SynopsisIn the last passage, Moses reiterated to the Israelites that God wasn’t bringing them into the Promised Land because of their own righteousness—it was because of God’s righteousness, and because of the wickedness of the people currently living there. In this passage, Moses reminds the Israelites of some of the things they’ve done in the past, as if to remind them of their lack of righteousness.
He starts off by reminding them about the golden calf. He sets the stage, and talks about receiving the stone tablets from God, and about the fact that he [Moses] had stayed on the mountain for forty days and forty nights—without food or water—receiving the commandments from the LORD. But then, when Moses was about to go back down the mountain to the people, the LORD warned him that the people had become “corrupt” (verse 12), and created an idol. And, because the people were so “stiff-necked” (verse 13), He was going to destroy them, and make Moses into his own nation (stronger and more numerous than the Israelites).
So Moses went down the mountain, and when he saw that the Israelites really had committed idolatry, he broke the stone tablets, and spent another forty days and forty nights fasting, lying prostrate before the LORD. But this time, he was doing it to beg the LORD not to destroy the Israelites (including Aaron).
After this object lesson in the Israelites’ lack of righteousness, Moses also mentions that the Israelites made the LORD angry at Taberah, Massah, and Kibroth Hattaavah. And then he reminds them that the first time they’d got to the Promised Land, they refused to go in, making Him angry again. So, again, Moses had to lay prostrate before the LORD, fasting for forty days and nights, begging that He wouldn’t destroy them.
I think verse 24 pretty much sums up the passage:
You have been rebellious against the LORD ever since I have known you.
ThoughtsAs I said for the last passage—or at least hinted at, if I didn’t express myself properly—the point of this is not to make the Israelites feel bad. But it is to show them that they’re not righteous, and, therefore, need to depend on the LORD’s righteousness. The key message to take from these passages is not “you’re so terrible,” but rather, “you need my help—please accept it!”
When Moses came down from the mountain, with the stone tablets, and found the Israelites worshipping the golden calf, he spent forty days and forty nights fasting before the LORD, to beg Him not to destroy the Israelites—even though He had promised to destroy them, and make a nation out of Moses. (That is, give Moses a lot of descendants, until they became a nation—just like He did for Abraham.) This blows my mind; by this time, you have to wonder if maybe Moses wasn’t feeling a bit superior to the Israelites, for their lack of faith; I’m guessing it have been tempting for him to say, “Sure, LORD, go ahead and destroy the Israelites. I’m sure my descendants will do a better job then they are!” But he didn’t. And it was partially for the LORD’s sake, as is mentioned in Exodus 32 (where the story originally takes place).