PastorRodney’s Weblog

Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

Exodus 32:30-35; Our Desperate Need for a Substitute

07/29 Exodus 32:30-35 Our Desperate Need for a Substitute

We are looking at Exodus 32, where Moses seeks to make atonement with God for the sin of the people. As we study this out, I believe it will give us greater insight into the substitutionary work of Jesus on the cross for sinners like us.

The people have sinned a great sin. While Moses, the covenant mediator is on the mountain in the presence of God receiving the terms of this covenant relationship, the people, who had vowed their faithfulness to YHWH alone, have now corrupted themselves. They have quickly abandoned the commands that God had given them to have no God beside him, to worship no created thing but the unseen Creator only. They have abandoned strict monotheism (the belief that only one supreme God exists) and embraced polytheism (the belief that there are many gods). They have turned their worship toward the work of their own hands, rather than the God who created all things, and for whom all things exist. They have committed spiritual adultery, violating their exclusive covenant commitment to the one true God by giving themselves in worship to a false fabricated god. Moses interceded for the people, pleading with God that for the sake of his own reputation he not wipe them out completely.

When Moses returned to the camp, he shattered the tablets containing the terms of the covenant, demonstrating what the people by their actions had done to their relationship with God. He destroyed and desecrated their idol, making it unfit to ever be worshiped again. He confronted the leader who failed in his responsibility to care for the people, and he began to clean up the mess. He called for those who would repent from their sins and align themselves with the Lord to purify the camp and put to death those who refused to confess their sin and turn from their idolatry. 3,000 men died that day, a small fraction of the total population, demonstrating the great mercy of God. This is where we pick up the story.


Exodus 32:30 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.”

Moses as leader had done what was in his power to set the people back on the right path. Now, he tells the people that he, as mediator, will attempt to make atonement for their sin. Aaron had downplayed the sin, passing the blame to others, implying it was really no big deal, excusable because of the sinful inclination of the people. Moses takes the sin very seriously. He calls it a great sin – language often used for adultery. He says ‘perhaps I can make atonement for your sin’. He does not say ‘now I have to go make atonement for your sin’; he says ‘perhaps’. God is free to forgive or not forgive as he freely chooses. Moses can give no guarantee of the success of his intercession. Perhaps he can make atonement, but perhaps not. There is no presuming here on the mercy of God, as we so often do. We often take the attitude of Aaron – that our sin is no big deal, and that it is God’s job to forgive. Moses takes sin seriously. He sees that atonement needs to be made.

This word ‘atonement’ is interesting, because we have seen this word before. In the instructions for the tabernacle that Moses received from the LORD, he was told to build a box that would contain the tablets of the covenant agreement. The lid of this box was called the mercy seat, or atonement cover, or propitiatory. This was the place where God would meet with his people, and where their sins would be covered through the blood of a sacrifice. Now the tablets are broken, the covenant has been broken, the tabernacle is not built, there is no atonement cover, there is no sacrificial system in place by which atonement can be made. But remember, the tabernacle, as we have seen in the New Testament book of Hebrews (8:5), was a shadow of the heavenly reality. Moses says that he will go up to the LORD and attempt to make atonement.


Exodus 32:31 So Moses returned to the LORD and said, “Alas, this people have sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. 32 But now, if you will forgive their sin–but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.”

This is a great example of what true confession should look like. Remember Aaron, when confronted with his sin tried to downplay the sin, asking Moses not to be angry, he tried to deflect blame, he tried to excuse himself and the people based on their natural propensity toward evil. We find none of that here. Moses starts his prayer with the word ‘Alas’. He is pleading, crying out to the Lord, begging. He acknowledges that it is a serious offense; ‘they have sinned a great sin’. This is no light matter, and he takes it seriously. He openly confesses the truth that God already knew – ‘they have made for themselves gods of gold’, unlike Aaron who said ‘I threw it into the fire and out came this calf’. He gets to the heart of the issue. They have violated the core of the covenant relationship, to have no other gods but the one true God, to not represent even the one true God with images. ‘They have made for themselves gods of gold’. He does not try to sugar coat their sin. He tells it like it is. And then he pleads for forgiveness. This is a broken sentence, difficult to translate because it is incomplete, expressing deep emotion, inability to put into words even the request. ‘if you will forgive their sins…’ If you will carry off, bear, take away their sins… He can’t complete the sentence.

Substitution Offered

‘But if not, please blot me out of the book that you have written.’ What a difference between Aaron and Moses! Aaron tries to save his own skin – you know what these people are like. Blame, excuse, blame, excuse, not my fault. Moses, who not too long ago felt inadequate to the task, Moses, who said ‘who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt? (Ex.3:11), Moses who was reluctant to take on the responsibilities of leadership, has now grown into this role that God placed him in, and he pleads with God ‘if you will, forgiven their sin – but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written’. God had suggested that he wipe out Israel and start over with Moses. Moses so identifies himself with the people that he offers up himself. He is attempting to make atonement for the people, and he is offering his own life; ‘please blot me out of the book that you have written’. Moses has truly matured as a leader who sacrificially loves the people who have been entrusted to his care

Substitute Rejected

But notice God’s response.

Exodus 32:33 But the LORD said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book. 34 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.” 35 Then the LORD sent a plague on the people, because they made the calf, the one that Aaron made.

Moses says ‘take me as a substitute – blot me out of your book’. God says ‘no, whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book… I will visit their sin upon them’. Moses attempts to atone for the people, attempts to cover their sin, even offering himself, and God says no, the people will die for their own sin. God is passionate about justice. This is a principle we find in the Proverbs.

Proverbs 17:15 He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD.

The Soul Who Sins Shall Die

God’s love for justice demands that only the righteous be justified, and only the wicked be condemned. People are judged for their own sins. You won’t be judged for another person’s sins, and you cannot pass your righteousness on to someone else. You are directly accountable to God for what you do. You cannot blame someone else for your sins, and you cannot say you are being punished for someone else’s sins. Many misunderstand what God says in the Ten Commandments:

Exodus 20:5 …for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

This is sometimes misconstrued to mean that God punishes the innocent children of wicked parents or that we might be under some kind of generational curse. That is not what it says. The point is that parents do train their children by their actions; often by their own sinful behavior. And when those children follow in their parent’s sinful footsteps, God does not give them a free pass to sin and say, ‘it’s okay, they are just repeating what they have been taught at home’. No, God ‘will by no means clear the guilty’ (Ex.34:7; Num.14:18). The flip side of this is that God loves to extend forgiveness, and godly parents can set the example for thousands of generations to love God and keep his commandments. This is made explicitly clear in Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy 24:16 “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.

And Ezekiel chapter 18 lays out several scenarios to demonstrate the principle that:

Ezekiel 18:20 The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.

So Moses’ attempt to make atonement and be blotted out of God’s book must be rejected. ‘Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book’.

Proverbs 17:15 He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD.

Our Problem

The problem, our problem is that ‘all have sinned and fall short’ (Rom.3:23), and ‘no one living is righteous before you’ (Ps.143:2), and ‘the wages of sin is death’ (Rom.6:23).

Romans 5:12 …sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned–

This is our problem – we all have sinned, and so we all deserve to die. This is one of the problems with Moses’ offer. He could not die for the sins of Israel, because he himself was a sinner and worthy of death.

A Prophet Like Me

We have drawn a contrast between Aaron and Moses; now I’d like to draw a contrast between Moses and Jesus. Moses himself knew he was pointing ahead to someone greater. He said:

Deuteronomy 18:15 “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers–it is to him you shall listen–

…18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.

The New Testament authors confirm that the ‘prophet like Moses’ that this pointed forward to is Jesus (Acts3:22; 7:27), so let’s look from Moses to Jesus.

Moses and Jesus

Moses went up to God to receive instructions from him for the people; Jesus is the only God who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known (Jn.1:18). Moses came down to see the extent of the people’s sin; Jesus had perfect knowledge of the desperate condition of the people he came to save (Jn.2:25; Lk.19:10). The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (Jn.1:17). Moses came down the mountain with tablets of stone that were broken before they were received; Jesus writes the law on our hearts (Jer.31:33). Moses’ ministry was a ministry of death that brought condemnation; Jesus’ ministry is a ministry of new life in the Spirit (2Cor.3). Moses destroyed the tablets of the law and executed judgment on the people; Jesus did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Mt. 5:17). Jesus did not come to judge the world but to save us (Jn.3:17; 12:47). Moses was a sinner like us; Jesus had no sin of his own (1Pet.2:22; 1Jo.3:5). Moses offered himself to make atonement and he was rejected; Jesus offered himself as a substitute for our sins and he was accepted by his Father (2Pet.1:17; Acts 17:31). Moses could not be punished for sins that he did not commit; Jesus became sin for us, took on himself our guilt, and bore in his own body our sins, so he could be justly punished in our place.

2 Corinthians 5:21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

1 Peter 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

Isaiah 53:4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; …

Isaiah 53:6 …and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53:11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.

Moses went up to the Lord to see if perhaps he could make atonement for their sin;

Hebrews 9:11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, …12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. …24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. …26 … he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.

Hebrews 10:12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.

Hebrews 12:2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Jesus, our great Prophet, Priest and King, did what Moses could not do. Jesus, God in human flesh, bore our guilt and paid our price in full and cried out ‘it is finished!’ (Jn.19:30)

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~

July 29, 2012 Posted by | Exodus, podcast | , , , , , , | Leave a comment