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EXODUS 32:1-35
Series:  Moses - Part Five

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
May 28, 2017

Since January we’ve been looking at God at work in the lives of real people living in real places in real time as real examples for us of what God is doing in His creation and what it means for us to live in the real time of our lives in relationship with God.


God creating everything.  Then there was Adam and the Fall.  God choosing Abraham - a person - a people.  And now Moses and the Exodus.  God’s people camped at the foot of Mount Horeb - the Mountain of God - out at the western edge of the wilderness of Midian.


We’ve been studying what God is doing in all that and how all that effects us.  God’s purpose - His work of redemption - buying us back from our sin - Jesus’ work on the cross - and what difference that makes for us.


We’ve come to Exodus 32 - starting at verse 1:  When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us.  As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”  So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.”  So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron.  And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf.  And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”  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.”  And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings.  And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.


Verses 1 to 6 focus on The Sin of God’s People. 


Let’s make sure we’re together. 


The gold came from where?  The ears of their wives, sons, and daughters.  And the wives, sons, and daughters got the gold from…  Egypt.


When the Hebrew’s were exiting Egypt - the Egyptians were so glad to see them go that just kept piling more and more gold and valuables on them.  “Just take it and go.” 


Why did the Egyptians give them all those parting gifts?  Because of what God did.  God taking out Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt.  All those nasty plagues and the first born of Egypt getting dead.  God delivering His people.  Buying them - redeeming them - from slavery in Egypt.


And God has a plan for those parting gifts and all that gold.  God has a purpose in using the Egyptians to bless His people.  Moses is up on the mountain getting instructions from God - so when that Moses comes down off the mountain Moses can tell God’s people how God wants all that gold to get used.  Instructions about the Ark of the Covenant, the Tabernacle, and priests.


The Ark of the Covenant - what testified of God’s ongoing fulfillment of His promises to His people - the very throne of God - His presence with His people - the Ark of the Covenant is covered inside and out with gold.  The seat of God’s mercy - His holding back of His justified wrath - the mercy seat is made of pure gold.  The angels - who’s wings overshadow the mercy seat - are made of pure gold.  Are we seeing a trend here?


What holds the Tabernacle together are clasps and hooks and rings of gold.  What covers the framing is gold.  What tops the pillars is gold.  The furniture is overlaid with... gold.  The vessels and utensils used in worship are... gold.  The lampstands are... gold. 


The priest offering the sacrifices - the intermediary between God and His people - wore gold.  Gold that was placed in strategic locations on the priest’s clothing.


All of that is about God’s relationship with His people.  God who redeems His people out of bondage in Egypt - purchases their freedom from slavery - so they can live in relationship with Him


We’re together?  Where did the gold come from?  God.  Why?  To be used by God’s people in their relationship with God.


In verse 1, Moses is where?  Up on the Mountain.  Getting instructions.  God’s mountain Mount Horeb - out at the western edge of the wilderness of Midian.


For 40 days Moses has been up on the mountain hearing from God about how God’s people are to live in relationship with God.  Down below God’s people are waiting. 


In verse 1 the word “delayed” in Hebrew has the idea of hesitating because of being “ashamed.”  It’s not stretching things too far to think that the people thought that Moses had gone up the mountain to talk to God and found nothing.  He’d struck out. 


Meaning, the people thought Moses was ashamed to come down off the mountain.  To admit that he wasn’t the great Godly leader that he thought he was.  Or, maybe now that they were out of Egypt, maybe God was done using Moses.  That would be a hard demotion to take.


They approach Aaron, “We have no clue what happened to him.  So we need a new leader.  You.  You make us a god we can visualize.  Not some imaginary god on a mountain.  But a god we can see.  A god like one of the gods back in Egypt.”

Aaron goes along with this.  Compromises on what he knows is right and wrong.  Why?  We don’t know.  Some kind of lapse with reality.  Maybe he convinced himself he was doing the right thing?


It’s not like any of us have never done something eyes wide open that we we’re pretty sure wasn’t right but we did it anyway because for some strange - we regretted later - reason it seemed to make sense at the time.


Aaron compromises on the whole graven idol thing.  Makes this calf out of gold.  Gold that came from Who?  God.  Why?  To be used by God’s people in their relationship with God.


Aaron goes along with this until he hears the people say - verse 4:  “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”  ...HELLOOOO!   


Then Aaron tries - way too late - to rescue the situation.  He hurriedly builds an altar in front of the golden calf.  An altar we assume he builds to honor the true God of Israel.  Aaron proclaims, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.”


Which is how the next day begins.  Offerings early in the morning.  The morning worship service followed by a potluck and games.


The word “play” in verse 6 literally means “immoral orgies and sexual play.” 


What a contrast.  Isn’t it?  The holy God on the mountain with Moses laying out what means to have a relationship with God.  The people below using the very symbols of that relationship to gratify themselves in an idolatrous self-serving drunken orgy.


Which would be like our using what God blesses us with - time, talent, and treasure - what He desires to use in deepening our relationship with Him - what He desires to use to bring glory to Himself - using that so that the focus is on us and what we want and not Him. 


Going on.  Verses 7 to 14 focus on The Heart of Moses. 


Verse 7:  And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves.


Who’s people?  “Your people.”  “They ain’t my people.  Moses, they’re your people whom you brought up from the land of Egypt.”


[Your people] have corrupted themselves.  They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them.  They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” 


8 chapters earlier God gave His people the 10 Commandments.


Exodus 20 - verse 2:  “I am the Lord your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.  You shall have no other god’s before Me.  You shall not make yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.  You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God…”  (Exodus 20:2-5a)


“Quickly” in Hebrew means… “quickly.”  Not generations.  Not years.  But days later they’re worshiping a golden calf and sacrificing to it instead of worshiping the living God Who redeemed them from slavery in Egypt.


“Corrupted” has the idea of intentionally ruining themselves - intentionally morally perverting themselves.  “Your people are destroying themselves.”  Sin is self-destructive. 


Verse 9:  And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people.  Now therefore let me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.”


God goes to epic lengths to deliver His people from Egypt - preserves them in the wilderness - leads them back to Himself.  Loving them.  Protecting them.  Guiding them - nurturing them - to become His  covenant people and to live in the awesome relationship that He’s created them for.  Now they’ve turned their backs - on Him - on what He’s created them for - rejected His love - a relationship with Him.  His people are destroying themselves.

Grab this:  God is ticked - angry - because His precious creation - that He deeply loves - is intent on destroying themselves.  The polar opposite of what God jealously desires for His people.


Verse 10 is an amazing offer.  Isn’t it?  “Let me alone so I can destroy them.  Then I’ll make you a great nation.”  How huge is that? 


If you’re Moses - how do you respond to that?  After all the times these people have grumbled against Moses - argued with him - and are going to grumble and argue with Moses.  These people are a now and future stiff-necked - stubborn - pain in the rear.  Wouldn’t it be tempting to have God wipe out the whole lot of them.


Most of us could probably think of a least one person we like to see get hit with a strategic lightening strike.  Just saying.


What an offer!  “Moses, you get to be the new Abraham.  You get to be a great nation.  You want it.  Land - Seed - Blessing.  It’s yours.”


Moses is in the line of descent from Abraham.  Meaning God starting over using Moses would still have fulfilled God’s promises and purpose.  There’s a reality to the offer.


Verse 11 - Moses’ response to God’s offer:  But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people,


Who’s people?  God’s people.  This is about God and His people not Moses and God’s people.

Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?  Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did He bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’?  Turn from Your burning anger and relent from this disaster against Your people.  Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” 


Moses doesn’t consider God’s offer for a nanosecond.  Instead Moses passionately pleads for God’s people.


He gives three reasons God should spare His people.


First:  God’s love.  For 40 days Moses has been up on the mountain listening to God give instructions about what means for God’s people to live in relationship with the living God.  40 days of listening to God’s heart for His people.  There’s no question.  These are God’s people that God deeply loves.  “They’re Your people.”


Second:  God’s reputation.  What will the Egyptians think?  If you wipe these people out the Egyptians are going to think you’re a god like one of their gods - capricious - maniacal - too weak to deliver on his promises.  God - Your reputation is on the line here.  Reputation meaning the very character of Who God is.  The glory of God before the nations.

God’s promises.  “God.  Wake up and smell the coffee.  You’re the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all their descendants - today and on down through history.  They - I - we’ve bet our lives on Your name.  Your reputation.  Your character.  Your love for us.  You’ve sworn an oath - based on Who you are - that You will do what You promised.  Punt now and how could we ever trust you again?” 


There is more to consider here than the immediate sin of these people.  God - think about where you’re going in history - Creation - fall - Abraham - and we can add Jesus and the cross.  Redemption.  And forever dwelling with God.


Not that God needs to be reminded about all that.  But at the heart level we often do.  Especially as we’re tempted to ask God to toast someone.  When we feel justified before God in what we’re doing and how messed up “they” are.


Maybe they are messed up.  Maybe we are right.  Maybe not.  But all that doesn’t change God’s love for them or us.  That doesn’t change Who God is and how He responds to them or us.  That doesn’t change God’s plan and purpose in His creation.  What we’ve been looking at since Genesis.


Which - at the heart level - we need to be reminded of - in part because knowing that the unchanging Creator God Who is love will never waver in His commitment to His promises towards others - toward us - knowing that should build huge confidence into how we do life and how we treat others. 


Verse 14:  And the Lord relented from the disaster that He had spoken of bringing on His people.


Let’s be careful.


Does God change His mind?  From our perspective... yes.  Do our prayers influence God?  He says they do.  But, does the will of God change?  No.  Do His purposes for us change?  No.   What God says He will do He will do.


Verse 14 is the real time application of Moses’s 3 reasons.


What’s going on here - with God’s offer to Moses - what’s being exposed here - in this discussion of just Who’s people these are and what should be done about them.  What’s being exposed here is Moses’ heart.


After 40 days on the mountain with God and a whole lot of time in the wilderness with God what we’re seeing is that Moses’ heart is in sync with God’s heart - to get us in sync with Him.  What Moses is asking for is in sync with God’s will for God’s people.  We're seeing God's heart displayed in Moses.


Which is an example for us.  When we spend time with God He’ll open up His heart to us.  When we let His heart permeate ours He’ll give us the heart we need to love where we never thought it was possible to love.  To look on others as God looks on them.


Maybe this morning there’s someone you need to love and you just can bring yourself to that kind of compassion.  “You don’t understand what they’ve done.”  “They ain’t my people.” 

God will create that love in you if you let Him.  Spend time with God.  Ask Him. 
“God, create in me love for ______.”  Let Him change your heart and He will.  


Verses 15 to 29 focus on The Horrors of Sin. 


Verse 15:  Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets that were written on both sides; on the front and on the back they were written.  The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.  When Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a noise of war in the camp.”  But he said, “It is not the sound of shouting for victory, or the sound of the cry of defeat, but the sound of singing that I hear.” 


Verse 19:  And as soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing - the drunken org


[and] Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain.  He took the calf that they had made and burned it with fire and ground it to powder and scattered it on the water and made the people of Israel drink it.


Moses’ heart is in sync with Who’s heart?  God’s.  What’s coming out of Moses’ heart is an anger that is in sync with God’s anger and His love.  God gets angry when His people choose to destroy themselves in sin.  Why?  Because God loves His people - desires only the best for them.  If God didn’t get angry God wouldn’t be loving.


When Moses’ sees the sin of God’s people - the devastation of sin - Moses permeated by God’s love - Moses shares God’s anger.


On these tablets - written on both back and front by God Himself - on these tablets are the Ten Commandments.  God’s Covenant with His people.  Grab that.


The God of the Bible is a covenant God not a contract God.  His message to us is not, “Do this for Me.  Then I’ll love you.”  That’s a do this and you’ll get paid - contract.  But instead God says, “I love you.  As your Creator and Redeemer this is the kind of relationship that I invite you to be a part of.”


It’s important that we understand that.  These commandments are God’s covenant with His people.


So many people are trying to live in a relationship with God as a contract - trying to live rightly - morally - as Christians - as Jews - trying to somehow please God - to earn God’s favor.  The 10 Commandments have become a burdensome list of don’ts that we must fulfill if we’re to avoid the wrath of Almighty God poured out on us.


But God never intended for these commandments to be a contract.  “If you do all this stuff then I’ll give you a relationship with Me.”  If they were a contract none of us could have a relationship with God.  Except for Jesus every single person who ever lived has failed to keep the 10 Commandments.


On these tablets is the wonder - the awesomeness - the uniqueness of what the loving God offers His people in this covenant relationship - written by the very hand of God Himself.


Moses throws these tablets from his hand - shattering them at the foot of the mountain - symbolizing that sin has broken the relationship.  The people have chosen another god.  Moses grinds up their god - the golden calf - forcing them to drink the water.  In the Bible it’s a symbol of their spiritual adultery.  (Numbers 5:11-31)


Verse 21:  And Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you have brought such a great sin upon them?” 


Some kind of hideous torture?


And Aaron said, “Let not the anger of my lord burn hot.  You know the people, that they are set on evil.  For they said to me, ‘Make us gods who shall go before us.  As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’   So I said to them, ‘Let any who have gold take it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.”


These are lame excuses - blaming the people.  The last one is over the top:  “I threw in the gold and out came this calf!  It’s a God story!  A miracle or something.”


Verse 25:  And when Moses saw that the people had broken loose (for Aaron had let them break loose, to the derision of their enemies), then Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said, “Who is on the Lord's side?  Come to me.”   


“Break loose” in the Hebrew - the word is a pun on the word “Pharaoh.”  Literally, Aaron has “pharaohed” the people.  Meaning he’s brought them back to Egypt - to their enemies - back before God’s law - back to being slaves.


And all the sons of Levi gathered around him.  And he said to them, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘‘Put your sword on your side each of you, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill his brother and his companion and his neighbor.’”  


If you’re bothered by simulated Lego violence you might want to look away. 


Verses 28:  And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses.  And that day about three thousand men of the people fell.   


 - brothers, friends, and neighbors - 3,000 killed - And Moses said, “Today you have been ordained for the service of the Lord, each one at the cost of his son and of his brother, so that he might bestow a blessing upon you this day.”


Maybe to us sitting here on cushy teal colored chairs in an air conditioned sanctuary on a Memorial Weekend - physically here - but maybe thinking about what’s for lunch - BBQ and all.  Maybe we’re a little detached from this - what seems way over-the-top harsh.


What are the horrors of sin?  A little compromise?  A little rejecting of God’s will for our lives?  A little disobedience to God’s commands?  God’s commands are really kind of like guidelines actually.  Is a little sin really such a big deal?


What are the horrors of sin?  To God’s people - their relationship with God - Aaron’s reputation - brother killing brother - friends killing friends - neighbors killing neighbors - thousands dead - cauterizing the sin - cleansing the sin from the people - that the people would be restored in their relationship with God - to purity before Him?


“Total depravity” is a theological term.  It describes us before God.  Each of us is totally corrupt in every part of our nature.  There’s nothing within us that’s worthy of God’s approval.  Every one of us displays our depravity as thoroughly and completely as we can.  That is who we are individually and as a race since Adam fell.


We see glimpses of our depravity in the places we do life.  Poverty and heartbreak and disease and psychosis and pain and murder and abortion and child abuse and slavery and trafficking and addictions and war and oppression and broken homes - broken lives - people living in bondage - in darkness - knowing no hope.


Our sin that always damages our relationship with God.  Our sin that always effects others.  Our sin always is self-destructive.  Sin is forever suicide.


If we had a clearer picture of the horror of what that means maybe we would understand that God’s response really isn’t so way over-the-top harsh - so extreme.  God’s response comes from the heart of God working to free us - to purchase us - to redeem us out of all that - to purify our relationship with Him.


Verses 30 to 35 bring us to The Offer Moses Made to God.


Verse 30:  The next day Moses said to the people, “You have sinned a great sin.  And now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.”  So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin.  They have made for themselves gods of gold.  But now, if You will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of Your book that You have written.” 


In the Old Testament the book is God’s list of His covenant people.  Those that God redeems and blesses with life with Him.  In the New Testament the Book of Life is the list of those God has redeemed.  Those destined for eternal life - forever with Him.  (Psalm 69:28; Revelation 20:11-15)


“If You won’t forgive their sin then kick me out of the covenant instead of them.”


Verse 33:  But the Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book.  But now go, lead the people to the place about which I have spoken to you; behold, My angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them.”  Then the Lord sent a plague on the people, because they made the calf, the one that Aaron made.


The bottom line is that Moses isn’t qualified.  He’s not sinless.  Moses’ heart is in the right place.  He’s so loves God’s people - these stiff-necked - stubborn - pain in the rear people of God - that he’s willing to set aside even his own covenant relationship with God for them.  But Moses is a man like us. 


The depth of our sin - our depravity - requires the response that only God can give - what comes from the greatness of God’s love - the depth of God’s heart.


God’s people have missed the heart of God.  A golden calf is about what they knew from Egypt - Pharaoh and slavery and plagues and their understanding of gods that they believe have brought them out of Egypt.  Moses and his God and His law are helpful as long as they serve the needs of the people.  A leader and a God of convenience.


But God rescuing His people from Egypt is about God redeeming His people from bondage - setting them free to experience the fullness of life with Him.  Land - Seed - Blessing - promises which flow from the heart of God - working to redeem mankind - God Who desires to lavish His love on His people.  God Who blesses His people with so much so that they can enjoy their relationship with Him. 


That’s the heart of God on display.  What we see in the extreme over-the-top harshness of God giving up His Son to crucifixion and death.  Jesus giving His life in our place - redeeming us.  Jesus taking on himself the horrors of our sin - the punishment for our sin - so that we can know the heart of God - relationship with God forever.


Processing all that… 


Two takeaway questions:


First:  Got any golden calves?


Doesn’t have to be a large golden calf.  Sin can be very subtle.  A calf is anything that’s taking the place of God in any part of your life - keeping you back from what God has for you in your relationship with Him.


We could go down a list of what that might be.  Wounds - attitudes - finances - stuff - addictions - guilt.  Draining us.  Stressing us.  Deceiving us.  Name your calf.  We’ve all got at least one.  Maybe a whole herd.  The calf is always crying for our attention.  Sucking up what God blesses us with - our time - our resources - our abilities - pulling us away from God.


It’s time to kill the calf.


Moses grinds it to dust.  The people drink it.  People get killed.


Killing the calf is serious business.  Confess it.  Turn from it.  Run towards God with everything you are.  Cry out to God to deliver you from it.  Whatever it takes - deal with it.  Kill the calf.


Second question:  How in sync is your heart with God’s heart?


This account isn’t about depravity and discipline but about redemption and relationship.  All through this account we see God’s love for His people.


Meaning regardless of how messed up you may be or you may think you are get in sync with God’s love for you.


Hold on to God’s commitment to you and your relationship with Him and all that He’s done to free you from sin and bring you into a relationship; with Him and to live in that relationship.  Hold on to the immeasurable depths of God’s great forever love for you.


Getting in sync with God’s heart also means getting in sync with God’s love for others.


Jesus - speaking of Himself - Jesus said, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”  (John 15:12,13)


Who are the people that God has called you to lay down your life for that they might know Jesus?  Or that their relationship with God would be restored or deepened?  Your spouse?  Your children?  Siblings?  That person at work?  People sitting next to you this morning?  Someone who’s hurt you deeply?


Our hearts are in sync with God’s heart when we’re laying down our lives for the people God laid down His life for.  People like us.  Stiff-necked - stubborn - pain in the rear people - depraved and disobedient to God.  People that God deeply loves.  People that Jesus died for.


God’s blesses His people with gold and resources for a relationship with Him.  God blesses us - supplies what we need to live in relationship with Him.  To live that life we need to rely on the heart of God alone to do in us and through us what He desires to do for His glory.



Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®  (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.