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Exodus 34:8-9; True Worship

09/30 Exodus 34:8-9 Asking as Worship

Exodus 34:8 And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. 9 And he said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.”

Today we learn about true worship. The sequence of this passage is amazing, humbling, encouraging, and instructive. Let’s put this in context. God had entered in to a covenant relationship with his people. He was taking Israel, above every other people on the face of the earth, to be his treasured possession, not because of some inherent worth in them, but because of his mercy and love. He saw their misery in Egypt and rescued them. He put up with their grumbling and brought them to the mountain where he would reveal himself to them. He outlined for them what it would mean to be in relationship with the holy God. They said ‘all that the Lord has said we will do and we will be obedient’ (24:7). But while the covenant mediator was up on the mountain receiving the written terms and details of the relationship, they violated their covenant commitment, forfeited their privileged position as God’s chosen people, and committed spiritual adultery. They made their own god and gave it their worship and held a feast to it at the same time that the true God was giving his instructions to their covenant mediator. God was justly angry and threatened to divorce them, destroy them, and start over with Moses.

We have been following Moses’ prayer to God, as he gradually, little by little, asks God to fully restore his relationship with his disobedient people. Moses begged God to extend mercy instead of justice. God agreed not to destroy all of them as they deserved. Moses came down from the mountain and publicly shattered the tablets of the covenant, displaying what the people had done. Moses purged the camp of the idol and those unrepentant and persistent in their idolatry. Moses attempted to make atonement for the people and asked God to forgive, even offering himself, but God insisted that the ones who sinned will suffer the consequences. The Lord said he would send them away, promising that they would make it safely to the promised land, but without his accompanying presence. Because of their persistent sinfulness and his holy character, his presence with them would require that he destroy them. Moses held up to God his promises and the fact that he had already shown undeserved grace to them. He begged God that he go with them, because it was his very presence with them that made them different from every other people on the face of the earth. God responded to this request, promising that his presence would go with them, because they had found grace in his sight. Moses asked for confirmation of God’s promise, that he would set his seal to his promise by revealing to him his glory, the beauty of his character and nature. So God communicated to Moses in words what he had already communicated through his actions up to this point, that he is YHWH, the self-existent one, a God freely merciful and gracious, slow to anger and overflowing in steadfast love and faithfulness, extending his covenant love to thousands of generations, a God inclined to forgive all types of his people’s sin against him, yet at the same time maintaining his justice, by no means clearing the guilty.

True Worship

Moses’ response to God’s revelation is appropriate.

8 And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped.

Moses gets low in the presence of God. God is the only being in existence who is worthy to be exalted. Genuine worship does not draw attention to the worshiper, but deflects all attention to the all-glorious God. True worship is getting out of the way so that everyone can see God for who he is. Here we also see where true worship comes from. Worship is a response to the revealed character of God. I’ve heard people say things like ‘I just can’t seem to get into worship today’ or ‘I can’t worship with this kind of music’. These kind of statements betray a total misunderstanding of what worship is. Worship is not a style of music, and worship is not a feeling or emotion. Worship is a response of the will to the revealed character of God. Worship is getting low in the presence of God so he can be seen for who he is in all his awesome majesty. So if you’re not feeling particularly worshipful, then you need to reflect for a moment on the character of God as revealed in his word, and respond with attitudes and emotions and actions that are appropriate to his greatness; responses that make much of him and show off his glory. Moses quickly bowed his head and worshiped. And then Moses asked.

Asking as Worship

9 And he said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.”

Do you see how this asking is worship? The text says that Moses bowed and worshiped and said. And then he utters this prayer of asking. We might think that worship is what we give back to God in response to what he has given us, so asking would be inappropriate in worship. Worship is giving praise, not taking from God. But this again betrays a misunderstanding of worship. If God is rich and I am a poor beggar, it does not glorify the one who is rich to pretend like I am not needy. It does not magnify the one who is gracious and merciful to pretend that I am deserving or just fine on my own. To glorify the ultimate giver, we must be willing to humbly receive the gifts that he offers. The only way the asking of a beggar would dishonor a benefactor is if the asking reveals the limits of his generosity. If the generous person has no more desire to give or no more resources to give, then that would reveal the limits of his wealth or his willingness. But our God is a God who is merciful and gracious, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. He is eager to forgive. His wealth is inexhaustible and there is no limit to his grace and mercy toward repentant sinners. He has invited us to ask. We worship God, we glorify God, we show off the character of God when we come to him as needy sinners and ask for him to show himself gracious and merciful. We bow ourselves low as beggars and give him the opportunity to show off his abundant forgiveness in the face of our need.

Grace Based Asking

Let’s look at how Moses magnifies God’s revealed character by asking.

9 And he said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.”

First of all, Moses’ asking is based on God’s promise of grace. God had said ‘I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious’. God is free to show his grace to whomever he pleases. But Moses had already experienced evidence of God’s grace. In 33:12, Moses quotes God as saying ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor (or grace) in my sight.’ In 33:13 he bases his request to to know God better on the fact that he had found favor or grace in God’s sight. The goal of his prayer to know God better is so that he would continue to experience his grace. In 33:16 he asks for God’s presence as a demonstration of his grace, and again here in this verse, he asks for God’s presence as evidence of God’s grace. Grace is favor that is not earned or deserved. If we come to God with our rights, demanding that we get what we deserve, we will not like the outcome. Our only basis for asking God for anything is his gracious character. This is so rich, so freeing, but it is so hard for us humans to grasp! Anything good we receive from God has nothing to do with us! We are not more likely to receive good things from God if we have performed well, and we are not less likely to receive good gifts from God if we have performed poorly. We are more likely to receive if we ask him for good things, because HE is gracious! All our asking must be based on God’s gracious character, his delight in giving good gifts to sinners who don’t deserve it.

Persistent Request for God’s Presence

The content of Moses’ request, as we have seen before, is God’s presence with his people. This is the persistent request of Moses. He doesn’t move on to other things, other requests, other needs. He is stuck on this one thing – that God go with his people. He is determined to secure the promise of God’s presence with them. This is the only thing that seems to matter to him; indeed it is the only thing that does matter. If God is not with his people, they will not experience his favor, and they cannot enjoy his presence. This is what we were created for, and nothing else will satisfy. We must have the promise of God’s presence, we must experience peace with God, we must be reconciled to him or all is lost. Nothing else matters. ‘O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us’


The next phrase is puzzling: ‘for it is a stiff-necked people’. This is the reason God wanted to unleash his wrath and destroy the people in chapter 32

Exodus 32:9 And the LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. 10 Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.”

This is the exact reason God gave for not going with his people.

Exodus 33:3 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.”

Exodus 33:5 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. …

Now Moses turns this around and uses it as the very reason for his request that God go with his people.

9 And he said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people…

How can this be? God’s reason for not going with his people is the very thing Moses seizes upon and turns into the reason for his request for God to go with his people. This is a bold way to pray. God says ‘I will not go with you because you are stiff-necked and I would consume you’; Moses prays ‘you must go with us precisely because we are stiff-necked’. What makes the difference? I am convinced that it is God’s promise of grace that makes all the difference. If God were to act strictly in holiness, justice and righteousness, his wrath would burn hot and he would consume this stiff-necked people in a single moment. But if God turns his favor toward them, as he is free to do, then he will turn away his wrath and extend to them his forgiveness, mercy and grace. But how can God turn away his wrath from sinners? Where does he turn it to?

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.

Isaiah 53:10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief;

The Father turned his wrath toward the perfect substitute, his Son Jesus.

1 Peter 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree,…

You see, the cross of our Lord Jesus is central even to the Old Testament. It answers the question ‘How can God be both just and justify the ungodly?’ (Rom.3:25-26; 4:5). How can God remain holy and righteous and show mercy and grace to sinners? This question finds its resolution only at the cross of Jesus, where the just wrath of a holy God against sin is poured out and satisfied, so that he is free to show mercy to those whose sins have been paid for.

But why would Moses remind God that the people are stiff-necked? Why bring this up, and even make it the reason for the request of his presence? I think it goes something like this: Lord, we are a stiff-necked people, daily in need of your transforming presence; do not leave us to ourselves. If we are this bad while you are so near to us, I fear to imagine what we would become if you withdrew your sanctifying presence from us. We are utterly dependent on you; our only hope of becoming holy is your purifying presence with us. The only value we have is that which your grace creates in us.

9 And he said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.”

Pardon our iniquity and our sin. Our only hope is in you, because you are a God who forgives iniquity and transgression and sin. You must go with us, because there is no other God like you whose forgiveness, mercy and grace is a match for a stiff-necked people like us. As the prophet Micah would say:

Micah 7:18 Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. 19 He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.

God’s Inheritance

Go in the midst of us, because we are a stiff necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin. But Moses’ final request tops even this. ‘And take us for your inheritance.’ Take a moment and let this sink in. Take us for your inheritance. An inheritance is a prize possession, a special treasure, something of great value that you look forward to. Take us for your inheritance. Take us, an iniquitous sinful stiff-necked people. You, the holy, sin hating, awesome, self-existent needing nothing God, you take us for your inheritance!? This is beyond belief! God had said back in chapter 19:

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;

If you will obey. But they had not obeyed. They had quickly turned aside. They had violated his covenant. They had committed idolatry, adultery. They had forfeited any claim to be his treasured possession. And now, after the golden calf, Moses has the audacity to ask God to take the people back, not as a pet project or an interesting experiment, but as his inheritance. Treat us as if we had obeyed your voice and kept your covenant perfectly. Take us, a stiff-necked people as your prized possession. How can this be? Moses is boldly asking, calling on the character of God, testing, pushing to the extreme. God you say you are gracious – giving good gifts to those who don’t deserve it. There is nothing we deserve but your wrath; will you show us your favor? We are pitiful, hopeless, helpless; will you extend mercy to us? You say you abound in covenant love and faithfulness; will you be faithful to us even though we have broken faith with you? We have sinned a great sin. Will your forgiveness cover even this? Take us, not because we have any inherent worth and value in your sight, but take us in order by your grace to make us into something valuable. Take us as your treasure.

We find the ultimate fulfillment of this in Jesus;

Titus 2:13 …our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~

September 30, 2012 - Posted by | Exodus, podcast | , , , ,

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