When things are going really well, many are tempted to think: just wait, in a few minutes it’s all coming down. We have a sinking sensation that when things begin going well, we’re headed for some kind of disaster. This is our innate knowledge of the curse of sin, the curse of the Fall.
Exodus 32 is a hinge story connecting the instructions for building the tabernacle (Ex. 25-31) with the actual building of the tabernacle (35-40). This story is a “fall” story following God’s seven new creation speeches, but the point is that God is determined to overcome the curse of sin by finally dealing with all sin and rebellion.
Summary of the Text: This story is in the middle of much larger, well known story: God has redeemed His son from slavery in Egypt, brought him to a mountain and spoken a new way of life to him. And the plan is to make this new way of life into a new world through faithful worship so that God will dwell with His people once again, like once upon a time. Like the first Adam, Israel is offered a new covenant of life with God, if he will trust and obey. But like the first Adam, Israel falls, disobeys, and breaks covenant with God. Israel breaks covenant by breaking most of the commandments explicitly and the rest implicitly by the time the episode is finished (32:1-6). God offers to destroy the people and build a nation out of Moses’ family, but Moses argues with the Lord, reminds Him of His promises, and God relents from His anger (32:7-14). Moses goes down the mountain and brings a small version of God’s fury with him (32:15-28). Given the way Moses has pleaded for the people, we have to see Moses’ actions as driven by love and not by blind wrath. The slaughter of the 3000 Israelites is likely not a mass execution of random people. There were leaders of this rebellion (e.g. 32:4), Egyptian sympathizers, and as in the first Passover, an Angel of death passes through the camp and those whose loyalty is to Pharaoh and his ways are struck down. After this new Passover, Moses again pleads for Israel, and God promises that His Angel will go with them into the Promised Land (32:29-35).
Guarding the Camp of God
Like the first Adam, Aaron did not guard the people of God from talking serpents. He feared the repercussions of speaking the truth and restraining the people (32:25). Though the first Angel of Death is God Himself, in this new Passover, the “Angels” of God are the loyal Levites. In Jesus, this has become even clearer. All Christians have been anointed as priests and armed with the armor of God for battle, for guarding, for spiritual warfare. While elders and pastors are the generals in the battle, all Christians are the armies of God. Where are you fighting? What sin and evil are you restraining? Our congregation is known for it’s love, acceptance, graciousness (which is wonderful!), but we have to be aware of the temptation to fear confrontation.
Leading by Pleading
Notice the pattern of Moses as a faithful leader. False shepherds and hirelings run when danger comes (Jn. 10:12-13), but faithful shepherds imitate Jesus and give their lives for the sake of their sheep. All Christians have responsibility and care for one another, and imitating Jesus means gladly laying our lives down for one another. But it’s easy to promise to take a bullet for a brother or sister and then to cower when the real moment of sacrifice comes. Because faithful are the wounds of a friend: Moses was being faithful when he called for an assembly of swords. But this kind of courage is only possible when you have spent time in prayer, pleading for your people: your family, your friends, your neighbors, your enemies. Jesus is the greater Moses, the perfect Moses who ever intercedes for us, who pleads for us (7:25). Jesus pleads for you; who are you pleading for?
Jesus our Passover
Jesus is our great Moses ultimately because He is our Great Passover. In our text, Moses intercedes for the people and then because he loves them, portrays the fury and judgment of God on their rebellion through executing the serpent-leaders of the rebellion, passing over the sins of many, and God promises to go with them in His Angel into the Promised Land. But Jesus is greater because He comes in order to both deliver the righteous judgment of God and also to receive it. He comes to lay His life down and to take it back up.
Romans says that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). Because we know better. But Paul goes on to explain to Jews and Gentiles, that while all are under the wrath of God, He has made a way for justice and righteousness to prevail: through Jesus. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.” (Rom. 5:9-10)
He gladly receives the wrath of God, as the spotless Passover Lamb of God to free us from the power of sin, Satan, and death. This is the “hinge” upon which all obedience rides.
As we consider the task before us of building a house for God’s work here in Moscow, we must prayerfully determine to set our faces and hearts like flint toward Jesus. His cross is the foundation of our building and obedience.