Ki Tisa

Torah Portion Ki Tisa

Exodus 30:11 - 34:35

1 Kings 18:1-39

This year we will be going through the Torah portion cycle with a short teachings under 30 minutes each. Included in this post are the Haftarah portion and the Echoes Through Scriptures from previous years.

In Ki Tisa, Moses goes up the mountain and when his return is delayed, Israel decides to replace him with a golden calf. Join us as we discuss the implications of this idolatrous episode along with Moses' pleading with God to save Israel.

  • Torah
  • Haftarah
  • Echoes
  • Written
  • Download

Description

Resources:

  • The JPS Bible Commentary: Haftarot by Michael Fishbane]
  • The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament by John Walton
  • Honor, Patronage, Kinship and Purity by David DeSilva
  • Ancient Near Eastern Texts by James Pritchard
  • Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary

Description

Resources:

  • Ancient Israel's Faith and History by Mendenhall
  • Identity and Idolatry by Lints
  • Ancient Near Eastern Text by Pritchard

Parashah Ki Tisa
Horns of the Bull

Exodus 30:11 - 34:35

How many people do you know that have a little idol that they formed themselves and now believe that it is their god? For most of us, the answer is no one. The usage of graven images as gods is not part of our culture and so we are disconnected from understanding exactly what motivated pagans to construct idols and then fall down and worship them. The Biblical prophets and many of the apocryphal writings of the post-Babylonian exile Jewish world mocked idolaters for their stupidity at worshipping something that they had just finished creating themselves. It wasn’t just the non-Israelite nations who practiced this abomination, but Israel itself throughout its history fell into idolatrous practices. Yet these slips into idolatry by Israel were not periods when they rejected YHWH, they were periods of religious syncretism; the worship of YHWH along with the worship of other gods. For example, one archaeological find in Israel of a cow feeding its calf bears the inscription “Yahweh and his Asherah”[1]. This Torah portion narrates the first in many occurrences of Israel’s idolatry, the incident of the Golden Calf. Israel had just personally witnessed the destruction of the Egyptians in Egypt and at the Sea of Reeds and then heard the voice of God speaking to them from Mount Sinai and within a short amount of time they are already violating the covenant and building idols! Why? What were they thinking? In order to grasp the significance of this event, we must investigate the cultural understanding of the function of idols and what “worship” meant to people in the ancient world.

Let’s begin with investigating why the people wanted the Golden Calf built. It all begins with the fact that Moses has delayed from coming back down the mountain. Moses is missing! And so because Moses is missing, the people request that Aaron build them a god who will “go before us” because “the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt” is missing[2]. This god, or elohim in Hebrew, is not a replacement for YHWH according to the narrative, it is a replacement for Moses, since it is Moses who is missing. Moses was their leader, both by being the mediator between them and YHWH and also their militaristic leader. The people’s wish for a god to go before them has a very military tone, especially in light of this terminology’s usage just a few verses later in Exodus 32:34 where YHWH’s angel is to go before them and in 33:2 where the angel is the one to drive out the Canaanites from before them. After building the calf, the people declare that this calf is the one who brought Israel up from the land of Egypt, an act they had just attributed to Moses a few verses earlier (and YHWH agrees with this in verse 7). Another piece of evidence that this calf replaced Moses and not YHWH is the fact that after building an altar before the calf, Aaron declares that the next day’s feast is not to the calf, but to YHWH. If they were still feasting to YHWH, why build the calf?

Pagans did not believe that the idol was their god, this is a misconception on our part due to our lack of cultural understanding. People did not even believe that their gods looked like the idols that they formed; the images were formed with iconography used to express something about the nature of the god[3]. Thus, images of Baal would often depict him stepping forward with his right hand raised (often with a weapon) because he represented war, domination, and the power that he would confer upon his worshipers. Likewise, Asherah’s multiple rows of breasts represented fertility, which was the productivity of wealth conferred upon her worshipers[4]. Animal images also were used to express the nature of the god and the bull was a symbol of military power[5]. Israel had been promised the land of Canaan and yet the only way to realize that promise would be through a military campaign to drive out the current inhabitants who were very accustomed to war, thus the idol of a bull going up before them was a representation of the role that understood Moses in. To ancient man, the idol was not the god, it was the earthly representative of the god that the god could inhabit if it desired, similar to how the glory of YHWH could dwell in the Temple in Jerusalem if He desired, but would also leave the Temple when it became defiled[6]. As the earthly representative, the idol functioned as the mediator for the god; it mediated the presence and revelation of the deity to the people and in return it received the people’s worship of the deity on behalf of the deity[7].

When Israel came out of Egypt, Moses fulfilled the role of mediator between YHWH and the people. Even with the cloud of fire by day and pillar of fire by night guiding Israel, the people still perceived Moses as the one who brought them up from the land of Egypt; he was their connection to the invisible God. Thus, when it appears that Moses has vanished, the people are determined to create their own mediator and they ironically have Aaron make the image, the man who will is to be the spiritual mediator in his role as high priest. Yet while the text indicates that their original intent was the seemingly innocent act of replacing their mediator with a symbol of military power that they can rally around and set before them in battle, the act quickly devolved into gross idolatry. The people worship the calf, sacrifice to the calf rather than to YHWH, and then they begin to participate in an orgiastic celebration[8]. This is the problem with idolatry; it isn’t simply the jealousy of YHWH that something else is receiving honor. The worship of gods was understood in the ancient Near East as the formal expression of a value system. For the worship of the warrior Baal it was the sacrifice of principle in order to achieve victory over one’s enemies, for the worship of Asherah it was the quest for wealth taking precedence over all ethical principles[9]. This is why the prophets often combine complaints with Israel’s idolatry with complaints about the oppression of the poor, the widows, the orphans, and the strangers. Idolatrous worship led to oppression of those people who could not defend themselves. This is a very important lesson for us today because while we may not have silly idols any longer, if we are living a lifestyle without the ethical principles of the Torah where we are oppressing people or are willing to act unethically in order to gain money, we are in fact committing idol worship.

YHWH hates idol worship and the resulting lifestyle. After seeing how His people whom He had just saved began worshipping the created rather than the Creator, He decided to destroy this very people. Moses, ever the mediator, pled for the people’s lives, not on account of their righteousness, but on account of God’s honorable reputation. Other gods in the ancient Near East were believed to become angry for no reason and destroy their people without cause. Moses pleads that YHWH maintain His distinction in the eyes of these other nations; even though He had the legal right to kill Israel, the other nations would not understand this anger at idolatry and would assume Him just another capricious god, indistinct from any other. Thus, by sparing Israel, YHWH showed Himself to be true to His unique characteristics, “YHWH God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in covenant loyalty and steadfastness[10].” Thus the people are spared and Moses again resumes his role as mediator between the people and YHWH. This point is underscored in the text when Moses comes down the mountain the second time with the two tablets of the witness, the text tells us that his face “shone”. Yet when we look at the Hebrew of this verse, the verb is qaran. The noun form of this word is qeren which means “horn”. The people had their proper leader and mediator back!

Footnotes

[1] Dever, William. Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel. William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2008.

[2] Exodus 32:1.

[3] Hadley, Judith. “Idolatry”. Willem VanGemeren, ed., New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), 715.

[4] Mendenhall, George. Our Misunderstood Bible. Booksurge LLC (now CreateSpace self publishing), (2006). Pg 47-48.

[5] Hadley, Judith. “Idolatry”. Willem VanGemeren, ed., New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), 715.

[6] Cf. Ezekiel 8:6.

[7] Walton, John. Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006, pg 118.

[8] Exodus 32:6, צַחֵֽק, translated as “play” is understood by many as participating in an orgy, common in fertility worship.

[9] Mendenhall, George. Our Misunderstood Bible. Booksurge LLC (now CreateSpace self publishing), (2006). Pg 47-48

[10] Exodus 34:6.


Members-Only Content

 

Please log in to your premium account to view the audio and video content

 

 

  • choose your plan

  • Premium TeachingsPremium Teachings
  • Torah, Haftarah, and Gospel CycleTorah, Haftarah, and Gospel Cycle
  • Post CommentsPost Comments
  • DownloadsDownloads
  • Yeshiva CoursesYeshiva Courses
  • Roku ChannelRoku Channel
  • Bronze

  • $10

    per year

  • Premium Teachings
  • Torah, Haftarah, and Gospel Cycle
  • Post Comments
  • Downloads
  • Yeshiva Courses
  • Roku Channel
  • Silver

  • $10

    per month

  • Premium Teachings
  • Torah, Haftarah, and Gospel Cycle
  • Post Comments
  • Downloads5 Per Month
  • Yeshiva Courses
  • Roku Channel
  • Gold

  • $15

    per month

  • Premium Teachings
  • Torah, Haftarah, and Gospel Cycle
  • Post Comments
  • Downloads10 Per Month
  • Yeshiva Courses
  • Roku Channel
  • Platinum

  • $25

    per month

  • Premium Teachings
  • Torah, Haftarah, and Gospel Cycle
  • Post Comments
  • Downloads20 Per Month
  • Yeshiva Courses
  • Roku Channel
2018-03-01T00:13:05+00:00

About the Author:

For more information, please visit https://rooted-in-torah.com/about-ryan/

Leave A Comment