Mercy Allows Us to Be Bold
1. Bold with God through a plea for forgiveness
2. Bold with others through a plea for repentance
Exodus 32:7-14 And the LORD said to Moses, "Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. 8 "They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them. They have made themselves a molded calf, and worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, `This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!'" 9 And the LORD said to Moses, "I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people! 10 "Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation." 11 Then Moses pleaded with the LORD his God, and said: "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? 12 "Why should the Egyptians speak, and say, `He brought them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth '? Turn from Your fierce wrath, and relent from this harm to Your people. 13 "Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, `I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.'" 14 So the LORD relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people.
You can picture the scene, I’m sure you’ve all been there before. A young child grows defiant with a parent and barks outs a trite demand. It’s a moment of anger and emotion, but nonetheless, something recorded for all to hear. Whether the child regrets it or not, the natural response from the parent is, “how dare you talk to me like that!” And they have a point. Parents do so much for children. Some of the most important things go continually unnoticed and without thanks or even recognition. For that child to be disrespectful and ungrateful is a major breach of good conduct and common sense.
We get that picture today in this account from the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. After all God had done for His people: leading them out of slavery, destroying Pharaoh’s army, and keeping them safe and well fed, they react like this. They create a molded image, a baby cow of all things, and they bow down and worship it. What apostasy! What disrespect! We can surely understand why these words keep on telling us that God’s anger burned hot against them.
But here’s the real kicker. When God informs Moses that He is going to destroy the people, Moses intercedes. He pleads, almost to point of demanding, that God not bring this strict judgment. We kind of feel the same way here as we did with the story of the disrespectful child. What gives Moses the right? How dare He talk to God like this! In a sense, that natural reaction is correct. Moses had no right to address God like this. In a different context this might have been considered out of line. But, in another sense, Moses not only had every right, it was demanded of him to address God like this because of Moses’ calling and office.
Moses was the peoples’ intermediary. He was specifically given this task by God. God wanted him to plead for these people. Perhaps this was really the first time in his career as God’s prophet that Moses actually did the right thing right away without looking for an alternative. Ah, yes, good old soft-spoken Moses. The one who was too nervous to go before Pharaoh because he wasn’t a good enough speak. Moses, the one who hemmed and hawed, looked for every opportunity out of God’s calling. This Moses, was now challenging God directly. What a change!
It all goes back to mercy. Both Moses’ right to speak and the way in which he spoke stemmed from his trust of God’s merciful nature. Let’s be clear, if God wanted to destroy these people, or in the very least severely punish them, He had every right. By nature, people often think that God owes them something; that He isn’t allowed to do whatever it is He wants to do. But, this is just another lie and ploy of Satan. God is holy. Whatever He does, even a strict punishment, is indeed right and just. Once a sinner, you have no right to shake your finger at God and complain, “no fair!”
Now think about this also. Moses seems calm and collected here, but perhaps even he doesn’t fully understand the situation. As soon as he came down from the mountain and saw what was happening, he cast the freshly scribed stone tablets to the base of the mountain where they broke. Like God in our text, we’re told here that Moses’ anger burned hot. The punishment that was levied against the people that day was given by Moses, not God. He was the one who commanded that the idol be ground into powder, mixed into the water, and drunk by the people. In addition to this, Moses declared to those present that they needed to declare their allegiance to the LORD. Those who refused were killed; and 3,000 died.
Remember that these events of chapter 32 began all the way back in chapter 20. From chapter 20 to chapter 32, Moses is on the mountain receiving instructions from the LORD. By the time chapter 32 rolls around, most people forget what the Israelites promised in chapter 20. Before ascending Sinai, Moses said (directly from God), “If you will obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people, and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” The peoples’ response? “All that the LORD has spoken we will do.” A monumental promise made and an even bigger betrayal as chapter 32 arrives.
Both Moses’ anger and God’s was just. We call it righteous anger. God doesn’t condemn all anger as sin. There is a proper way to be upset about something. Think of Jesus’ driving out the merchants in the temple as another example. When we consider the entire context there was nothing for the Israelites to fall back to as a defense for their actions. So, what right did Moses have to be bold? The only answer was in the merciful nature of God. Only because God was loving and compassionate did Moses have the right to intercede for the people. At first glance we may think that God finally came to His senses and realized He was overreacting, like we so often do when we get angry. But, God wasn’t in the wrong. He had every right to respond the way He did.
We’re told in verse 11 that Moses “pleaded” with the LORD. The sense of this word helps us understand the attitude in which Moses approached the LORD. Moses was not arrogant or defiant. He was humble, yet bold. The word for “plead” contains the idea of becoming ill over something that is so distressing. It conveys the attitude of someone who is so overcome with grief that they show it physically in their body. That was Moses’ disposition as He approached the LORD, and it is the true attitude of repentance. We don’t know if Moses became physically ill. That’s not the point. What we do know is that he so loathed what his people had done that he was offering repentance on their behalf.
The thing is, repentance doesn’t work if mercy is not on the other side. We only have opportunity to plead and repent because God is merciful. Somewhere along the line in his dealings with the Israelites, Moses understood how merciful God was with them time and time again. There were plenty of times to learn this lesson as this was not the first time Israel fell into sin, nor would it be the last. Along with understanding God’s mercy, Moses also realized that that very mercy demands bold action. And so, Moses was able to demand that the LORD forgive His people. Seems a bit out of line at first, but truly understanding faith in Christ and what that means for our relationship with God means that we can be bold and persistent in demanding that forgiveness.
Moses listed his forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as examples of the LORD’s mercy in the past. Each of their lives were full of depictions of God’s mercy. Abraham was called from obscurity to be the father of all believers. He was given the ultimate test when called to sacrifice Isaac, yet received a tremendous reminder of mercy through the bigger promise of the Substitute, Jesus Christ. Jacob was renamed, because he boldly wrestled with God and persistently demanded the blessings of mercy that God had promised.
This story is really synonymous with the Parable of the Persistent Widow which Jesus spoke in His ministry. God’s mercy allows, and even demands, that we be bold to receive blessings through our Savior’s name. The widow had to go again and again to the judge to have her case heard. God wants us to seek His grace with the same tenacity and need in our lives and not to give up the moment we make a mistake or the moment adversity hits us in the face.
It is not disrespectful to hold God to His promises, rather it’s an act of faith. We trust that God will keep His word to us. This means that we not only show this boldness in our relationship with God, but also as Moses did, we show it to one another. Sometimes that involves pleading for others before God. At other times it means bringing a message of repentance to someone who is caught in sin. We hardly can say that we care about someone if we turn the other way when they rebel against God. But it’s also tough to exercise the love of admonishment. It takes boldness.
Though the message of repentance begins in the law, it should find its completion in the gospel. No one likes hearing the initial call to deny themselves of whatever sinful activity they are doing. But, much like Moses and the Israelites, there is hope on the other side of repentance because there is mercy from God. The true motivation behind repentance is not being able to say, “told you so,” or showing yourself to be a better person than someone else. If it was all about the condemnation of the law then those things would be true. The real motivation is in the love of God. It’s in the truth and hope that we can announce forgiveness as mediators just like Moses, because we have an eternal, righteous Mediator in Jesus Christ. It takes boldness to preach repentance, but it is an act of love.
A very striking part of our text comes right at the beginning of the description of Israel’s idolatry. From verse 4-5: And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf. Then they said, "This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!" 5 So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, "Tomorrow is a feast to the LORD."
From these verses it seems as though Israel hadn’t completely forgotten about the LORD. Instead, what they wanted was to see God on their terms; to have God express Himself in the manner that they chose. They still claimed to believe in the LORD who had rescued them from Egypt. Aaron proclaimed a feast to Jehovah, the I AM God, yet they had relegated Him to their creation, a golden calf. Refusal to repent works the same way. It doesn’t necessarily deny God’s existence. It simply tries to put a human image on Him. People say, I believe in God, I show love, I know the Bible; but I won’t repent. People find ways to put their own stamp on things that God has long-called sin by saying, that’s the old interpretation, that was for that culture, that was archaic, and so on.
In contrast, God wants to have all of the effect on us. He does not need us to put our identity on Him, for He puts His identity on us. A well-known hymn verse speaks to that effect: “On my heart imprint Thine image, blessed Jesus King of Grace, that life’s riches, cares and pleasures, have no power Thee to efface, this the superscription be, Jesus crucified for me. Is my life my hope’s foundation, and my glory and salvation.
To have God’s image on our hearts, to have His identity means that we must change. That means repentance and forgiveness. We can be bold to request that before God and one another. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.