Saturday, August 1, 2020
The Exodus. Day 124, Discipline For Idolatry, Part Three
Today we'll be concluding the section regarding the making of the golden calf and the discipline that followed. In yesterday's study the Levite men struck down three thousand Israelites with the sword---people who were evidently the worst of those who rebelled against the Lord. A second wave of people will perish for sin that began here in Chapter 32 but that continues (in the hearts of some of the people) on through Exodus and Leviticus until a second wave of the people perish in the book of Numbers for the same type of idolatry and immorality that took place in our current chapter.
"The next day Moses said to the people, 'You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.'" (Exodus 32:30) Earlier in our chapter, while Moses was still on the mountain with the Lord, the Lord warned him that things had gone wrong in the camp. At that point Moses prayed for the Lord not to destroy the people and the Lord agreed not to wipe them out. He has kept the promise not to make an end of Israel, though three thousand especially wicked men perished to remove their influence from among the population. But now that Moses has seen for himself the extent of the people's sin he can't imagine the Lord not making an end of Israel, either now or at sometime in the near future. Moses won't blame the Lord if he wipes them out; He made it clear how He felt about idolatry in Exodus 22:20: "Whoever sacrifices to any God but the Lord must be destroyed." And now the people have made sacrifices to a false God and they have earned the death penalty for themselves. Moses knows the Lord has the right to do away with them altogether. Moses probably thinks to himself, "Now that I've seen the depths to which they've sunk, if I were the Lord I'd want to make an end of them. I'm angry with them as a human being even though it's not my laws they've transgressed. It's the Lord's laws they've transgressed and it's His name they've denied by giving a golden idol the credit for rescuing them from Egypt. If He decides to destroy them He has a right to do so." Moses won't find fault with the Lord if He wipes out Israel here in the desert because he knows God is a God of righteousness and justice. But he also knows God is a God of mercy, so Moses goes back up on the mountain to see whether there is anything he can say or anything he can do or any price he can pay to keep the Lord from destroying the people for their idolatry.
"So Moses went back to the Lord and said, 'Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin---but if not, then blot me out of the book You have written.'" (Exodus 32:31-32) Moses doesn't sugarcoat anything. He doesn't say, "Now, Lord, I know these people have sinned greatly. But I think You need to cut them some slack. At heart I think they're decent people but they've been under a lot of strain and I believe they just got carried away. Can we just move on and pretend this never happened?" No, Moses tells it like it is and says, "Their sin is enormous! They've done a terrible thing. They've denied Your name and bowed down and sacrificed to an idol. There's no other way to describe what they've done except to call it a great sin. There's no excuse for it. There's no way to make this okay or to sweep it under the rug. They've transgressed one of Your greatest laws and they deserve the death penalty for it, there's no doubt about that."
Moses offers not only his own life in exchange for the people's, but his eternal soul as well when he says, "But if not, then blot me out of the book You have written." He's speaking of the Book of Life in which is written the name of every person who is saved by faith in the Lord. If the Lord isn't willing to forgive the people on either their own recognizance or as a merciful acceptance of Moses' intercessory prayer on their behalf, Moses thinks perhaps He'll accept his soul as payment. What great love Moses feels for his people to make such an offer! The Apostle Paul felt this same kind of love for his fellow Israelites, saying that he so badly wanted them to turn to Christ that he'd almost give up his own salvation in exchange for the salvation of everyone in the nation. (Romans 9:3)
It may be difficult for us to imagine such a love for lost people that we'd exchange our own souls for them. I'd be lying if I said I'd relinquish my salvation if my whole neighborhood would be saved, for example. But I think Moses and Paul felt a fatherly love for their people and perhaps we can understand it, at least a little bit, by thinking of their relationships with Israel as a parent/child relationship. I know quite a few Christian parents who have a child or children who are unbelievers and who are destroying their lives by the way they live and by the things they do. Some of them are severe drug addicts or repeat offenders against the legal system. They grew up hearing about the Lord but they want nothing to do with Him. They refuse to serve Him and have fallen into such a pit of sin that they're destroying their health, ruining every good opportunity that comes their way, making everyone around them miserable, and are in danger of losing their eternal souls. I'd be willing to bet that some of their parents, out of their immense love for their children, would actually be willing to give up their own eternal salvation in exchange for seeing their children saved and made whole. This is how men like Moses and Paul felt about the people of Israel. Their love for their people was so great that they would have given literally anything to see them saved and made whole.
Christ is another who was willing to give up anything to see mankind saved and made whole. He gave up His exalted position in heaven and came to earth to live in a frail human body where He was scorned, rejected, beaten, given the death penalty although He was innocent and holy, and subjected to the tortures of the cross. He did this out of love for you and me. Christ was the only one capable of making a sacrifice able to save mankind, but in Moses and the Apostle Paul we see the heart of Christ reflected. We see the love of Christ manifested in their attitudes. It ought to break our hearts when we think about the lost. We ought to make intercessory prayer every day for everyone we know who is living in rebellion toward the Lord. The Lord doesn't want or need any of us to offer our souls in exchange for theirs; the only acceptable price for their souls has already been paid by Christ. But what the Lord does want us to do is care deeply about the spiritual condition of those around us and to pray for them and to show Christ's love to them and to do whatever we can to lead them to the one who can make them whole.
The Lord doesn't need or want Moses' soul in exchange for the people. He isn't going to blot Moses' name out of His book. The only names that will ever be blotted out of His book are those who refuse Him their whole lives long, those who wouldn't turn to Him under any circumstances. The Lord knows the heart of every person and while He's speaking with Moses on the mountain He already knows the future of every person in the camp. He knows who loves Him and who doesn't. He knows which ones will repent and rededicate their lives to Him. And He knows which ones despise Him in their hearts and will never serve Him no matter what. The only names He will ever blot out are those who earned the blotting; He won't take the soul of Moses in exchange for them. He won't allow anyone to give up their salvation to save someone else. "The Lord replied to Moses, 'Whoever has sinned against Me I will blot out of My book.'" (Exodus 32:33)
It's time to move on from this subject and from this place in the wilderness. The Lord says, "Now go, lead the people to the place I spoke of, and My angel will go before you. However, when the time comes for Me to punish, I will punish them for their sin.'" (Exodus 32:34) We will see this punishment falling upon them in Numbers 25:9 and this is probably the incident the Apostle Paul spoke of in 1 Corinthians 10:8. Although this occasion is not the same in which they formed the golden calf and sacrificed to it and committed sexual sins in a pagan festival, the two incidents appear to be connected. It's likely that the same people involved in the idolatry and sexual immorality in Exodus 32 are the ones involved in the idolatry and sexual immorality of Numbers 25, so in that sense the incidents are connected because they represent an ongoing spirit of rebellion against the Lord and against His commandments and laws. The punishment that falls upon them in Numbers 25 corresponds with the final verse of our passage today which says, "And the Lord struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made." (Exodus 32:35)
When the plague strikes, Numbers 25:9 will tell us that 24,000 perish from it. The Apostle Paul states in 1 Corinthians 10:8 that 23,000 perished in one day, leading many scholars to believe that 23,000 died on the day the plague fell and that the remaining 1,000 died on the following day or over the next several days. These 1,000 could have had greater physical stamina or such strong immune systems that their bodies fought the plague for a day or for several days before losing the battle.
Why does the Lord not go ahead and send a plague here in Exodus 32 since He already knows that a segment of the population will not repent but will descend further and further into idolatry and immorality? I can't say for certain but it may have to do with the inability for anyone condemned in the final judgment to claim God never gave them an opportunity to repent. This very minute the Lord knows exactly which people currently living on the earth belong to Him. He knows how many will turn to Him during their lifetime. He knows which ones will refuse His mercy time and time again, rejecting Him and spurning His love right up til the moment of their death. Yet He doesn't go ahead and wipe those people out. He allows them to remain until they perish either from natural causes or as a result of their own foolish actions. None of them will be able to stand in His courtroom on the day of judgment and accuse Him of never calling them to repentance. They can't claim He never spoke to their hearts or that He never pleaded with them to turn to Him for forgiveness. They can't claim He didn't leave them on the earth long enough to see the error of their ways and forsake their sin. They can't claim He didn't give them chance after chance after chance to be saved and made whole. I don't know that the whole reason for God allowing them to remain is so that He is vindicated at the judgment and so His name and reputation can never be assaulted, but I think it's one of the reasons. When the plague falls in Numbers 25, no one who perishes in it has a legal or moral leg to stand on if they try to make a complaint against the Lord's judgment. By then they will have had plenty of time to see the error of their ways and to repent and turn back to the Lord. The plague is years down the road from now and the people who cherish idolatry and immorality in their hearts will be given plenty of time to witness the Lord's power and glory and to turn to Him and be saved. But they don't, and when their sin becomes extremely dangerous to the nation as a whole in Numbers 25, they perish.
A lot of action takes place between now and then. In tomorrow's study the Lord is ready to move on from what's happened in our current chapter. He speaks of the future and makes it clear that He still intends to give the promised land to Israel.