Sermon on Exodus 32:7-14
Text: 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.”
11 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.
It is a wonderful thing when you see a family or a group of friends together. You see that they enjoy each other’s company. In all likelihood, you will hear some good-natured teasing. They like to kid one another about things that have been said or done in the past. There is a time and a place for kidding around. However, there are other occasions when it is not good to kid around. Someone might be telling the others about a dangerous situation. If someone is kidding around, they might get hurt. There may be times when parents or teachers might have to say, “Listen! I’m not kidding around here!” It would be better for the listeners to pay attention to what is being said. As we study this account from Exodus, we see that GOD ISN’T KIDDING 1. When He Condemns, but, also, 2. When He Forgives.
Just prior to our text, Moses had gone to the top of Mount Sinai to receive the law from God. While he was gone, the people of Israel became impatient. They told Aaron to fashion gods who would lead them the rest of the way to Canaan. Aaron fashioned a calf from the gold earrings that the people were wearing. He presented it to the people and the people said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” (Exodus 32:4) They proceeded to worship the calf by feasting and engaging in debauchery.
As a result of this wickedness, the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. 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.’” (Verses 7&8) It is a very bone-chilling way to hear the way that God spoke about the people of Israel. First of all, he referred to them as “your people, whom you brought out of Egypt.” This shows the terrible distance that God put between himself and the people. They had ruined the fellowship that had existed between God and them. God claims no ownership of them. He wants nothing to do with them.
Just a few weeks earlier, the people had stood at the foot of Mount Sinai and had seen and felt the mountain tremble as God descended upon it. They had heard with their own ears God’s command, “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3) God had made a special prohibition about making and worshiping physical idols. Yet, God said, “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.” (Verse 8) The people of Israel were in a hurry to turn away from God. They couldn’t wait to do it. In spite of God’s clear command, they had fashioned the golden calf and worshiped it. The reason that a calf was chosen was that the Egyptians worshiped a god that looked like a bull-calf called Apis. Apparently, they were influenced by their pagan neighbors and some had even worshiped Apis while they were in Egypt. These people credited the greatest experience in their personal lives and national history to a golden calf made from the gold that had recently hung from their own ears.
We read of a further description in verse 9: “I have seen these people,” the LORD said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people.” God describes them as being “stiff-necked.” This refers to an animal that refuses to bend its neck to the reins of its owner. It’s always fighting to go its own way. God said that the people of Israel were persistent in their turning away from God to the paths that they chose for themselves. Nothing about these people caused God to choose them to be his own. Nothing about them need cause God to keep them as his own.
Then, God pronounces his judgment on the people. He said, “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.” (Verse 10) God told Moses that he was going to annihilate the nation of Israel. He was going to wipe them from the face of the earth and start all over again with Moses. Here, God is showing his righteous anger against the people. He had been very clear about what they were to do and not to do. They had chosen to disregard him. As a result, they would face the consequences of their actions.
Isn’t it amazing that the people of Israel would act in this way and fashion an idol and worship it? They had seen God’s power in action as he delivered them from slavery in Egypt? They had witnessed his majesty at the parting of the Red Sea. They had tasted God’s goodness as he provided food for them in the desert. They had heard with their own ears the clear commands of God. In spite of all of this, they made an idol and worshiped it.
However, are we really any different from them? We, too, have seen and experienced God’s goodness in our lives as he has provided everything that we need for this life. We know very clearly what God does and doesn’t want us to do in his Word. We, also, have enjoyed deliverance from our sins. In spite of all of this, we, too, have been in a hurry to turn away from God and to turn to idols. They may not be ones made of gold, but they are just as real. Influenced by the world around us, we have pursued pleasure, possessions, power, prestige, and possessions. We put obtaining these things over our relationship with God. We have made idols of ourselves, putting what our sinful nature wants above what God demands from us. Though we might not physically have bowed down to any of these, as the ancient Israelites did, they have become our gods. They have taken the place that God reserves for himself in our lives. We, also, deserve to hear God say of us, “Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them.” We deserve to be eternally destroyed, feeling God’s anger burn against us in hell. God isn’t kidding when he condemns. He means it.
In spite of the righteous judgment that the people of Israel so richly deserved, we read, “But Moses sought the favor of the LORD his God.” (Verse 11) In spite of the great prestige that would have been his as the recipient of all of the promises that were originally spoken to Abraham, Moses spoke to the Lord on behalf of the people. As Moses prays for the people, he makes three points to God. First of all, we read, “‘LORD,’ he said, ‘why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand?’” (Verse 11) Remember how the Lord, in speaking to Moses said that they were you (Moses’) people? Now Moses refers to them as being the Lord’s people. He had entered into a special covenant with the people. He showed that by revealing himself to them as LORD, the God of love and mercy. The Lord had shown that they were his people as he used his “great power and mighty hand” to deliver them from slavery. Moses points to the special relationship that existed between God and the people of Israel.
Secondly, he asked, “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’?” (Verse 12) The destruction of God’s people would make the Lord the subject of ridicule and slander by the Egyptians. Of course, God had the right to destroy Israel, treating them like the idolaters that they were. However, what would the heathen nations conclude from this? They would conclude that Israel’s God was no different from the gods of Egypt. Israel did not deserve to be spared, but God’s good name deserved to be preserved.
Finally, Moses prayed, “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.’” (Verse 13) Respectfully and confidently, Moses holds God to the promises that had been revealed in his Word. That Word had promised Abraham, Isaac and Israel, that is Jacob, countless descendants and Canaan as their home. This would not happen, or this would only happen through Abraham’s distant descendant, Moses, if the Lord destroyed Israel now.
God’s reaction to Moses’ intercessory prayer is pure grace. “Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.” It wasn’t that the Lord was indecisive. He had spoken very clearly the law and the penalties for breaking that law to Israel. However, in his grace, God chose not to impose those penalties. He remained faithful to his promises even though Israel had been unfaithful to theirs.
As we study Moses’ pleading for the people of Israel, we cannot help but think of the greater Intercessor, Jesus Christ. Although we often sin, Jesus Christ continues to intercede for us. He goes to the Father on our behalf. Essentially, our Mediator says, ‘Father, do not count their sins against them. By faith they are yours and your name is on them. They were adopted into your family when they were brought to faith. I have lived the perfect life that you demand from them for them. Their sins have been covered by the blood that I shed on the cross. Father, you have promised them forgiveness for my sake. Graciously keep your promise and forgive your people.’ In his love for his Son and in love for us, the Father hears that intercession. For the sake of the work of Jesus, he forgives us. Our relationship with him is restored. God isn’t kidding when he forgives us. He means it.
One way that we can show our thanksgiving for this restored relationship is to cast aside any of those idols that are lurking in our hearts. If there are things that cause me to put my time, energy, or resources ahead of God, we want to get rid of them. Out of love for God, who has loved us with an everlasting love, we want to put him first and foremost in our lives. May God help us to do this.
The words, “I’m not kidding. I mean it,” can have different meanings depending on the circumstances in which they are said. If a parent or teacher is dealing with unruly children, they will tell them to stop. If the child persists, the adult may have to say, “I’m not kidding. I mean it.” On the other hand, if a child is sad or afraid and they come to their parents for the reassurance of their love or protection, they will tell them that everything will be fine. If that child has any doubts, the parent might say, “I’m not kidding. I mean it.” In both cases, that phrase shows that the adult is serious about what was said. The same holds true with our God. When God tells the world that he will not put up with sin and that they are penalties for sin, he isn’t kidding. He means it. When God tells us that, for the sake of Son’s life, death, and resurrection, our sins are forgiven, he isn’t kidding. He means it. We thank our God for being so crystal clear in his dealings with us. Amen.
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