Exodus 33 - 35: Repentance & The Second Set of Tablets

The aftermath of the golden calf incident tells us about repentance and shows us God's ability to forgive.


Photocredit: Juricev
After we learn about their transgressions with idolatry (see The Golden Calf), Moses brings us back to the promises God has bestowed and continues to bestow upon Israel. God promises that when the Israelites continue their journey He would send an angel before them to guide them to the land of milk and honey.

The Land of Milk and Honey

The phrase "land of milk and honey" is used often in modern society to refer to a great and plentiful place, sometimes by people who are unaware of it's origins, but just as God promised, Israel really is the land of milk and honey. In Ezekiel 36, God commands the land itself to yield abundance when the Israelites (known as the Jews in today's society) are in control of the land. Despite the hot, dry climate, Israel has been able to use knowledge and technology so that they have the most productive cows in the world. Israel's "super cows" produce roughly twice as much milk as an Australian or German cow and 10% more than an American cow.[1][2] The land of milk, indeed. What about honey? There is debate amongst scholars about the nature of honey in the Bible. While honey to us refers to the sweet substance made by bees, there is suggestion that the word honey in the Bible could be a reference to honey made from dates. As Rev. Dr. Christopher Smith states, its very possible that both types of honey are referenced in the text.[6] So which was God talking about? It actually doesn't matter. Israel is both rich in date trees and soaring above the rest of the world with respect to collapsing bee colonies.[3][4][5] Either way you look at it, Israel is a desert overflowing with milk and honey—just as God promised.


After sin, believers repent. Repentance is not just about apologizing for an offending act, and this chapter is one that clearly demonstrates this. Not only do the Israelites repent of their actions, but they mourn the fact that they have upset God. A show of their mourning is that they cast away their ornaments or jewelry. Some believe that jewelry and gold, are linked to idolatry. They cite examples from Judges 8:22-27, Genesis 35:1-4, Hosea 2:13, and Revelation 17:4, to support this theory.[7][8] Jewelry and adornment not only represent wealth (even if you are wearing fake jewelry, it suggests you had money to buy above and beyond your needs—food, shelter, water, and clothes), but pride and vanity as well. Jewelry is used even in our culture today as a show of status. Pearls allow you to look sophisticated. Gold and silver keep you from "looking plain." I remember getting dressed for events in undergraduate school, where my roommate and I spent a large portion of our time deciding which earrings or necklaces best went with an outfit. All of these actions are focused on self-image, which may not be vanity in and of itself, but is definitely on the road to vanity. It is very possible that while the mind is consumed with the idea of wealth and beauty, it neglects God's law and will lead you into idolatry. Also, the pagan cultures of the Middle East (such as in Egypt, where the Israelites had just fled) used jewelry in their idol worship.

Does this mean that when we repent of sin we should rid ourselves of all adornments to prove our sincerity? Perhaps, but I think it stems into something deeper than merely stripping off your jewelry. Tradition is not what God is looking for, and is easily perverted into meaningless action (such as those that faithfully attend church, but have no love for God or His people). Mankind has a habit of believing the physical can replace the spiritual, so to say that repentance required a physical action would likely lead people to believe that the physical action alone was good enough. The issue at hand is not the physical, but the personal. Where does your heart and mind go after you become aware that you have messed up? Are you sorry for ten seconds then proceeding with life the way you always had, or do you follow your apology with action? Unlike the Israelites, we have Jesus to pay the price of our sin. As wonderful as it is that Jesus paid this price for us, it can lead us to a flippant attitude toward our sins. We no longer have to give an offering nor get to see God's cloud retreat from our presence. It is much easier for us to utter "Lord forgive me" and never think about it again than it was for the Israelites. However, when we sin and repent, it must be genuine, heart felt, and purposeful. Though God's forgiveness is powerful, and Jesus says to forgive 70 times 7 fold, your apology has no meaning if you don't intend to change. That's like cheating on your spouse, saying you were sorry, but never stopping to think about what caused you cheat. Perhaps you allowed yourself to be in a compromising situation. If you stopped to analyze your sin because you truly wanted to avoid a repeat, you would discover this and try to avoid similar situations in the future. If you didn't think about it, you would likely allow yourself to end up in the same situation and repeat your sin. In the Israelites' case, the gold they wore is what they used to build idols; it played a major role in their sin and their decision to cast it aside showed that they had truly thought about their actions and were committed to work toward not repeating them.
And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.Matthew 18:9 KJV

Mount Horeb vs. Mount Sinai

Throughout the old testament, there is talk of both Mount Horeb and Mount Sinai as being the mountain of God. We know that God can be anywhere, there is no reason to believe He is limited to one mountain, yet the events in Exodus are said to occur at the base of Mount Sinai in Exodus but at the base of Mount Horeb in Deuteronomy. Some consider this a discrepancy, most consider Mount Horeb and Mount Sinai to be the same mountain.[9][10] It is not uncommon for different groups of people to call the same place by a different name (e.g. In America we refer to Egypt, in the Middle East it is called Masr). If I were to move to the Middle East, it is likely that at least for a time I would refer to Egypt as both Masr and Egypt. Being raised by the Egyptians, spending time with the Midianites, then leading the Israelites, Moses probably used all three cultures' names for the mountain interchangeably.

Informal Tabernacle

God tells Moses He won't dwell amongst the Israelites due to their sin; this is a common problem in the Old Testament and one of the clear differences between God the Father and God the Son (Jesus). Even though God states this, Moses still creates a tabernacle, though not as lavish and exquisite as the one God has entrusted Israel to build. Moses' informal tabernacle was likely a simple tent set apart for God (I say this because of the word pitched in Exodus 33:7). Moses sets this tent outside of the camp, away from the Israelites—unlike the formal tabernacle which was to be in the midst of the camp. The timeline also does not seem to support Moses having a chance to build the actual tabernacle. Moses knew the place he created had to be in a clean place away from unclean people in order for him to receiving the blessing of God's presence. He also knew God's presence was a must.

Praying for His Presence

Moses prays to God for guidance, not just for him, but for Israel as a nation. Moses wants God to see Israel as His nation again. God initially only wants to lend His presence to Moses, but Moses continues to pray for Israel, eventually convincing God to go with the whole nation. This would show His favor on the Israelites and set them apart from the other nations. Since God knows Moses by name, and Moses has found grace in God's eyesight, God agrees.

The Glory of God

Along with a desire for God's presence, Moses asks to see God. Up until this point people (such as Abraham) have seen God in the form of a man or an angel but not as Himself, in all of His magnificence and glory. Moses and the elders saw a glimpse of His feet before Moses went up the mountain, but this was a very small part of God they were blessed to see. Moses was asking to actually see God. To see God's face however, is death (Exodus 33:20). Instead, God says that He would cover Moses with His hand as He passed by but allow Moses to see His back.

Moses Sees God

When God passes over Moses and he witnesses all the glory of God, His first instinct is to drop and worship. During this worship, God promises Moses that He will do miraculous things for Israel and reminds the Israelites to keep His commandments (particularly the feasts and the Sabbath). Part of this was to drive out a number of groups inhabiting the promised land. God commanded that the Israelites expel everyone and ever part of their pagan culture. He did not want the idolatry and paganism of those nation muddying the purity of the Israelites. God knew that by allowing them to stay, taking wives and husbands of people who had very different beliefs, would lead them astray. This is reiterated in 2 Corinthians 6:14.
6And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, 7Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation. 8And Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped.Exodus 34:6-8 KJV
Upon returning to the camp, it is noted that Moses' face shone from his encounter with God. This appearance frightened the Israelites, prompting Moses to wear a veil.

Iniquities of the Father Passed Down?

It is also during this time that God tells Moses the iniquity of the father is passed down to the 3rd and 4th generation. Note that genetic traits obviously pass from parent to child, but the consequences of the parents' actions easily affect the way a child is brought up. For instance, if the parent is a drug addict and poor, the child will be brought up in poverty. Thus the child will be confronted with a harder life than if the parent had not been a drug addict. Some of the parent's mentality will probably rub off on said child, as well. Since this child would have many obstacles in their way, they might fall short of climbing out the hole their parent dug, which would affect their own child similarly. If the child does succeed, it is likely that their attitude will be shaped by what the witness growing up which will again play a role in their own child's life.

It is interesting that parts of the Bible seem to conflict on this issue (see also Deuteronomy 24:16). So, are children punished for their father's sins or not? Is this actually a contradiction? All of this hinges on what "visit" means. If to visit the iniquity of the father's sins on the son is to put to death, then this would be a contradiction. However, since we have explicit references in the same book (Deuteronomy) to both angles, we can assume that visit the iniquity upon is not the same as death. The Dictionary defines the verb visit to mean to inflict upon. As in the example I used before, it is nearly impossible for a father (or mother) to keep their actions from affecting their future generations. Yet, that does not mean that the child has no choice and can never be united with God. Children will commit their own sins, especially if they are raised to sin. However each child is still given the opportunity to repent and the ability to choose right, hence they should not be put to death. With these "contradicting" verses, God is saying the children of a sinner are taught to sin (which is true), but the sin of the sinner are not the sins of the child (which is also true). If a father kills a mother, the child should not be put to death because it is not the child's fault. However the murder of the mother (iniquity of the father) will affect the child (be visited upon).[11][12][13] These passages are to remind parents that their actions do not just bring consequences to them, but their children as well (e.g. don't get drunk while you're pregnant or smoke around your children).

Second Tables of Stone

Before showing Himself to Moses, God addresses the issue of the broken stone tablets. Moses was commanded to return to mountain the next day with the stones, then God would write down the law once again. Like the first time Moses went up the mountain, no one was to come near the mountain during this time. Moses was with God for another 40 days and 40 nights recreating the tablets.

A Note on Feasts

God tells the Israelites that as long as they are keeping the feasts, no one will desire their land. He also promises to enlarge the borders of their land and cast out nations. We can see the effects of this today. While the Romans over took the Jews for power gain, they were not interested in taking the land from the Jews. However since the Temple was destroyed (making it impossible to keep the feasts as commanded), there has been nothing but war in that region over who should control that land.


  1. Locke, Sarina. "Hi-tech dairies help Israeli cows produce twice as much milk as Australian cows". ABC Rural. June 2015
  2. Levitt, Joshua. "The Land of Milk: Israel’s Super Cows Are the World’s Most Productive (VIDEO)". The Algemeiner. March 2014
  3. Kamin, Debra. "The land of milk hangs onto its honey". The Times of Israel. June 2013
  4. Stahl, Julie. "Israel's Land of Milk and Honey: Prophecy Fulfilled". Christian Broadcast Network News. October 2011
  5. Elis, Niv. "Israel flowing with increased levels of Milk and Honey". The Jerusalem Post. June 2014
  6. Smith, Christopher. "'Honey' in the Bible is not date paste and (why this matters)". Good Question. March 2014
  7. Deffinbaugh, Robert L. "27. 'Outside the Camp' (Exodus 33:1-11)". May 2014
  8. Blank, Wayne. "Exodus 33: Why Did Moses Pitch A Tabernacle Outside The Camp?". Daily Bible Study. October 2013
  9. Jacobs, J., Seligsohn, M., Bacher, W. "Mount Sinai". Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011
  10. Wood, Bryant G. "What Do Mt. Horeb, The Mountain of God, Mt. Paran and Mt. Seir Have to Do with Mt. Sinai?". Associates for Biblical Research. November 2008
  11. Piper, John. "Does God "Visit the Sins of the Fathers on the Children"?". Desiring God. February 2000
  12. Piper, John. "How God Visits Sins on the Third and Fourth Generation". Desiring God. March 2009
  13. Slick, Matt. "Do the sons bear the sins of the fathers or not?". Christian Appologetics & Research Ministry. 2015

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