Moses went up Mt. Sinai and there met Yahweh, the God of heaven and earth. And it was there that Yahweh entered into a covenant with his people. Yahweh unilaterally bound himself to be faithful to them, to love them, and to care for them. He made this covenant without condition. He would be their God and they would be his people.
Then, with his own hand, he put in writing the terms of the covenant. Not on flimsy parchment did he write. No, he wrote on stone, so that it would endure for all generations. He wrote the Ten Commandments, which instructed the people in how to respond to the covenant faithfulness and loving kindness of God.
It was a gracious thing that he did, giving them these commandments. His people were not left to wonder or guess how to conduct themselves in light of his gracious covenant. He showed them how to act in answer to him. In doing so he showed them what to do so that “it may go well for them and for their children” (Deuteronomy 4:40).
At no other time since Adam and Eve left the garden had such a thing happened.
But, while Moses was on Mt. Sinai having this only-time-in-history encounter with the Living God, at the very time he received the law for how God’s people should live, those people were at the foot of mountain rushing headlong into idolatry. At their request, Aaron fashioned an idol for them, a calf made from gold. And the people celebrated their new god with a drunken orgy.
What happened next?
God told Moses he intended to “destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven” (9:14). Moses came down the mountain, saw what the people had done, threw down the tablets with the 10 commandments, and they shattered.
This was not the only time that these people responded to God’s grace and care with sin and rebellion. “At Taberah, and at Massah, and at Kibroth-hattaavah, … and at Kadesh-barnea” these people rebelled. Of these people Moses said, “You have been rebellious against the Lord from the day I knew you” (9:24).
But are these people much different than we are? Do we not also fall far short of the gratitude and obedience that the Lord deserves for the gracious mercy he shows us?
So, what did God do? His inclination was to destroy them. Did he? No, he did not. Rather, he showed them even more mercy and grace.
In Chapter 10 Moses showed that God, despite being provoked to anger, remained faithful to his covenant promises and continued in lovingkindness toward his people.
George Robertson wrote, “In the first thirteen verses [of chapter 10] God demonstrates his generosity. These verses reveal that Moses’ prayers to spare the people and Aaron were answered in the affirmative. It is this amazing grace of God, sparing a grossly ungrateful and idolatrous people, which Moses says must provoke a response of respect (cf. Psalm 130:4).”
At that time the LORD said to me, “Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and come up to me on the mountain and make an ark of wood, And I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tables that you broke and you shall put them in the ark. So I made an ark of acacia wood, and cut two tablets of stone like the first, and went up the mountain with the two tablets in my hand. And he wrote on the tablets, in the same writing as before, the Ten Commandments[a] that the Lord had spoken to you on the mountain out of the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly. And the Lord gave them to me. Then I turned and came down from the mountain and put the tablets in the ark that I had made. And there they are, as the Lord commanded me” (Deut. 10:1-5).
This is a high moment that shows the character of God. He did not destroy the people who rebelled against him. He did not abandon them. He did not give up on them. “The second writing of the law and the gift of the tables is indicative of the graciousness of God and the response of God to the intercession of Moses,” wrote Peter Craigie. The people had turned away from God, but he turned toward them. The people broke the covenant, he renewed it.
This is the lesson for us today. We are the people of God. We are those who have been redeemed. He has entered into a covenant with us. He has promised to be faithful to us. And he remains faithful even when we are unfaithful to him. We may fail and give up on God, but he will never give up on us.
Therefore, let us all the more turn to God with love, with thanksgiving and gratitude, and with obedience.