Kevin DeYoung / May 7, 2017 / Exodus 34:1-28
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Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders? Exodus 15:11
You have led us in your steadfast love, redeemed us in your mercy, and guided us by your strength. You, O Lord, will reign forever and ever. Speak to us now, that we may know you here, and live with you in the Promised Land to come. In Christ we pray, amen.
I invite you to turn in your Bibles to Exodus 34:1-28. We’ll focus on just a few of those verses, but I’ll read all of them. As we near the end of this three-chapter interlude about the sin with the golden calf, now we see the restoration of God’s people:
The Lord said to Moses, “Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. Be ready by the morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself there to me on the top of the mountain. No one shall come up with you, and let no one be seen throughout all the mountain. Let no flocks or herds graze opposite that mountain.” So Moses cut two tablets of stone like the first. And he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the Lord had commanded him, and took in his hand two tablets of stone. The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. And he said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.”
And he said, “Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the Lord, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.
“Observe what I command you this day. Behold, I will drive out before you the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Take care, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you go, lest it become a snare in your midst. You shall tear down their altars and break their pillars and cut down their Asherim (for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God), lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and when they whore after their gods and sacrifice to their gods and you are invited, you eat of his sacrifice, and you take of their daughters for your sons, and their daughters whore after their gods and make your sons whore after their gods.
“You shall not make for yourself any gods of cast metal.
“You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month Abib, for in the month Abib you came out from Egypt. All that open the womb are mine, all your male livestock, the firstborn of cow and sheep. The firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. All the firstborn of your sons you shall redeem. And none shall appear before me empty-handed.
“Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest. In plowing time and in harvest you shall rest. You shall observe the Feast of Weeks, the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the year’s end. Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the Lord God, the God of Israel. For I will cast out nations before you and enlarge your borders; no one shall covet your land, when you go up to appear before the Lord your God three times in the year.
“You shall not offer the blood of my sacrifice with anything leavened, or let the sacrifice of the Feast of the Passover remain until the morning. The best of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring to the house of the Lord your God. You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.”
And the Lord said to Moses, “Write these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” So he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments. Exodus 34:1-28
These 28 verses can be divided into three sections: God’s character revealed, God’s covenant restored, and God’s commandments restated. I want to quickly go through those three sections, and then we’ll spend most of our time going back through the first.
God’s Character Revealed
First (vv. 1-7), we see God’s character revealed. Remember the end of Exodus 33. Moses asked the Lord, “Would you show me your glory?”, and he “saw” the backside, or afterglow, of God’s glory, as God hid him in the cleft of the rock. What he “saw” was actually what he heard as the Lord proclaimed his goodness. As Exodus 33:19 states, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’”
Now, Moses will again see by hearing. This is the way in which the Bible usually works. As God’s people, we see by hearing from him. God will reveal himself again—and now, do so even more fully and completely. In fact, on that side of the cross, it was perhaps fullest verbal declaration of God and his character.
God’s Covenant Restored
Then (vv. 8-16) God’s covenant is restored. Moses again asks, “Will you go with us?”, and we finally get a firm answer. God will go with the. You may see this heading at the top of verse 10: “The Covenant Renewed.” It is a sort of covenant renewal, but it’s not the kind of covenant renewal that we see elsewhere in Scripture—where God’s people re-up the ante and say, “Yes, we’re still doing this.” It’s more than the renewal we do, week after week, in a covenant renewal worship service. It’s actually a covenant reconstitution. The covenant had been broken (it had literally been ground up into powder!), and it’s now being reconstituted.
Notice that God again makes big promises as the covenant is being reconstituted. In verse 11, he says, “I’m going to drive out the nations,” as he’s promised before before. In verse 10, he says, “I will do marvels…” They’ve already seen wonders from God’s hand, as he led them out of Egypt. He provided water from a rock, and manna and quail from heaven. Now he has the audacity to say, “You’re going to see things that you (or any other nation) have never seen before.”
When you make a covenant with God, it must be an exclusive covenant, so verses 12-16 warn of the dangers of syncretism and compromise: “You cannot be wed to any other god.” The covenant that we’re most familiar with in our day is that of marriage. When you make that vow, you promise to be faithful to one another, and you say the words “forsaking all others.” Normally, forsaking is a bad thing, but when you get married, it’s positively the right thing to do. When you look him or her in the eye, and the minister stands there as you repeat after him, you ought to promise that you’ll be faithful to this spouse and forsake all others. You should have eyes for no one else and love no one else like you do your husband or wife. So it is in this covenant with YHWH.
God has heard the prayers of Moses, and he’ll give the Israelites another chance. It’s as if he’s saying, “Welcome back! I have heard your prayers. A mediator has stood in the gap. I will go with you, and the covenant will be restored.”
God’s Commandments Restated
The third scene (vv. 17-28) is when God’s commandments are restated. If you’ve been here for the other parts of our series on Exodus, most of these should sound familiar to you, as some of them are repeated verbatim. We have here a spattering of the case laws that are based upon the Ten Commandments.
Remember, we first saw the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20. Then, in Exodus 21-23, we saw a series of case laws: “When this happens, do this; and when this happens…” They answer the question, “How do these grand, overarching principles apply to our lives?” Here again, we see a few examples of how to apply these commandments. Verse 17, for example, has to do with the second commandment, and verse 21 with the fourth commandment.
These may seem like a rather haphazard list of obligations—like the Lord is just rattling a few laws off the top of his head: “Keep the feast…don’t make any metal images…and the thing with the goat and the mother’s milk again.” What semblance of order do we have here? There’s more than you might think. These commandments are joined together by the issue of trust, because Israel has proved fundamentally faithless in trusting their God. They forsook him. They weren’t true to the promises that they made in Exodus 24, where they made an oath in blood, saying, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do…” They didn’t trust Moses. They didn’t trust a God whom they couldn’t see, and who was so different from the gods of all the other nations.
These commandments are getting to the heart of the matter. It seems kind of strange to us, but that’s what they’re about: “Do you trust me enough to put away all other gods, to worship where I command you to worship, to give me what is first from your flocks and best from your harvest, and (hardest of all, perhaps) to rest?”
I was struck by what verse 21 says: “In plowing time and in harvest you shall rest.” We understand resting when there’s not enough to do and we need a little break, but God goes out of his way to say, “When you’re plowing—in the busiest time of the year, when there’s this small window to get the seed in the ground—and in the next busiest time of the year—when you’re harvesting, and you have to get it up before the rains or hail come—do you trust me enough to rest?” This is a representative sample of commands, sufficient to apply the Ten Commandments to the specifics of life.
Once again, we see how these commandments are set apart as a unique, paradigmatic expression of the divine law. They’re written on tablets of stone. Again, why two tablets? Not (as we tend to think) because God wrote commandments 1-4 on one tablet and 5-10 on the other, but because in the Ancient Near East, when you made a covenant, you made one copy for you and another for your God. One copy would be with the Israelites, and another would go in the Ark of the Covenant. Two copies, on two tablets.
We see something about the nature of written revelation here. This could be a whole new sermon, but I’ll just point it out to you briefly. Verse 1,
The Lord said to Moses, “Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and I will write on the tablets… Exodus 34:1a
But then you come to verses 27-28:
And the Lord said to Moses, “Write these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” […] And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments. Exodus 34:27, 28b
So, who wrote the Ten Commandments on those tablets? It seems that Moses was the one physically writing these out with a chisel; yet, God could say, “I will write them.”
So it is with the Holy Scriptures. God wrote this book, yet men sat down with pen and parchment (or papyrus, or something) and wrote out the words. They used their minds and the dexterity of their fingers to do so, yet it was no less the very writing of God. We see this with the Ten Commandments, and it’s true also of the Scriptures.
God’s Character Revealed: A Deep Dive
Now I want to go back to the first scene—in particular, to the two most famous verses in it: verses 6-7. These are two of the most important verses in the whole Bible. We’ve already seen God’s glory and goodness pass by Moses, but now we see the fullest revelation of God in a book that’s all about him making himself known. God has made himself known through plagues, through water from the rock, through food from heaven, and in innumerable other ways. But we see the fullest revelation of this God in this declaration of his character.
We know it’s important from the setting of Exodus 34. God told Moses, “I want you to get ready. Get up in the morning and come to the mountain. No one is to come with you, and no one can see you. This is so important, holy, and dangerous that I don’t even want sheep, goats, and cows in the vicinity, because they may die if they look on. I want you to get two more tablets and meet me on the mountain.” Then the Lord descended, as he often does in Exodus, in this glory cloud that rests upon the mountain.
We also know this is significant because of how often this declaration (or phrases in it) appear in the rest of the Old Testament. This statement of God’s character (or aspects of it) occur in Exodus 20 and 34; Numbers 14; Deuteronomy 5 and 7; Psalms 86, 103, 111, and 145; Nehemiah 9; 2 Chronicles 30; Isaiah 63; Jeremiah 32; Hosea 2; Joel 2; Micah 7; and Nahum 1. It’s all throughout the Old Testament!
Remember, it’s what Jonah said when he was ticked off at the Lord for being nice to the Ninevites:
O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Jonah 4:2b
Out of all the excuses that have ever been made to God, this is surely one of the worst. Jonah was upset because he had to go, and now he just said, “God, I told you so. I didn’t want to go there in the first place because I know that you’re gracious and you are merciful, and I had a feeling something like this might happen—that they might repent and you might not destroy them. How can you blame me for going to Tarshish?” Let’s not be as clueless as Jonah.
Verses 6-7 are absolutely indispensable if we want to have a true understanding of what God is like. Whatever you have going on in your life—and I know some of you have deep pains and really hard struggles—there is nothing you need more than to know God: to know who he is, and what he’s like. You do need other thing—like people, hugs, and food—but you need to know this God more than anything.
The declaration in verses 6-7 is indispensable for this. You can’t understand the God of the Bible if you don’t hear what he says about himself here. It’s like trying to understand America without knowing anything about the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain and unalienable rights. Among them are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Has this country always done a good job of living up to those ideals? Certainly not, but you can’t understand America without knowing those words.
Likewise, you can’t understand what the Star Wars franchise is like if you don’t know (spoiler alert!) that Darth Vader is actually Luke’s father. There are some things you just have to know, or the rest of the story doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Well, if we don’t know this about God, we don’t know him as he wants us to. We need to understand these two verses if we are to begin to understand who he is and what he is like.
So look at verse 6: “The LORD passed before him and proclaimed [his name]…” God repeats the divine name, YHWH. Don’t you wonder what that sounded like? We don’t know, since we don’t have an audio recording. We don’t know the intonation, or exactly how it sounded. Perhaps it was a very stately, royal declaration. Maybe it was said with great pathos and tenderness.
We do see something of a pattern in the Bible when a name is repeated. It doesn’t happen all that often—maybe 6-10 times in the whole Bible—but it tends to be done in moments of great emotion: sometimes great tenderness; other times great sadness. “Saul, Saul! Why do you persecute me?” “Martha, Martha, why are you busy with so many things?” “Absalom, Absalom, would that I had perished so that you might live!” I don’t know for sure, but I hear this as a man speaking to his friend. We’ve already heard that in the previous chapter: Moses knew the Lord so well that he spoke to him as a man speaks to his friend! Perhaps God repeated the divine name with great thunder and lightning; it would have been appropriate. But perhaps it was done with great tenderness and intimacy, reminding and reassuring Moses.
Think of how you might walk into your child’s room when she’s afraid of the dark and disoriented in the middle of the night. You’d say, “It’s dad (or mom)!” You don’t say, “I’m your mother!” You want them to know, “I’m here. I’m with you. It’s me.”
Five Attributes of God
God gives us five of his attributes. Isn’t that interesting? Moses wanted to see an appearance, and God declared attributes.
First, God is gracious. He doesn’t treat us as we deserve, but has pity upon us. He doesn’t do to us all that would be in his right to do.
Second, God is merciful. You know when someone is harsh and cruel—when Mom and Dad are always looking to find the next thing that’s going to get their kids into trouble. That’s the opposite of this attitude. God is gracious and compassionate. He cares about your situation. He isn’t indifferent to it. He’s tender, kind, and gentle, never harsh, petty, or cruel.
Third, God declares himself to be slow to anger. All first year Hebrew students learn a little secret about this phrase: “slow to anger,” in the Hebrew, is literally “long of nose.” Did you know that God has a big nose? But what exactly does the idiom mean? Unlike someone who’s hotheaded (or “has a short fuse”), this is someone who has a long fuse. They didn’t have bombs and fuses, so God was “long of nose.”
It may also be because someone long of nose can take a patient, deep inhale. They’re not rash. They can wait. Or, as one commentator said, it may be because short-nosed animals are the ones that snort. Think of pigs, growling around, being grumpy and angry. That’s not God. He’s not a grumpy warthog. He is long of nose. He’s slow to anger. Isn’t that good? Some of us are the opposite. When something sets us off, we blow up; but God has a fuse that, even though some of us light it repeatedly, takes a long time to burn down.
Fourth, God abounds in steadfast, covenant love. People often ask the question: “Does God love everyone?” Others answer, “God loves everyone. We’re all God’s children.” But that’s not the way in which the Bible talks. There’s a sense in which God loves everyone. We’re all made in his image, and he cares for people. But in this special, covenant loyalty, God has a special kind of affection for his people.
Notice what Moses says in verse 9: “Pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.” If you know what we’re really like, you’ll say, “God, that’s a lousy inheritance. You should want gold, cash, homes, or cars.” But God gets us: “This is what I want. You’re my treasured inheritance. You’re what I’m waiting and longing for. I give you my covenant love.”
It’s the difference between how you love every child and how you love your own. If you hear a child crying in a room next door, rush in there, and realize that it’s someone else’s child, you don’t just say, “Well, I hope you cry!” No, you give some measure of compassion and care for him. But it’s very different when you rush into that room and see your baby crying. Then you immediately think, “Are you okay? Are you okay?!” God loves everyone in a way, but don’t miss the special covenant love that he has for us, his people. We aren’t just a random baby. We’re his crying infant, whom he wants to console, comfort, behold, and love.
Finally, God abounds in faithfulness. He keeps his word. He remembers his promises. He never fails, though we’re prone to fickleness. He abounds, overflowing in faithfulness.
God Is Not One Dimensional
Notice the two things that God does. First, he keeps steadfast love for thousands; and second, he forgives (or it could be translates that he lifts, or carries) iniquity, transgression, and sin. Do you notice how God reveals himself in relation to our sin? Everything here has to do with it, on some level. He’s merciful when we sin. He’s gracious when we sin. He has covenant love for us when we sin. He’s faithful, even when we’re faithless. He’s good to us when we sin, and forgives our iniquity.
But listen: if you have no doctrine of sin, you won’t have much of a doctrine of God either. This is a great irony and tragedy for so many in our world. They don’t like the word “sin.” They’ll admit that no one is perfect, but they don’t want this doctrine. They don’t want to see human beings as dreadfully fallen, selfish, and bent in upon ourselves. In doing away with sin, they do away with God himself. They can’t know this God. They know a shell of a god—a truncated version of our God. They can’t know God as he wants to reveal himself, and has revealed himself, to us: as one who, in the midst of our sin, is gracious, merciful, loving, and long of nose, abounding in steadfast covenant mercies and forgiving our sins.
In the second half of verse 7, there’s one thing he won’t do: he will not clear the guilty. If we’re honest, we’d like to stop halfway through this verse. We think, “I love this verse. This is so good! Love, mercy…oh, that’s beautiful!” Then he ruins it: “Can we just forget about the second half of verse 7? It was a lovely description of God and then…he doesn’t clear the guilty.” It hardly makes sense to us. We think, “Well, which is it, God? Are you the God of mercy, or the God of judgment?” It sounds like it’s all “Mercy, mercy, mercy,” and then, “I never let anything get away from my judgment!” Which is it?!
So many of us have a one-dimensional, cartoonish god. The villains in cartoons are usually one-dimensional. They have eyebrows that go down, and whenever they come out, there’s scary music in a minor key playing. They have a very sinister laugh with angular features, and you know they’re bad. They’re orcs…or Saruman…or Sauron. Or you have someone one-dimensionally good. They’re a superhero with powers, and they’re helping, loving, lovely people.
But we don’t have a one-dimensional god. Many people have a god who’s either always walking around with cookies or a clipboard. The clipboard god is the god is always looking over your shoulder, always noticing, always saying, “Uh-huh. Yep. Okay. Sorry, you’re not looking good today.” Some of us understand God as being like Santa Claus, always keeping a list to find out who’s naughty or nice.
More of us have a cookie God, though. He’s always walking around, saying, “Are you okay? Have a cookie. You messed up? You’ll get ‘em next time, tiger. Have a cookie. It’s okay! I made you cookies.” I love cookies, and I love people who make cookies, but God’s more than that. So many of us have a different confession than the one in verses 6-7. Here’s what I think people in our culture would say if they gave an honest confession of God: “And God passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The listener, the listener, the God affirming and understanding, never angry and abounding in steadfast appreciation and support.” Of course, there are elements there that we can affirm. God does listen and understand. He’s slow to anger, and he does support us. But if that’s all, you don’t have God as he wants to be known. You just have a God who’s a nice listener. He just wants to affirm and help us. He wants us to get our life on track.
That’s not the God here. Mercy doesn’t even make sense apart from justice. So, how are we to understand verses 6-7? How do we solve this seeming tug-of-war? Some of us view God as part mercy and part judgment, pulling against each other. Maybe, Jesus sort of tipped the scales for all time, so that the mercy part can win and the judgment part can go away. Clearly the God of the Bible is one who has mercy on sinners, but clearly he punishes the guilty. How does this work? Is it that mercy is sometimes stronger, and judgment is sometimes stronger? Maybe he’s just schizophrenic.
How does this work? If you want verse 6, you have to take verse 7. You can’t make sense of what it is to be merciful and gracious unless he takes sin seriously. Somehow, in all of this, verses 6-7 are giving us the fullest revelation of God’s character contained in the book of Exodus, so how do we make sense of it? Mercy having a tug of war with judgment is not the right way to look at it. There must be something of even more ultimate concern to the Lord. If you make these the poles in some bipolar God, then you don’t have God as he truly is. There must be something even more ultimate, which expresses itself properly both in mercy and in judgment. What is that?
The answer is right in front of our faces in verse 5: the Lord descended in the cloud, stood with him there, and proclaimed his name. All of the honor and glory that must be upheld in the name of God is God’s chief concern. From that concern comes his great delight in showing mercy and his justice in punishing the guilty.
Have you noticed that whenever Moses’ intercession gets somewhere with God, it’s because he reminds God (God doesn’t need to know, but still) of the glory of his name being at stake. Look at Exodus 32:11:
But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’?” Exodus 32:11-12a
Then he asks God to “remember your covenant”, and verse 14 says “the Lord relented”.
We see this again if we look at Moses’ intercession in Exodus 33:12:
“See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people. […] For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”
And the LORD said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do…” Exodus 33:12-13, 16-17a
Do you see what Moses is doing in both of those intercessions? He’s saying, “Lord, think of what the nations will think. Egypt will say that you are a God who just brought us out to destroy us. What about your name?!” Similarly, in Exodus 33, “But Lord, what makes us different? What will make the nations marvel? What makes us distinct as a people is that you’re with us. What about your name?!” In both cases, the Lord says, “I agree with that, Moses.” The reason for mercy and the reason for judgment are the same: God acts to uphold and vindicate the glory and honor of his name. That is why it’s not incidental that both of these revelations begin with him proclaiming his name: “What you need to know is that I am the one you need to know.”
A Jealous God
Surely it’s not incidental to this passage (and our understanding of it) that verse 14 says that the name of the Lord is “Jealous”. God refuses to be replaced by any rival. He’s a jealous God. That doesn’t mean he’s insecure or petty, as we might be. It means that he knows his own worth, that the honor of his name is above all things, and that what is best for his people is that his name be honored. If his name is Jealous, what does jealousy produce? Two things: love—“I love you so much that I want you like no one else”—and anger when that love is torn apart—when that vow is broken, and when you forsake your covenant. So it is with God. His jealousy for his own name leads to mercy and judgment. They aren’t warring things. All the time, in every way, God is working for the honor and vindication of his name. He’s a jealous God.
If you think, “I don’t know if I want a jealous God,” listen: I’d rather have a jealous spouse than one who is chill and understanding. Meaning, if you commit adultery with someone, what’s the measure of your spouse’s love? Do you want him or her to say, “What happened? Aww. You know what? We decided a long time ago that we were going to have an open relationship. I hope there was something meaningful for you there, and I hope we can still have something meaningful together.” Would you feel loved in that? That kind of indifference and openness to betrayal would be much worse than a spouse who loves with a fierce, passionate, unrelenting love, and would say in such a situation, “How dare you! I gave everything to you. I love you from the very depths of my heart.”
So it is with God: his name is Jealous. Mercy and judgment don’t exist as two warring factions in God, like he’s got a good angel and a devil on his shoulders. No, they express what it means for God to be the only God—a God of fierce and forgiving covenant love. God is for us because he is for himself, and that’s a good thing.
We know these two things can coexist because we see them both in the golden calf episode. He will by no means clear the guilty. He doesn’t wink at sin. We’ve already seen three thousand people die because of it. Sin always has consequences. He by no means just shrugs his shoulders and says, “Eh, golden calf? No big deal.” Yet he has shown himself to be merciful, gracious, and forgiving, because he’s going with them. He has restored the covenant.
We see all throughout the Bible that God does not clear the guilty or shrug his shoulders at sin. There are covenant curses. Moses won’t get to the Promised Land. There are sacrifices to atone for sin. Eventually, Israel will be exiled to Babylon. He is a God of justice and a God of mercy.
It’s the very same problem that Paul labored to solve in Romans 3. How can God justify the ungodly? How can he show mercy to sinners? How can he forgive rebellious, wicked people and yet still be just? How can verse 6 and verse 7 of Exodus 34 both be true? Do you know Paul’s answer? “Because Christ died on the cross, that God might be just and the justifier of the ungodly.” God has not cleared the guilty, winked at any of your sins, or shrugged his shoulders at any of our rebellion. It all has to be paid for. In the cross, justice and mercy meet; and in the cross, God’s character is fully revealed.
What we see may even have been something of a mystery to the Israelites: “God is gracious, loving, and forgiving, and yet he doesn’t clear the guilty. How does that work?” In the cross, we see how it works. Everything that’s revealed about God as Sinai is even more clearly revealed in his Son.
Here we close. Have you seen this God in Christ? Have you heard about him? Have you encountered him? He takes sin more seriously than you dare to imagine, and he can remove your sin farther than you ever thought possible. He is free and fierce, yet he is kinder and more compassionate than your sweetest friend. He doesn’t always fit what we want him to be, but he’s always much better than we even knew to ask. He is the God of holy love, and he is your God in Christ.
What is our response? I’ll give you one point of application, which is found in verse 8: “And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped.” Sometimes that’s the application of a sermon. “What do I do? Do I need to go do something?” No, you need to encounter this God. You need to see, hear, and know him in the person of Jesus Christ, and bow your head in worship. Obedience? Yes, that’s a good response. Walking in the covenant love? Yes, that’s a good response. But it all starts and flows from this first response of worship. We must see God as he wants to be known, and we must say, “You are my God, and I will worship you.”
Let’s pray. Father in heaven, we give thanks for your many great and precious promises. You could have left us in the dark, in a cloud of unknowing, but you have spoken to us, and shown us your glory, your goodness, and your character. Thank you for saving us. Thank you for making yourself known at Sinai, and even more fully in your Son, in whose name we pray and worship. Amen.
Transcription and editing provided by 10:17 Transcription
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