The Secret of God’s Failures - Exodus 32-34 - Hope 103.2

The Secret of God’s Failures – Exodus 32-34

By Simon ManchesterSunday 15 Nov 2015Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 0 minutes


Our gracious God, we pray that you would open our hearts to your Word and we pray that you would open your Word to our hearts and we ask it in Jesus Name – Amen.

There is a story of an astrophysicist who is travelling from University to University and he is giving his big lecture – his big thesis to each of these campuses and he has a driver and the driver says to him ‘you know, you have a pretty easy life. You just turn up give your talk and everybody applauds and then you move to the next place, give your talk and everybody applauds. I have been listening to these talks so many times and I think I could give the talk’.

And the astrophysics says ‘well why don’t we swap places?’ So the driver gets up on the platform and the astrophysics sits in the audience and the driver does a fantastic job – he gives a great word for word lecture. But as the applause is dying down, the Chairman steps up and says ‘well that was great – does anybody have any questions?’

And somebody stands up and gives a question which is so technical and complicated and impossible. And after a brief pause the driver says “as you know, that’s a very simple and silly question. In fact it’s so simple and silly – I am going to get my driver up to answer it’!!

Now the purpose of this morning is that we are going to see in the chapters we have from Exodus that the solution to our problem and our predicament does not lie in ourselves. I know the world pushes us again and again and again to think that we are the solution to everything and we are wonderful. But the Bible tells us that the solution to our greatest predicament lies in somebody outside us and that is in the living God who has got all the wisdom and power. That’s what we are going to see in our Section this morning.

And if you would like to turn up in your Bibles again – page 86 and because we are looking over a little bit of slab of Scripture it would be great if you had it open on your laps.

There is a crisis that takes place in these chapters. Basically the people of God in the Old Testament opened fire, if you can believe this, on their own God. It’s as if they declare a kind of a war. And they do this by creating an idol, the Golden Calf. This golden calf is so famous that I looked up in my dictionary to find another word for ‘idol’ or ‘statue’ and the dictionary suggested ‘the Golden Calf’.

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What we have seen in our little series so far (this is the 7th of 7) is we have seen the Lord bring his people out of Egypt, across the sea, through the Wilderness, providing for them and he has brought them to Mt Sinai and given them instruction or direction how to live as his rescued people.

End of chapter 31 – no sooner does he finish speaking then the people of God start stupidity. A met a girl once whose husband had an affair on their honeymoon. The people of God, the people of Israel are virtually having an affair on their honeymoon.

So I want to look at this under 2 headings this morning. The first is The Calf and God’s Anger and then the second heading Moses and God’s Mercy.

First of all The Calf and God’s Anger. We are told in chapter 4 that Moses was on Mt Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights. And so it’s no surprise in chapter 32 verse 1 – When the people saw Moses was so long in coming down they gathered around Aaron his brother and said ‘come make us gods who go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what’s happened to him – he’s been gone for 6 weeks – come on Aaron make us a god’.

I want you to notice very carefully and importantly especially those of you who have been around churches for a long time that they are not asking for new gods, they are not moving into polytheism, they are not thinking of leaving God, they want a model of God. When they say ‘make us gods’ it’s the Hebrew word Elohim which is the word that runs through the Old Testament for God. It’s a pleural word. They want a visit, portable model of God. They want to decrease him in a way and just make him manageable. Aaron doesn’t think he’s replacing God. He may be stupid in making the Golden Calf but he doesn’t think he’s replacing God. He says in chapter 32 verse 5 “tomorrow there will be a festival to Yahweh” but the way we are going to do it of course is with this statue.

When they do have their festival we read in chapter 32 verse 6 that they sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offering which is exactly what they had been instructed to do. But they are now reducing God in their minds and in their foolishness to a sculpture. As if God will somehow reduce for them and become their servant.

Now before we go any further, I think we should try and work out why they do this. The first reason which the Bible tells us is that the human heart is deeply rebellious to God. From the very decision made by Adam and Eve up until now, there is defiance in the human heart again God. I know it in my heart and you must know it in your heart as well. And we may read Exodus 32 and we say to ourselves ‘how could the Israelites do this after all God had done for them and after all God had said to them. In fact how could they do this after 11 chapters of Law and instruction”?

But then you remember friends (and I am sure you are like me) if we want to do something, if we are determined about something, nobody, nobody, and nobody is going to get in the way. And if you ever experience what it’s like for somebody to have their plans blocked and the anger that rises as somebody would DARE to get in the way of their plans, well we know this in our own heart, don’t we?

So there is a rebellion in the human heart and this defiance which is in all of us has got no interest really in what God says. Did God say as one of the Commandments, make no idol? In other words, don’t try and attempt to control me or domesticate me – O we are not listening. We don’t care. We will ignore this or we will find a loophole.

And then the Israelites are typically impatient.
We can’t be expected to wait,
we’ve got needs,
we’ve got longings,
we’ve got desires,
we’ve got serious issues –
come on Aaron, do something quickly.
Everything is taking way too long.

And you will notice that they insist on having something for their ‘eye’ even though the Lord had said to them ‘you are not to make for yourself an idol, you cannot reduce me to some form that you like’. Now you’ve got to listen to the way that I declare myself, says the Lord. But these people insist on something for the eye – they want something in front of them. They say, well we cannot be expected to live by words, we forget what people say so give us something that we can see – that’s what we need.

And by this, of course they hope to control the situation. They want to be able to decide how things work. They don’t want to be dependent on God. They want something that suits them. In the end, isn’t it all about us anyway? Why does God exist? Does he not exist to help us? We certainly don’t want to be humbled. And what the Israelites are doing is very very real to our own human hearts. This is Adam and Eve, this is the Israelites, this is the people of the 21st Century, and this is humanity.

I was reading in the paper this week that the household fly has now been filmed very skilfully in America. You may have seen this lovely article but they worked out that the wings of a household fly can beat at about 200 beats per second. And the amazing thing is that with one wing beat, the fly can re-orientate itself in a brand new direction – with one wing beat. And with its acceleration and increased acceleration easily escape the Newspaper or the fly swatter or the fist that we are trying desperately to get it with. The fruit fly according to the same article can change direction in one hundreds of a second. Is it any wonder we struggle!

These little flies have been designed to remind us that this world is not heaven. And I wonder, you know, I wonder whether the human heart isn’t faster than a fly to move in a new direction away from the will of God? We have this unbelievable ability and speed, don’t we, we move in a direction that appeals to us.

And there is insanity about this – we are rejecting the Will of a great and gracious God. There is something insane about it. It’s very sinful but it’s all so crazy. And I didn’t realize until recently how many people as World War I began were actually quite excited about the War. How many people in World War I 1914 welcomed the War.? It was seen and I quote:

It was the ultimate test of heroism.
It was seen as an opportunity even for ecstatic experience.
People wrote in Germany – of how it would purify society.
Fraud and others said – life had become interesting again.
In Russia they saw it – as the opening of a new greatness.
The Sociologist, Dirham said – It would revive community.
DH Lawrence wrote – that humanity needs pruning.
Karl Marx who of course lived and wrote before World War I –
it’s the midwife of revolution.

Now I don’t think 100 years later any sane person would celebrate the process of war. And when a people, an individual or a nation declare war on the living God, it’s even more insane and even more serious. And you will see God’s reaction in chapter 32 verse 10 where he speaks to Moses and he says this: “Leave me alone so my anger may burn against them and I may destroy them”. The God who has just brought the Israelites out of Egypt and safely brought them so far through the Wilderness and spoken carefully and patiently at Mt Sinai, now says – step aside so that I may destroy them!

Now we find this language very unsettling. We think I guess that it’s not worthy of God to speak like this. And of course we know from the Bible that it’s not his delight to destroy or hurt or injure anyone but it is his absolute right to destroy his people if they sin in a way that is worthy of death.

We get angry, don’t we, when a little girl gets abducted and we see people on the News who will run up to the Police wagon and wack the wagon. And if you were to say to those people ‘why are you getting so angry?’ they might say to us ‘where is your sense of justice?’ ‘Don’t you have a conscious, don’t you have a heart, and don’t you care about anything?’

Now God finds idolatry utterly unjust and he sees it more clearly than any of us can see it. He has told us the greatest Commandment is to love him, the greatest sin is to refuse that. And the greatest danger that any human can every fall into is not to have humanity land upon you but it’s to have the living God land upon you. The greatest danger that anybody can ever experience is to have the just anger of God fall on you.

I am not talking about some irrational bad mood of God – that would be evil but the sentence of his justice which we deserve to fall on us – that’s the worst thing that can possibly happen. The Bible says the wages of sin is death, the wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus. The only thing that’s going to prevent the justice of God falling on me and you is if God intervenes – and that’s what he does and that’s what we see in our second heading this morning – Moses and God’s Mercy.

Now I would love to move on to this subject of mercy but actually nobody really appreciates mercy unless they appreciate the danger.

Who cares for mercy if there is no trouble?
Show me somebody who really appreciates the cross of Christ and I will show you somebody who knows their sin.
Show me somebody who knows their sin and I will show you someone who will appreciate the cross of Christ.

When I was looking into an empty grave on Friday at the Cemetery as the coffin was lowered in and I began to read the famous words of Jesus exercising mastery over the grave, over the tomb and bringing Lazarus out, these are words which are historically factual and are appreciated by millions of people around the world.

And here is a little group of 15 standing at the graveside, do you think any of those members came up to me afterwards and said – ‘this is a pretty serious situation we are facing – we are looking death right in the face, do you think there’s anything in this resurrection? – No Nothing of course because people are not really facing the problem. The person who has just been lowered into the grave has not been bitten by a mosquito. The person who has just been lowered into the grave has been bitten with the sting of death. The next thing they know, they will come face to face with Christ. It’s a really really big issue. And therefore we need a really really big solution. That’s where the mercy of God comes.

Well look at chapter 32 verse 11 – Moses begins to pray. He prays the first of 5 prayers. We might be tempted at this point to say ‘well thank God for Moses, he’s stepping in and rescuing the people from God’. But no, no, no – God has raised up Moses.

Look at chapter 32 verse 7 – the Lord says “these are your people” and in chapter 32 verse 10 – the Lord says “I will make you, Moses a great nation”.

Now friends, do you see what God is doing? Think with me, think carefully, do you see what God is doing? Here he is – he says ‘step aside Moses and I am going to bring my judgment on them, they deserve it, this is a piece of justice’. And Moses steps in to prayer and why does he step in to prayer? Because God has fed him his lines. God has said ‘these are your people’. Moses says ‘No, no, no – these are your people’. God has said to Moses ‘I’ll make you a great nation’. Moses says ‘No, no, no – you promised to make Abraham a great nation – you’ve got to keep your promises, you’ve got to say with your people’ – God is feeding Moses his lines. God is raising up Moses as the Mediator. God wants Moses to pray. God wants Moses to pray well. That’s why Moses begins to pray well.

Do you remember I said at the beginning that the answer to our predicament of God’s justice is going to be discovering God’s mercy? The answer to God is God and if you and I are going to escape the judgment of God, it’s going to be by the mercy of God. How are we going to find the mercy of God? We are going to find the mercy of God not by looking for Moses. He was a “pray-er”, we are going to find the mercy of God by looking to Jesus who is the “pay-er”.

Well Moses prays his first prayer – it’s a great prayer but it’s been fed to him by God and he says ‘no you brought these people out of Egypt; don’t let the nations mock you. I am concerned for your glory, don’t let the Egyptians and the other say ‘look he saved them but then he killed them’ – you’ll be a joke, remember the promises, don’t be angry’.

And we read in chapter 32 verse 14 God relented. Now that doesn’t mean friends that he turned from something evil to do something good. It means he turned from something good, called justice, to do something good called mercy. He turned from justice to mercy. He turned from what he ought to do – to what he delights to do. But in refusing to wipe out the people, we read in chapter 32 verse 28 that he still removed 3,000. That was a sobering thing. 0.3% of the people died. Just like a Surgeon removing a cancer, the Lord took out a tiny fraction of the people.

You can see of course in chapter 32 verse 15 that Moses came down the mountain full of anger, burning with anger and he was very angry and he smashed the stone tablets and he crushed the calf and he grounded it to powder and he made the people drink it. And then on God’s instruction, he ordered the ring leaders to be killed.

And if we were to say to Moses at this point – why are you doing this, why are you letting these people be killed? He would say, well first because God instructed this and secondly the sin is worse than the treatment. I’ve been on Mt Sinai, I’ve been looking at a holy God, you’ve no idea what this is but I can see it more clearly than you and it deserves to be removed.

So that’s his first prayer – Praying that God would relent and God relents.

And the second prayer comes in chapter 32 verse 30 and he prays since God has relented that God would now forgive them. Forgive them, says Moses and in a funny way he says ‘and I will pay, why don’t you blot me out of the Book and keep them in the Book? It’s a very very impressive prayer.

Somebody reminded me after the early service that if God’s people had that concern for the lost, we’d be a very different people. Moses is actually saying ‘I will pay’ but he’s not adequate. He is a sinful man, he’s not a substitute for the Israelites and the Lord knows he’s not a substitute for the Israelites and so the answer to the prayer comes (verse 34) ‘Go on with your journey – an angel with go with you’. Which is God’s way of saying ‘we are going to keep the plan, we are going to keep the process, we are going to keep the journey, we are going to keep the destination but in a strange way I’m not going with you – an angel will lead you – I’m holding back’.

Now even the people of Israel are distressed when they hear this and we read in chapter 33 verses 4-6
that they repent, they really do,
they repent,
they grieve,
they mourn,
they take off their jewellery,

and it seems as though they are very stressed. And so Moses prays his 3rd prayer chapter 33 verse 12. He has asked God to relent and he did. He has asked God to forgive – nothing really clear yet and the third prayer in verse 12 of chapter 33 ‘who is going to go with us?’ Come on, you said God that you would go with us, who is going to go with us? I want you, says Moses, to go with us. I don’t just want to run a club where you are in a distant position – I want your fellowship and the Lord says very wonderfully, ‘my presence will go with you; my presence will go with you’.

And Moses says in verses 15-17 ‘well that’s all that matters. We don’t want a religion without you, we want you, and we don’t want to have some kind of church business that goes on. We want the living God among us.’

Friends, I tell you this, I just say this to you off the cuff – the most important thing, the most wonderful thing about our gathering is not our building, or our music, or our preaching, the most wonderful thing is that the living God lives by his Spirit in the hearts of his people and when we gather together, we recognize the Spirit of God in the hearts of one another, that’s where our fellowship really takes place, and it is the most precious God-centred fellowship impossible to create but wonderful to enjoy.

And that’s what Moses is saying ‘I don’t want professionalism, I don’t want nominalism, and we want you in our midst because we are absolutely nothing unless you are in our midst. And unless God is in the midst of his people, we don’t have anything. Just imagine the foolishness of thinking that we would be doing well if we had this building and the music and a certain team and that would do us as long as the Service Sheets came out, the offertory went around, the coffee was hot – NO it’s the living God among us. Better that 3 of us meet under a tree with the Spirit of God in our hearts than we have all the trappings and all the extras.

And then comes Moses’ fourth prayer in chapter 33 verse 18 – he says “Show me your glory – show me your glory – let me see your greatness in face of this tragedy”. And interestingly God does not him his glory. So what has Moses prayed so far?

Relent and God does.
Forgive – pause
Who is going with us – the Lord says “I will go with you”
Show me your glory – the Lord basically says “I won’t – I won’t show you my glory because you cannot see the invisible and holy God and survive”. But I will preach myself to you so come up the mountain, bring 2 stone tablets again and will hide you in a little crevice of a rock and I will go past (you won’t see me) and I will preach myself, I will proclaim myself, I will announce myself.

And we have in chapter 34 verses 3-8 three of the most wonderful verses in the whole of the Bible where we read that he passed in front of Moses proclaiming “The Lord, The Lord”. Yahweh Yahweh. The only time this is ever put. The compassionate and gracious God slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness and maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. No wonder (verse 8) Moses bowed to the grounds at once and he worshipped because suddenly Moses sees that’s the solution. There’s the answer, there’s the secret, there is the escape, there’s the rescue and there’s the glory. It’s that God is a God of mercy.

Well his fifth prayer in chapter 34 verse 9 is “make us your people, make us your people, seal the deal, ink in the covenant” and God’s says “I will” and he promises very great things and he demands very great things especially chapter 34 verse 17 ‘Don’t make idols’.

Now friends, what do we make of this today, 2014 – I don’t need to remind you that we are perfectly capable of devoting ourselves to an idol.

It could be the Company that has our heart, mind, soul and strength.
It could be the Family that takes heart, mind, soul and strength.
It could be the lifestyle that we love occupies all heart, mind, soul and strength.
It could be a cause which occupies our heart, mind, soul and strength.

If it does – it’s an idol. If it’s not the living God – it’s an idol. And if it’s an idol, it’s unjust, it’s insane, it’s sinful and it rouses God’s anger.

Sometimes it isn’t a cheap idol, you know like house or luxury or greed or immorality or an affair or some particular person or self, sometimes it isn’t a cheap idol. Sometimes as Gavin Perkins has reminded us in previous sermons, it’s just living for what we see. We are just going to go with the “eye” that’s it. Not listening, not paying attention, not reading, not heeding the Word of God – we are just going to go with what we see. That’s how we will live.

And if we go with the ‘eye’ and not the ‘ear’ – if we go with what we see and not what God says we will fall into idolatry. But when we realize that we have idolatrous hearts and we feel the danger and then we realize that God has sent into the world the Mediator, the person of the Lord Jesus, who has not only lived mercifully but has died to actually extend mercy then we bring the two ‘whys’ together. This is why people don’t become Christians. They don’t get the two ‘whys’. They either don’t know the problem or they don’t know the solution.

You’ve got people who just couldn’t care less about the solution because they don’t believe the problem. There may be some few people who believe the problem but they don’t know yet the solution. But when the problem and the solution come together, we fall down like Moses, don’t we and we say ‘thank you for mercy’.

Well has anyone here this morning feeling a little guilty for the way they have been living? Your answer is the merciful God. Your danger is the just God but your answer is the merciful God. He’s told us what he is like, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love. He’s told us what he is like. He has demonstrated it most clearly in the person of Jesus and at the cross where he held mercy out in abundance. And his promise is that I will have mercy on the humble who seek it.

I wonder if there is anyone, however, who is feeling a little reckless at the moment, feeling a little careless and faithless, nothing really matters? You are right for idolatry. You are the sort of person who is just right for some kind of reduced scale-down god to come along and occupy your heart, mind, soul and strength, fill your horizon and make you a very very dangerous person. And God tells us that idolatry stirs up his anger and when we hear and believe and receive that message, it should point us to the Lord Jesus in repentance and confession and faith and gratitude and gladness and faithfulness. Because the Bible says ‘keep yourselves from idols’. Or we might say more positively ‘keep yourself for Christ’.

Let’s pray –
Our Father, we thank you for this section of your word. We thank you that in the face of such evil and stupidity you showed yourself to be full of mercy, grace and goodness. And we recognize our Father, that we would have no hope ourselves if that were not the case. We couldn’t improve, we couldn’t change, couldn’t arrive. So we thank you for our Saviour, the Lord Jesus.

We pray that you would give wisdom to everybody in this building and everybody who hears this message to seek your mercy and find rescue and joy.
We ask it in Jesus’ Name – Amen.