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Exodus can be discussed as the part of the Pentateuch which is developed with references to the Yahwistic, Priestly, and Deuteronomistic sources. Exodus 34:1-10 presents the story of the covenant’s restoration important for Israel because of renewing the connection with God and focusing on the further survival of Israel due to God’s grace and forgiveness.
Thus, the chapters of Exodus “express a great dramatic moment in Israel’s life with Yahweh”1. The basic concepts which are discussed in Exodus 34:1-10 are the sin of the Israel people, the redemption, and the establishment of new covenant relationship with Israel people based on forgiving the nation and providing them with the laws which are necessary to be followed because God’s mercy is closely connected with responsibility of people to keep the covenant relationship.
Authorship and Historical Context
Authorship of Exodus 34:1-10 is a rather controversial question because different researchers are inclined to concentrate on various versions. Thus, there is no one idea on the authors of the Pentateuch, and the emergence of the Exodus text is closely associated with the Yahwistic, Priestly, and Deuteronomistic sources.
However, it is also important to note that theologians discuss Moses as the author of many parts of Exodus. Theologians also provide different visions of dates associated with the development of events described in Exodus and with the writing of the Book of Exodus.
There are ideas that Exodus as the Departure from Egypt took place during the middle of the 13th century or during the 14th century B.C.E.2 As a result, the Book of Exodus, including Chapter 34, was written during the second part of the 14th century B.C.E.
The historical context of Exodus should be discussed referring to the departure of the Israel nation from Egypt as the main event associated with the narrative presented in Exodus. The events depicted in Exodus took place in Egypt where the Hebrews lived during a certain period of time. The conditions of the Hebrews’ living in Egypt and changes in the political powers of the lands made the Israel nation be oriented to Exodus.
In Exodus 34:1-10, God speaks to Moses at Mount Sinai where the Hebrews located during the first years of the period depicted in the chapters of Exodus. However, Exodus 34:1-10 as the narrative cannot be discussed as the source of historiography because there is not enough factual information to conclude about the historical aspects of the Hebrews’ departure from Egypt3.
That is why, reliability of the chapters’ content is discussed with references to the historical context and credible historical sources. Nevertheless, the textual traditions used in the chapter as well as references to the historic events allow the further discussion of Exodus 34:1-10 in the context of Israel nation’s history.
The Analysis of Exodus 34:1-10
Exodus 34:1-10 focuses on presenting the story of restoration the covenant relations of Israel nation and God with the help of Moses. To provide Israel people with a chance to be forgiven, God and Moses restore the relations based on the definite rules fixed on the stone tablets similar to those ones which were earlier broken. In Exodus 34:1-4 God asks Moses to chisel new stone tablets in order to present God’s laws and commands again.
Moses is commanded to go to Mount Sinai alone and with the tablets. These tablets can be discussed as symbolizing obedience to God’s will which should be presented in the laws fixed on the tablets. Moreover, being asked to prepare the tablets and go to Mount Sinai alone, Moses performs a kind of a ritual which is necessary in order to restore the covenant4.
While preparing the tablets and following the conditions provided by God, Moses is inclined to demonstrate his obedience. The next stage of restoring the covenant is the direct interaction of God and Moses. God reveals his name repeating it two times. However, in Exodus 34:1-10, God not only proclaims his name but also reveals his real nature and intentions in relation to Moses, to the Hebrews, and to any people in the world.
Moses receives the direct message that God is compassionate, gracious, and slow to anger, moreover, God is abounding in love, God also focuses on faithfulness and forgives people’s sins. However, the completeness of God’s nature is presented in the words that God always punishes the guilty5. Forgiving God is just in actions, and God’s mercy is realized when people are responsible for their guilt.
Thus, the main concepts on which this part of the chapter is based are God’s generosity, forgiveness, faithfulness, and justice. In spite of the Hebrews’ previous actions, God demonstrates his graciousness and provides the survival. These intentions are depicted in the next part of the Exodus.
Moses worships God, and He emphasizes the wonders and marvels guaranteed for the nation because of following God’s will. In this case, the direct accentuation of God’s actions is presented. It is possible to speak about the revelation of God with references to His specific actions according to which wonders can be demonstrated to the Israel nation as a result of the covenant relations.
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Focusing on the statement about the wonders and marvels which were never done for people before, it is possible to speak about the hyperbolic language used to present the graciousness of God6. From this point, the wonder is the symbol to accentuate God’s forgiveness. The advantage of the restored covenant in providing the Hebrews with the opportunity to experience God’s mercy revealed through His wonderful actions.
Thus, “Moses has offered a concluding intercession for the people, in which he makes confession of sin on their behalf and claims for them the general provision for forgiveness that God has just made through the revelation of God’s character”7. God reveals himself not only as merciful but also as severe to state the people’s obedience as the main condition to see those wonders and marvels proposed by God.
The Hermeneutical Analysis of Exodus 34:1-10
The main topics discussed in Exodus 34:1-10 are the sin, redemption, forgiveness, covenant relationships, and justice revealed with references to the nature of God. Thus, the Israel nation receives the chance to restore the covenant in order to experience God’s mercy. The restoration is possible because God is gracious, and forgiveness is His main principles.
Nevertheless, God is just, and the guilty people should be punished. From this point, the real nature of God is presented in Exodus 34:1-10. Janzen states that “the Mount Sinai covenant relations are governed by ethical, social, and ceremonial commandment, statute, and ordinance, summed up in the term torab, ‘instruction, teaching, law,’ aiming at justice”8.
The restored covenant can be effective for the Hebrews only when they follow all the laws provided by God, and Moses demonstrates the preparedness of the nation to obey God’s will through his rather ritualistic actions. God provides the Israel people with the chance to restore the covenant because of his forgiveness, and this fact accentuates God’s ‘awesome graciousness’9.
According to Janzen who analyzes Exodus 34:1-10, “this passage may be illuminated by comparing it to a human situation that occurs often, the experience of people previously married and then divorced as they prepare to remarry and thus take the marriage vows a second time”10. From this point, people receive one more chance to live the life full of mercy and love.
The restored covenant is necessary for the Israel nation to survive. Paying attention to the case of the Hebrews and their relations with God, it is possible to state that the restoration of the covenant is closely associated with the efforts of Moses, and his actions support the idea about the great importance of obedience and intercession.
God reveals His true nature when Moses performs all the ritual actions as it was asked, thus, he emphasized his obedience to God’s will. The text of Exodus 34:1-10 is extremely important to explain the nature of God in its completeness. Accentuating His name twice, God attracts the attention of Moses to His words. Thus, God focus on the significant message according to which the real intentions of God’s actions can be explained.
It is impossible to perceive God only as merciful or only as severe, the true nature is in revealing justice in order to forgive nations and punish the guilty people. From this point, people can understand God’s attitude to nations and His real intentions in relation to protecting the Hebrews as any other nations.
The fact that God is just, and His actions are based on the principles of forgiveness and love, is emphasized with references to God’s promises to demonstrate the wonders as the symbol of His love for the nations. God’s love is in his justice performing in relation to people according to their actions11.
God’s forgiveness is explained with references to the situation of the restored covenant which is the great mercy for Israel, and God’s justice is in providing the rules and wonders as the sides of love for the mankind. Exodus 34:1-10 as the part of the Pentateuch is important to explain the nature of the people’s relations with God regarding the cases of justice and forgiveness.
The Hebrews were not obedient when they broke the tablets with God’s laws, but the prayer of Moses provided the Israel nation with the opportunity to survive in Egypt because of God’s great forgiveness. It is important to note the interaction of Moses and God provided people with the knowledge of God’s intentions in relation to nations and accentuated the real nature of God’s love which can be interpreted only with references to the concept of justice.
Thus, God’s actions are based on steadfast love and faithfulness as well as on understanding people’s obedience and guilt. From this perspective, Exodus 34:1-10 provides the readers with the new knowledge about God and His intentions.
Brueggemann, Walter, Terence Fretheim, Walter Kaiser, and Leander Keck. The New Interpreter’s Bible: Genesis to Leviticus (Volume 1). USA: Abingdon Press, 1994.
Freedman, David Noel. The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary. USA: Yale University Press, 1992.
Hamilton, Victor. Exodus: An Exegetical Commentary. USA: Baker Academic, 2011.
Janzen, Gerald. Exodus. USA: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997.
1 Walter Brueggemann et al., The New Interpreter’s Bible: Genesis to Leviticus (Volume 1) (USA: Abingdon Press, 1994), 945.
2 David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (USA: Yale University Press, 1992), 696-697.
3 Ibid., 696-698.
4 Walter Brueggemann et al., The New Interpreter’s Bible: Genesis to Leviticus (Volume 1), 945.
5 Ibid., 946.
6 Ibid., 948.
7 Gerald Janzen, Exodus (USA: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 257.
8 Ibid., 253.
9 Walter Brueggemann et al., The New Interpreter’s Bible: Genesis to Leviticus (Volume 1), 947.
10 Gerald Janzen, Exodus, 250.
11 Victor Hamilton, Exodus: An Exegetical Commentary (USA: Baker Academic, 2011), 211-213.