Exodus 29-32

Instructions for what Aaron and his sons must do to serve as priests:   Take a bull, two rams, unleavened bread, cake, and wafers.  The bull must be slaughtered, its blood put on the horns of the altar, and its fat burnt.  The first ram must be completely burnt.  The second ram must be killed and its fat burnt, along with bread, cake, and a wafer.  The ram’s flesh must be boiled, and Aaron and his sons may eat it.  Seven days you should perform this ceremony; seven days you should purify the altar to consecrate it.  You must offer 2 lambs each day upon the altar–one in the morning, one in the evening–with flour, oil, and wine.  This offering must be burnt, for the odor is pleasing to the LORD, and this regular offering must be performed throughout the ages.  You shall also make an altar, 1x1x2 cubits, for burning incense.  Place it in front of the Ark of the Covenant, and burn incense on it every year.

How to take a census of the Israelites: each Israelite must pay 1/2 shekels, and the shekels are counted.  The money is expiation money, and shall be assigned to the Tent of Meeting.  God gives instructions for the copper laver outside the Tent, for priests to wash their hands before entering the Tent.  He then gives the recipe for an anointing oil to anoint priests, and for the incense to be burnt.  Bezalel and Oholiab are to make the Tent of Meeting and all the furnishings.  Finally, God finishes giving instructions to Moses, and gives him two tablets of the Covenant.

While Moses was with God, the Israelites became impatient and demanded that Aaron make them a golden calf to worship.  He did so, and they worshiped him as the one who brought them out of Egypt.  Enraged, God threatens to destroy the Israelites, but Moses dissuades him by appealing to his vanity.  Moses descends the mountain and finds the Levites still faithful to God.  He commands the Levites to slaughter everyone who worshiped the calf, even their own family members.  They did so, killing 3000 of the people.

Commentary:

  • The money that the Israelites must pay for the census is called “a ransom for himself on being enrolled, that no plague may come upon them through their being enrolled” (30:12).  This probably refers to the belief, common in many parts of the world, that to know someone’s name is to have power over that person.  Hence, listing people’s names exposes them to supernatural danger, from which they must be ransomed.  Also see 2 Samuel 2:24, where God incites David to take a census of Israel and Judah.  After David does so, he realizes “I have sinned greatly in what I have done.” (2 Samuel 24:10).
  • The golden calf is not supposed to be another god, but a representation of Yahweh.  This is made clear in 32:5, where Aaron says “Tomorrow shall be a festival of the LORD!”
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