*Exodus 30:11-12. “Then YHVH spoke to Moses, saying: ‘When you take the census of the children of Israel for their number…” “Take the Census” is “to raise up (Ki Tisa) the heads”, in some ways similar to our English expression “to take a head-count.” This was to be accompanied by a ransom—a shekel tax, being paid by everyone counted. It was essential to follow their LORD’s instructions for this, otherwise the people would find their protection lifted and themselves opened to plague (vs 12). Perhaps it was through neglect of these instructions that King David would bring plague upon his own people in II Samuel 24.
In 2009 a ½ shekel coin for the Second Temple period [see below] was discovered by archaeologists sifting rubble discarded by Palestinians from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. This past year, an extremely rare 3000 year-old counter-weight used in measuring silver for the ½ shekel coins from the First Temple period was unearthed. Next weekend March 2nd (the Sabbath preceding the beginning of the 2nd month of Adar) will be the date for the annual remembrance of this tax in synagogues throughout the Jewish world (The tax is not presently taken, since there is presently no temple in Jerusalem), but the passages relative to it are read along with the Torah Portion.
*Exodus 31:2-5. “See, I have called by name Betzalel… and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom in intelligence, in knowledge, and in all craftsmanship, to design artistic works…and I, indeed I, have appointed with him Aholiav… and in the heart of all gifted artisans [Heb: wise-hearts] I have put wisdom to make all I have commanded.”
The name Betzalel means, “In the shadow of God.” Aholiav means, “Father is my tent.” We are all creative beings, made in the image of our Creator. Some have been granted a special measure of creative gifting in order to artistically fashion articles (or sounds) which will reflect certain aspects of God’s glory and thus bring Him honour (such artists are called “wise hearts” in Exodus 28:3). The safe place for all with such callings is under the shadow of the Almighty (Psalm 91:1)—within the tent of our Father (Psalm 27:5). It is He who desires to fill artists (there are many artistic skills mentioned here) with His Spirit to “make all that He commands.” Tragically, at the very time these instructions were being given to Moses on the mountain, Aaron (most certainly not moving under “the shadow of God”), was being coerced by the desires of those around him to use his creative gifts in fashioning an idol (Ex. 32:4). Rather than being used by the Holy Spirit to aid the people in worshiping the true God, the creative fashioning of his hands would itself be worshiped.
PLEASE PRAY: for godly “Betzalels” and “Aholiavs” to be nurtured and brought forth in Israel today, that they will move in a humble awareness that their creative gifts, wisdom, intelligence, knowledge and craftsmanship are from God, to fulfill a work for His glory—His is their high destiny. Pray that they seek to be filled by His spirit—and resist the spirit of the world which seeks to divert the creativity of the children of Adam (who were made in the Image of a creative God) away from honoring their Maker. Pray that they realize that He knows them and (as with Betzalel) calls them by name!
*Exodus 31:17. “It [i.e. the Sabbath] is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days YHVH made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He ceased work and was refreshed.” We should be cautious about saying things like “Although God ceased work on the seventh day, it wasn’t because he was tired and in need of a rest, etc.” Of course there are mysteries here deeper than we can understand; nevertheless, this passage states clearly that on the seventh day God “ceased work and was refreshed.” The Hebrew word for “refreshed” literally could be rendered “was souled”. So David could confidently speak of the LORD as One who intimately understands his weary servant’s needs so as to “restore my soul!” (Psalm 23:3).
Exodus 32:1-5, 19. The children of Israel were a people sovereignly chosen and set-apart by God. Last week we saw how from among these people Aaron and his house were themselves chosen to minister before the LORD as His priests (Exodus 28:1). And of course, Moses was raised up from birth to oversee and lead the people. Yet it will become abundantly clear in this reading that none of these callings, choosings, and positionings were because of the righteousness of the people; alas, all are under sin (Romans 3:9). That will have to be faced, acknowledged and dealt with. The people, who, a short time before, had twice promised “with one voice,” even in the context of covenant, that “All the words which YHVH has said we will do…we will be obedient” (Exodus 24:3, 7)—this people, after Moses is gone for less than a month, abandon their promise and demand of Aaron to make new gods to go before them (32:1). Aaron, who had been warned against giving in to “mob rule” (23:2), under the first pressure does exactly that—in so doing breaking the 1st and 2nd Commandments. He then breaks God’s command (20:23) not to “make anything to be with Me” by proclaiming a feast to YHVH along with the worship of the idol he has just fashioned. And Moses, to whom God had given the tablets of stone, Commandments which would be the basis for all other Law, tablets which God had written, to be used by Moses in teaching the people (24:12)—tablets which were themselves the “work of God” upon which was engraved the “writing of God” written with “the finger of God” (32:16; 31:18)—Moses, in a fit of anger, pays no attention to all of that and smashes them to pieces.
*Exodus 32:11-13. “Then Moses pleaded with the LORD his God [Hebrew: ‘yearned after the face of YHVH his God’] and said, ‘LORD, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people…Turn from Your fierce wrath and relent from this harm to Your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, “I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your seed, and they shall inherit it forever.” In Exodus 32:32 Moses continues to stand in the gap, pleading that they be forgiven for their sin.
PLEASE PRAY: for spiritual leaders to have the zeal, unction, love and grace to seek the face of God on behalf of errant Israel; to prevail in intercession to turn away His just wrath that His eternal will for her will be fulfilled on earth as it is in heaven.
*Exodus 32:19. “So it was, as soon as he came near the camp, that he saw the calf and the dancing. So Moses’ anger became hot, and he cast the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain.”
PLEASE PRAY: for the souls (Psalm 25:1, 20) of Israeli spiritual leaders—that they not be controlled by their emotions—that they allow the Holy Spirit to work His self-control. There is a place for godly zeal, but the “anger of man does not work the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). It would be an eruption of this same anger some time later which would in the end bar Moses from entering the Promised Land.
*Exodus 33:7-11. “Moses took his tent and pitched it outside the camp, far from the camp, and called it the ‘tent of meeting’. And it came to pass that everyone who sought the LORD went out to the tent of meeting which was outside the camp…And it came to pass, when Moses entered the tent, that the pillar of cloud descended and stood at the door of the tent, and talked with Moses…So the LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he would return to the camp, but his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tent.”
In Exodus 25:22, the LORD had given instructions regarding the disposition of the Mishkan (Dwelling Place/Tabernacle) so that He might meet at appointed times with a representative of His people. But here, Moses prepares a place so that he or anyone else might choose to make his own appointed meetings with God—and God honoured those times with His presence! Although His face would not be seen (vs 20), He nevertheless met face to face with those who chose to draw near. Alas, besides Moses, only Joshua (who would one day be prepared to lead Israel into Canaan) appears to have taken advantage of this wonderful opportunity.
PLEASE PRAY: For Israeli believers, in all the rush and hurry, to go beyond ‘head knowledge’ of the Law and the Prophets and the Gospel—and avail themselves of the privilege of setting aside a ‘place’ for private, intimate times Face to Face with God!
*Exodus 33:15. “Then he said to Him, ‘If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here…”
Here the word “presence” is literally “Face”. Psalm 44:3 says, “It was not by our sword that we took the land, nor did our arm bring us the victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the Light of Your Face, for You loved us!”
*Exodus 33:13, 18. “Now therefore, I pray, if I have found grace in Your sight, show me now Your way, that I may know You and that I may find grace in Your sight. And consider that this nation is Your people….Please, show me Your glory.”
PLEASE PRAY: for leaders in Israel (both believers and those still secular), to like Moses be moved to call on the LORD for guidance to be shown His way. Pray that we find grace in His sight, that our leadership will be fueled and heartened by longings after his Glory and glimpses of His Beauty (Psalm 27:4).
*Exodus 33:18-19. “And he said, ‘Please, show me Your glory.’ “Then He said, ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you…’”
We think it to be very significant that although Moses requests to be shown the LORD’s glory, what is first necessary is a revelation of His goodness. Doubts as to that goodness were among the first strategies used by the Evil One in the Garden, and is still what he attempts to use to undermine our faith today. The most-repeated song of Faith in the Scriptures is, “Give thanks to the LORD for He is good, and His kindness endures forever.” And David was convinced that since the LORD was his shepherd, “Goodness and kindness will pursue me all the days of my life” (Psalm 23:16), and would have despaired had he not had faith to see the “goodness of the LORD in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13).
Exodus 33:21-22. “And the LORD said, ‘Here is a place by Me, and you shall stand on the rock. So it shall be, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and will cover you with My hand while I pass by.”
Centuries later, the prophet Elijah fleeing from the wrath of Jezebel would come to this same mountain; and the Hebrew of I Kings 19:9 (directly following this week’s Haftarah reading) says very clearly that He went into the cave to spend the night—and there the Word of the LORD came to him. Jewish teachers have traditionally identified this cave with that same “cleft” in which Moses had been placed by God.
*Exodus 33:22-23. “So it shall be, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and will cover you with My hand while I pass by. Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen.”
Might there be significance in the fact that the word translated “hand” is not that usually used for hand, but the word for “palm”? In answer to Moses’ request to be shown the LORD’s “glory”—God had responded that His goodness would pass before him…a Goodness which in following verses (34:6-8) would be shown to include forgiveness—the very “bearing away of sin.” Might the “goodness” in the One who would descend and stand with him there (vs.34:5) have included a glimpse of what those palms and that back would one day be required to bear on Man’s behalf?
*Exodus 34:6-7. “YHVH, YHVH-Elohim, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in loving kindnesss and truth (Hebrew: chesed v’emet), keeping loving kindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…”
The Hebrew word used here for “forgiving” is nasah (That for “pardon” in vs 9 is a different word). Nasah has to do with “lifting, carrying, bearing away”—something which only God Himself would be able to do for the “iniquity, transgression and sin of thousands”. This is the word used in Hebrew translations of John 1:29 when John announces the Son of God, “Behold! The Lamb of God who bears away the sin of the world!”.
– Your Friends in Jerusalem
[The readings for next week (24 February—2 March 2019) are called VaYa’khel—“And He Assembled”: TORAH: Exodus 35:1—38:20 + Shabbat Sh’kalim: Exodus 30:11-16; HAFTARAH: II Kings 12:1-17]