Before departing Mt. Sinai, there is a little bit more business to attend to for the Israelites. When Moses came down from the mountain to confront the people about the golden calf, he smashed the two tablets that God had inscribed with the covenant. This causes two problems. The first is symbolic: broken covenant leads to broken tablets, and there needs to be a replacement covenant. The second is practical: even if the covenant is restored, you have no records/information about it!
So, before the people leave, they have to pick up a new copy of the covenant. Just like if you accidentally spill coffee on your house closing paperwork and have to make new copies, so the Israelites need a new copy of the guidance for their relationship with God.
This is provided at the hand of the Lord God and Moses, as Moses carves out two new tablets and God re-inscribes the details of the covenant. This includes reminding the people of what the covenant involved and acknowledgment by the people of their responsibility for the problem. This is met with a renewed promise of the presence of God, including Him demonstrating that presence to Moses.
One critical command is found in Exodus 34:12-16. The Israelites are here commanded to drive out all of the current inhabitants of the land. They are specifically told not to make a covenant with the people to let them remain and to destroy all of the worship centers that are left behind.
Why does this matter?
The explanation given is this: even if all the people are gone, even the presence of old worship centers will be a distraction to the people. Consider that. We spend a great deal of our time in these passages debating the ethics of the totality of war that is fought, but notice the phrasing here: the people were to be “driven out.” While that does not remove all the questions, it changes the scope: initially the goal was only to take the land.
However, the focus of the Old Testament is not on the Canaanites or the Perizzites or any other nation. The focus is on Israel. Well, actually the focus is on God Himself, but on the human side the focus point is Israel. It is on what Israel should do in going forward once the land is theirs.
From those commands we should take our lessons. Why those commands? Because we are commanded to live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18) and our goal is to live among the world and persuade them through word and deed to trust and obey Christ as Lord and Savior.
How we manage to live out and speak out those words and deeds is what we need to learn. The key here from the Israelites is not to blend religions. That is important for us. It is not that we should ever strive to force others to change religious beliefs, but rather that we should not attempt to make Christianity any form of “Christianity+whatever.” Any attempt to tweak Scriptural truth by blending other religious into makes it neither Christian nor the other.
We need to be very cautious about letting the fragments of other religious views move our views away from the truth of God’s Word. Our guard needs to be strong against these risks. Guard, though, is not the same as ignorance. Anytime someone wants to substitute ignorance for discernment, danger is at hand and must be addressed.
The rest of the chapter, Exodus 34 (link), addresses another result of the covenant. The first was that the people would isolate their beliefs and only take religious instruction from the revelation of God. The second is that time with God would make them different. That’s the summation of the description of Moses and the “shining face” he brought back from meeting with God.
Realize this: if your time with God does not make you different in a way that is noticed, even among God’s people, then are you doing what you should? Notice, though, that Moses is unaware of his situation. He does not go out to demand respect for his righteous, shining face. Rather, Aaron has to tell him. If your righteousness needs you to point it out, then it’s no good.
Today’s Nerd Note: Exodus 34:26 contains one of the three times the Israelites are prohibited from “boiling a young goat in its mother’s milk.” Now, this is a strange sounding command. In fact, Durham’s commentary on Exodus admits that it is difficult to explain why God would make this command. I would not take issue that God offered the command, but the reasoning is unknown.
The best guess is that the local religions practiced this type of action to encourage fertility or as part of a mystical religious rite. However, there has not been any clear evidence that it was practiced. Some think it was, as it is seen in some other fertility cult practices.
What this does become is one source of Jewish Kosher laws. These regulations are structured, partially, to avoid the risk that a cooked meat is ever in contact with the milk of its mother. Or any potential mother.
We should be cautious, though, not to over-mock the development of those rules. We tend to do similar things: finding one line in one verse and hanging a great many importances on it. We do believe that all of Scripture is perfectly inspired by God, but we must be careful to put the main emphasis where the author does.