Our Sunday School classes at Southern Calvert Baptist Church are walking through the Old Testament book of Exodus, focusing on God’s Great Calling. He is El Roi which means that He sees all things and is not indifferent to what happens to us. God intervenes on mankind’s behalf by calling us to come out of our slavery to sin and learn to worship Him. Some respond to the calling in obedience (Moses) while others respond by hardening their hearts to the message (Pharaoh). Once we respond to this calling, God wants to work in our lives via a spiritual mentor. He also wants to take us and train us to share His message of Good News with anyone who will listen. As we learn to walk with God, our sin nature seeks to dominate us like it once did, before we answered God’s Great Calling. It tries to get us to give in to our fears and not walk by faith. It tries to get us to grumble against our spiritual leaders instead of walking in humble obedience to the Lord by submitting to the leadership whom He has put over us. In our last lesson, we learned the purpose of the 10 Commandments. We learned that the 10 Commandments show us just how sinful we are. Moses had a sin nature just like the people of Israel had a sin nature. Moses was tempted just as the people of Israel were tempted. They both respond very differently to temptation.
I. The People
Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” (Exodus 32:1)
It took the people all of one month to forget that the Lord had used Moses to lead them out of slavery in Egypt. God also destroyed the Egyptian army and the Egyptians gave their wealth to the people of Israel in the process. The people began to grumble against Moses and Aaron. They were really grumbling against God but they did not want to come out and do it openly. Now, Moses is meeting with God on the mountain. The people start to get antsy. They quickly determine that Moses is never coming back and so they decide to make a leader change. God established Moses as the leader and the people undermine God’s authority and choose their own leader. The people also want to make an idol for themselves so that they can worship (serve) that idol.
Aaron said to them, “Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” (Exodus 32:2)
Aaron lets the people know that it is going to cost them to have an idol. They were going to have to sacrifice from their own resources. This is what idolatry does. It causes us to pull our resources from their proper place of being dedicated to serving the Lord to redirect them to something else. It could be toward evil things, like a golden calf but, it could also be toward noble things. Either way, it takes away from your relationship with God and that is why it is an idol. What are you sacrificing your resources for, to serve God or for something else?
Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. He took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool and made it into a molten calf; and they said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 32:3-4)
The people of Israel are ready and willing to sacrifice their resources for this evil. The worst part of all of this idolatry is that the people of Israel mix worshiping idols with worshiping the Lord. God tells us in the 10 Commandments that we cannot worship and serve God while worshiping and serving idols at the same time. Jesus explains in the Sermon on the Mount that we cannot serve two different masters, either we will serve one and hate the other or, we will serve the other and hate the one.
Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.” So the next day they rose early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play. (Exodus 32:5-6)
Godly worship and pagan worship cannot coexist. Godly worship drives out pagan worship and when pagan worship is mixed with Godly worship, the result is corruption of the people who practice this. That is why syncretism among religions is a terrible idea. It is not a modern idea. This idea has been around since the Garden of Eden. How does God feel about all of this?
Then the LORD spoke to Moses, “Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. “They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. They have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and have sacrificed to it and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!’ ” (Exodus 32:7-8)
The Lord knows what is happening among the people, even though He is meeting with Moses. As I wrote earlier, God is El Roi and that means that He sees all that goes on and is always ready to intervene.
The LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. (Exodus 32:9)
When God looks down on the people of Israel, He calls them an obstinate people. The word obstinate means “determined, inflexible, stubborn, standing firm, rigid, difficult, severe“. This is our sin nature on full display. When we give in to our sin nature and allow it to dominate us, we become stubborn, making decisions that turn us away from our walk with God. This kind of attitude and action deserves punishment and God is very angry at the people.
“Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.” (Exodus 32:10)
He is ready to give the people what they deserve. Based on His Covenant with Abraham, the Messiah has to come through the lineage of Abraham. The people whom Moses leads are the people of Abraham’s lineage. Moses is included in that lineage. If God gives the people what they deserve and releases His wrath upon them, they will all perish. Moses would remain and God could “start over” with Moses and carry out the promise that He (God) had made to Abraham. God puts Moses to the test. God makes an offer to Moses. The offer was legitimate. Moses could have gotten revenge on these people for treating him so poorly. Moses intervenes on behalf of the people. Moses realizes that all that they are doing is not about him and not about the children of Israel. All that they are doing is about the Great Name of God being manifested to the world.
As I mentioned earlier, Moses is in the middle of a test. I also mentioned earlier that Moses realizes that all the things that God is doing is not for him or for the people of Israel. He is doing for the purpose of His Great Name. How do we know this? Let’s find out by examining the prayer/discussion that Moses has with God.
“Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, ‘With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth ‘? Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people. (Exodus 32:12)
Moses realizes that, if God wipes out the people of Israel and starts over with him, the Egyptians would speak negatively about the character of God. What they would say would be incorrect, but, based on what they see happen, that would be their logical conclusion. Moses does not want the character of God to be misrepresented. I believe that Moses was thinking about the third commandment when he said what he said about the Egyptians speaking ill about the Name of God. Moses ultimately says no to God’s offer, which means that he (Moses) passes the test. Moses then speaks of the promises that God made to the forefathers of the children of Israel.
“Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’ ” (Exodus 32:13)
Moses prays according to those promises. Moses intervenes on behalf of a stubborn people who rejected him and grumbled against him constantly.
So the LORD changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people. (Exodus 32:14)
God ends up not giving the people the punishment that they deserved. This is God’s mercy. God, instead, gives the people another chance. This is the grace of God on full display. Have you experienced God’s mercy and grace? Do you realize that you need for God to show mercy to you? Do you realize just how obstinate your sinful nature really is? If God were to describe you to someone else, would He be more inclined to compare you to Moses, or to the people of Israel?
May the Lord help us to surrender to Him so that our sin nature will be suppressed and that the Name of God would be praised in and through our daily lives.