Old Testament

The Pentateuch

Did God punish the Israelites?

Yes. The author of Exodus squeezes a tragic, puzzling account into a few verses near the end of Exodus 33. Moses told the Levites that God ordered them to take their swords and go throughout the camp and kill their brother, friend, and neighbor. That day, the Levites killed about three thousand of the Israelites. In addition, God sent a plague on the people. Though the Bible does not say so directly, generally the plague is associated with some of the Israelites getting sick from the water tainted with burnt, pulverized gold.

After the punishment, God told Moses to continue leading the Israelites to the Promised Land, the land he promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moses had misgivings, though. He wanted to know for sure that God would be with them. He asked to see God. God obliged. Moses stood in the cleft of a big rock. God covered Moses’ face with God’s hand while he passed. Once God passed, God took God’s hand away so Moses could see his back. To see God’s face would overwhelm Moses and kill him.


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