There are occasions when you feel like kicking yourself for missing something that has been staring you in the face all the time. In the past I have tended to see the relationship between Exodus 32 and the Day of Pentecost primarily in terms of contrast: 3,000 people are slain after the giving of the Law at Sinai, whilst 3,000 people are saved after the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost. Whilst all of this is certainly true, it now seems to me that they might be more of a parallel going on.
This morning the violence of the expression ‘cut to the heart’ (Acts 2:37) struck me for the first time. Reading, as the modern reader tends to do, such an expression merely as colourful figure of speech, I had never asked why it might have been employed. I now think that there might be something more to it.
In Exodus 32 we see that Israel has been unfaithful and worshipped the golden calf. Moses, the one who had ascended, calls those who are faithful to come to him. The Levites take the sword and slay their brethren, killing 3,000. They are then blessed and consecrated and fear comes upon the people. On the Day of Pentecost we see that Israel has been unfaithful and slain her Messiah. The ascended One gives those who are faithful to Him the sword of the Spirit and they cut 3,000 of their brethren to the heart. They are then blessed and fear comes upon the people.
I have observed in the past that the start of priesthoods seems to be associated with acts of righteous violence. We see this in Exodus 32 and Numbers 25, for example (another example is Jesus’ confrontation with Satan in the wilderness after His Baptism). It only seems appropriate that the foundation of the New Covenant priesthood should be accompanied by such a decisive and significant act of holy warfare.