Now that Moses has interceded for the people and God has relented from their destruction, God sets things to rights again. This chapter can be separated into three sections where Moses makes new tablets, God reiterates the promises and terms of His covenant with the Israelites, and finally the description of a curious physical change in Moses as the result of his communion with God.
In Exodus 31:18, God gave Moses the original tablets of stone with the Ten Commandments written on them. Those original versions were destroyed in chapter 32 and now here in the beginning of chapter 34, God tells Moses to cut two tablets of stone “like the first ones.” There may or may not be significance to the fact that God has Moses cut the replacements himself rather than simply providing them, but if there were, it would be the observation that the first effort by God to provide the tablets was full of grace and the second time around, God requires Moses to write the Ten Commandments himself on the tablets of stone because of the great transgressions of the people in their worship of the golden calf.
When Moses meets God again on top of the mountain, he calls out to God and God responds with a strong proclamation of His identity: “The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and fourth generation.” This series of statements by God is timely and accurate considering recent events. God did relent from ultimate destruction of His people after the events of the golden calf, but also allowed Moses to kill the chief leaders of the idol worship (Exodus 32:25-29). Through Moses, God is saying to the people that He will punish iniquity when it is committed, but if forgiveness is sought, He will forgive. Moses responds with humility and penitence, admitting that the people are stubborn while also beseeching God to accompany the people as they travel to the promised land.
In verses 10-28 of Exodus 34, God renews His covenant with the people through Moses. There is nothing necessarily new in God’s speech but it is a great enumeration of the dimensions of God’s covenant with the people that started with Abraham.
God’s covenant with the Israelites required things of them:
- The Israelites are not to make agreements with the native people lest it corrupt them
- The Israelites are to destroy the pagan worship places and their idols
- The Israelites are not to intermarry with the people lest it corrupt them
- The Israelites are not to make molded images for themselves to worship
- The Israelites will keep the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Ingathering
- The Israelites are to dedicate their firstborn to God
- The Israelites are to give to God, not appearing before Him empty-handed
- The Israelites shall not work on the Sabbath
- The Israelites will offer pure sacrifices, the first fruits of their land, and will not engage in pagan practices for sacrifice
God’s promises to the people are also described:
- God will bless the people as only He can
- God will drive the native people out of the promised land and enlarge their borders
- God is jealous and will not tolerate the worship of other gods
In addition to these parts of the covenant that God iterated to Moses, God made other parts of His portion of the covenant clear in previous chapters in Genesis and Exodus. Other aspects consist of His protection of the people, their numeric proliferation, and their station as chosen, distinct, and favored among all other men and peoples. Moses was with God for another forty days and forty nights. He neither ate nor drank during this time.
After this time spent with God, Moses’ face shone. The description in the latter part of the chapter makes it clear that the skin of his face shone and that Moses himself was unaware that it did so. The people were afraid to approach him. This evidently caused Moses to put a veil on his face to alleviate the people’s fear. His face shining occurred after the time when he spoke with God, whether from on top of the mountain or from within the most holy place inside the tabernacle. This phenomenon is mysterious to us, but it is not without a similar occurrence in the New Testament. In Mark 9:3, during Jesus’ transfiguration, “His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them.”
This brilliance of human appearance after coming into contact with God in some way is indicative of the brilliance of God reflecting on mere human form. Christ, who was divinity Himself, need not know that God showed favor on Him, for He already knew it. Moses, also, being in conversation with God, understood God’s directions and provisions for the people. Why, then, did God choose to illuminate Moses’ face and Jesus’ clothing?
He did it in order to impress upon others that these individuals were approved of by God as His messengers. In Jesus’ case, Peter, James, and John saw Jesus in the same group as Elijah and Moses, which was meant to affirm the connection of God’s blessings and providence upon those that seek and serve Him. Jesus was the culmination of God’s plan and there is no mistaking the impact of Christ death, burial, and resurrection. Conversely, Moses was crucial to God’s plan of sheltering the Israelites as His chosen people. Unsurprising it is then, that Moses appeared with Jesus during the transfiguration where God was showing preference and favor on His Son.
For Exodus 34, Moses face shone with the glory of God even as he was unaware of it. We can view Moses’ face shining as God continuing to find grace in Moses and by extension giving that grace to the Israelites too. God’s glory shining on the face of Moses such that he had to wear a veil was to show the people that God was communicating to the people through the covenant, the Ten Commandments, and of course through His servant Moses.