Bible Focus: Exodus 19-20, 32-33
The LORD spoke to Moses: “Go down at once! For your people you brought up from the land of Egypt have acted corruptly. They have quickly turned from the way I commanded them; they have made for themselves an image of a calf. They have bowed down to it, sacrificed to it, and said, ‘Israel, these are your gods, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.'” The LORD also said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and they are indeed a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone, so that my anger can burn against them and I can destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”Exodus 32:7-10 CSB
Our world’s ideas about morality have changed greatly in recent generations. However, at least one idea about right and wrong has remained fairly intact: it’s still considered despicable to betray someone who has been good to us. To repay someone else’s kindness and generosity with mean, selfish behavior is one of the worst kinds of insults. We expect someone to be outraged when they suffer that kind of wrong.
Unfortunately, if we’re really being honest, we have to admit that we have all acted mean and selfish at times towards those who have been good to us. Even worse, whether we realize it or not, we’ve all acted that way towards God.
God feels strong emotions about all the wrongs that we do. His justice is stirred and he feels outrage in a totally righteous way. And even though God will gladly take steps to delay demonstrating his outrage, he cannot simply make his wrath disappear.
For generations, the Israelites had been slaves of the Egyptians. But when they cried out to God in their oppression, God empowered a man named Moses to lead the Israelites away from Egypt.
Once the Israelites were free, God directed Moses to lead them to a mountain called Sinai, where God gave them the Ten Commandments. God’s first command forbade them to have other gods besides God. God’s second command forbade them to have any physical idols that they would set up as their god.
Moses then went up on Mount Sinai and met with God for forty days. While Moses was gone, the people began to wonder if Moses would ever return, and they persuaded Moses’s brother Aaron to make them a calf-idol that they begin to worship as their god. So within the span of forty days, the people disobeyed God’s first and second commands. God was rightfully outraged.
At Moses’s request, he did not destroy the people, but he did punish them. About three thousand men were killed, and the people were inflicted with a plague. In addition, God announced that he would put distance between himself and the people, for their own preservation:
“Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go up with you because you are a stiff-necked people; otherwise, I might destroy you on the way.” When the people heard this bad news, they mourned and didn’t put on their jewelry. For the LORD said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites: You are a stiff-necked people. If I went up with you for a single moment, I would destroy you.”Exodus 33:3-5a CSB
God must take precautions to avoid his wrath breaking out against us. But when God pulls back from us because of our sin, he isn’t being mean or spiteful; he’s actually being kind. He knows that if he did not pull back somehow, then his wrath against our sin would destroy us.
However, God’s wrath is a force that is powerful and cannot be delayed indefinitely. His wrath must eventually be expressed. There must be a day of reckoning, a day in which God settles everyone’s accounts with him. God spoke of this day to Moses right after the incident with the golden calf:
So Moses returned to the LORD and said, “Oh, these people have committed a grave sin; they have made a god of gold for themselves. Now if you would only forgive their sin. But if not, please erase me from the book you have written.” The LORD replied to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me I will erase from my book. Now go, lead the people to the place I told you about; see, my angel will go before you. But on the day I settle accounts, I will hold them accountable for their sin.”Exodus 32:31-34 CSB
But here’s the good news: God doesn’t want his wrath to fall on us. He sent his Son to take that wrath upon himself at the cross. He offers to settle our accounts by swapping our record with the spotless record of Jesus Christ.
If we ultimately refuse God’s offer, then that will be our final insult. There is nothing worse than to knowingly reject the salvation that Jesus died for. But if we ultimately accept God’s offer, then we will be forgiven. We will be joyfully reunited with God and given eternal life, and nothing will ever separate us from God again.
Featured image by Kirk Thornton on Unsplash.