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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

Exodus 33:1-6; The Disastrous Word

08/26 Exodus 33:1-6 The Disastrous Word

We are at a pivotal place in the book of Exodus. God has threatened to wipe out his people whom he rescued from slavery because of their unfaithfulness to him. They eagerly entered into a covenant with him, and before they even received the written terms of the agreement, they had violated their core commitments. Moses interceded for the people, and God relented from the disaster he had threatened. Moses had cleaned up the mess, as much as humanly possible, desecrating the idol and executing those persistent in their rebellion, and then he attempted to make atonement for the people by offering himself as a substitute. God rejected this offer:

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.

We are not told what this plague was. It may have been disease or famine or death or pestilence. The chapter ends and leaves us hanging. But remember, chapter divisions were added in the early 13th century, and verse divisions were added in the mid 16th century (wikipedia). The chapter and verse divisions were not original to the text. They help us find our way around the bible, but sometimes they disrupt the flow of a passage and cause us to miss the connection. That may be the case here. It could be that the Lord sending a plague is referring back to the 3,000 that were executed in 32:27-28. It is also possible that the plague that the Lord sent on the people is what he describes in the next section.

35 Then the LORD sent a plague on the people, because they made the calf, the one that Aaron made.

Exodus 33:1 The LORD said to Moses, “Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give it.’ 2 I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 3 Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”

Could it be that the plague is that God is sending the people away without his presence among them?

Covenant Ceremony Aborted

Let’s try to understand what is happening here in the context of the exodus narrative. God heard the cries of his people and came to their rescue. He said to Pharaoh “Let my people go that they may serve me” (5:1; 7:16; 8:1, 20; 9:1, 13; 10:3). God promised:

Exodus 6:6 …‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. 7 I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. 8 I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the LORD.’”

God has brought the people out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. He has delivered them from slavery. He redeemed them with an outstretched hand and great acts of judgment. Now, at Mount Sinai, he is entering into a covenant relationship with the people, he is taking them to be his own people, and he will be their God. They are in the middle of the wedding ceremony, the vows have been said, and before the ceremony is over, she is caught in the act, publicly committing adultery. God had said:

Exodus 19:5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine;

But they have not listened to his voice. They have violated the covenant. They have made false gods and worshiped the works of their hands. They have forfeited their privileged position as his treasured possession. God is justly furious. He wants to destroy them. But even at this point, he shows mercy. He will not crush them; he will send them away. Look at our text again:

Exodus 33:1 The LORD said to Moses, “Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give it.’ 2 I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 3 Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”

God says ‘depart’. He is sending them away. He distances himself from this people; no longer are they ‘my people’ (he has referred to them 18 times this way in Exodus); they are ‘the people’; ‘the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt’. God is disowning his people and sending them away. He tells them to go to the place he has prepared for them to live together, but now they must go alone. God has made promises, and those promises he will keep. He had promised to give to this people – who are the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – he had promised to give them the land. He will make good on that promise. This is not a question of their worthiness; it is a question of his character. God is a God who keeps his promises. He will send an angel. He will drive out the inhabitants of the land. He will fulfill his promise, because God always keeps his promises. But he tells them to go. He will not go with them, but he indicates that this is for their protection, because he is a holy God who must punish sin, and if he were to go with them, his character would demand that he punish them, because of their persistent sinfulness.

Honeymoon Without the Groom?

This is an interesting offer. God is saying that he will make good on his promises. He will give them the blessing of the land, a good land, flowing with milk and honey. He will give them peace, driving out their enemies before them. He will give them protection from his own holy wrath in the form of distance. They cannot keep his covenant, so he will keep his distance.

For many today, this is just what they are looking for. The blessings of the promised land, all the good things that God has to offer, without the moral demands and accountability of his presence. God will give me what I want, but he will keep his distance and not meddle with my life. He will stay out of my personal affairs. The law has been shattered. There is no longer any standard to which I will be held. I get to enjoy the promised land without the rules hanging over my head. This sounds like good news!

And for many who claim to preach the good news today, this is their message. Jesus is a fire-escape from hell. If you say the prayer, if you believe in Jesus, then you have your get-out-of-hell-free card in your pocket, and you can live any way you like. Anything you have ever done or will ever do is forgiven, so you are free to do anything you like. This sounds like the gospel, this seems like good news, it even uses some of the same language we might use in presenting the gospel, but this is not the gospel. Let’s look at the response of the people and see if they thought this was good news.

The Disastrous Word

Exodus 33:4 When the people heard this disastrous word, they mourned, and no one put on his ornaments. 5 For the LORD had said to Moses, “Say to the people of Israel, ‘You are a stiff-necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you. So now take off your ornaments, that I may know what to do with you.’” 6 Therefore the people of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments, from Mount Horeb onward.

This was not good news; this was a disastrous word! This was an occasion, not for rejoicing and celebration, but for mourning. Their jewelry, which they had used in their sin, they never again wore. A disastrous word. Why did they perceive it this way? These are the people who, shortly before, worshiped a gold calf, sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. We would think that these people would be eager for this kind of moral freedom. ‘We still get the promised land, but without the burden of the law! We still get what we want, but without the moral accountability. We can have it our way!’ No, when Moses publicly broke the tablets of the law, the people did not cheer, they mourned. What did they understand that we don’t?

The good news of Exodus is the presence of God with his people. The good news of Exodus was “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God” (Ex.6:7). The good news of Exodus was “you shall be my treasured possession” (Ex.19:5). The good news of Exodus was “I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the LORD their God” (Ex.29:45-46). The good news of Exodus was “let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst” (Ex.25:8). The good news is reconciled relationship, fellowship, intimacy with God, closeness to God, access to God. The good news was not the promised land. That was merely the backdrop for the relationship. The bride is not content to go to the honeymoon destination without the groom. The whole point is relationship.

Now all this is forfeit. God will not take them as his people. They will not be his treasured possession. He will not dwell among them. He will not be their God and they will not be in relationship with him. He is sending them away. This is indeed a disastrous word.

Love the Gift More Than The Giver?

Do we perceive it that way? What if God offered this to us? What if God said ‘because you are sinful and hard-hearted, I will withdraw from you so that I don’t destroy you. You can still go to heaven when you die, you will be with your family and friends and loved ones, there will be no sickness or sorrow or pain, you will walk on streets of gold, there will be pleasures forevermore, good things beyond your wildest imagination, but I will not be there.’ Would that be a disastrous word, or is that exactly what we want? Do we love the gift more than the giver? We don’t bow down to golden images, so we don’t think we have a problem with idolatry, but this exposes the idolatry of our hearts. Are we in persistent violation of the first and greatest commandment? Do we love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength (Deut.6:5; Mt.22:37; Mk.12:30; Lk.10:27)? Or are we like the adulterous wife, who takes the good gifts her husband gives and uses them to pay for her love affairs? Are we more in love with God’s gifts than with God himself?

God has made us for relationship. We will never find true satisfaction until our relationship with God is in its proper place. Heaven becomes hell without the presence of God. Jesus defined eternal life this way:

John 17:3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

Eternal life is life in intimate relationship with God. Other relationships and pleasures lose their fulfillment without God at the center.

Psalms 73:26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. …28 But for me it is good to be near God…

This is helpful for diagnosing our true problem; in your life, in your relationships, in your marriage, in your family, in your work, do you feel unfulfilled, dissatisfied, frustrated, empty? The problem is not with your possessions or your friends or your spouse or your children or your boss. The problem may be that you are looking to those people or things to give you the satisfaction that God alone can give. Allow God to be the center. Enjoy your relationship with him first, find your satisfaction in him, be filled to overflowing with him, and then take that overflow into all the other areas of your life and be a blessing to those around you.

Moral Demands of Relationship

But what does it mean to be in relationship with God? As sinners, the first thing it means is that we need to have our sins covered. In the last several chapters of Exodus, God had given detailed instructions for building the tabernacle, the place of atonement, the sacrificial altar, and outfits for the priests. Now he is sending them away without any of these things. There is no place to make sacrifices, no priests to offer sacrifices and so there can be no forgiveness. The wages of sin is death, and without any way to find forgiveness, ‘each one shall be put to death for his own sins’ (Deut.24:16). But thank God, we are not left in that situation. The one to whom the whole sacrificial system pointed has come. His name is Jesus. He has satisfied the just wrath of God against sin. He is our great High Priest who offered himself in our place and purchased our forgiveness. He has reconciled us to God, so now we can enjoy the relationship with our Creator that we were designed for. We who are trusting in Jesus will never hear this disastrous word.

John 6:37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.

We have been invited in to this all-satisfying relationship with the God of the universe. What does this relationship look like? A relationship is a connection, association or involvement with another person. Our relation to God is that of created thing to Creator, of subject to King, of redeemed to Redeemer. Ours is not a relationship between equals; yes, it is a relationship of friends, but it is a relation of servant to Master, of child to Father. We do not have liberty to choose the parameters of the relationship; God does. To be in relationship with the one true God by definition has moral implications. Friendship with a person means there is a level of admiration, even imitation. To be in relationship with God means we will be shaped by God’s character. We will begin to love the things he loves and hate the things he hates. But our relationship with God is deeper than admiration and imitation.

2 Corinthians 3:18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

As we get to know God, as we admire him for who he is, we will begin to be like him. This is not mere imitation; it is inward transformation. We do not simply start to act like him; our thoughts and desires and affections begin to be shaped by who God is. This is supernatural transformation. God, who intended to dwell in the tabernacle with the children of Israel, now lives inside of us by his Spirit.

1 Corinthians 6:19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

Our relationship with God has extensive implications. As we get to know him, we will begin to desire him more; even more than the good things that he offers. We will begin to recognize that there is no greater gift than the gift of his presence. There is nothing more disastrous than the thought of separation from this awesome all-glorious all-satisfying God.

Psalms 63:1 O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~


August 26, 2012 - Posted by | Exodus, podcast | , , , , , ,

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