by Pastor David Groendyk
Our chapter today is easily one of the most tragic stories in the Bible. In the midst of God giving Israel his plan for how he will dwell with them (Exodus 25–40), Israel nearly forfeits the blessing of having God’s presence among them by making the golden calf.
Despite the fact that Israel had seen God on the mountain (Ex. 20:18–21) and despite the fact that Israel had promised to keep all the commands God had given them (Ex. 24:7), here we find them rejecting God and breaking the very first of the Ten Commandments. This is nothing short of apostasy and blasphemy. Not only do they create another god to worship, but they ascribe to it their miraculous deliverance from Egypt. What a U-turn! God explains that Israel deserves to be utterly wiped from the face of the earth (v. 10). And according to the covenant with God that Israel agreed to, that’s the just and right consequence! They’ve broken the covenant and now deserve punishment. But rather than annihilation, God is gracious and patient after Moses pleads God’s own promises and intercedes on behalf of these poor, wretched sinners (vv. 11–15). Yet Moses is still angry when he comes down from the mountain and sees the idolatry with his own two eyes. He destroys the idol, and a much, much smaller judgment is unleashed on the people in the form of the Levites going through the camp and putting 3000 fellow Israelites to death.
This is really not an unfamiliar experience for the Christian. Though we’ve been delivered from being slaves to our sin and we’ve been rescued from the eternal punishment that we deserve, we still sin all the time. Sometimes we can sin without realizing it, but many times we’re more like Israel in that we choose to sin even though we know we shouldn’t. We choose to do wrong things even though we know they’re wrong (for example, we choose to hold on to our bitterness and hatred towards someone, or we choose to openly covet something our neighbor has). We choose not to do things we’re commanded to do even though we know God expects us to do them (for example, we can go days or weeks without reading God’s Word or praying to him, or we refuse to forgive someone who’s sinned against us). Israel’s example shows us how corrupt the human heart is. We sin all the time. Like Israel, we are constantly betraying the God we pledged to love and worship with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
But the good news in our chapter today is found in Moses. Moses is a picture of what Christ does for us. Moses pleads with God not to annihilate Israel. Why should God not annihilate Israel? Because, as Moses reminds God, he had promised not to (v. 13)! Likewise, if we have put our faith in Jesus Christ and trusted that his death on the cross is the only way to be rescued from hell, God has promised that he will not wipe us out, even though we continue to sin. Jesus is ever at the right hand of the Father pleading for you and me whenever we sin and reminding the Father that the price of our sin has already been paid. Thank God that Christ is on our side and that the price for our sin has been paid in full!
But Christ does more than that. Also like Moses, Christ instructs us to destroy our idols, to forsake our sin, and to re-devote ourselves to God. Moses doesn’t stop at pleading with God; he corrects the way Israel is living. Likewise, Christ has revealed to us how we ought to live in light of the fact that we have been saved, given new life, and are in a covenant relationship with God. Even though it is Christ’s death on the cross alone that saves us, it is not good for us to continue living in sin (see Romans 6). We must put to death our sin and strive to live only in God-honoring ways.
How many times, like Israel, have you forfeited God’s blessing by falling into sin again and again? It could be a bold and brash denial of God (like the people), or it might be a passive giving-in to temptation that browbeats you (like Aaron). Either way, you are in need of a Savior again and again, and the good news is that your Savior will always be there for you when you fail. Keep resting in Christ for your forgiveness and salvation. And keep looking to Christ for the power to put your sin to death and live the right way.