Meditations in Exodus: 69. A Challenging Offer
Ex 32:9,10 “I have seen these people,” the LORD said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”
We said in the previous study that sin has consequences and the first consequence is that it comes to the attention of the Lord: “Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, `These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’ “I have seen these people,” the LORD said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people.” (v.7-9) There is within us sinful human beings a tendency to believe that God won’t see our misdemeanors – but He does, He sees everything. Not only does He see, but He responds emotionally. These words, as we shall shortly see, are words of anger.
Now as I have studied the judgments of God I have thought hard and long about anger. Anger is a righteous response to wrong doing. Anger, a dictionary says is ‘passionate displeasure’. God is not pleased by sin, and neither should we be. Unfortunately, we live in a society in the West where ‘toleration’ reigns. Toleration says, ‘we are all the same so don’t judge anyone.’ Toleration says sin is all right but God says it isn’t! When you see a CCTV video of thugs beating up an old man, or you see vandals going into an art gallery and carving up wonderful old paintings, your emotional response reveals the sort of person you are. It is right to be angry about such things because anger then acts to punish such things and stop such things degrading society.
Now what we do with our anger and what God does with His anger is the big question. Isaiah shows us how God works: “For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,” says the LORD your Redeemer.” (Isa 54:7,8) Anger rises to highlight the wrong but then, I have observed, the Lord looks calmly at the situation and determines what should be the appropriate response. Where He sees hearts that can be turned He brings ‘disciplinary judgment’ but where He sees that hearts are so hard they cannot be moved He brings what I call ‘terminal judgment’ and a life is taken (what I have also called ‘judgments of the last resort’ because nothing else will work).
Now see the Lord’s apparent response to this situation as He expresses it to Moses: “Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.” (v.10) i.e. I will wipe them out and start to make a new nation from you. What a challenging offer! If you have never seen this before, realise that sometimes the Lord lays out an apparent pathway to test us to see what our heart response it. It is NOT what He wants to do but He wants to see our response. We see it in His instructing Abraham to sacrifice Isaac (Gen 22:2). He did not want Abraham to do it for He clearly has a substitute at hand, but He wants to provide an opportunity for Abraham to show the level of his obedience.
Similarly, here He wants to give Moses an opportunity to show his heart. And he does: “But Moses sought the favor of the LORD his God. “O LORD,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, `It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: `I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’” (v.11-13)
What an intercessor! Moses sees the big picture. God has gone to all the trouble of getting Israel out of Egypt – point 1. He had promised the patriarchs He would multiply their descendants – point 2. To destroy Israel now would be to annul those two things, and He won’t do that. It is tempting to be considered the father of a new nation but that is all it is, a temptation, and it surely cannot be the will of God. So Moses intercedes with the Lord on behalf of Israel on this basis and “Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.” (v.14) Of course He relented, He never wanted it to happen in the first place. We will see this happen again soon. Moses has passed the test.
I have had people say to me, “I have had this opportunity put before me, it must be the Lord’s will for me.” Is it really? Is that what you really want and is that what the Lord really wants for you? We need to learn to be a discerning people for the Lord will put before us things to test our hearts. If the Lord lifts off His hand of restraint over the world to let them do the things their sinful hearts want, by way of disciplinary judgment, He will from time to time lift His hand of restraint off you as well, to test your heart. In such times we need to ask, what really is God’s heart here, what does He really want of me, what will truly bring Him glory? Even then we have to ask, ‘Lord, grant me wisdom to know what to do here.” (Jas 1:5) but even in that we will show the right heart we have. May it be that that is the sort of heart that is revealed in each of us.