28 February 2012

A Survey of the Old Testament Law--The Golden Calf (Epilogue)

Last week we surveyed the episode at Mt. Sinai where the people convinced Aaron to make a golden calf to worship. What that episode really shows us is how foolish human beings really are. Many times people construct a “God”—or, an idea about God—and usually this “God” they create is nothing like the true God. The “God” they create doesn't require much out of them, he’ll let them go on living however they want to. And this “God” will brush aside their sins and say “It’s no big deal.” And when you confront these people about some sin they may have in their life—or in the life of someone they love—what these people tend to say is, “Well, that may be your God. But the god I worship doesn't condemn anybody for that.” And, without realizing it, they have hit the nail on the head. They are absolutely right—the god they worship won’t judge anybody or condemn anybody. But that’s because they don’t worship the One, True, Living God, Almighty YHVH. They worship a god of their own making, and what is the term we use to describe worshipping a god of one’s own making?

Of all the sins that are talked about in Scripture, I don’t think there is one that is mentioned more often than idolatry. And I think that is because the world does not know God, or rather, they don’t want to know the true God. So they carve wooden and stone figures and bow to them. And this too shows how utterly foolish we humans are. These people who bow down to statues are worshipping something made by human hands—a block of wood or stone that was, for all intents and purposes, destroyed so it could be worshipped. They worship something that’s broken. Does that make sense? In Isaiah 40-46, God goes into this lengthy, intense diatribe against the sin of idolatry. Especially Isaiah 44. Listen to Isaiah 44:14-1714 He cuts down cedars for himself, and takes the cypress and the oak; he secures it for himself among the trees of the forest. He plants a pine, and the rain nourishes it. 15 Then it shall be for a man to burn, for he will take some of it and warm himself; yes, he kindles it and bakes bread; indeed he makes a god and worships it; he makes it a carved image, and falls down to it. 16 He burns half of it in the fire; with this half he eats meat; he roasts a roast, and is satisfied. He even warms himself and says, "Ah! I am warm, I have seen the fire." 17 And the rest of it he makes into a god, his carved image. He falls down before it and worships it, prays to it and says, "Deliver me, for you are my god!" Those who worship trees and rocks and think there is such beauty in them—they are missing out on the beauty that is God. One more verse before we get to today’s text, Psalm 29:2Give unto the LORD the glory due to His name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness. 

That said, we are going to begin with the merciful judgment of God. Exodus 32:27-2927 And he said to them, "Thus says the LORD God of Israel: 'Let every man put his sword on his side, and go in and out from entrance to entrance throughout the camp, and let every man kill his brother, every man his companion, and every man his neighbor.'" 28 So the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And about three thousand men of the people fell that day. 29 Then Moses said, "Consecrate yourselves today to the LORD, that He may bestow on you a blessing this day, for every man has opposed his son and his brother." Now, notice something here. In verse 29, what does God command the sons of Levi to do? “Put on your sword, and kill your brother.” But, in verse 29, Moses says that if the people repent, what might God do? "So He may bless you." Whenever and wherever there are righteous people surrounded by unrighteous people, and God has set His mind on destroying the wicked—but He does not want to destroy the righteous—He is perfectly capable of delivering those righteous ones. Listen to 2nd Peter 2:4-94 If God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; 5 and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly; 6 and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction…7 and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked…9 then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment. If God were to send a lightning bolt to zap the person next to you for saying something foul—don’t worry. If God doesn't want to hit you, He won’t--he’s got really good aim. So in these commands of God, where first we see the order to destroy every idolater, and then in the next breath Moses tells the people that if they repent God may still bestow a blessing on them, we see what the apostle Paul refers to in Romans 11:22Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. God knows how to destroy the wicked and preserve the righteous. 

Next we see Moses’ desire to see Israel become a great nation—even at his own expense. Back in Exodus 32:11-13, Moses pleaded with the LORD to not completely wipe these people out. And even though God relented of the harm He said He would do—that may have delayed the deaths of the idolaters who repented, but it did not take away their sin. And that is what Moses pleads for here, in Exodus 32:30-3230 Now it came to pass on the next day that Moses said to the people, "You have committed a great sin. So now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin." 31 Then Moses returned to the LORD and said, "Oh, these people have committed a great sin, and have made for themselves a god of gold! 32 Yet now, if You will forgive their sin—but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written." If you recall, last week God gave Moses a proposition—“Let Me wipe them all out and start over with you.” And Moses had the right to say, and could have very easily said, “Hmm…not a bad idea there. Let’s do it!” But in his spirit, Moses knows it’s not all about Moses. Yes, there will be times when his temper gets the better of him. But, like King David, the pattern of his life is one that is devoted to God and His righteousness, as well as to the people of God, leading them in righteousness. And nothing is more important to Moses than the name and the glory and the holiness of God. The one attribute of God that is greater than any other is His holiness. Not His love, but His holiness. And because of His righteousness, and to display His holiness, when He makes a promise—He keeps it.

For example, when Jehoram becomes king of Judah, and he kills his brothers and many of the princes of Jerusalem, God could have easily killed him and his children. But, listen to 2nd Chronicles 21:6-76 And he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, just as the house of Ahab had done..., for he had the daughter of Ahab as a a wife; and he did evil in the sight of the LORD. 7 Yet the LORD would not destroy the house of David, because of the covenant that He had made with David, and since He had promised to give a lamp to him and to his sons forever. As Moses pleaded with God, in Exodus 32:13“Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, 'I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.'” When God makes a promise, He keeps it. Titus 1:2God, who cannot lie. Not “does not lie” or “will not lie”—CANNOT lie.

And here, once again, we see the simultaneous judgment and mercy of God. The people have sinned—something has to die. But God is also merciful and patient, and Moses pleads with God, saying, “LORD, you know these people. These are Your people. I know these people should bear Your judgment. But rather than visit Your judgment on all of them, allow ME to suffer the punishment THEY deserve.” This is the same plea that the apostle Paul himself made in Romans 9:2-32 I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh. Did Moses take part in making that golden cow? And yet he begs God to punish him and him alone for the sins of the many people who committed that sin. Hmmm…one who did not commit sin, but asked to be punished for the sins of others. Sound like anybody we know? 2nd Corinthians 5:21—[God] made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. So you can see how Moses is growing in his office as mediator for the people of Israel. He may not realize it, the people definitely don’t realize it, but he is becoming a “type” or “visual prophecy” of Christ who is our mediator and was truly punished for our sins.

Now, the people did not become the righteousness of God by way of Moses or the Law, but we do become the righteousness of God in Christ. John Calvin—
“[Christ] assumed our place, that he might be a criminal in our room, and might be dealt with as a sinner, not for his own offenses, but for those of others, since he was pure and exempt from every fault, and might endure the punishment that was due to us—not to himself. It is in the same manner, assuredly, that we are now righteous in him—[not because we have rendered any] satisfaction to the justice of God by our own works, but because we are judged in connection with Christ’s righteousness, which we have put on by faith, that it might become ours.”
So Moses pleads with God to not only spare the physical lives of these people, but to spare them from the eternal punishment they deserved.

Which brings us to God actually demonstrating His ability to punish the wicked and spare the righteous. Exodus 32:33-3533 And the LORD said to Moses, "Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book. 34 Now therefore, go, lead the people to the place of which I have spoken to you. Behold, My Angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit for punishment, I will visit punishment upon them for their sin." 35 So the LORD plagued the people because of what they did with the calf which Aaron made. It’s simple—when a person sins, something has to die. Romans 6:23The wages of sin is death. Ezekiel 18:20The soul who sins shall die. Either that person dies, or something dies in their place. Period, paragraph. That fact would be driven home to those people for the next 1500 years or so. When day after day after day after day, week after week after week after week, year after year after year after year, they would take their animal, take it to the priest, the priest would kill it, cut it up and burn it for one simple reason—sin. There was a lot of blood, a lot of dead animals, a lot of burning carcasses and washing intestines and everything else that went with the office of priest, for one reason—sin. It goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. Genesis 3:21For Adam and his wife the LORD God made tunics of skin, and clothed them. 

Now, this principle did not stop when the old covenant with its sacrifices and offerings was replaced by the new covenant in Christ. That’s the bad news. The Good News—and what word do we use that means “Good News”? The gospel is that this principle found its fulfillment in the death of Christ. Hebrews 9:8-158 The way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing. 9 It was symbolic for the present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience—10 concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation.  11 But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. 12 Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, 14 how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? 15 And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. The blood of bulls and goats, which were offered under the old covenant, only covered over sins—it did not take them away. That blood was symbolic of the blood that Christ would shed which would completely take away and forgive sins—not just for the time being, not just until you sin again—but forever. How many times did Christ enter the Holiest of All in the Heavens? Hebrews 9:12Once for all. Christ went into the Holiest of All, in the Heavens, the one not made with hands, and presented Himself as the sacrifice for the sins of all who would ever believe. Once for all. Not over and over and over and over again—a point the writer of Hebrews makes in Hebrews 9:25Not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another. He went in their once—it’s done.

So, this brings us now to Exodus 33:1-61 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Depart and go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, 'To your descendants I will give it.' 2 And I will send My Angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanite and the Amorite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite. 3 Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people." 4 And when the people heard this bad news, they mourned, and no one put on his ornaments. 5 For the LORD had said to Moses, "Say to the children of Israel, 'You are a stiff-necked people. I could come up into your midst in one moment and consume you. Now therefore, take off your ornaments, that I may know what to do to you.'" 6 So the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments by Mount Horeb. Does He tell the people, “Go into the lands, learn their cultures, soften your tone with them, be sensitive to their felt needs, and bring them under the tent. Because I am God, and God is love.” No! He says, “I'm gonna drive the inhabitants of these idolatrous nations out of their land and give it to you.” 

That is the promise He made to Abraham, Isaac and Israel—does God keep His promises? And if we were to read through Joshua we would see that God does just that. But God would tell the people that not only was He going to drive out the idolaters, they were to have nothing to do with them or their ways. Exodus 34:11-16“11 Observe what I command you this day. Behold, I am driving out from before you the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite. 12 Take heed to yourself, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land where you are going, lest it be a snare in your midst. 13 But you shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and cut down their wooden images 14 (for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God), 15 lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they play the harlot with their gods and make sacrifice to their gods, and one of them invites you and you eat of his sacrifice, 16 and you take of his daughters for your sons, and his daughters play the harlot with their gods and make your sons play the harlot with their gods.” And all the people did exactly that and they lived happily ever after. Right? Wrong. After the book of Joshua, with the conquests of the lands, comes the book of Judges—and I think we all know what happens there. But sadly, many churches today have forgotten that we are supposed to be different from the world.

Are we supposed to walk around in sackcloth and ashes? Not hardly. But should a worship service—where the people are supposed to be worshipping God—should that service feature the “praise band” playing music form AC/DC? Or The Beatles? Or Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places”? Yet these are the kinds of music that many “Seeker-Sensitive” churches are playing during their services. Like, for example, the fellow pictured below. 2nd Corinthians 6:14 (NASB)Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?

Now, don’t get me wrong. Should a lost person be able to walk into a church and be hammered on and beaten down because they're lost? In no way! BUT—should that church be a place where the lost person can feel as if the way they are living and the sin they are holding on to is OK? In no way. The lost person entering a church building should be made welcome—but they should also be discipled and taught that sin is sin and without Christ they are lost. And as Peter said, 1st Peter 3:15Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence. What is the fruit of the Spirit? Galatians 5:22-2322 Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. That is how we are to lead the lost to Christ. Not by beating them over the head, but by gently and patiently leading them. Not by embracing their sin and incorporating it into what is supposed to be a time of worshipping God. That is why God told the people not to enter into any covenants with the pagan nations, because He knew if they did the pagans would have more of an effect on the Israelites than the Israelites would have on the pagans. Or, as Paul said in 1st Corinthians 15:33Bad company corrupts good morals. 

Exodus 33:7-107 Moses took his tent and pitched it outside the camp, far from the camp, and called it the tabernacle of meeting. And it came to pass that everyone who sought the LORD went out to the tabernacle of meeting which was outside the camp. 8 So it was, whenever Moses went out to the tabernacle, that all the people rose, and each man stood at his tent door and watched Moses until he had gone into the tabernacle. 9 And it came to pass, when Moses entered the tabernacle, that the pillar of cloud descended and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the LORD talked with Moses. 10 All the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the tabernacle door, and all the people rose and worshiped, each man in his tent door. How many ways did the people have of seeking God? Exodus 33:8Everyone who sought the LORD went out to the tabernacle of meeting which was outside the camp. How many entrances did the curtain around the tabernacle courtyard have? ONE. How many entrances were there into the Tent of Meeting? In fact, how many entrances were there into the Garden of Eden? Genesis 3:24—So God drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life. There was only one way in and out of the Garden of Eden. Now, how many ways are there into the presence of God the Father today? John 14:6“I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” God hasn’t changed in this regard in 6000 years of human history. If you want to have access to Him, you do it HIS way. Yet there are many who hold fanciful notions, and teach them to others, that they can somehow gain some “new insight” and some kind of new revelation about how to reach God. Rodney Howard Browne’s “ministry” supposedly got started when he said to God, “Either You come down here and touch me, or I will come up there and touch You.” Wow, a God that can be bossed around. Can God be bossed around and have His arm twisted to make Him give us what we want? No. Yet there are many who teach that. They're making a ton of money. The people that listen to them and send them their money—not so much. That is a false idea about God. And what term did we use earlier to describe false ideas about God? Not banging the gavel on these people—just a warning to be careful about what you hear. Even if it’s me saying it. There is ever only one way to God. It’s either HIS way or it’s no way.

Exodus 33:11 11 So the LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he would return to the camp, but his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tabernacle. Let me just say a little about the phrase “face to face.” You will hear skeptics say, “In Exodus 33:20 God says no one can see His face and live! That’s a contradiction!” On the flip side, the Mormon relies on Joseph Smith’s “First Vision” as “proof” that he was a prophet. Joseph Smith supposedly saw, in his “First Vision”, God the Father and Jesus Christ. And when we mention that “In Exodus 33:20 God says no one can see His face and live! Joseph’s vision is a contradiction!” They say “Well, yeah, but it also says that Moses spoke with God face-to-face.” That defense is also used by those with fanciful ideas about God. But the phrase “face-to-face” is an unfortunate product of the evolution of the English language. “Face to face” in this instance does not mean that God revealed His face to Moses—that would indeed be a contradiction. What this refers to is the mode of communication by which God spoke with Moses. How did God descend on the tent in Exodus 33:9The pillar of cloud would descend…and the LORD would speak with Moses. The first time God communicated with Moses—how did He do it? Through the burning bush. But here, He’s simply speaking to Moses as a man speaks to his friend. So “face to face” means that God was not speaking through an intermediary, or an angel or any other medium. He was communicating with Moses personally. Today we use cell phones and texting and e-mail. God spoke with Moses as we are doing right now. No one in between, no vision, dream, etc. Just God speaking with His friend. 

Exodus 33:12-2312 Then Moses said to the LORD, "See, You say to me, 'Bring up this people!' But You Yourself have not let me know whom You will send with me. Moreover, You have said, 'I have known you by name, and you have also found favor in My sight.' 13 Now therefore, I pray You, if I have found favor in Your sight, let me know Your ways that I may know You, so that I may find favor in Your sight. Consider too, that this nation is Your people." 14 And He said, "My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest." 15 Then he said to Him, "If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here. 16 For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?" 17 The LORD said to Moses, "I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name." 18 Then Moses said, "I pray You, show me Your glory!" 19 And He said, "I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion." 20 But He said, "You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!" 21 Then the LORD said, "Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; 22 and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen." 

Anybody know what old church hymn comes from this passage? Does God set boundaries? Are there consequences for stepping over those boundaries? If God promises to do something will He do it? So if Moses caught a glimpse of God’s uncovered glory, what would have happened? Look at Moses’ plea in Exodus 33:18 (KJV)“I beseech Thee, shew me Thy glory!” He doesn't say, “I'm going to see your glory or else!” He doesn't try to boss God around. He wants so badly to know God, but is humble enough to know that if God doesn't want to fully reveal Himself, He won’t. Matthew Henry—
“Moses had lately been in the mount with God, had continued there a great while, and had enjoyed as intimate a communion with God as ever any man had on this side heaven; and yet he is still desiring a further acquaintance. All that are effectually called to the knowledge of God and fellowship with him, though they desire nothing more than God, are nevertheless still coveting more and more of him, till they come to see as they are seen. Moses had wonderfully prevailed with God for one favour after another, and the success of his prayers emboldened him to go on still to seek God; the more he had the more he asked: when we are in a good frame at the throne of grace, we should endeavour to preserve and improve it, and strike while the iron is hot: “Show me thy glory; make me to see it” (so the word is); “make it some way or other visible, and enable me to bear the sight of it.” Not that he was so ignorant as to think God's essence could be seen with bodily eyes; but, having [until now] only heard a voice out of a pillar of cloud or fire, he desired to see some representation of the divine glory, such as God saw fit to gratify him with.”
But one day we will see God in all His glory. Not in this life or in this body. But, as it says in 1st John 2:28-3:228 Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming. 29 If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him. 3:1 See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. 2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. Moses could not see the glory of God with his own eyes. But I dare say he’s seeing it now. And we will one day as well.

Jesus Christ is Lord