Ki Tisa covers a wide variety of topics that range from describing the half-shekel tax collected (Exodus 30:11-16), to the infamous golden calf incident (Exodus 32:1-35), and to instructions regarding the Sabbath (Exodus 31:12-17). Additional instruction is given regarding hand washing (Exodus 30:17-21), anointing oil (Exodus 30:22-33) and incense formulas (Exodus 30:34-38), and how the Tabernacle is to be used (Exodus 31:1-11). Moses also relates significant interchanges that he has with the Holy One as he received the tablets of testimony, pleaded for the people of Israel, and then eventually witnessed the very glory of God (Exodus 32:11-34:35). These, and other events described, give students of the Torah much to ponder this week.
As one meditates upon this selection from Exodus, a multitude of impressions can be generated. For this student, three seemingly unrelated passages in theparashah became linked. The first Scriptural mention of the Book of Life (Exodus 32:32-33) generated some curiosity that led to some reflections about how serious the Father is about His children and their actions. These thoughts were then coupled with the passage about Shabbat (tBv) or the Sabbath being a sign between God and His people (Exodus 31:12-18). Finally, the passage about Moses desiring the Lord’s Divine presence struck a chord (Exodus 33:12-23). Let me explain.
Seeing the many things detailed in our parashah this week, the people of Israel are in serious trouble. Moses ascends Mount Sinai to receive God’s Instruction. While there, Moses is informed that the impatient Israelites have fashioned a golden calf and are riotously worshipping it. The Lord threatens extermination of these sinners:
“Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation” (Exodus 32:10).
Thankfully, as a result of Moses’ intercession, God decides not to do this:
“So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people” (Exodus 32:14).
At this point, we understand just how serious the Lord is about His people not worshipping other gods. Moses comes down the mountain with the tablets inscribed by the very finger of the Creator. Upon seeing the revelry over the golden calf, he shatters the tablets. Moses issues a call of loyalty to the Most High (Exodus 32:19-28a). At this point, all the Levites respond and they are summoned to take up their swords against all who worshipped the false god. Three thousand Israelites lose their lives (Exodus 32:28b), while the Levites are consecrated for the call He has placed upon them to fulfill the obligations of priesthood:
“[T]hen Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, ‘Whoever is for theLord, come to me!’ And all the sons of Levi gathered together to him. He said to them, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, “Every man of you put his sword upon his thigh, and go back and forth from gate to gate in the camp, and kill every man his brother, and every man his friend, and every man his neighbor.”’ So the sons of Levi did as Moses instructed, and about three thousand men of the people fell that day. Then Moses said, ‘Dedicate yourselves today to the Lord—for every man has been against his son and against his brother—in order that He may bestow a blessing upon you today’” (Exodus 32:26-29).
The next day, God and Moses get into a debate. Moses offers himself as “an atonement” for the sins of the Israelites. (I believe that this offer is reminiscent of what Yeshua would later accomplish, actually being the permanent atonement for the sins of humanity.) The dialogue between Moses and the Lord continues:
“On the next day Moses said to the people, ‘You yourselves have committed a great sin; and now I am going up to the Lord, perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.’ Then Moses returned to the Lord, and said, ‘Alas, this people has committed a great sin, and they have made a god of gold for themselves. But now, if You will, forgive their sin—and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written!’ The Lord said to Moses, ‘Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book’” (Exodus 32:30-33).
Interestingly, this is the first mention of the Book of Life in the Holy Writ, a record of those who stand under God’s favor. The most important place we see the Book of Life mentioned, though, is in the final judgment recorded by John in the Book of Revelation:
“And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:12-15).
One thing is very certain from the interchange between God and Moses, when seen through the filter of Revelation 20:12-15: a person does not want his or her name to be missing from the Book of Life. The consequence of sinning against the Most High by worshipping another god (Exodus 32:33), and then being among those judged “according to their works” (Revelation 20:12, NRSV),is a very frightening concept.
Another important thing is mentioned when the Lord speaks to Moses. God alone has the ability to blot out or erase a name from the Book of Life (Exodus 32:33). We should simply recognize that He has given His children ample understanding throughout the Scriptures to take loyalty to Him seriously. It is not impossible to truly be loyal to God, but demonstrating loyalty to Him is not something that is entirely passive, either.
While pondering the gravity and reality of the Book of Life, reflecting on Ki Tisa, two passages came to my mind from this parashah. First, God describes an action that can serve as a tangible sign between us and Him, that we are striving to be His. Secondly, the evidence of His presence in our midst, as sought by Moses, is a definite sign that we are His. One is an action we can take, and the other is an action God takes.
Earlier in this Torah portion (Exodus 31:12-18), the Lord gives His people some specific instruction about how to remember Shabbat, or the seventh-day Sabbath. This day of rest was to be an important sign between Israel and the Lord, which was to distinguish them among the nations. Remembering Shabbatwas to serve as a tangible sign, for future generations, that Israel was His chosen people and that God created the universe by His supreme hand:
“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘But as for you, speak to the sons of Israel, saying, “You shall surely observe My sabbaths; for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lordwho sanctifies you. Therefore you are to observe the sabbath, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall surely be put to death. So the sons of Israel shall observe the sabbath, to celebrate the sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant.” It is a sign between Me and the sons of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased from labor, and was refreshed.’ When He had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God” (Exodus 31:12-18).
Here in these verses, as the finger of God has completed inscribing the Decalogue, He twice mentions within the span of a few verses two important things. First, the remembrance of Shabbat is a sign between the Lord and His people “throughout your/their generations” (Exodus 31:13, 16). Secondly, the Ancient Israelites were told that anyone who profanes or works on Shabbatwould receive the penalty of capital punishment (Exodus 31:14b, 15b). This is extremely serious, and the fact that it is reiterated compounds the gravity of the statute.
Here in the Book of Exodus, we see how important the Lord considered the institution of the Sabbath to be. It is considered a Creation ordinance (Exodus 31:15), as we remember how God Himself rested after His six periods of creating the universe (Genesis 2:2). Even if we believe in this post-resurrection era that the capital punishment for not remembering the Sabbath has been absorbed by the sacrifice of Yeshua the Messiah (cf. Colossians 2:14), why does it seem that many Christians today want to overlook the Biblical imperative to rest on the seventh day? At most, the being “cut off” they would experience would not be participating in all of the good things that resting for a complete day naturally offers us.
Much of the negativity that today’s Messianic Believers encounter, when telling Christian family or friends that they are keeping the Sabbath, comes from various encounters we read in the Gospels (i.e., Matthew 12:9-14; Mark 2:23-28; 3:1-6; Luke 6:1-5, 6-11; 13:10-17; John 5:10, 15-16; 7:22-23), and how they have been too commonly read. We see scenes where Yeshua the Messiah is either seen arguing with some of the religious officials in His day, or how He is rebuked by them for doing “unauthorized” things on the Sabbath. Bible scholars today are not all agreed that Yeshua opposed the keeping of the Sabbath, as much as He opposed the different streams of Jewish tradition present in His day that made it difficult for the Sabbath to be a legitimate day of rest for the normal person—and how some authorities opposed the legitimate doing of good on the Sabbath, as He was rebuked for healing people. And notable to also remember, is how Yeshua did not oppose all tradition—just those traditions that specifically took away from accomplishing the purpose of His Father.
Yeshua’s ministry and teachings clarified much of what the Torah originally intended profaning the Sabbath to be. In His Sermon on the Mount, Yeshua spends a considerable amount of time working through various Torah commandments as they related to one’s heart intent (Matthew chs. 5-7). Hedid not come to fufill and thus abolish the Law, as many may inaccurately teach—but instead to fulfill the Law by showing people how to live out its intentions properly in human life (Matthew 5:16ff). When it came to the issues concerning Shabbat, our Lord demonstrated that healing and doing good was appropriate. Yeshua stated how “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27, NRSV), and how its rest is something which can benefit all people.
The Presence of God
A little further on in our parashah, we encounter a second visible sign that clearly marks the people of God. God’s presence is to be among His people:
“‘Now therefore, I pray You, if I have found favor in Your sight, let me know Your ways that I may know You, so that I may find favor in Your sight. Consider too, that this nation is Your people.’ And He said, ‘My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.’ Then he said to Him, ‘If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here. For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?’” (Exodus 33:13-16).
Here, the Hebrew word panim (~ynP) or “face” is actually translated as “presence.” When the face of God Himself shines upon His people, it is evidence of His favor and blessing toward them. Such favor was to be so tangible toward Ancient Israel, that in their comings and goings, they would be distinguished among all others on Earth. As further detailed, this would involve God being merciful to His people:
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name.’ Then Moses said, ‘I pray You, show me Your glory!’ And He said, ‘I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.’ But He said, ‘You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!’ Then the Lord said, ‘Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen’” (Exodus 33:17-23).
Here, as Moses pleads for the presence of the Most High, He concedes that His glory will be evident, but that neither Moses nor any other would see His specific “face.” Instead, God’s glory, goodness, grace, and compassion would be evident among the people of Israel—demonstrating the substance of what His “face” really is. His attributes, which are frequently embodied in the later New Testament term agapē (agaph), would manifest themselves among the Ancient Israelites. In due time, the presence of His very Spirit would move beyond the Tabernacle or Temple, and would be fully dwelling within the hearts of His people (cf. Ezekiel 35:25-27). We see some of the specific aspects of God’s “face” listed, as He passes beside Moses on Mount Sinai:
“Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the LordGod, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guiltyunpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations’” (Exodus 34:6-7).
How much do these attributes sound like the summarizations of the agapē love demonstrated by Messiah Yeshua, who offered Himself up for our sins? Consider the Apostle Paul’s description of what Believers are to embody, as a direct result of Yeshua’s atoning work:
“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love [agapē], which is the perfect bond of unity” (Colossians 3:12-14).
The Apostle John also writes about the great love of God manifested toward us:
“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Sonto be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit” (1 John 4:10-13).
We know that unlike Moses, whose offer of personal atonement was not acceptable (cf. Exodus 32:30), Yeshua’s offer, as the Son of God, is acceptable (Hebrews 9:26-28).
Today as Believers in Yeshua the Messiah, who have been washed of our sins by His work, we should be experiencing the presence of our Creator, as originally revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:6-7). We should have His love and His blessings enveloping us, ever-reminding us of how much the Lord really does care for us and wants us to commune with Him! This presence of God should fill us up with His love, which we are surely to demonstrate to all people we encounter.
Yet if we possess the presence of God inside of us, are there any specificactions we can demonstrate which reflect on the goodness He has showered? I would submit to you that remembering Shabbat or the seventh-day Sabbath (Exodus 31:12-18), a day each week when we can rest and experience refreshment in Him, is something that we need to be considering. Shabbat is a time when we get to focus on the Lord in a very unique way, ceasing from our labors, and allowing Him to reveal His presence to us.
How do we learn to balance the value of these two aspects of our faith? How do we remember the many imperatives we see in the Scriptures to demonstrate love toward others (i.e., 1 Corinthians 13:4-8; Romans 12:9-17)?
Many generations of Jewish people faithful to the Lord’s ways have experienced the blessings of Shabbat, and we can hope that many who truly pressed into Him on the seventh-day were supernaturally revealed the truth of Messiah Yeshua as they sought God for answers. Similarly—and whether or not today’s Messianics really want to admit it—many generations of Christians faithful to the Old Testament have also experienced the blessings of the Sabbath, albeit they have observed it on the first day. Even though a “Sunday Sabbath” was not our Father’s original intention, He has still honored the dedication of many Christians in past history who strived to make Sunday a day of abstention from work and commerce—something which only in the latter-half of the Twentieth Century was really lost.
In our day as the Father restores His people through the growth of the Messianic movement, not only will Jewish Believers get to experience the blessedness of the Sabbath by their faith in Messiah Yeshua—but many non-Jewish Believers will get to experience some of the things that have made Jewish remembrance of Shabbat so special. The edifying traditions that enable us to really focus on who the Lord is, and which bring us together as families and communities where He dwells, can help focus our remembrance of the Sabbath as we consider who we all are as His redeemed people. We all await the return of our King, and the much greater rest He will bring to us in the future (Hebrews 4:9-11).