John 1:14-18 Part 1 – Excursus: Exodus 32-34

We have already seen some parallels and use of the Old Testament in John’s Prologue. It seems to me that these uses of the OT get stronger in the last 5 verses of the Prologue. As such, I have decided to breakdown the analysis into two parts starting in this study with an excursus into Exodus 32-34 and then analyzing John’s text in the next study having already looked at a potential background. This one is a long one but it is a good story so I hope you’ll be captivated.

Exodus Context

Chapters 32-34 of the book of Exodus take us back to approximately 1400 B.C. The book begins its story where Genesis left off. Joseph is now dead (1:6) and many generations have passed since his time. The Israelites had become a large group of people (1:7) and were now under a new king that did not look favourably on Joseph as in the past (1:8). They were oppressed by slave masters and were put through hard labour (1:11).

It is in this time that God raises up Moses. He was raised in Pharaoh’s household (2:5-10) and when he was grown up (2:11) he found himself killing an Egyptian for beating a Hebrew (2:11-12). When it was found out (2:14-15) his life was sought by the Pharaoh and so he escaped to Midian (2:15). A long time passes, the king of Egypt dies, and Moses grows old (2:23).

God then appears to Moses at the burning bush and calls him to go to Pharaoh to seek the release of the Israelites from bondage (Chs. 3-4). Not without a fight Moses ends up going to Pharaoh with Aaron and they seek the release of the Lord’s people. Through several plagues placed on the Egyptians God has the Israelites released into the wilderness (Chs. 5-11) by lastly killing all the firstborns of Egypt culminating in the first Passover (Ch. 12). The Israelites leave Egypt (Ch. 12) and head for the promised land through the desert.

With much grumbling the Israelites continually despise Moses and his leadership since the conditions of the wilderness appear to them to be worse than when they were under slave masters in Egypt. It is in this context that our story in chapters 32-34 take place.

Chapters 32-34

Moses was up the mountain speaking with God and receiving the law. But due to this delay, the people called on Aaron to make from them gods who would go before them (32:1). Aaron tells them to give them their gold and he fashioned it into the shape of an idol, declaring, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt” (32:4). They build an altar, call for a festival, and the next day sacrifice burnt offerings and present fellowship offerings, then drinking and indulging in revelry (32:5-6).

This blatant idolatry angers the Lord who tells Moses to go down to his people who have become corrupt (32:7-8). He says to Moses, “I have seen these people… and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”

But Moses seeks God’s favour and entreats God to not destroy the people (32:11-13). He cites the promises God had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, their forefathers, to make their descendants a great nation (32:13) and God relents (32:14).

Moses then went down the mountain, sees the Israelites wickedness, is fuming angry and so he threw the tablets containing the 10 commandments to the ground and proceeded to burn the calf in the fire, grind it to a powder, scatter it over the water and make the Israelites drink it (32:15-20).

Aaron tries to pass the buck (32:22-24) and Moses then tells all who are on the side of the Lord to rally to him. The Levites rallied to him (32:26) and then they kill about 3000 that day (32:28).

Moses goes back to speak to the Lord and seeks forgiveness for their sin (32:31-32). The Lord says he will blot out of the book those who have sinned against him (32:33) and then tells Moses to lead the people to where they were going in the first place and he would send his angel before them (32:34). But God makes clear that he himself will not go with them since he would have to destroy them on the way due to their wickedness (33:3).

Along the way Moses meets with the Lord at the “tent of meeting” where he would speak to the Lord “face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (33:11). He uses this friendship to entreat the Lord, saying, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people.’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me…. If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favour with you. Remember that this nation is your people” (33:12-13).

God answers by assuring him that his presence will go with him and he will give him rest (33:14). Moses responds by saying that if God’s presence doesn’t go with them he doesn’t want to be sent: “How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” (33:15-16)

Then Moses asks to see the Lord’s glory (33:18) and the Lord responds by saying he will cause all his goodness to pass in front of him and proclaim his name, the LORD, in his presence (33:19). But, the Lord goes on to say, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (33:20).

The Lord has Moses return to him in the morning and he then passes in front of Moses and declares his name: “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children from the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation” (34:6-7).

Moses responds by bowing and worshipping the Lord. He says, “if I have found favor in your eyes, then let the LORD go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as your inheritance” (34:8-9). The Lord then makes a covenant with Moses and tells Moses that those he lives among will see how awesome the Lord is (34:10).

When Moses returns from the mountain, his face is radiant from speaking with the Lord (34:29).

Summary

This passage of Scripture shows the grace of God in not wiping out his people though he had ample reason to do so. The Israelites were called to trust in the one true God but they continually went astray earning them the moniker, a stiff-necked people. Moses as the one who had found favour in God interceded on their behalf and God was pleased to honour his own promises to their forefathers through these actions.

A glimpse of his glory is also seen here as the climax of the story comes in 34:6-7. God reveals himself as “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” His grace, love and faithfulness would continue on throughout the entire Old Testament period.

This has now set the background for us to evaluate better John 1:14-18 in the next study.

*all direct quotations are from the TNIV

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