Does the Voice Align with God's Character?


Our Workbook uses Exodus 34 (particularly Exodus 34:6-7) to help illustrate the character of God. The voice of God will always align with His character.

This is one of the more straightforward connections to make in this series on recognizing the voice of God, honestly. That is because this method of discernment works exactly the same between humans: knowing someone’s character can instantly let us judge claims about them. “Would person X really say that? Is that consistent with their character?”

Unlike humans though, God’s character is completely unchanging. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8; cf. Malachi 3:6). Humans can put on masks, can lie, but scarier even than those truths is that human character can change. As goes the famous quote from Lord Acton, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men…” Even the most idealistic can become the very thing that they had initially set out to reform. It happens all the time. And the hopes that others pin upon them are trampled and betrayed.

But, by way of contrast, God will never let us down. According to Exodus 34:6-7, not only is God perfectly just, but He is also incredibly loving. We know this because the Bible says it. This is not the only passage in the Bible that speaks to God’s character, of course, but it is useful as it does put up rails on both sides. On the one hand, God loves us so much that He sent His one and only Son to take the punishment for our sins in our place. But on the other hand, God will not tolerate iniquity, not in the slightest. Any time we are trying to make out the voice of God, we can immediately throw out any voice that goes too far in either direction.

So, for example, we know that voices of guilt are not from God, because God loves us so much that He paid for our sin while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8). He doesn’t want us to be weighed down and crushed by sin. But we also know that voices of complete tolerance and acceptance are not from God either. God requires belief from us, and true belief always bears genuine fruit of repentance (cf. James 2, John 15). Sin is never OK to make peace with, no matter how vocally certain parties in our culture might shout that it is so.

If we take the time to come to know God, to understand His character through the process of spiritual growth (reading our Bibles and taking in Bible teaching from gifted and prepared Bible teachers), then in time we will have an ever easier time discerning what it is God wants us to do, since we will know what will and will not please Him, based upon who He is.

This week’s lesson starts on page 87 of the workbook, and was what we went through on 02/12/2023.

Did Moses Do Wrong in Throwing the First Set of Tablets?


In the Exodus 34 passage that the Workbook drew from this week, Moses brings a second set of stone tablets to God to write the Ten Commandments upon again. The first set of tablets was broken by Moses in Exodus 32:19, when “his anger was kindled” after he came upon the Israelites dancing around and worshiping the golden calf.

This page will examine whether this destruction of the first set of tablets reflects poorly upon Moses or not, insofar as it is actually something that we might be able to know.


A simple formulation of the question

Consider Exodus 32:16 and Exodus 32:19.

In Exodus 32, Moses receives tablets written upon by God himself, containing the Ten Commandments. (On that identification, see here). However, when “his anger was kindled” after he came upon the Israelites dancing around and worshiping the golden calf, Moses threw them, and they were broken.

Put simply, is this action by Moses disrespectful toward God, given that these tablets came directly from the hand of God? Did Moses lose his head in anger, and destroy God’s gift?

We’ll be examining this question from several angles, and ultimately conclude that while it’s hard to be completely certain and dogmatic, it is likely that if this itself were truly such an affront against God, it would probably have been made clear somehow in the text.

On the nature of Moses’ apparent anger

There is no such thing as “righteous anger” in the sense some people think there is. But having emotions coursing through our veins is not completely within our conscious control, so…?

This is not at all a simple concept to understand; it is incredibly easy to tie oneself into knots trying to wrap one’s head around where the all the lines are here. There are several reasons for this (although these are probably not the only ones/an exhaustive list):

  • Ephesians 4:26 is commonly misunderstood and misinterpreted
  • The cleansings of the temple by Jesus are commonly misportrayed in popular imagination. Jesus may have overturned the tables of the money changers and driven them out of the temple – and the text does mention zeal, it is true – but nowhere do we have any indication that Jesus was acting out of overflowing anger. That is simply an incorrect assumption that has been widely propagated over time.
  • Another thing commonly misunderstood is that the “Wrath of God” is so-called “anthropopathism” – that is, an attributing of human emotions to God to help us better understand Him, even though God is not actually human with human emotions. This means that using the argument “but God gets angry, and God obviously doesn’t sin in doing so because God cannot sin, therefore it is possible to be angry without sinning, QED” is not quite what it seems, since God does not actually “get angry,” per se.

The following links (some from me, some from Ichthys) may hopefully help explain some of the complexities in all these matters:

If all that is too much, a somewhat shorter summary version will now follow. First of all, we have directly in scripture that “man’s anger does not bring about the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:20). There is no qualification there – no “man’s improper anger” (as opposed to “non-sinful anger,” whatever exactly people mean by that).

Anger is an emotion like other emotions we have. We humans do not always have the good fortune of being able to completely control what feelings swell within us. What we are always capable of, however, is choosing how we respond to them.

Let us take lust as a different (but basically parallel) example. If a man sees a beautiful woman walk by, he may – not by such conscious choice, but just inherently – have his physical body (the flesh, the sin nature) respond in a certain way, as a consequence of her beauty. In his mind may come the realization “Wow, she is absolutely stunning.” Has he sinned? Let me rephrase that: is temptation sin?

Temptation is not sin. But giving into it (in any way whatsoever) most assuredly is. If a man indulges his attraction – not just acknowledging it, but courting it, even if just in his heart – lines have been crossed. And so too here; anger is really no different. If a flare of intense displeasure shoots through us, the ball is put in our court. What we do after that makes all the difference.

In this way, it is in fact true that it is possible for people to have the physiological responses associated with anger (eyes afire, nostrils flaring, etc.) while not yet actually falling prey to the sin of anger. Their heart is being bombarded with “anger temptation signals,” but so long as they keep a lid on it – so long as they keep the reigns firmly in their own hands, rather than letting the emotion take control – things do not cross from temptation into sin. The physical symptoms are there though – scientists would no doubt call you “angry” if you register the elevated blood pressure and elevated heart rate and so on associated with the biological state. But when intense emotion swells within us, these responses happen whether we consciously choose them or not (to a degree – what we think does very much matter too, as it affects the intensity of our responses and how quickly we can get them under control).

For example, I imagine most of us would have boiling blood in confronting exceptionally gross evil. Be it the sexual abuse of underage girls, the gross oppression of orphaned refugees, or whatever other morally bankrupt crimes one might consider, coming face to face with the perpetrators is not likely to happen without our bodies reacting strongly, in a way that is largely outside our conscious purview. Where the rubber hits the road is what happens after that. Do we deck them in the face, beat them to a pulp? Do we yell and shout and rage? Or do we keep ourselves more in check?

Whatever we do, it must be entirely under the control of the Holy Spirit. And completely losing our temper means we are not under His control – full stop. There are various basically-synonymous expressions for this phenomenon:

  • “Losing it”
  • “Losing one’s cool”
  • “Flying off the handle”
  • “Snapping”
  • “Exploding” or “blowing up”
  • “Seeing red”

In all cases, the fundamental aspect is loss of control. If we lose our temper, we are not in control of our thoughts, words, and actions, but anger is. And there is no way to lose control without sinning in the process.

While this is perhaps popularly viewed as a black and white phenomenon (e.g., the difference between someone remaining silent vs. losing it by shouting and cussing another out), it is in truth really more a spectrum, and that’s what makes evaluations here so thorny, and why giving even an inch to the emotion of anger is so dangerous. Thinking, speaking, or acting “from anger” in even the smallest aspect is still loss of control (and therefore problematic), even if it is more localized, and therefore not as bad is it “could have been.”

Why all this gets so confusing is because it probably sounds an awful lot like I am arguing for a concept that some would wish to call “righteous anger” – along the lines that feelings of anger you do not consciously indulge are alright/not sinful, since we can’t fully control them even if we completely wanted to. The reason I am so very skittish of assenting to that label is that that label always strikes me as fishing for an excuse. Positionally, we should strive to not feed the beast whatsoever, as much as it depends upon us. Giving into feelings of anger “because it is possible to experience anger righteously” is not much different from “lighting a cigarette but not inhaling.” It is playing with fire, and rife with rationalization.

To summarize
  • Our bodies’ physical reaction to events is partially (although not completely – it is complicated in the way the psycho-physical mind-body interface always is, with our thoughts and mental state affecting our physical biology and vice versa) outside of our control. This means we may register physiological signs of anger when emotion swells within us in response to intense external stimuli, without necessarily consciously choosing anger in a manner that would indicate sin.
  • Giving into anger means thinking, speaking, or acting “from it.” This means we have lost control (even if only a bit) – putting anger in the driver’s seat, rather than retaining control ourselves. And that is always sin.
  • It is impossible to “use anger as a motivator” or nurse it within one’s heart or whatever without courting it consciously. This is why making noises about “righteous anger” is dangerous, given what people usually mean by that. Taking fire into one’s lap is never the right answer.
The text of Exodus 32:19, and what it can tell us about this situation of Moses breaking the tablets
Technical discussion

Exodus 32:19 has וַיִּֽחַר־אַף (vayyihar ap), which we translate along the line of “his [Moses’] anger was kindled.” אַף is rather commonly the subject of some form of חָרָה (like וַיִּֽחַר, which is what is used here):

Quote from BDB Hebrew Lexicon


חרה אף (one’s) anger was kindled, burned Genesis 39:19; Numbers 22:27 (J), Exodus 32:19, 22 (JE), Judges 9:30; Judges 14:19; 1 Samuel 11:6; Job 32:2, 5; with בְּ against Genesis 30:2 (E), Genesis 44:18 (J), 1 Samuel 17:28; 1 Samuel 20:30; 2 Samuel 12:5; 2 Chronicles 25:10; Psalm 124:3; Job 32:2, 3; with אֶל Numbers 24:10 (E).

If you want to look up some of those references, for your convenience:

Per our above discussion, the question is whether the anger kindling within Moses here is something that he consciously chose or not. Per the grammar, this is not an active construct (i.e., it does not read “he kindled his anger”, but instead “his anger was kindled”). But did Moses at all “fan the flames” within his heart?

Ultimately, we really can’t tell from the text itself. Since it is so difficult for humans to experience intense negative emotional stimuli with perfect application, it is perhaps reasonable to assume that maybe Moses let all this get to him a bit more than he should of. But that is still a far cry from taking the position that he completely lost his cool and threw a hissy fit, contrary to propriety. Could you take the passage that way? Maybe. But you could just as well not take it that way. Either seems to me to be possibly textually.

So if we can’t make out details about his anger from the text itself, what else can we use to determine whether or not the throwing of the tablets was problematic?

Most of the rest of our discussion here will be a bit indirect, and decidedly less than dogmatic.

The fact that God does not ever call Moses out for the destruction of the tablets

Between when Moses broke the first set of tablets in Exodus 32:19 and when the process of acquiring the second set of tablets was started in Exodus 34:1ff., there is no statement like “And the Lord was angry with Moses, given that he had destroyed the tablets upon which the Lord Himself had written.”

In fact, while God was very displeased with the Israelites (and Moses was very displeased with them too), there doesn’t seem to be a single statement that suggests that God was angry with Moses throughout the events of Exodus 32-34. Of course, absence of evidence of God’s displeasure here is not necessarily evidence of absence, but it is nonetheless a reasonably strong inferential argument in favor of taking the position that the breaking of the tablets here was not problematic.

We have other instances of God rebuking Moses, strengthening the argument further (i.e., because if God corrected Moses in these other contexts when He did wrong, why would He uniquely not do the same here?).

In Exodus 4:14ff., God becomes displeased with Moses due to his reluctance to lead due to his lack of eloquence. God most certainly lets Moses know then.

And perhaps an even better cross-reference for the present situation – since it also involves Moses being intensely displeased with the Israelites, and “doing something” in that state – is Numbers 20:1-13. The passage doesn’t say it directly, but by inference (cf. “Listen you rebels!” in v. 10), Moses’ temper had flared here, frustration with the whiny, rebellious people overcoming him. Rather than following the exact instruction of the Lord as given in vv. 7-8 (that is, speaking to the rock), Moses instead struck the rock with his staff (v. 11).

This action alone – one act of disobedience – is enough for God to bar Moses from entering the promised land (v. 12 – also cf. Deuteronomy 3:23-28)! The exegesis as to why this was so serious and meriting such severe punishment is somewhat involved and we won’t get into it here, but the point is that God certainly did not hold back in punishing Moses when he acted improperly.

We might note that nothing of the sort happened in Exodus 17:1-7 – a very similar story of the people whining due to lack of water, God telling Moses how to receive water from a rock, and then them subsequently getting water. But unlike in Numbers 20 when God commanded Moses to speak to the rock (but Moses struck it instead, against God’s direction), here in Exodus 17 God actually did command Moses to strike the rock. And when Moses did, God did not rebuke him; he had obeyed God.

The upshot for us is that these other examples (Exodus 4:14ff., Numbers 20:1-13) provide indirect evidence that Moses did not do wrong in Exodus 32:19 by throwing the tablets (or at least did not do wrong enough for a rebuke relating to it to end up in scripture). Can we be certain? Not really. But indirect evidence is evidence too.

We might also consider Exodus 32:31-35. The only sin mentioned is that of the people. This would have been a very logical place for Moses to receive discipline or rebuke from the Lord if he too had done wrong, but there is nothing mentioned here. Arguably, vv. 32-33 is the strongest, for if Moses really had sinned against the Lord, it would be strange for this exchange to go in this manner were that the case.

The symbolism behind the tablets being destroyed

Here’s an argument someone might use to argue that Moses breaking the tablets was a bad thing:

  • Why would it be God’s desire for the tablets to be broken, then needing to be remade again?
  • Anything that contravenes God’s desire is wrong/sinful
  • Therefore Moses did wrong in Exodus 32:19

Whether or not this argument means anything rests entirely upon the first premise, for the second premise is obviously true, in some form at any rate (cf. Romans 14:23).

Now, we don’t necessarily have to prove that it was God’s Will for the tablets to be broken to make the situation less than black and white. Instead, all we have to show is that it might have been His Will.

To that end, consider that there is dead obvious symbolism in the tablets being destroyed when the Israelites turned away from God in their actions with the golden calf. If the tablets symbolically represented the covenant, and the Israelites severed the covenant right from the get go here in their idolatry, then the tablets being shattered makes perfect sense. One might even go so far as to say that it would be odd if the covenant God was giving them (and the tablets symbolizing it) stayed intact given what went down. (Although of course the covenant stayed in place many later times the Israelites turned to idolatry, so there is that).

We needn’t be dogmatic about whether the tablets shattering was truly supposed to be understood in this symbolic way. Personally, I find it very likely, but I don’t teach it dogmatically. The point is that it is perfectly logical and could be the case, which means the first premise of argument above could potentially be false, making the conclusion less than certain.

Moses’ apparent closeness to God throughout the events of Exodus 32-34

Reading Exodus 32-34 ought to make it clear that Moses was close to God all throughout this period.

Perhaps the clearest verses we have are Exodus 33:11, 17. If God spoke to Moses “face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (v. 11) and tells Moses that He is “pleased with him, and knows him by name” (v. 17), then on what basis would we we take the destruction of the tablets in Exodus 32:19 as being problematic/some form of serious sin? It just doesn’t fit the immediate context here.

God showing Moses His glory in Exodus 33:12-23 is an extraordinary blessing given to Moses – far from a minor thing. Again, this blessing simply doesn’t fit if Moses had just previously done something substantially wrong, such that he would have angered God.


While I do not believe we can know the exact nature of what happened in Exodus 32:19 and Moses’ internal heart state at that time, I do think given the weight of evidence, we can be reasonably confident in saying that Moses’ throwing of the first set of tablets was not some sort of grave slap in the face to God… certainly not like the Israelites’ idolatry was, at any rate. Moses was outraged at the Israelites awful conduct, just like God was. This was in fact an appropriate response.

My own personal hypothesis, in line with the above general outline of the mechanics of anger, is that Moses had all the physiological responses to the situation that one might expect (“steam coming out of his ears,” so to speak), given the seriousness of the Israelites’ sin. But as we discussed in that linked section, having fire in your veins does not necessarily mean you sin. It’s what you do with all those feelings that matters.

To some extent, we shouldn’t get overly fixated on trying to figure out whether actions taken by people in narrative parts of the Bible (in the Old Testament and New Testament both) were right or wrong, and past that, how right or how wrong. Some of that is between those folks and God, and only knowable by those parties.

It’s not bad to ask questions though, trying to puzzle out what happened and why; it can enrich our own understanding of the narrative. Hopefully this page has been helpful at least along those lines.

What Is Going on in Exodus 34:27-28?


In our passage this week, the Workbook focused on the character of God as described earlier in the chapter, Exodus 34:6-7.

This page, instead of focusing on those words, focuses on the writing: the writing God commanded Moses to do in Exodus 34:27, and the writing of the Ten Commandments onto the stone tablets in Exodus 34:28. For various reasons, getting a proper understanding of exactly what was written and who wrote it is a bit less straightforward than one might expect.


Technical discussion

It was in fact the Ten Commandments written upon the stone tablets. Full stop

Cautionary note

You should probably skip this section if you are not conversant or comfortable with incorrect but strongly-written academic scholarship about the Bible. It can be unsettling and difficult to argue against such scholarship, even if it teaches things that are dead false, as here.

Much to my surprise, I came across a page seriously questioning what was written on the stone tablets God gave to Moses: the page. It waxes long and erudite about arguments and interpretations that challenge the traditional intepretation that God wrote the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments) upon the stone tablets.

I had not previously know this was an area of any controversy whatsoever. Exodus 34:28, Deuteronomy 4:13, and Deuteronomy 10:1-5 seem to me to be so clear as to leave no doubt, and despite skimming the arguments within the linked piece, my views have not changed even the tiniest bit. I find it most unpersuasive, for all its veneer of rigorous analysis.

For example:

Quote from the mentioned page

This interpretation, however, is problematic. The verse [Exodus 24:12] fails to explicitly mention עשרת הדברים “the Ten Words” or “words of the covenant.” Instead, it refers to התורה והמצוה, “the teaching and the commandment” (perhaps a hendiadys: “the legal teaching” or the like). It seems quite odd, however, to refer to the Decalogue as “the teaching and the commandment” without any further clarification. How is the reader supposed to know that this phrase refers to the Decalogue?

Apparently, to the author, Exodus 34:28, Deuteronomy 4:13, and Deuteronomy 10:1-5 do not count as ways “the reader is supposed to know” that what God wrote on the tablets was the Ten Commandments. On what basis can we ignore the rest of the Old Testament?

As to the fact that it would not be known in the specific context of this passage, well, this is only a problem if one forces each passage to stand alone in interpretation, which is never how biblical interpretation works. It is a ridiculous and nonsensical standard to impose.

Quote from the mentioned page

Furthermore, the formulation, “the tablets of stone and the teaching and the commandment that I have written to teach them” sounds as if something new is being given that must be taught. But Israel was already taught the Decalogue by God! Again, the formulation indicates that the tablets with their teaching (torah) were to be used by Moses to educate the people, as in “they shall teach your laws to Jacob and your Torah to Israel” (יוֹרוּ מִשְׁפָּטֶיךָ לְיַעֲקֹב וְתוֹרָתְךָ לְיִשְׂרָאֵל; Deut 33:10).

The “tablets of the covenant” with the Decalogue, however, are stored in the ark, far away from the public eye, and (at least according to P texts) serve as a testimony (hence: לוחות העדות) rather than as an educational tool (see Exod 25:16; 31:18; 40:20; cf. Deut. 10:1-5).

(We are still focused on Exodus 24:12 here).

Our author’s argument goes something along the lines of “how can the tablets be said to ’teach the people’ if they are locked up in the Ark of the Covenant?”

One would think, based on such an argument, that the physical tablets being in the Ark of the Covenant would somehow prevent the words upon them from being discussed or taught in the assembly. An interesting assumption, is it not? I’d like to hear some evidence for it, or otherwise any sort of explanation as to why where the physical tablets are stored matters when it comes to the things upon them being taught.

Quote from the mentioned page

The sequence of events described above is almost certainly the result of a splicing together of two separate traditions. According to the longer tradition recounted (Exodus 20:1-24:11), God revealed the Decalogue to all of Israel (Exod 20), followed by the Covenant Collection to Moses (Exod 21-23). Moses then wrote all of them—the Decalogue and the Covenant Collection—on a scroll and conducted the covenant ceremony (Exod 24:3-8).

The brief tradition in Exodus 24:12-15, in contrast, reports of a divinely inscribed law on stone tablets handed over to Moses on the mountain for the instruction of the people. It was originally unrelated to the account of the Decalogue and the Book of the Covenant that now precedes it.

Indeed, the formulation “come up the mountain” (עֲלֵה אֵלַי הָהָרָה) suggests that Moses is being called upon to go up the mountain to receive the law for the first time. Thus, our passage of Exodus 24:12 may be said to reflect a parallel and alternative tradition to that of Exodus 20-24:11.

About here is where I lose interest a great deal more. I have negative patience when it comes to the obsession scholars have with trying to identify “editorial traditions” and so on (cf. the so-called “Documentary Hypothesis” and the so-called “Isaiah Problem”).

With essentially non-existent actual physical evidence, scholars attempt to argue that parts of the Bible were written or compiled by multiple people having different authorial intents and styles and so on. Hogwash. One needs actual evidence to put forward assertions, not wild speculation. Especially for something so monumentally important as challenging the Bible’s trustworthiness.

People who don’t respect the Bible enough to trust it almost always draw problematic conclusions (as here). You shouldn’t waste your time or energy listening to a single word these people have to say, for the most part.

And in that spirit, this is where I’ll end my brief review of this idea that something other than the Ten Commandments was written upon the tablets. I am sure the piece I linked is not the only thing in the world that argues for a different interpretation than the normal one, but I do not think this is a question deserving of much serious discussion, for all who are content to take the Bible at face value.

You may read an email Q&A chain on Ichthys about this topic here, if you’d like to see even more on the question.

The text of Exodus 34:27-28

The interpretation of Exodus 34:27-28

There are two matters of interpretation to wrangle here: what “these words” refers to in v. 27 (the two options are the commands of vv. 10-26 or the Ten Commandments), and who wrote on the tablets in v. 28 (the two options are God and Moses).

Admittedly, prima facie, taking vv. 27-28 as they are seems to say that God commanded Moses to write some things in v. 27, and then Moses obeyed and actually wrote the things he was commanded to write in v. 28.

There are issues with this, though.

First, the question of what “these words” are in verse 27. If one takes them as retrospective (vv. 10-26), the issue is that the commandments given in vv. 10-26 are not the Ten Commandments, which are thing things mentioned in v. 28. So that doesn’t seem to work.

Things work fine if you take the “these words” as prospective: “write down these things – {list of things coming after}.” But the problem with taking things prospectively is that v. 28 would then essentially logically mandate that we take Moses to be the subject of וַיִּכְתֹּב (since he is the one commanded to write in v. 27, which we are now prospectively tying with v. 28). In v. 28, this verb meaning “to write” does not have an explicit subject, so the subject must be inferred.

Moses being the subject is completely unworkable, even though it works fine grammatically. Why? Because Deuteronomy 10:1-5 states definitively that God was the one who wrote on the (second set of) tablets here, not Moses:

In the more immediate context, Exodus 34:1 also definitively states that God is the one doing the writing on the stone tablets, not Moses.

But if God is the one writing on the tablets, then the referent of “these words” in v. 27 cannot be looking forward to what is written in v. 28, but must be looking back to the commands that God gave in vv. 10-26. It is simply the only possible interpretation that “works” logically.

Technical discussion

God being the one writing on the stone tablets is in fact quite acceptable grammatically.

וַיִּכְתֹּב in v. 28 could have as its subject either God or Moses, given that the form is a 3rd person masculine singular imperfect Qal sequential. 3rd person masculine singular would obviously be right for Moses, but it is also the person/gender/number we would expect for God – cf. when God is the implied subject of וַיֹּאמֶר in Exodus 34:10.

The וַיֹּאמֶר of v.10 is basically grammatically identical to the וַיִּכְתֹּב of our v. 28 (i.e., it is likewise a 3rd person masculine singular imperfect Qal sequential without an explicit subject), even though it comes from a different verb (אָמַר instead of כָּתַב). So if God can be the implied subject there in v. 10, he can also be the implied subject in v. 28.

This is why we can say that it works fine grammatically for God to be the subject of וַיִּכְתֹּב in v. 28.

If your head is all a muddle now, in plainer English, all this means that after giving some commands (vv. 10-26) – commands that are not the Ten Commandments) – God tells Moses to write down all those commands he had just given (v. 27), probably on a scroll or what have you (i.e., something other than the tablets). Then God Himself inscribes the Ten Commandments onto the stone tablets (v. 28).

A clearer translation for these verses might then be:

Exodus 34:27-28 | original translation

27 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write down these words [I have just finished saying to you] (i.e., vv. 10-26), for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” 28 Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And [just as He said He would] (i.e., in v. 1), [the Lord] wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant — the Ten Commandments.

The reason why this interpretation doesn’t necessarily jump out as being the right one at first blush is because Moses is a closer antecedent for the subject of וַיִּכְתֹּב in v. 28 than God is, and v. 27 and v. 28 both speak of similar things (i.e., commandments dealing with God’s covenant), making it easy to equate the commandments mentioned in one verse with the commandments mentioned in the other. Equating the commandments is not logically necessary, however; it is also possible for both sets of commandments to be associated with the covenant, as well as everything else God said to Moses for these forty days and forty nights that was not captured in the commandments of vv. 10-26 – that is, the ones God instructs Moses to write down in v. 27 – or in the Ten Commandments God Himself inscribes in v. 28. This is in fact how I take things – that all of it together is associated with the covenant God speaks of.

Trying to explain by extended analogy

Let me give a sort of parallel example (that I’ve purposely made similar to our verses), to perhaps help illustrate things by analogy:

John said, “healthy snacks include apples, celery, almonds, and hummus.” Then John told Paul to write down his suggestions in a shopping list. Paul was with John for 30 minutes in the store. And he wrote down a shopping list with just pears and pecans.

Grammatically speaking, either John or Paul could be the subject of the last sentence, but most people would probably tend to take the subject as Paul, since he is a “closer antecedent,” being the subject of the preceding sentence. In isolation (particularly if one interprets Johns “suggestions” as not directly referring to the things mentioned in the first sentence, but a new set of things = prospective rather than retrospective), some people might also take the shopping list of the last sentence to be the same one as the one mentioned by John a couple sentences before. They’re both shopping lists containing healthy snacks, right?

To carry forward the analogy, let’s say that David tagged along to the store with John and Paul, and the next day told his wife, laughingly, that John (that goofball) had written a shopping list with just two items on it (pears and pecans), because he is so used to his wife doing all the grocery shopping that he didn’t even get everything he had needed to when he had first been sent to the store earlier in the day to pick up healthy snacks for the party he and his wife were hosting alongside Paul and his wife, meaning he had to tag along with Paul when Paul went later in the day, in order to buy what he had missed when he had previously gone on his own. The families were splitting hosting duties, so both husbands were sent to buy healthy snacks as their wives prepared the main meal together. John’s family would be responsible for some snacks, and Paul’s family for other snacks.

When a different friend, James is telling his wife the same story (having heard from the others), he uses the exact wording we started off with. That is:

John said, “healthy snacks include apples, celery, almonds, and hummus.” Then John told Paul to write down his suggestions in a shopping list. Paul was with John for 30 minutes in the store. And he wrote down a shopping list with just pears and pecans.

James’ wife, frowning about it later that evening, texts her friend (David’s wife from before) because she can’t figure out who the “he” is. David’s wife laughs and tells her it was John who wrote the tiny shopping list with just the two things in it.

This logically necessitates that Paul wrote a shopping list that contains “apples, celery, almonds, and hummus.” He had just been asking John for suggestions on what to buy since he too was a grocery shopping neophyte. (Pfft, men, am I right?)

…Did that help at all? Hopefully it showed how things “work” both grammatically and logically if you interpret things in the way we did in our own situation vis-à-vis Exodus 34:27-28.

Reflections Upon God’s Love As Expressed in Exodus 34:6–7a, in the Context of the Exodus Generation


God makes this proclamation right on the heels of the Israelite’s sin regarding the golden calf. On this page, we will be examining what it means that God says such things even in this context, and what we might take away from such.


Recall, some of the great things God had shown to this generation

God led his people out of slavery in Egypt. He showed them many miraculous signs, sending plagues upon the Egyptians when Pharaoh did not let His people go. Even more, when Pharaoh sent his army in pursuit, God parted the Red Sea for the Israelites, and then utterly destroyed the pursuing army in a breathtaking display of power and glory. After that, God provided for the Israelites in the wilderness, giving them quails and manna for sustenance in an overtly miraculous way.

The Lord did all of these things in the sight of the people. Never once did He fail to provide for them, never once did He fail to deliver them. Instead, they were given to see miracle after miracle as God delivered them from the hand of their enemy and led them into the land He had promised Abraham, their ancestor.

But the hearts of the people were hard

So were the people grateful for the deliverance God had worked for them? Did they praise Him for His Mercy and Power?

Unfortunately not. The people whined and grumbled, even pointing their hearts back towards Egypt, where they had been in captivity (Neh.9:16-17; cf. Num.14:1-4). And they did not content themselves to leave their sin at just that, but in Exodus 32 even went so low as to make an idol of gold and worship it instead of contenting themselves to wait for Moses’ return.

Yet God’s Mercy did not utterly turn from them even so

Following their idolatry in Exodus 32, the Bible is very clear that God was displeased with the Israelites, to be sure. And He had every right to be, given their poor attitude and evil works.

Yet in Exodus 34:6-7a, God still proclaims to Moses His Grace and Mercy. He did not wipe the Israelites off the face of the Earth, nor, as the following narrative shows (as in the book of Joshua), did He abandon them as they went on to conquer Canaan. Instead, He still lovingly superintended them and led them into their inheritance.

What might we take away from all this?

If you have ever been tempted to hide your face from God on account of sin, then God speaking these words to Moses right after the gross sin of the Israelites ought to provide example enough of God’s gracious attitude toward sinners. If we refuse to turn back to Him, the only ones we are hurting are ourselves. We will be disciplined for our sin as all true children of God are (compare Hebrews 12:4ff.), but never will God’s attitude of Love and Mercy towards us be turned to Wrath and Judgment. All we must do is believe.

Let me phrase this more bluntly: in your sin, did you make a golden calf and bow down to it right after God miraculously delivered you from your enemies? Did you truly spit in His face to such a degree as them? So who are you to doubt that God will forgive you? He said these gracious words after being betrayed by them then, so how much more will He not cast us aside now? It is actually subtly arrogant to think that God can’t handle our sin, because Jesus already paid for it all, nailed to the cross. So when God tells us we are forgiven when we confess and mean it (not arbitrarily so, but because of that precious blood that has been shed), the correct response on our part should be an immediate “Sir, yes Sir!” with a heart of gratitude, not moping and hand-wringing and worrying that we are too bad to actually be forgiven. Give God some credit here! The cross is not powerless in the face of our sin, but it is in fact very much the other way around.

In any case, the point is not to compare ourselves and our sin to the Israelites and their sin, to think that we might somehow have done better in their circumstances. The point is that God’s Graciousness and Mercy are more than sufficient—on account of Jesus’ work on the cross—to cover all our sin, no matter how wide and dark it may be. This is God’s nature, by His choice: not because He is somehow obligated to forgive our sin, but because He loved us so much that he sent His only Son to suffer in our place upon the cross in order that we might be reconciled to Him forevermore.