This chapter opens with an anaphora that links it to the previous chapters: "Hear, O Israel." We return, yet again, to Sinai. But this is almost a reverse presentation. If before, Sinai was the proof of a binding, consuming love, here it is a proof of failure, of a foaming, consuming anger, Sinai now comes to warn Israel not to "think in your heart... ‘Because of my righteousness God has brought me in to possess this land.’
This doubling is thematic to the chapter, which highlights again and again the doubling of the Tablets of Law, which are held in Moses' two hands, and the opposition between "ascending" (a'l'a) and "going down" (r'd). The tablets engraved in stone are broken. Everything changes quickly (m'h'r) and easily. All concrete symbols are disintegrated. "The sin"--embodied by the Golden Calf--is ground up by Moses, in an act that echoes the shattering of the Tablets.
Yet the "going down" is not only a failure, but also a source of strength. The ground up dust of the calf is sprinkled on the water "coming down" the mountain; Moses "falls down" (etnapel) before God, in a reflexive form of the verb that can suggest "attack" or struggle.
Here, Moses moves center stage. If before, he was the conduit between God and the people, here he becomes the active party: It is he (in God's accusation) who "took" Israel out of Egypt; it is he who stands between the burning mountain and the people; it is he who stands between God and Aaron; it is he who dashes the tablets, written in God's own writing, to the ground, in a series of four decisive verbs ("and I took hold...cast down...broke...fell")
If this chapter comes to teach Israel they have have earned nothing within themselves, that the relationship comes from without, Moses closes with the other side of this argument: "Yet they are Your people and Your inheritance, whom you brought out with Your mighty power..," In rescuing Israel, even if for no inherentvirtue, God has created an unbreakable bond. It is destiny because it it is unearned. ]