Exodus 32:1–4, 30–34; 34:6b–9comment (0)
April 29, 2010
By Jeffrey S. Quiett
Related Scripture: Exodus 32:1–4, 30–34; 34:6b–9
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Associate professor of marriage and family counseling, University of Mobile
WHAT IF YOU FALTER?
Exodus 32:1–4, 30–34; 34:6b–9
The People’s Apostasy (32:1–4)
When Moses failed to return from the mountain, the Israelites concluded that something had happened to him and went to Aaron with a demand that he make them other “gods.” The Israelites were finding it difficult to adjust to the leadership of an invisible God and seemed to be deliberately rejecting Him by attributing their deliverance from Egypt to Moses. Once again, we see the Israelites’ weak faith in the face of discomfort and confusion. The presence of hardship gives us opportunity to live out what we truly believe.
More striking than the people’s faithlessness was Aaron’s acquiescence. He instructed the Israelites to bring him their golden earrings, which were probably part of their loot from Egypt. From this jewelry, Aaron fashioned an idol in the form of a “golden calf” or a “young bull,” which was a symbol of vigor, strength and reproductive power in the ancient world. When Aaron presented the completed image, he proclaimed, “These are your gods … who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” Almost identical words are found in 1 Kings 12:28 when Jeroboam made two golden calves for Dan and Bethel.
The loss of patience and lack of perseverance are dramatic in this passage. The Israelites quickly lost faith despite their extensive experience with God’s faithfulness and provision. Their impatience gave way to apostasy as they sought out false gods to secure a weak faith. Many times, patience and perseverance are the most severe tests of one’s faith and morality (2 Thess. 3:13).
Punishment and Intercession (32:30–34)
Moses bitterly denounced the Israelites’ sin as a “great sin” but added that he would go to the Lord to try to make atonement for their transgression. Moses pleaded with God to forgive them. If God would not forgive them, then Moses insisted on being “blotted out” from “the book [He had] written.” “To blot out” may mean simply “to die,” or it may be one of several references in the Bible to a book in which God has inscribed names of those who belong to His Kingdom. Many ancient cities kept registers of their citizens. If one was not enrolled in the official register, then he or she did not enjoy the rights and legal protection afforded a citizen.
God rejected Moses’ offer, making it clear that no person can atone for the sins of another. Each individual was responsible for his or her own sins, which would later be clearly enunciated by Jeremiah (31:29–30) and Ezekiel (18:1–32; 33:10–20). The Lord, however, did reaffirm His promise to take the people to the promised land under Moses’ leadership and said His angel would go before them.
Although modern worldviews claim that sin is a result of upbringing or other outside causes, the Bible affirms that each person is accountable for his or her actions. Sin is a serious offense against God that carries individual, relational and spiritual consequences.
Although God forgives sin through repentance and trust in Christ, the immediate and possible long-term consequences of sin remain.
Forgiveness and Consequences (34:6b–9)
Verses 6 and 7 contain a summary of God’s chief attributes. They emphasize both His righteousness that requires punishment of wrongdoing and His love that permits forgiveness. In response to God’s revelation, Moses bowed low and worshiped. He then renewed his appeal to the Lord to go with the people, even though they were stubborn; forgive them; and take them for His inheritance. Moses demonstrated a crucial leadership quality of accountability coupled with grace.
This passage gives a dramatic background for the coming of Jesus. God’s holiness and love cannot be separated. Although God loves us and wants to forgive us of our sin, He cannot excuse or ignore our tendency to rebel against Him. Our rebellion against God comes with a great price — death. But God’s love and grace compeled Him to provide a way to himself through Christ (Rom. 6:23). An intense awareness of our sin and its consequences drives us to Jesus (Gal. 3:24).