SUMMARY: This week’s parasha, Ki Tisa, explodes with the fire of love that ignites and compels effective intercession. As we read and engage with Moses’ prayers of passion for Israel, we are escorted to the inner chambers of God’s heart. There we discover depths of friendship with Him that drive history shaping intercession.
The parasha opens in Exodus 30:11 with God giving Moses details pertaining to liturgical worship. A census of the Israelites is to be taken for the purpose of funding and outfitting the Tabernacle. From this instruction comes the name Ki Tisa, meaning “When you take” [the census].
The parasha goes on to prescribe sacred elements and furnishings for the Tabernacle, as well as Sabbath observance. Then, as God finishes speaking with Moses, He gives him two stone tablets engraved with His holy commands. (Exodus 31:18) At this, Moses is presumably awestruck with joyful expectation for the future of his people. But any joy he may feel is short lived.
“Go down,” God tells him, “for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have become debased. They quickly turned aside from the path that I commanded for them. They have made a molten calf, worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, that brought you up out of the land of Egypt.’…I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore, leave Me alone, so My wrath may burn hot against them, and so I may consume them and make from you a great nation!” (Exodus 32:7-10)
The Hebrew word used for “leave Me alone” in verse 10 means “let me be” or “let me be pacified.” God is deeply grieved and angered. But He is not losing his temper or discharging rage as we might understand such emotions. Rather, the fire of holy righteousness, mixed with passionate, jealous fervor for His people, compels a radical response in order for Him to have a people fit to be His people. The expression of His wrath would be a merciful execution of justice fueled by the sanctity of love.
In this rubicon moment, Moses does not leave God alone. In a certain real sense, he dares disobey the Almighty.
“O Lord,” Moses replies, “why should Your anger burn against Your people, whom You brought out of Egypt…? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that He brought them out … to wipe them off the face of the earth?’ Turn from Your fierce anger; relent….Remember Your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom You swore by Your own self: I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them and it will be their inheritance forever.” (Exodus 32:11-13, NIV)
In a related encounter, Moses further pleads, “Please forgive their sin. But if not, please blot me out of Your book that You have written.” (Exodus 32:32) In history shaping intercession, Moses gives tangible expression to the command of Deuteronomy 6:5: “Love the Lord with all your heart, soul and strength.” Many years later, Messiah Yeshua would highlight this command as the greatest. (Matthew 22:37)
Moses loves according to the greatest command because YHVH has opened to him the innermost chambers of His own heart. There Moses has embraced and shared the Father’s bittersweet grieving and anguished, passionate longing for intimate fellowship with His “firstborn son.” (Exodus 4:22) The ancient leader of Israel has engaged in an unprecedented, personal sharing of divine anguish over sin. In this holy communion, he appears as jealous and zealous for God’s reputation and glory as God Himself.
Nevertheless, Moses can rightly appeal to YHVH on only one basis. In bold humility and faith, he presents to God the terms of His own unconditional, everlasting covenant—made for His own sake. He “reminds” God, so to speak, that He swore by His Name to fulfill His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In the process, Moses sacrifices the opportunity and blessing of fathering a new nation consecrated to YHVH.
The man known through history as Israel’s deliverer goes still further. If God will not or cannot forgive Israel’s sin any other way, Moses will lay down his own calling and destiny—even his life—for that of Israel. Consider this in context of Yeshua’s teaching: “No one has greater love than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
In the compelling power of covenant love, Moses moves the heart of sovereign God. “And so Adonai relented from the destruction that He said He would do to His people.” (Exodus 32:14)
Now, God knew from the beginning that Moses would ask Him to relent from destroying Israel and that He would indeed relent. But that does not mean He would have relented without Moses standing in the gap in prayer. It is much the same today. God seeks intercessors who will stand in the gap for His people, driven by Messiah-like love, for the fulfillment of His covenant purposes—for His Name’s sake.
Like Moses, the apostle Paul excruciatingly embraced God’s heart for His people. In and by Messiah Yeshua, he writes, “I would pray that I myself were cursed, banished from Messiah for the sake of my people—my own flesh and blood, who are Israelites.” * (Romans 9:3-4) Are you perhaps called to the same?
In Ki Tisa, after God responds to Moses’ plea not to destroy the nation, He re-commissions him to lead the Israelites to their promised land. “But,” He says, “I will not go with you.” (Exodus 33:3) Though forgiven for their sin of the golden calf, the people remain grievously disposed toward sin. If God were to go with them, He might destroy them before they ever reach the land.
Again Moses intercedes, prevailing on God not to withdraw His personal presence from Israel. He speaks with YHVH “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” (Exodus 33:11) And again God agrees to Moses’ request. Specifically for Moses’ sake, He blesses the entire nation. (Exodus 33:5, 15-17) But Moses is still not satisfied. The more he engages with YHVH, the more it seems he must know Him. Boldly he asks, “Please, show me Your glory.” (Exodus 33:18)
In stunning response without hesitation, God agrees. He says He will cause all His “goodness” to pass by Moses in a manner Moses can humanly endure. In this unparalleled encounter, YHVH declares to Moses His Name: “Adonai, Adonai, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness and truth, showing mercy to a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means leaving the guilty unpunished, but bringing the iniquity of the fathers upon the children…to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6-7)
The divine attributes of God revealed here are regarded as His fundamental disposition toward humankind. Accordingly, recital of these so-called “Thirteen Attributes” is extolled within traditional Judaism and remains an important element of liturgical worship.
Ki Tisa continues with various commands, including the celebration of God’s feasts. The covenant tablets of stone which Moses breaks in Exodus 32:19 are replaced in 34:1-4. In the ancient Near East, breaking a tablet on which a contract was engraved served to legally void the contract. But God graciously forgives and reinstates the contract, now referred to as the Mosaic Covenant.
Ki Tisa concludes with Moses’ face shining so brightly, reflecting the glory of God’s presence, that he must veil it before the people. (Exodus 34:29-35) This week, may your face shine brightly from His intimate presence—as an unveiled testimony of His goodness. May you be blessed with the incomparable joy of loving the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, compelling effective intercession.
*Most Bible scholars agree that neither Moses nor Paul consciously intended to relinquish eternal life with YHVH or consign themselves to eternal separation from Him.
Scripture quotes and references are from the Tree of Life Version unless otherwise indicated.
This article originally appeared on Light of Zion, February 17, 2019, and reposted with permission.