Moses Intercedes

Scripture: Exodus 32:1-14

Title: Moses Intercedes

Key Idea: Moses intercedes for the people by asking God to be true to Himself

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • Israel’s disloyalty (vv.1-6)
  • God’s anger (vv.7-10)
  • Moses’ intercession (vv.11-13)
  • Conclusion – Yahweh repents (v. 14)

Introduction:

The Christian mathematician, Blaise Pascal, famously said…

  • All human evil comes from a single cause, man’s inability to sit still in a room 

With the holidays approaching some of you may be contemplating travelling away for a break

  • Most holidays we go to see family who live about 7 hours north of here
  • When our kids were little they would sleep some of the way but invariably we had to provide some entertainment for most of the trip
  • We might listen to the Wiggles or High Five for a while but by the third or fourth time through the tape that got a bit tiresome
  • We played the classic I spy with my little eye & word association games
  • But my favourite game (and probably their least favourite) was seeing how long they could stay completely quiet and still for
  • Some attempts were more successful than others

Please turn with me to Exodus chapter 32 – page 92 in your pew Bibles

  • Today we continue our series on Moses
  • At this point in the story Moses is up Mount Sinai receiving instructions from Yahweh
  • He has been gone about 6 weeks and the people are growing impatient
  • Like passengers in the back seat of a car, all they had to do was sit still and wait quietly. Sadly, they weren’t able to do this
  • From verse 1 of Exodus 32 we read…

[Read Exodus 32:1-14]

 

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this reading for us

This Scripture passage rather conveniently divides into three parts…

  • Israel’s disloyalty in verses 1-6
  • God’s anger in verses 7-10
  • And Moses’ intercession in verses 11-13

First let us consider Israel’s apostasy – their disloyalty or rejection of Yahweh

Israel’s disloyalty:

As an explanation of the quote we opened today’s sermon with, Blaise Pascal goes on to observe…

“Nothing is so insufferable to man as to be completely at rest, without passions, without business, without diversion, without study. He then feels his nothingness, his forlornness, his insufficiency, his dependence, his weakness, his emptiness.”

 

Moses has been up the mountain listening to Yahweh for about six weeks

  • All the people had to do was be still and wait, but they couldn’t manage it
  • Moses’ absence had put them in touch with their own nothingness, their insufficiency, weakness and emptiness
  • To overcome these insufferable feelings the people gathered round Aaron and took matters into their own hands, saying to Aaron…

‘We do not know what has happened to this man Moses, who led us out of Egypt; so make us gods to lead us.’

There is quite a bit wrong with this sentence

  • For starters we hear contempt in the phrase, ‘this man Moses’, as if Moses were a stranger to the people

Worse than this though there is a complete denial of God

  • The people credit Moses with leading them out of Egypt when in fact it was the Lord Almighty who led them
  • By pretending God does not exist the people are able to say, ‘make us gods to lead us.’

This request is a blatant disregard of God’s instruction not to make images or idols for worship

  • It amounts to nothing less than a rejection of Yahweh who delivered Israel from slavery – It is a betrayal of the worst kind
  • The people don’t want a God who can think and speak and act
  • They would rather have a lifeless object which they can see and touch and control

An idol isn’t necessarily a statue that people bow down to

  • It could be money in the bank, or our job, or a status symbol, like the clothes we wear or the car we drive
  • An idol is basically any mechanism or device which makes us feel like we are in control
  • By that definition a bomb or a gun could be an idol

We are not in control of course but it makes us feel more powerful, more secure if we can maintain the illusion that we are calling the shots

  • Jesus said that human beings live by faith
  • Which means we are actually more empowered, more secure, when we accept the reality that we are not in control and simply trust God

Apparently Aaron gave little resistance to the people’s demand

  • He asked for the people’s ear rings, melted them and made a gold bull
  • Then the people said, ‘Israel, this is our god, who led us out of Egypt’
  • Aaron went along with this and built an altar in front of the golden bull saying, ‘Tomorrow there will be a festival to honour the Lord (Yahweh)’

What we have here is syncretism

  • Syncretism is the combining of different, often contradictory, beliefs

In the ancient east statues of golden bulls or calves were used by pagans in the worship of Baal

  • Aaron was combining aspects of Baal worship with the worship of Yahweh, the Lord Almighty. That was syncretism
  • It was also the breaking of the third commandment not to take the Lord’s name in vain

[Set up table with water & turps and empty glass]

I have here a jug of water and a bottle of turps together with an empty glass

  • Imagine the empty glass represents the human soul
  • You only have one soul – one container
  • Worshipping the one true God – the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ – is like pouring water into our soul – it refreshes us, it is life to us
  • Idol worship is like pouring turps (or poison) into our soul – it will kill us
  • Syncretism is when someone tries to mix the water and the turps
  • Even a little bit of turps will ruin the water and make it unfit for drinking
  • It doesn’t work to worship God and Buddha at the same time
  • Just like it doesn’t work to follow Jesus and put money or career first

[Return to the pulpit]

From our vantage point in history we might look back and think, how could the Israelites do such a terrible thing?

  • But at the time the people of Israel couldn’t see that it was terrible
  • They probably thought they were doing a virtuous thing – not unlike terrorists who also think they are doing a virtuous thing
  • What’s more Israel were doing it in a democratic way – this was the collective wisdom of the majority. (So much for democracy)

We shouldn’t feel too superior to the Israelites – I’m not sure any of us is so pure in our worship of the Lord

  • That’s the thing about syncretism – we can’t always see it
  • Like turps it appears the same as water
  • Apostasy doesn’t present itself as a red devil with horns
  • It comes as an angel of light – we may think it a good thing at first

 

Verse 6 tells how the people sacrificed to the golden calf and then sat down to a feast which turned into an orgy of drinking and sex

  • Idolatry (putting ourselves in control) leads to moral chaos and the breakdown of society

So, that’s the people’s disloyalty

  • What about God’s response?
  • Well, God is angry

 

God’s anger:

My grandad had a pool table and we used to play pool together

  • Pool is basically a game of physics – it’s about the transfer of energy
  • Energy is transferred from the cue to the white ball and onto a numbered (or coloured) ball

Anger is essentially a form of energy

  • Energy is not good or bad – it’s just energy
  • When we are angry we have an intense concentration of energy in us which moves us – sort of like balls in a game of pool are moved

If anger is the white ball (on a pool table) then the numbered (or coloured) balls on the table are the different faces of anger

  • Just as a moving white ball transfers energy to the other balls on the table so too anger expresses itself in a variety of behaviours
  • Perhaps the black 8 ball represents outrage – swearing or yelling or throwing your weight around
  • But outrage isn’t the only face of anger – sometimes people hold the rage in and it becomes sadness, bitterness, resentment, cynicism, or contempt

One common face of anger is sarcasm

  • Some people think sarcasm is funny, but it’s not something I enjoy
  • Sarcasm is a form of anger
  • If you are sarcastic a lot then you have a problem with anger, underneath

God uses sarcasm with Moses in verse 7, where He says…

  • “Go back down at once, because your people, whom you led out of Egypt have sinned and rejected me
  • God is picking up on what the people said earlier about Moses leading them out of Egypt
  • God is angered by the people’s denial of Him and this angry energy is transferred into words of sarcasm – like the white ball transferring energy onto the yellow ball

The other thing to say here is that anger is never a primary emotion – even with God (perhaps especially with God) – anger is always secondary

  • Anger is energy that has been transferred from something deeper
  • The white ball on a pool table doesn’t move by itself
  • The white ball (of anger) moves because it is hit by the cue

So what does the cue in the hands of God represent?

  • The cue represents what we might call care or love or compassion
  • It is precisely because God cares so much that He hits the white ball of His anger
  • If God didn’t care about the people He wouldn’t have been so upset
  • If God hadn’t been so attached to Israel He would have put the cue down and walked away from the game

As I understand it Buddhism is a non-violent religion

  • Jesus also taught non-violence
  • So Buddhism and Christianity appear similar (like turps & water)
  • But when you take a closer look you realise how different they are
  • Buddhism says the way to avoid violence is to not care, to not love and not form attachments
  • Because when you don’t care about anything, you don’t get angry or upset about anything and so you don’t hurt anyone

By contrast Jesus teaches us that we must care, we must form attachments

  • We shouldn’t become attached to money or material objects but we should care about our neighbour and we should love God
  • Of course this means we will inevitably get angry
  • The pool cue of care will set the white ball of our anger in motion
  • Jesus’ intention is that we use the energy of anger for good
  • Release the energy in a controlled way and in a direction which achieves a positive outcome

I think, in hindsight, that my grandad was using the game of pool to teach me lessons for life

  • He was always telling me don’t hit the ball too hard
  • Take your time, line it up right and hit the ball gently because then, even if you miss, at least it will be in place for you to sink next time
  • Hitting the ball hard just makes a mess of things

God was angry with the Israelites because He cares

  • The Good News Translation has God saying to Moses…
  • “Now don’t try to stop me. I am angry with them and I am going to destroy them. Then I will make you [Moses] and your descendants into a great nation.”

Words like this in the mouth of God are difficult for us – especially in light of events in Paris yesterday

  • We have to keep the bigger picture in mind – God’s overarching goal for humanity is, not to destroy but, to save as many as possible

The Good News Bible is usually pretty good but their translation of the opening sentence, ‘Don’t try to stop me’, is a bit misleading

  • God actually does want Moses to stop Him, why else would He tell Moses what He was thinking

A more accurate translation (like the NIV) reads…

  • Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”

This translation makes better sense

  • The fact that God is asking to be left alone with this decision tells us at least two things…

Firstly, that God is in control of His anger

  • He is not about to react in the heat of the moment
  • God is not like David Banner, who could turn into the Incredible Hulk at any time. ‘Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry’ – that’s not God
  • God is taking time to consider His actions – measure twice, cut once

Asking to be left alone also tells us this was not an easy matter for God

  • It’s like finding out that your husband or wife has been cheating on you
  • There is tremendous grief involved for the Lord
  • God wants time on His own to deal with His grief and anger, that’s how deeply affected He is by Israel’s rejection

Now it is important to understand that God’s grief isn’t all about Himself

  • Yes, Israel’s rejection of Him hurts but I reckon God is also grieving for the other nations of the world – for humanity generally
  • The Lord’s intention for Israel was that they be a holy people – a nation of priests who would lead the other nations of the world to God
  • By worshipping the golden calf Israel have pointed the other nations away from the Lord and over a cliff
  • Israel have made it harder for people to come to God and that grieves the Lord’s heart

God doesn’t want to destroy anyone, least of all His beloved people

  • His overarching purpose is to save as many people as possible
  • But what is He to do if Israel rejects Him?
  • He can’t force the people to love Him
  • What choice does He have but to start again with Moses?

Moses’ intercession:

Although God has asked Moses to leave Him alone with His grief and anger, Moses stands His ground and intercedes for the people and for God

With an idol, there is no dialogue – there is just the monologue of our own self talk

  • But with God there is dialogue – our prayers can influence God
  • What we say and do makes a very real difference
  • Which means that to some degree the future is open
  • God’s overall purpose is to save or redeem as many people as possible and, thankfully, we can’t change that
  • But we can influence God’s strategy for how He reaches His goal

To use the metaphor of driving a car…

  • If God is the driver and we are the passengers, and it’s His purpose to travel from Auckland to Wellington, then we can’t change His mind about the destination
  • But we can influence the route He takes in getting there, where He stops and how many people He picks up on the way, that sort of thing

It’s not like life is a movie and we are just playing the roles and reading the lines that have been written for us

  • We are not fated to a particular destiny
  • Christians don’t believe in fate
  • Christians live by faith
  • Faith is not set in stone – it’s organic, it’s interactive, it’s dynamic

When God made humanity He didn’t make us in the image of an idol – a lifeless lump of stone that can’t talk back or change anything

  • God gave us a mind to think with, freewill to choose, emotion to move us and a voice to speak
  • God made us like Himself, in His own image
  • And in doing that the Lord was sharing His power with us

Moses seems to understand this and so when God says, ‘Leave me alone…’, Moses stands his ground and talks back

  • Moses is not disrespectful to God
  • He does not minimise or condone or justify what the Israelites have done in betraying Yahweh
  • And he does not deny the truth of what God is feeling – although he does ask the Lord to put His anger aside

Moses speaks up and appeals to God’s reason, reputation and integrity

  • Moses does not appeal to human rights – he doesn’t say, ‘God, you can’t kill the people because they’ve got rights’
  • We may have rights when it comes to other human beings but when it comes to God we don’t have any rights
  • All we have grace – everything we have is a gift from God
  • Human rights don’t come into it

When we consider what Moses says to God we soon realise that Moses is actually interceding for God Himself, more than the people

  • Moses is asking God to be true to Himself

In verse 11 Moses appeals to the Lord’s reason

  • “Why should your anger burn against your people whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand?”

In other words, Lord, why destroy the people you have just saved – that doesn’t make sense. You’ve got a lot invested with these people. Don’t throw that away

 

Then in verse 12 Moses appeals to the Lord’s reputation

  • “Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’?”

In other words, Lord, killing the Israelites now will make You look bad so that it will be harder for the other nations of the world to trust You

  • God needs to preserve His reputation if He wants to save as many people as possible

                                                                    

And in verse 13 Moses appeals to the Lord’s integrity

  • Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever’.

In other words, remember who You are Lord. You are a God who keeps His promises.

  • If You break Your promise to Abraham You won’t be able to live with Yourself

 

Conclusion:

Interestingly the text does not record God saying anything else here

  • Moses has the last word on this occasion
  • God listened to Moses – He changed His mind and did not bring on the people the disaster he had threatened
  • The future is open

This is perhaps Moses’ finest hour

  • He saves the people from destruction by asking God to stay true to Himself

Outtakes

Moses knows all about anger

  • He knows all about caring too much
  • And he also knows the sting of rejection

Remember how Moses (as a younger man) killed the Egyptian slave driver who was beating a Hebrew slave

  • And then the next day when Moses tried to settle a dispute between two fellow Israelites, the man answered sarcastically…
  • ‘Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?’
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