals the literary skill of the narrator.  This intense

dwelling upon the two tables seems meant to underscore the vast

privilege of Israel in having this gracious divine deposit; yet at

the same time it most effectively conveys to us the sense of utter

tragedy, for the reader already knows that the covenant has been

bartered away for a bastard bull.  Again, this would appear to be

literary artistry at its best.

     Finally, the effective contrast between the beginning and the

end of the main narrative in chap. 32 should be appreciated.  In

vv 1-6 the people gather (qhl) to Aaron, who proves to be a false

leader, for rebellion and sin; while in vv 25-29 the Levites gather

('sp) to Moses, the true leader, for Yahweh and in order to exe-

cute judgment on sin.  Thus there is set up a vivid contrast between

"the true congregation" and the false one.  The contrast may




mean that vv 25-29 are as "original" as vv 1-6, an anathema to

most commentators.

     However, with vv 25-29 the question arises as to whether this

tradition does not owe its existence to a time when the rights of

Levites were being questioned, so that these verses then consti-

tute a levitical apology in face of some need.  Obviously the

shadow of Jeroboam again casts itself upon the passage, for he

clearly excluded Levites from being priests in his royal sanctu-

aries (1 Kgs 12:31).  Is this tradition then meant to justify the

levitical claim to priestly office?9  Not necessarily.  If one can put

some stock in the tradition of 2 Chr 11:13-17 (also 13:8ff.), the

primary response of the priests and Levites was not to argue for

their rights but to emigrate to Judah.  Moreover, it is just as pos-

sible that a tradition like vv 25-29 may explain why Jeroboam

did not want the likes of the Levites around--they weren't the

type that cooperated with new religious deals.


     2.  The coherence and progression in Moses' intercession binds

all three chapters together.

     For purposes of discussion, Moses' intercession will be divided

into the following rough segments: 32:9-14, 32:30-34, 33:12-17,

33:18-23, 34:5-10a.  The first section, 32:9-14, begins with

Yahweh's announcing his intention totally to consume (Piel of

klh) the people and begin all over with Moses (vv 9-10).  How-

ever, after Moses' reasoned and impassioned plea, we read that

"Yahweh repented about the punishment [lit., evil] which he had

thought of bringing on his people (v 14).  Please note:  there is

not one word about forgiveness in this section.  The only success

with which Moses' intercession meets is Yahweh's withdrawal of

threatened total extinction.  The text itself gives no ground what-

ever for inferring any idea of forgiveness or restoration to favor.

Such must be read into the text, and commentators commonly do

just that as can be seen via their comparisons of this section with

32:30ff.10  The two sections are not in parallelism (not doublets)

but in progression, 32:9-14 only dealing with the turning away

of Yahweh's immediate and totally consuming wrath.

     In 32:30-34 Moses does plead for Israel's forgiveness even to


     9 See Noth, Exodus, 250£.

     10 Thus Childs, Book of Exodus, 560, 571; Hyatt, Exodus, 303.




the degree of losing his own life if such forgiveness cannot be

obtained.  And his plea is rejected! Forgiveness is at the least

delayed; it is not yet granted.  However, the theme of 32:13 is

picked up in v 34.  Thus the idea probably is that Yahweh, who

must be true to his word, will then fulfill the covenant promise

which Moses had pleaded in 32:13, albeit in a "distant" manner

(see below).  Moreover, although the sentence of immediate

extinction was withdrawn (32:14), the guilty ones will still

meet retribution at some time in the future (vv 33, 34b).  The

main advance that 32:30-34 makes on 32:9-14 is in Yahweh's

assurance of fulfilling the gift of the land to Israel.

     The following verses, 33:1-4, expand on what was involved

in "my angel will go before you" (32:34).11  Again we hear, "I

will send before you an angel" (v 2), and now we understand

this as a judgment when we read, "But I will not go up in your

midst" (ki  lo' e'eleh beqirbeka, v 3).  Yahweh, then, promises

a remote help rather than an intimate presence.  The latter is still

forfeit; the former is granted in order to fulfill his promise to the

patriarchs.  The impression received is that Yahweh can only ful-

fill his "bare" word--the former intimacy is gone.  However,

even in "lest I consume you along the way" (v 3) there is yet a

hint of grace.  It is too perilous for Yahweh's presence to accom-

pany them, and thus in mercy he withholds it.  Thus the basic

problem is twofold and interrelated:  Yahweh's presence and

Israel's forgiveness.12

    The next movement in the motif of Moses' intercession occurs

in 33:12-17.  Moses is evidently dissatisfied with the vagueness

of the "angel promise"--"You have not made known to me

whom you will send with me" (v 12).  However, a new and cru-

cial datum appears in this section:  the special standing of Moses.


     11 I recognize the grammatical roughness of 33:1-4 in MT.  However,

this does not obscure the essential meaning.  Nor do I apologize for taking

33:1-4 as a harmonious and natural explanation of 32:34.  Since all hands

acknowledge the extreme difficulty of analysis in chap. 33 (see Childs,

Book of Exodus, 584), no objection can really be lodged against taking

these verses as consistently explicative of 32:34 (so U. Cassuto, A Com-

mentary on the Book of Exodus [Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1967] 425).

     12 Hyatt, Exodus, 312-313, sees an inconsistency between Yahweh's not

going up among the people in v 3 and his promising to send an angel in

v 2.  However, this is because Hyatt identifies the angel of v 2 with that

of 23:20ff.




That Moses uses the first person in v 13 shows beyond a doubt

that the "I know you by name and, furthermore, you have found

favor in my eyes" in v 12 was limited to Moses.  That is, the second

person singular in v 12 was not corporate (the people) but

personal (Moses).  Moses seeks for fuller explication of God's

ways, attaching to his plea a hint of his desire to include the

whole people with himself in the hoped-for answer ("consider

that this nation is your people," v 13).  Whether v 14 is taken

as a question ("Shall my face go with you ?") or as a statement

is of little immediate concern.13  Moses latches on to this neces-

sity of Yahweh's personal presence in vv 15-16 as the sine qua

non of Israel's existence.  But what is especially significant is

Moses' tenacious way of seeking to include the people with him-

self as, objects of Yahweh's favor, as his insistent "I and your

people" (twice) in v 16 reveals.  Moses contends that it is in

Yahweh's "going with us" that they are unique among nations.

Yahweh's response in v 17 seems to show that he has granted

Moses' plea, because Yahweh views Israel's representative with

favor.  There is still no explicit word about forgiveness.  That it

would be implied in the renewed promise of Yahweh's personal

presence may well be so, but for the purposes of the narrative

it is not yet stated.  Even now there remains a certain suspense;

the tension has not completely ceased.14


     13 I prefer to read 33:14 as a question though it is without the regular

interrogative particle.  This is not impossible (GKC, sect. 150a), and the

text flows more logically if so construed.  It is taken interrogatively by

Beer, Exodus, 158; W. Beyerlin, Origins and History of the Oldest

Sinaitic Traditions (Oxford: Blackwell, 1966) 103; and M. Buber, Moses:

The Revelation and the Covenant (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1958)

155.  I might say that I am assuming panim ("face") to be virtually

identical with personal presence.  So if Yahweh's face will go with them it

means that the verdict of 33:3, 5 has been reversed.  This follows Cassuto

(Commentary, 434), who points to 2 Sam 17: 11 as showing face = person.

W. Eichrodt disputes this view (Theology of the Old Testament [Phila-

delphia: Westminster Press, 1961-67] 2.37f.) but more on the basis of

source division than solid argument--and sources are singularly elusive

in Exod 33.

     14 Two additional comments:  (i) My treatment of only the successive

movements in Moses' intercession makes Yahweh's reversal of his verdict

of 33:3 appear abrupt.  It should be remembered that at least one, possibly

two, "repentance scenes" intervene (33:5-6,7-11), which will be discussed

later.  (ii) I cannot agree with those who see the crux of vv 12-17 in the




     The division or separation of 33:18-23 from the foregoing

passage (vv 12-17) is arbitrary to be sure.  Yet since it intro-

duces one to the theophany of 34:5ff., I have severed it from

its foregoing context in order to consider it now in conjunction

with the final segment of Moses' intercession, 34:5-10a.

      Yahweh responds to Moses' prayer to see his glory by promis-

ing to show Moses his goodness and to proclaim his name,

Yahweh, which is related in 34:5-10a.  The revelation there given

perfectly answers to the concerns which have burdened Moses'

prayers hitherto.  It is precisely the proclamation of 34:6-7 which

Moses and Israel need to hear.  At last the covenant breakers

are assured of finding forgiveness in this God who "takes away /

forgives iniquity and rebellion and sin."  In this climactic procla-

mation the tension is finally relieved.  The basic progression in

Moses' encounters with Yahweh should be fairly clear.  First,

total extinction is averted, that and nothing more (32: 9ff.).  Next,

forgiveness is sought and refused, though a remote kind of help

is promised to fulfill the promise of the land (32:30ff.).  Then,

Yahweh's previous verdict is reversed and his full personal

presence is again assured (33:12ff.; but this is only done be-

cause Yahweh regards the mediator graciously and not for any

merit on the part of the people, v 17).  Finally, the forgiveness

for which Israel hangs in the balance is offered and declared

(34:6ff.).  There appears to be a coherent and conscious progres-

sion involved.

     Further, it may not be amiss to see a special significance here

in the proclamation of the name, Yahweh.  I do not mean at this

point to kindle all the debate that can rage over the derivation

of the Tetragrammaton.  However, I am reasonably convinced

that the most satisfying explanation (because it is based on actual

context) of its meaning in Exod 3:14-15 is found by linking

it to the preceding ki 'ehyeh 'immak ("But I will be with you")


idea that Sinai is regarded as the real place of the divine presence and

that what Moses is concerned about is Yahweh's presence with them when

they leave Sinai (so Noth, Exodus, 257; cf. Clements, Exodus, 214).

There is no need to see any other problem except that of the narrative

context--the rebellion and covenant-breaking of Israel.  Moreover, it is

clear from 34:5 that Yahweh's presence is not glued to Sinai, for he

"comes down" to appear on Sinai.  It is simply the place where he manifests





of 3:12.  This would indicate that Yahweh is the Present One, the

One who is there with his own to act in their behalf as they have

need.15  If this is cogent, the proclamation of Yahweh's name here

in 34:6-7 may well be most appropriate to Israel's existential

situation posed in the preceding narrative:  despite their covenant

breaking Yahweh is nevertheless willing again to be the Present

One for them, to go with them.  Should this be granted, it would

nicely fit the problem of the divine presence with which Moses

had been grappling.

     Both "prongs" of Israel's dilemma are brought together in

Moses final prayer of 34:9.  This verse ought not to be separated

from its context (as Beyerlin, Origins, 90ff., does).  It fits per-

fectly with all of the foregoing.  The petition, "May my Lord go

in our midst" (yelek na' 'adonai beqirbenu), is the final plea

regarding the "presence problem" and is directly related to the

"hard word" of 33:3 (lo' 'e'eleh beqirbeka, cf. also 33:5).  The

second request--"and pardon our iniquities and our sins"--

relates to the other aspect of the problem, the solution of which

had just been offered in Yahweh's climactic proclamation (vv

6f.).  It should be observed that Moses speaks of "our midst,"

"our iniquities," "our sins."  There is real identification with his

people.  Verse 10a reads naturally as a sequel to Moses' last

it, prayer--"Look! I am cutting a covenant" is the divine response

of renewed favor.

     This writer then holds that the motif of Moses' intercession

forms a unifying thread for these chapters, that it follows a step-

by-step pattern to its triumph, and that it betrays conscious

literary design.  It is Moses' version of Jacob's wrestling:  'I will

not let you go until you bless your people.'


     3. The sections about the ornaments and about the tent of

meeting (33:4-6 and 33:7-11) consistently fit their niche in the

narrative as repentance and Judgment motifs.

     These sections are most problematical and puzzling in one

sense.  The purpose here is not to untie all the critical knots but

to suggest that these sections do make relatively good sense in


     15 See Morris S. Seale, The Desert Bible (New York: St. Martin's,

1974) 154-156.  See too M. Greenberg, Understanding Exodus (New York:

Behrman House, 1969) 81f., and K.-H. Bernhardt, "Hayah," TDOT 3.





the narrative sequence where they are now placed.  In the "orna-

ments" section, v 4 suggests a spontaneous laying aside of this

jewelry in response to Yahweh's "evil" word refusing his pres-

ence in their midst, while vv 5-6 specify a permanent custom

imposed by Yahweh.  At any rate, the main idea seems to be

one of grief, and repentance, which stands appropriately here.16

How does the tent of meeting section function within the nar-

rative?  Basically, we contend, as a judgment motif in the face of

Israel's forfeiture of Yahweh's presence.  Though vv 7-11 may

appear as a kind of "floating" passage, it is nevertheless grounded

in the context.  It paints an immediate contrast to the action of

the people in vv 4-6, since in its opening phrase, "And Moses

took" (umoseh yiqqah), the position of the subject before the

verb form "expresses antithesis or marks a parallelism with the

action of another subject."17  Thus while the people are stripping

off their ornaments in mourning the loss of Yahweh's presence,

Moses, on his part, pitches the tent of communion outside the

camp where he will experience Yahweh's presence.  The fact that

the tent of communion is now placed outside the camp serves as

a visible parable of Israel's predicament--the loss of Yahweh's

presence.18  He cannot dwell in their midst, precisely as he had

said (33: 3).  So there is a stark contrast between the people and

Moses:  Yahweh will commune with him, even "face to face" as

one speaks intimately with his friend (v 11).  Moses is distinctly

set apart from the people,19 a distinction that is clearly presup-


     16 Some scholars (e.g., Beer, Exodus, 157) assume that there must have

been an account of the making of the ark here originally (i.e., that's what

the ornaments were used for), which has subsequently dropped out.  This

is to argue from utter silence and without any hard evidence.

     17 Cassuto, Commentary, 430.

     18 George Bush, Notes, Critical and Practical, on the Book of Exodus

(Andover: Gould & Newman, 1841) 2.229-230.  The question of the "tent

of meeting" ('ohel mo'ed) is beyond the proper scope of this paper.  Cer-

tainly the tent of meeting here (vv 7-11) is not to be identified with that

of the tabernacle (27:21ff. passim).  Many, link 33:7-11 with Num 11:16-

17, 24, 26; 12:5, 10; and Deut 31:14-15 and see in these an alternate

tradition to that of P's tabernacle, viz., one that knew of a simpler struc-

ture outside the camp; see, e.g., G. Henton Davies, "Tabernacle," IDB

4.502.  However, a close reading of these additional texts (Num 11, etc.)

indicates that there is no insurmountable problem in identifying their

'ohel mo'ed with (P's) tabernacle.

     19 Buber, Moses, 153-154, draws attention to the fact that in 33:7 Moses



posed in his intercession that follows (33:12ff., see above).  It is

as if he alone yet stands in covenant with Yahweh.20  Observe

that in 34:3 only Moses the mediator is to be involved in the

covenant renewal.


     4.  The covenant (renewal) of 34:10-28 most suitably relates

to the preceding narrative in its contents as well as its context.

     The covenant of 34:10ff. cannot be discussed without reference

to 34:1-9.  Initially there appears to be a critical consensus about

chap. 34.  Though it is customarily recognized as a covenant re-

newal within its present textual form, it is common for scholars

to excise the two references to the "first" covenant tablets in v 1,

the similar reference in v 4, and the "ten words" clause of v 28b,

and then to view it as J's counterpart to E's Sinai covenant.21

How to explain chap. 34 then becomes the task, and it is at this

point that the apparently solid phalanx of opinion scatters in

radically different directions.22  This writer is not contending that

such disparity of opinion is necessarily a support for the view

that will be argued here.  He does contend that such diversity at

least suggests that a consideration of the obvious (the canonical

context as primary rather than secondary) is a valid option.

Indeed, the unwillingness of most to allow chap. 34 to be a genu-

ine covenant renewal is a little mystifying.  Though it is a truism,

it is worth pointing out that those who refuse to see a covenant

renewal here must purge the evidence which opposes them if

taken as it stands.  One may be accustomed to such procedure,

but it should be remembered that it is most suspect in principle.


pitched the tent "for himself" (lo).

     20 So J. H. Hertz, The Pentateuch and Haftorahs (2nd ed.; London:

Soncino Press, 1960) 361.  The verbs of 33:7ff. are usually construed as

"frequentive" (= "used to "), being determined by the initial

imperfect yiqqah.  I have no objection to this, though, as Cassuto (Com-

mentary, 429-430) has well observed, weqara' (called/named) hardly fits

a frequentive pattern.  Cassuto would also exclude yiqqah (took) and

wenatah (pitched) from the frequentive category.  Possibly we are to

understand vv 7ff. as a practice initiated" in the situation depicted and

continued thereafter (much like the relation between v 4 and vv 5-6).

     21 Hyatt, Exodus, 318, 322; Clements, Exodus, 220£., but seemingly

retaining "ten words"; Beer, Exodus, 159£.; also Childs, Book of Exodus,


     22 Cf. Childs, Book of Exodus, 604-607, for an excellent survey.




Perhaps it is at least fair to ask whether the necessity (?) to

see chap. 34 as J's version of the Sinai covenant is not a desperate

attempt to save J from a culpable omission in his materials or

oneself from re-examining tenets of one's critical orthodoxy.23

     In considering 34:10-28, I intend to approach it primarily in

terms of its contents rather than its form (covenant-treaty? legal

code?), though the latter is certainly not without its interest.

Observe that the primary demand running through vv 12-17 is

for total loyalty to Yahweh.  This section emphatically under-

scores the peril of pagan idolatry, warning of its seductions,

glowing in the white heat of a God whose name is Jealous.  No

more suitable covenant demand could be made on the former bull

worshipers.  Furthermore, it is noteworthy that in all of vv 10-28

there is not one word about the relationships between Israelite

and Israelite, as in Exodus 21-23.  Nor is this silence at all

astounding if the real burden of this covenant was to address

Israel's existential situation as it existed in the wake of 32:1-6,

the very connection implicit throughout the extant text.  In fact,

this is precisely the rationale behind the prohibition of "molten

gods" ('elohe massekah) in v 17--it must be a clear broadside

to the "molten bull-calf" ('egel massekah) of 32:4.  To wonder

why only molten gods are mentioned here and find it rather

inexplicable24 is to have missed what the canonical context itself


     At v 18 the emphasis shifts toward cultic matters, in which

mention of the main feasts is prominent (vv 18, 22f., 25f.).  Nor

does this seem coincidental. Rather, the delineation of Yahweh's

proper feasts serves as a splendid antithesis to Aaron's sorry

excuse for a "feast to Yahweh" in 32:5.  It is a way of setting


     23 On chap. 34 Hyatt (Exodus, 318) states that there is "little indica-

tion that this is in fact a renewal" apart from the notations of it in vv 1,

4.  Actually, however, this amounts to saying that there is little indication

of renewal here apart from the fact that the text does say just that.  I must

beg pardon if this sounds too polemical, but it causes one logical anguish

to see the invocation of a later redactor for whatever elements do not fit

the predominant theory--seemingly without serious consideration of at

least the possibility of the integrity of the extant text.  See K. Baltzer, The

Covenant Formulary (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971) 41-42, for one

who seems to retain the renewal idea here, even though he too favors tak-

ing the renewal phrases of vv 1, 4 as redactional.

     24 As do Hyatt, Exodus, 324, and Noth, Exodus, 263.




it, the true cult over against the bull cult. In this view the concentra-

tion on ritual matters is really no surprise.  To have the decalogue

of chap. 20 here would have been irrelevant to what had just

transpired.  The stress, therefore, on proper cultic practice in this

kind of setting is merely another way of seeking to enforce that

undeviating loyalty to Yahweh demanded in vv 12-17.

     Finally, a suggestion might be entered regarding v 27 in which

Yahweh is addressing Moses.  The last words of the verse read:

"I have cut with you a covenant and with Israel" (karatti 'itteka

berit we'et yisra'el).  It is common to regard "and with Israel"

as a later addition to the text,25 and one can see how this could

be assumed since we'et yisra'el stands rather isolated at the end

of the clause, being severed from its coordinate 'itteka by the

intervening object berit.  However, I would propose that we'et

yisra'el is deliberately elliptical in order to be pointedly dramatic.

It then artistically rounds off the whole burden of the preceding

chapters, especially in regard to Moses' intercession.26  It would

fit link up beautifully with the "I and your people" concern of

Moses in 33:12-17 (see above).  It is the gracious Jealous One

uttering the climactic assurance of pardon for which Moses had



     25 See, e.g., Beyerlin, Origins, 78.

     26 Note how the last phrase ("the king of Assyria") of Isa 7:17 is

"dropped" for effect at the very end of the Hebrew construction; see E. J.

Young, The Book of Isaiah (NICOT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965-72)


      27 Space prohibits any lengthy discussion of individual elements in 34:

10-28, especially of some which may be regarded as late (e.g., D redactor

in vv 11-16, 24, according to Hyatt, Exodus, 319).  These brief notes must

suffice.  (i) On vv 11b-13 one might note the sense of imminent anticipation

it reflects; there is no hint of Israel's having endured the battering of the

wilderness wanderings.  This proves nothing.  Yet it does indicate that the

piece authentically portrays Israel's situation in terms of their history in

the given text.  If it is a backward projection it is well done.  (ii) Verse 24

must be quite early (contra Noth, Exodus, 264; Hyatt, Exodus, 325), as

one could hardly imagine such an ideal view emerging amidst post-conquest

or post-settlement realities; nor could one expect much extending of bord-

ers in 7th century Judah.  (iii) The "house of Yahweh your God," v 26

(cf. v 24c), does not necessarily point to D.  In the ancient world it would

simply he assumed that a god would have a house.  The contrary would be

strange.  (iv) One might also note that the prohibition of v 26b (boiling a

kid in its mother's milk) evidently refers to a pagan ritual practice




     I have tried to sketch what appears to me as a transparent and

virile linkage between ch. 34 and its preceding context.  It is held

that this perspective more satisfactorily accounts for the problems

involved, and, if accepted, it means that ch. 34 should be allowed

to stand as a true covenant renewal.


     5. The veil tradition (34:29-35) forms a connected and mean-

ingful conclusion to the narrative complex.


     Literary analysis tends to assign this little piece to P28 while

tradition analysis understands it as an attempt to explain Moses'

veil, pointing to the analogy of the priest's mask in ancient reli-

gion.29  These matters are not the main concern now.

     These verses are not as unconnected as they may appear at

first sight. Instead their primary emphasis well relates to the

preceding account of Moses' receiving the covenant on Sinai.

Cassuto observes that the text refers three times to Moses' speak-

ing to Yahweh (vv 29, 34, 35), three times to Moses' speaking

with Israel (vv 31, 33, 34), and once to Yahweh's speaking to

Moses (v 32)--seven times in all.  Such an emphasis hardly

seems accidental.30  At any rate, it makes for a firm link to the

foregoing covenant renewal and is concerned with the communi-

cation of that revelation to Israel, though it is also cognizant of

Moses' passing on future revelation as well (vv 34-35).

     Could there be more than this intended, particularly in refer-

ence to Moses' veil?  I would propose the possibility of both a

positive and negative function of the veil in light of the preceding

canonical context.  The fact that Israel sees Moses' face while he

is speaking Yahweh's word to them would suggest their restora-

tion to covenant favor.  It was precisely the light of Yahweh's


(Childs, Book of Exodus, 485-486; d. P. C. Craigie, The Book of

Deuteronomy [NICOT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976] 232-233).  It too

would be a stipulation meant to promote and insure sole allegiance to


     28 Beer, Exodus, 13, 159; Hyatt, Exodus, 326.

     29 Noth, Exodus, 267; Clements, Exodus, 225.  Note that, according to

the text (vv 33, 35), Moses was unveiled when speaking to the people

and only veiled himself after he had communicated Yahweh's word to

them.  The veil was not worn when Moses was addressing the people as

Clements, for one, appears to suppose.  This seems then to be a strange

function for a priestly mask; maybe Moses' veil was only a veil.

     30 Cassuto, Commentary, 451.



presence they had bartered away and from which they had been

excluded.  Now they possessed a clear sign of renewed acceptance,

viz., the radiance of Yahweh’s glory reflected from Moses' face.

Yahweh's word was thus accompanied by a kind of assuring


     Yet there is also a negative touch, for after Moses would con-

vey Yahweh's word to them he would place the veil over his face.

Is it stretching the matter to view this action as a visual aid meant

to remind Israel of their nearly fatal apostasy, a kind of "caution

light" intended to lead them to ever fresh repentance?  Thus the

covering of the radiance would symbolize for them the catastrophe

of rebellion.  The significance of the veil then would be a dual one;

it would serve as both a true comfort and a needed check.  Should

this suggestion be valid, these verses would form a most suitable

capstone to the whole narrative edifice.

     The purpose of this major section has been to furnish evidence

for taking Exodus 32-34 as an essential unity.  It should be said

that this in itself does not decide date(s) and/or writer(s).  Its

main concern is the integrity of the narrative.  The unity of a

narrative could be imposed by a redactor far down on the literary

time-line.  The matter can be involved.  I personally incline toward

seeing but one hand behind a well-constructed, unitary narrative.

The work of a committee is not likely to achieve such a standard

--much less if the committee's work extends over long reaches

of time.


Concluding Theological Footnotes


     Though the literary question is the primary focus of this study,

it is proper to conclude by indicating certain theological themes

which these chapters underscore. Indeed my conviction is that

until one views this material as a literary totality he will have no

feeling for its theological potency (i.e., as a general principle:

only sane and sympathetic criticism can yield rich biblical theol-


     One theme centers around the rebellion of the people.  This note

is obviously rooted in the basic event of 32:1-6 and is emphati-

cally underscored when Israel is described four times as "a peo-

ple stiff of neck" ('am qeseh 'orep; 32:9; 33:3, 5; 34:9; this exact

phrase is found only two other times, Deut 9:6, 13, both of which



are in a context where the event of Exodus 32ff. is being re-

counted).  And such rebellion is costly:  in all of chaps. 32-34

Yahweh never calls Israel his people (not even in 34:10).31  If

anything, they are Moses' people (32:7; 33:1; 34:10).  The

ornament section (33:4-6) and the veil tradition (34:29-35;

see above) indicate that Israel was to remember her rebellion, to

keep it always before her in order to live in repentance and true

humility, to realize that the proper decor for the people of God

is sackcloth and ashes.

     A second theme is the cruciality of a mediator or, in traditio-

historical terms, the greatness of Moses.  This theme pervades

the passage and was highlighted in the discussion of his inter-

cession.  It is Moses who "brought us up out of the land of Egypt"

(32:1), of whom Yahweh promises to make a great nation (32:

10), who intercedes repeatedly, persistently, and successfully,

who has authority to "dress down" Aaron (32:21ff.), with whom

Yahweh speaks "face to face" (33:11), who requests a view of

Yahweh's glory and is granted a theophany (33:18ff.), who re-

flects Yahweh's glory with radiant face (34:29ff.).  Yet the

greatness of Moses is also seen in his humiliation:  he rejects the

offer to become covenant father (32:10) and "empties himself"

to share the covenant curse (32:32).  However, it is especially

with respect to the intercession motif that one could say that

Moses is so crucial that Israel's destiny hangs on his girdle.  This

does not suggest some "merits of Moses" idea32 but does try to

take account of him as covenant mediator and as evidently the

only Israelite still in covenant fellowship with God and unstained

by the smear of apostasy.  Yet it must be noted that even Moses

has perimeters that limit him.  He cannot see the "bare" glory of

Yahweh (33:20), and, though he ever remains the bold and

adventurous supplicant, he nevertheless remains a supplicant.33

Here we see but a forerunner of the One Mediator.


     31 The word 'am (referring to Israel) is used 33 times in chaps. 32-34;

9 times in the mouth of Yahweh, 9 times in the mouth of Moses (he is

the one who calls them "thy [Yahweh's] people"), once by Aaron, and 14

times by the narrator.

     32 The narrative grounds forgiveness not in the merits of Moses (32:33)

but in the mercy of Yahweh (33:19; 34:6-7).

     33 The first chapter of John seems to pick up on this idea of Moses'

limits in Exodus 33-34 and to draw some contrasts between Moses and



     The grace of Yahweh is a third emphasis.  Surely, the centrality

of 34: 6-7 ought to be recognized in such a connection.  But the

process should be observed as well as the climax (which is why

the whole text must be held together).  The long, arduous labor

of the intercessor, the depicting of the restoration to favor in a

progressive but deliberate pattern--this stresses more graphi-

cally than any mere statement that Yahweh's grace is not cheap

grace!  He is not the easy-going, grandfather god of the popular

lyrics who "though it makes him sad to see the way we live, he'll

always say, 'I forgive.' "  There is more tension than that in the

God whose name is Jealous!  His grace is abundant and profound;

but whatever it is, it is not softness.  These chapters skillfully

present to us the necessary tension in the God who is both loving

and just, both gracious and holy.  They do not explain how

Yahweh's grace and holiness kiss each other, but they do preach

grace in such a way that we both fear Yahweh's wrath yet rejoice

--with trembling--under his unexplainable grace.

     Finally, there is a theology of revelation implicit in our mate-

rial.  Yahweh speaks with Moses "face to face" (33:11) yet that

does not dispense with the necessity of the cloud (33:9-10) .

Yahweh's servant may look upon what glory is given him to see,

but he is yet shielded from seeing anything more than the "after

effects" (33:18ff.; contrast John 1:18b !)--while the sinful peo-

ple can scarcely tolerate a reflected glory (34: 30).  Thereby one

understands that here is a God who may be intensely intimate yet

elusively invisible.  The former should answer the deepest needs

of his people; the latter should keep them from going around

making calves.


Reformed Theological Seminary

Jackson, Mississippi 39209


both the Logos and believers in the Logos; I have worked out some of

these parallels/contrasts in an unpublished paper, "A Greater Than Moses:

Old Testament Background in the Prologue of the Fourth Gospel (1980).


This material is cited with gracious permission from:

            Westminster Theological Seminary

            Chestnut Hill

            Philadelphia,  PA   19118


Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at:  thildebrandt@gordon.edu