What’s going on here? 5 After you’ve blown it.
We’ve been looking mainly at what is going on in the background of the first 5 covenants of the bible. Here we come to Exodus 32 and we realise that this scene is really a ‘meanwhile back at the ranch’ kind of scene that describes what has been going on while Moses has indeed been receiving the covenant from God.
- What’s been going on.
Now I’ve entitled this one, ‘After you’ve blown it’ and a quick survey of the second half of Exodus reveals just how much they really did blow it.
After the song of deliverance concludes in chapter 15, How many total verses of Scripture pass before the first complaint? Three, yes, three verses after the song of deliverance concludes, the first complaint against God is recorded. It is after this that God proceeds to feed them manna and quail in Chapter 16. In Chapter 17, (Yep we’re only two chapters into the journey) we have the waters out of the rock at Meribah (See Psalm 95). Then; God rescues Israel from the Amalekites in battle and Jethro tells Moses to stop trying to run it all by himself and start appointing some leaders. Then, between 19 and 24 God gives the ten commandments and other instructions in the hearing of the community of Israel. But what is amazing is in chapter 24, God instructs Moses to come up to him with Aaron, his sons and the seventy elders of Israel and (I’m just going to quote it right out of the book here) Ex 24:10-11 saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of lapis lazuli, as bright blue as the sky. 11 But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.
What a stupendous, indescribable experience. Afterwards it appears that Moses is called even further up the mountain where he then stays for what verse 18 stipulates as 40 days and 40 nights.
My point is, that is the last that these leaders of Israel see of Moses until chapter 32. The next 8 chapters is literally all God’s instructions to Moses which he is to record, some of which he is to pass on to the relevant craftsmen or priests. These instructions also set up the Levitical priesthood and tabernacle system. These are quite literally, the covenant stipulations.
- What is going on meanwhile
But I am sure you can see where I’m going with this. The obvious question is, while all this has been happening, what happened to Aaron, his son and the 70 elders of Israel, Whom saw God face to face and ate and drank in his presence on heavenly ground? What have they done with this remarkable experience? What new worship songs have they taught to the congregation? What meetings have they called to censure the people’s tendencies towards complaining and to tell of their extraordinary experience of God to the congregation?
The answer; They’ve done nothing. They’ve taught no-one. They’ve disciple no-one. They have rather remained…………silent. Silent before the restless mob. And perhaps one of the most tragic readings in all of Scripture:
Exodus 32:1-2 When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods[a] who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” 2 Aaron answered them, (there’s the first on most basic mistake) “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron.
Where are the elders!!! Where is one, just one, who will speak of God’s majesty to God’s people? They’re no-where to be found. That’s what is going on here and it’s tough to blow it more than that. How thick is the irony: 32:5 When Aaron saw this (the calf), he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.” 6 So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they (what?) sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.
No one during this blasphemous feast thinks to himself “hmm this reminds me of a reason why this may not be a good idea.”
- How does God respond?
God responds to the situation by sending his chosen mediator down to his people. And yes you may notice that this is a deliberately loaded statement with New Testament overtones!
Ex 32:7-9 7 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. 8 They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’ 9 “I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.
This is probably the only place in Scripture where God is so hurt that He seems to be almost (and I hate to use these words of God but there’s no other phrase that quite captures it) ‘losing it.’ At the end of the day the text here implies that God is so frustrated that he’s about to make a whole other covenant with Moses himself. I can’t think of another place where God is so mad that he disassociates himself with his people. Suddenly here, God says to Moses “Your people, whom you brought out of Egypt.” You also get the sense that God is torn between intervention (Get down there Moses) and destruction (Leave me alone so I can destroy them.)
It raises a really scary theological question: can we annoy or disappoint God to the point where he just say’s “I’ve had it with you.” I have come to realise that behind a lot of smiling faces I have talked to, this question still haunts people deep down. “Did I blow it?”
Because there’s two levels here isn’t there? There’s the hurt of what his people are doing, but then there is also the hurt and anger present in Jesus’ voice when he has constant encounters with the religious teachers of his day people who should have…..known better. It is something that he’s going to be asking me and you when we see him again: “did you share your experience of me with other’s or did you do nothing but participate in their blasphemous feast knowing all along, I was just on the other side of the cloud?
The great news is, it’s never too late to start trusting because all our failures and successes do not count a single bit towards our salvation. The only and I mean the only thing that saves us, is that someone takes the blame for our failures in our place.
- The Mediator.
Remarkably, the accusative ‘you’ statement that God uses in the conversation with Moses, is very similar to Ex 14:15 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? (Of course, Moses is doing nothing of the sort. It’s the people who are crying out. But if you read Exodus very carefully you will notice something different in God’s relationship with Moses from every other biblical Character. God considered Moses to be such a representative of the people that he is ‘blamed’ for their sin. When God gets angry, seriously angry, it’s Moses that cops it. BUT Moses amazingly doesn’t flinch. Rather, he talks back.
Ex 32 11-14 But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. “Lord,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people.13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’” 14 Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened…..(then down in verse 31): So Moses went back to the Lord and said, “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. 32 But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.”
Moses is allowed by God to negotiate with him on behalf of the people. He goes down to the people as the representative of God and he goes up the mountain as the representative of the people. And he mediates. He’s the mediator. What is the mediators’ ultimate role? To stand in the place of the sinner. How do we know, verse 32: IF YOU DO NOT FORGIVE THEIR SIN, I STAND IN THEIR PLACE. You know that God forgives because Moses is still alive.
WHY? What’s going on here? In this conversation, we realise something, Moses can only still be standing on that mountain, because there’s a better Moses, and ultimate mediator, one who was blotted out, who carried a cross up the mountain, representing his people, took the wrath and came down the mountain dead.
Moses came down from his mountain, from negotiating with God, still alive because Jesus would be carried down from his mountain dead. And he rose again in the ground. Jesus went up the mountain to die and into the ground to rise again so that when we go into to ground to die we might meet him again up the mountain.
- In closing.
Folks we’ve spent the first 5 weeks of the new year being reminded of one thing….God’s got a plan. In fact God’s got a plan especially when it looks like God’s plan in falling apart. So I simply want to close this series by asking you a simple question: What’s going on…here? In our Church, right now. Where do you see God moving? What promises is the Lord giving us? What is he showing us in the situations that we are facing and choices we’re making?