God saying ‘I will be your God and you shall be my people’ to a people who before the words had stopped ringing in their ears were dancing around the golden calf like aborigines and carrying on with every agricultural deity and fertility god that came down the pike.
This whole story is pregnant with meaning layers deep. Remember the primary motif set forth in Exodus 6:2-8 (see Day 5); that God is the Lord, and no other. Here is how quickly the Israelites had forgotten: “Come, make us gods who will go before us” (Exodus 32:1); “He made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf… ‘These are your gods’” (Exodus 32:4). They even declared from this, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the [Yahweh]”, even having the audacity to refer to this dumb statue by the covenant name of God!
Notice at this point how all of a sudden Israel has become Moses’ people? The Lord says to Moses, “Go down because your people whom you brought out of Egypt…” (Exodus 32:7). But Moses tosses the ball back into God’s court: “Why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt” (Exodus 32:11). Imagine being able to have that kind of back and forth conversation with God!
Another tidbit of information is found in Exodus 32:9, the first usage of the common biblical phrase, “stiff-necked”. Don’t miss the point, because it is a significant one. Calves are plowing animals. They have yokes around their necks to prevent them from turning. It is no mistake that the first usage of the phrase “stiff-necked people” is connected to the worship of the Golden Calf. In his book, We Become What We Worship, scholar G.K. Beale traces the biblical motif of idolatry (emphasis on “idol”) and shows how people begin to become like what they worship and so the Lord often uses’ that imagery to communicate the idea. (Similarly when God says they have “eyes but cannot see and ears but cannot hear”, he is saying that they are reflecting the deaf mute idols which they worship.) The point is that we are to “become” image bearers of God (or Christ, 2 Corinthians 3:18) so that we can reflect God’s character and not the character of the things of this fallen world.
Moving on quickly, because there is lots to highlight, another significant point is how Moses begins to remind God of his covenant made to the patriarchs, and in doing so, Moses appeals, not just to the covenant, but also to God’s character (Exodus 32:13). Thus the “righteousness of God” is connected to God’s “covenant”, a connecting motif we’ll see more and more as we follow the biblical story.
Two devotional thoughts I’d like to highlight. The first is Moses’ request in Exodus 33:13. May this reflect our hearts desire as well:
Teach me your ways so that I may know you and continue to find favor with you.
Another curious devotional point is the model of Joshua which I wish to be instilled in me. Exodus 33:7-11 describes Moses’ daily visits to the “Tent of Meeting”, which was outside of the Israelite camp at that time. Moses would speak with God, receive instruction and then return to the camp. But the passage concludes with this verse regarding Moses’ aide:
Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent.
In the rest of Exodus Moses has to clean up the mess left by Aaron and the rebels. Many people died, atonement was made and the people were purified. Then, as I continued to read, a little phrase caught my attention as it was repeated over and over and over again.
“… as the Lord commanded Moses” – Exodus 39:1; 5; 7; 21; 26; 29; 32; 42; 43; Exodus 40:16; 19; 21; 23; 25; 27; 29; 32.
Count them… seventeen times in only two chapters! THEN (don’t miss this point!) in the final paragraph of the book of Exodus, immediately after the phrase “as the Lord commanded Moses” is used seventeen times, then THE GLORY OF THE LORD FILLS THE TABERNACLE! (Exodus 40:34-35) Is that crazy or what? What message do you suppose is being communicated here? How about, if you want to be filled with the Spirit, if you want the Lord among you, you must be obedient to the Lord.
“We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” – Acts 5:32
 Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth: the Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale; p.58