Exodus 32.15-35: God's Line in the Sand

June 7, 2009 Series: Exodus

Topic: Old Testament Passage: Exodus 32:15–32:35

Exodus 32.15-35

June 7, 2009

Sam Ford


Leadership is hard

Leadership is a very polarizing thing.  When things aren’t going the way that they should they blame failed leadership.  Yet, when a real leader really leads, takes risks, makes difficult decisions, and says hard words, they refuse to submit to leadership.  It’s as if everyone desires leadership and doesn’t desire leadership at the same time. 

And it seems like everyone wants to be a leader.  Can you imagine what Aaron felt like when God named him in charge?  He must be swelling with pride that God chose him, that God believes in him, that God trusts him with his people with Moses is gone.  Aaron has been following his younger fugitive brother for a long time.  Up to this point, Aaron has been the side kick, the assistant coach, the junior partner taking orders from Moses who is taking orders from God.  Now he was in charge and calling the shorts. I’m guess that he has been looking forward to this day for a long time—perhaps even thinking what he would do different or even better.  Perhaps he doesn’t believe that Moses is even coming back. 


When you’re not leading, you want to be the leader—as long as things are going well.  I doubt Aaron would have been real excited to step in at the point with they had no food, water, and were about to stone Moses.  But right after having a worship feast before a mountain on fire with lighting—you bet he’s excited.  Everyone wants to be the leader when things are going well—when a leader isn’t needed.  Rarely does one want to be the leader when you have to actually work, show the way, go in front, or otherwise make decisions that will hard or not be popular.  Leaders lead, in marriages, in families, in churches, and incommunities.  False leaders lead in title and abdicate any responsibility or lead poorly and blame someone, make an excuse, or otherwise refuse to take responsibility. 


A Picture of Two leaders

In the 2nd half of Exodus 32, we have what amounts to a tale of two leaders.  We have Moses, a man who fears God, who loves people, and who hates sin.  And then we have his older brother, Aaron, a man who fears men, a man who wants people to love him, and who minimizes sin.  We have one who actually leads, who is committed to God without excuse, and who take responsibility for stuff that isn’t his fault.  And we have Aaron, who blames everyone but himself, and participates in rebellion versus quelling it.    God tell his leader how Junior Varsity is doing, how they have corrupted themselves, made an image, and worshipped it.  After imploring God to spare them, God chooses not to destroy them, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t going to experience an old fashion ass whuppin’ by a short-tempered Moses.  And after forty days of eating and drinking nothing, our hungry man Moses, turns and begins climbing down the mountain, meeting his assistant Joshua halfway who probably says nothing as Moses walks on by:


Noise in the Camp (v.15-18))

15 Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets that were written on both sides; on the front and on the back they were written. 16 The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets. 17 When Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a noise of war in the camp.” 18 But he said, “It is not the sound of shouting for victory, or the sound of the cry of defeat, but the sound of singing that I hear.”


Walking w/ Two Tablets

Moses makes a point to mention that he is carrying the tablets as well as the details of the tablets, THE WORK of GOD, FRONT and BACK, WRITTEN IN HIS HAND.  This is the only place where they are so described.  This is the testimony that Israelagreed to, and the covenant that has been broken.  This is not an issue of MOSES against the PEOPLE.  This is an issue of the PEOPLE against God.  The godly leader is conscious of the fact that he is a spokesperson for God to mediate the relationship between God and men, therefore any anger, rebuke, even love is on behalf of God.  IF the leader stays ROOTED in God’s Word, teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training with God’s Word, then it never gets personal.  He is not interesting in preserving HIS own relationship withIsrael as much as God’s.


Sounds from below

Joshua hears noise coming from the camp. At this point, he hasn’t been told anything but he has probably guessed something is wrong.  Being the general he is, he hears the noise coming from down below and assumes it is “war”.  Moses corrects him saying, it is not the sound of war (attacked by evil); and it is not the sound of victory (triumphing over evil); it is the sound of singing (enjoying evil).  Moses knows that they are making more noise about their false god than they ever have about God.  Moses is not amused.


(EX. 32.19-20) A godly leader

19 And as soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain.


A Godly Leader gets ANGRY

Breaking the covenant symbolizes that the PROMISE is now null and void—the special relationship with God is broken, the marriage promises shattered, by their decision to sin.  Moses is angry.  Remember, God was SO ANGRY he wanted to destroy them all.  Moses anger is righteous because a godly leader desires above all else for the community he leads to glorify God—sin does not.  A godly leader hates sin because he sees how serious it is.  He hates sin in the individual and they hate sin brought into the camp. And a God leader DOES SOMETHING about it.  This is not hunting for sin, but when it reveals itself, a godly leader says something, does something, acts.   


A godly leader PRAYS

(DEUT. 9.18-21)  18 Then I lay prostrate before the Lord as before, forty days and forty nights. I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all the sin that you had committed, in doing what was evil in the sight of the Lord to provoke him to anger. 19 For I was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure that the Lord bore against you, so that he was ready to destroy you. But the Lord listened to me that time also. 20 And the Lord was so angry with Aaron that he was ready to destroy him. And I prayed for Aaron also at the same time.


Moses did not just ACT.  Moses prays before he takes action.  He sits with God, appeal for mercy, appealing for wisdom, appealing for strength to rebuke his brother, but not depending on himself to figure it out.  But he also doesn’t WAIT to do something.  He prays with sufficient time; then he acts in the name of God.  There is nothing wrong with praying, but some people have been “praying” about what to do, how to serve, what to give, whether or not to say something, for years—as an excuse to do nothing. 


A godly leader ACTS

(DEUT.9.21)  21 Then I took the sinful thing, the calf that you had made, and burned it with fire and crushed it, grinding it very small, until it was as fine as dust. And I threw the dust of it into the brook that ran down from the mountain    (EX.32.20)  20 He took the calf that they had made and burned it with fire and ground it to powder and scattered it on the water and made the people of Israel drink it. 


Once he prays… he acts, no hesitation. He removed and utterly destroyed the idol, burned it, then crushed the ashes, then threw the dust onto their drinking source.  It probably DOES NOT mean that he lined people up to drink it, rather, that they would drink it at some point.  Instead of the ONE true God, they made a God out of their STUFF. Think about it, how often do we make a god out of our stuff?   There is nothing wrong with STUFF until it becomes more important than God.  Here, Moses makes them eat their god, made of stuff, to show that anything we worship apart from one true God, ends up in the toilet


(EX. 32.21-24) An Ungodly Leader

21 And Moses said to Aaron,  “What did this people do to you that you have brought such a great sin upon them?” 22 And Aaron said, “Let not the anger of my lord burn hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil. 23 For they said to me, ‘Make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 24 So I said to them, ‘Let any who have gold take it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.”


Ungodly leaders blame others

Moses challenges his older brother, in a sense rebuking him but more so giving him the opportunity to confess.  Instead of taking responsibility as a leader, he plays the blame game.  What Aaron says about Israelis true, they were set on evil.  But in saying that, he does the same thing that Adam did in the garden of Eden—fails to take responsibility as a leader.  Thought it was not his fault that Israel was set on evil, it is his fault that he did not rebuke them, correct them, or protect them


Ungodly leaders make excuses for their poor leadership

Here Aaron really begins the excuses for failing to lead. “I don’t know…things got carried away…we were all throwing gold in…it was chaotic…it just happened.”  This is the lamest and most common excuse that people make for failure to lead.  IT NEVER JUST HAPPENS…AND IT NEVER JUST UNHAPPENS. It takes work, it takes leadership, it takes courage, it takes standing up for what is right, it takes commitment to persevere, courage to Marriages don’t just go bad.  Finances don’t just blow up overnight.  Relationships with God don’t just turn sour.  Attitudes don’t just come around.   Ungodly leaders fail to take responsibility and make excuses.  “I was just a bystander” argument doesn’t work.  It just sort of fell in apart in front of me.  The worship of a false idol that took time to create, as did the altar I built, and the sacrifices I made, and the dancing and orgy… just sort of came up.  The reason it happened was because you didn’t work for it not to.  Moses says nothing. 


The Priestly cleansing of a Leader (v. 25-29)

25 And when Moses saw that the people had broken loose (for Aaron had let them break loose, to the derision of their enemies), 26 then Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said, “Who is on the Lord’s side? Come to me.”


A godly leader draws lines in the sand: Choose Today

So Moses turns and sees the people “breaking loose”, doing much more than the Macarena here.  He stands in the gate of the camp and says PICK YOUR TEAM right now!  Joshua, his assistant and future leader, is listening.  There is always someone being shaped by your leadership, learning from either your success or failures.  After Moses died, Joshua 24.15 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”


A godly leader Calls for Confession and Forsaking of the past

Those who worship idols have no place in the community. And notice, he is not talking to the irreligious pagans;  he is talking to the church.  You guys who say you love God, prove it by confessing  and turning from your idolatry …now. 


We can’t have unrepentant sin in the camp.  Renounce your past and start walking with God. All of us should take a measurement of our lives. This is not a game.  We are in an eternal battle for truth here in this place.  As a church, we’re about to embark on an entirely new part of this mission. The last thing we desire is to have unrepentant people who say they love Jesus but don’t live like it.   Not only do we want you to experience the joy of forgiveness and the power of Jesus cleansing blood, we don’t want your idolatry to infect this community.  Today is the time to confess, not blame, not avoid, not ignore, but to confess your sins that we might go on mission together. 

And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. 27 And he said to them, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘Put your sword on your side each of you, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill his brother and his companion and his neighbor.’ ” 28 And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And that day about three thousand men of the people fell. 29 And Moses said, “Today you have been ordained for the service of the Lord, each one at the cost of his son and of his brother, so that he might bestow a blessing upon you this day.”


A godly leader cleanses the camp of Sin

Moses’s own tribe, Levi, gathers around him.  It can’t be believed that no Levite fell for the cult.  He instructs them to go through the came and kill anyone who is unrepentant in their idolatry.  Before we get upset with Moses, let’s make it clear that verse 27 says THIS IS GOD’S IDEA.  Those sorry AND actively repenting must be spared.  Those who are not, must be cut off from the community.  Thus, the community is cleansed and we see that the role of the priest is to not only make offering for sins of those who confess and repent, but to cleanse the camp from sin of those who don’t.


I wonder what Aaron is doing as he watches this.  Ungodly leadership is leadership interested in building something for god without God.  Therefore, it avoids, ignores, and refuses to otherwise deal sin for fear of people.  Then they make excuses when the @#$@# hits the fan.  They were so concerned with being loved by everyone, they failed to make sure their people love God.  I don’t want a big church, I don’t want a building, I don’t want to lead a community in worship if it means we don’t have God. 


So for those of you who are Christians living in sin, for those who have un-confessed sin, for those who refuse to repent, this is a call to you to do one of two things, stop making excuses and being living for God—or take your gold bull and go to another church.  I’m rebuking you as a brother who loves you, if you don’t repent; Jesus says to kick you out. 


EX. 32. 30-35 – ATONEMENT for SIN

30 The next day Moses said to the people, “You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.”


Sin is a big deal

“You guys have really made a mess of things!”  The Israelites are probably looking around, seeing some of their dead neighbors, we made it!  While confession of their sin, and choosing to stop sinning is what God wants, RESTORING the relationship w/ God takes more than just a “good cleansing”.  When you recognize and admit the idols that you have worshipped in place of God, just working harder, being better, or “promising” not to do it again will not fix their dirty hearts, clean for the moment, but addicted to idolatry.  Proverbs 20.9 Who can say, “I have made my heart pure;  I am clean from my sin”?  Moses says HE will go and HE will try to atone for their sins—take responsibility for something that is not his.


31 So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Alas, this people have sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. 32 But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.”


A godly leader sacrifices

Earlier, Moses pleaded for God’s mercy. Now, he asks God to forgive their sin and restore relationship.  Unlike Aaron, he doesn’t EXCUSE their rebellion; he admits how GREAT a sin it is.  But Moses knows that there is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood.  So, before God can respond, Moses offers to die.  He loves God and loves Israel so much that he proposes to suffer that others might experience the glory of relationship with God.   You see, Aaron desired to be a good leader which, for him, meant having people he’s in relationship like him.  Moses wants, more than anything, to lead a people into a relationship with God whether they like him or not.


Aaron WAS NOT willing to personally sacrifice anything, but willingly sacrificed God to get what he wanted.  Moses WAS  willing to personally sacrifice everything but God, so that others could get what they needed—namely, a relationship with God.   33 But the Lord said to Moses,  “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book. 34 But now go, lead the people to the place about which I have spoken to you; behold, my angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them.”  35 Then the Lord sent a plague on the people, because they made the calf, the one that Aaron made. 


In the end, God refuses Moses offer and tells them that those who have sinned will die.  God denies his request for forgiveness, but it’s not that Moses has the wrong idea.  One man dying in the place of another is the heart of the gospel.  Moses, just isn’t suitable to task, he is a man, but he is not a perfect one by any stretch.  Moses hasn’t the purity to atone for his own sins, let alone as a substitute for the entire community.  Atonement of this kind will be made, but it will have to be made by God himself.   


Moses or Aaron

But much like Moses, I love Damascus Road, I love to be on mission with you here, I try my best to teach you about God, I get angry with some of you, I pray for you, I ask for wisdom how to lead you, I have rebuked some of you, I have comforted some of you, and quite honestly I’d sacrifice almost anything, for some even my life, if it meant you’d love Jesus and I’d see you in heaven. 


But, I will have failed you, like Aaron, if we tell you its ok for you to SAY you love Jesus and yet LIVE like you love yourself, to SAY you ACCEPT Jesus’ sacrifice, yet REFUSE to sacrifice anything for him; to SAY you are worship Jesus, yet MAKE more noise about everything else you’re devoted to.   



More in Exodus

July 19, 2009

Exodus 40: God's Dwelling

July 12, 2009

Exodus 37-39: God's House

July 5, 2009

Exodus 35-36: God's Builders