Exodus 32-34: How Angry can God get When the People Turn to Idolatry?

We left Moses up in Mt. Sinai talking with God, as God gave Him detailed directions in how to build the Tabernacle, and even how the priests — Aaron and his sons — should dress while working in it. Unfortunately, the people were impatient. They got antsy. Furthermore, what happened next is a critical lesson for us today. Let’s dig in…

Exodus 32 – The Gold Calf

When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. “Come on,” they said, “make us some gods who can lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.”

So Aaron said, “Take the gold rings from the ears of your wives and sons and daughters, and bring them to me.”

All the people took the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron. Then Aaron took the gold, melted it down, and molded it into the shape of a calf. When the people saw it, they exclaimed, “O Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of the land of Egypt!”

Let’s consider some important points here…

  • Moses left Aaron in charge. We just learned that He was to be the Chief Priest. Why did Aaron cave into the people?
  • The “calf” is actually a young bull — the symbol of the Egyptian god Apis.
  • They were used to seeing statues of gods which made more sense to them than a cloud or a pillar of fire.
  • Aaron created an idol of Yahweh, in the same form as the Egyptian god to make sure all the bases were covered. This is much like the Acts 17 Greeks that Paul encountered.

Continuing…

Image by Sweet Publishing from FreeBibleImages.org,
(CC BY-SA 3.0)

Aaron saw how excited the people were, so he built an altar in front of the calf. Then he announced, “Tomorrow will be a festival to the Lord!”

The people got up early the next morning to sacrifice burnt offerings and peace offerings. After this, they celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry.

The Lord told Moses, “Quick! Go down the mountain! Your people whom you brought from the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. How quickly they have turned away from the way I commanded them to live! They have melted down gold and made a calf, and they have bowed down and sacrificed to it. They are saying, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.’”

Then the Lord said, “I have seen how stubborn and rebellious these people are. 10 Now leave me alone so my fierce anger can blaze against them, and I will destroy them. Then I will make you, Moses, into a great nation.”

11 But Moses tried to pacify the Lord his God. “O Lord!” he said. “Why are you so angry with your own people whom you brought from the land of Egypt with such great power and such a strong hand? 12 Why let the Egyptians say, ‘Their God rescued them with the evil intention of slaughtering them in the mountains and wiping them from the face of the earth’? Turn away from your fierce anger. Change your mind about this terrible disaster you have threatened against your people! 13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You bound yourself with an oath to them, saying, ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven. And I will give them all of this land that I have promised to your descendants, and they will possess it forever.’”

14 So the Lord changed his mind about the terrible disaster he had threatened to bring on his people.

15 Then Moses turned and went down the mountain. He held in his hands the two stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. 16 These tablets were God’s work; the words on them were written by God himself.

17 When Joshua heard the boisterous noise of the people shouting below them, he exclaimed to Moses, “It sounds like war in the camp!”

18 But Moses replied, “No, it’s not a shout of victory nor the wailing of defeat. I hear the sound of a celebration.”

19 When they came near the camp, Moses saw the calf and the dancing, and he burned with anger. He threw the stone tablets to the ground, smashing them at the foot of the mountain. 20 He took the calf they had made and burned it. Then he ground it into powder, threw it into the water, and forced the people to drink it.

21 Finally, he turned to Aaron and demanded, “What did these people do to you to make you bring such terrible sin upon them?”

22 “Don’t get so upset, my lord,” Aaron replied. “You yourself know how evil these people are. 23 They said to me, ‘Make us gods who will lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.’ 24 So I told them, ‘Whoever has gold jewelry, take it off.’ When they brought it to me, I simply threw it into the fire—and out came this calf!”

25 Moses saw that Aaron had let the people get completely out of control, much to the amusement of their enemies. 26 So he stood at the entrance to the camp and shouted, “All of you who are on the Lord’s side, come here and join me.” And all the Levites gathered around him.

27 Moses told them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Each of you, take your swords and go back and forth from one end of the camp to the other. Kill everyone—even your brothers, friends, and neighbors.” 28 The Levites obeyed Moses’ command, and about 3,000 people died that day.

29 Then Moses told the Levites, “Today you have ordained yourselves for the service of the Lord, for you obeyed him even though it meant killing your own sons and brothers. Today you have earned a blessing.”

Moses Intercedes for Israel

30 The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a terrible sin, but I will go back up to the Lord on the mountain. Perhaps I will be able to obtain forgiveness for your sin.”

31 So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Oh, what a terrible sin these people have committed. They have made gods of gold for themselves. 32 But now, if you will only forgive their sin—but if not, erase my name from the record you have written!”

33 But the Lord replied to Moses, “No, I will erase the name of everyone who has sinned against me. 34 Now go, lead the people to the place I told you about. Look! My angel will lead the way before you. And when I come to call the people to account, I will certainly hold them responsible for their sins.”

35 Then the Lord sent a great plague upon the people because they had worshiped the calf Aaron had made.

Exodus 32 NLT

Thoughts on Forgiveness

  • Moses was willing to give his life for the forgiveness of the people — Like Jesus did!
  • God replied that He’d “erase the name of everyone who has sinned against me”. Erase from what? The Book of Life. Is YOUR name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life?
  • Even though the people sinned against Him, God still kept His promise!
  • He sends His angel — Is that a pre-incarnate Jesus?
  • He said He’d call the people to account and “hold them responsible for their sins”. The coming Judgments.
  • Yet, He sent a plague upon the people. Lesson here — don’t piss off God.

Thoughts on Idolatry

Turn away from those foolish things and turn to Jesus!

Let’s go on…

Exodus 33

The Lord said to Moses, “Get going, you and the people you brought up from the land of Egypt. Go up to the land I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I told them, ‘I will give this land to your descendants.’ And I will send an angel before you to drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. Go up to this land that flows with milk and honey. But I will not travel among you, for you are a stubborn and rebellious people. If I did, I would surely destroy you along the way.”

When the people heard these stern words, they went into mourning and stopped wearing their jewelry and fine clothes. For the Lord had told Moses to tell them, “You are a stubborn and rebellious people. If I were to travel with you for even a moment, I would destroy you. Remove your jewelry and fine clothes while I decide what to do with you.” So from the time they left Mount Sinai, the Israelites wore no more jewelry or fine clothes.

It was Moses’ practice to take the Tent of Meeting (separate from the Tabernacle) and set it up some distance from the camp. Everyone who wanted to make a request of the Lord would go to the Tent of Meeting outside the camp.

Whenever Moses went out to the Tent of Meeting, all the people would get up and stand in the entrances of their own tents. They would all watch Moses until he disappeared inside. As he went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and hover at its entrance while the Lord spoke with Moses. 10 When the people saw the cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, they would stand and bow down in front of their own tents. 11 Inside the Tent of Meeting, the Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Afterward Moses would return to the camp, but the young man who assisted him, Joshua son of Nun, would remain behind in the Tent of Meeting.

Moses Sees the Lord’s Glory

12 One day Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Take these people up to the Promised Land.’ But you haven’t told me whom you will send with me. You have told me, ‘I know you by name, and I look favorably on you.’ 13 If it is true that you look favorably on me, let me know your ways so I may understand you more fully and continue to enjoy your favor. And remember that this nation is your very own people.”

14 The Lord replied, “I will personally go with you, Moses, and I will give you rest—everything will be fine for you.”

15 Then Moses said, “If you don’t personally go with us, don’t make us leave this place. 16 How will anyone know that you look favorably on me—on me and on your people—if you don’t go with us? For your presence among us sets your people and me apart from all other people on the earth.”

17 The Lord replied to Moses, “I will indeed do what you have asked, for I look favorably on you, and I know you by name.”

18 Moses responded, “Then show me your glorious presence.”

19 The Lord replied, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will call out my name, Yahweh, before you. For I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose. 20 But you may not look directly at my face, for no one may see me and live.” 21 The Lord continued, “Look, stand near me on this rock. 22 As my glorious presence passes by, I will hide you in the crevice of the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will remove my hand and let you see me from behind. But my face will not be seen.”

Exodus 33 NLT

Exodus 34

Then the Lord told Moses, “Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones. I will write on them the same words that were on the tablets you smashed. Be ready in the morning to climb up Mount Sinai and present yourself to me on the top of the mountain. No one else may come with you. In fact, no one is to appear anywhere on the mountain. Do not even let the flocks or herds graze near the mountain.”

So Moses chiseled out two tablets of stone like the first ones. Early in the morning he climbed Mount Sinai as the Lord had commanded him, and he carried the two stone tablets in his hands.

Then the Lord came down in a cloud and stood there with him; and he called out his own name, Yahweh. The Lord passed in front of Moses, calling out,

“Yahweh! The Lord!
    The God of compassion and mercy!
I am slow to anger
    and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.
I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations.
    I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin.
But I do not excuse the guilty.
    I lay the sins of the parents upon their children and grandchildren;
the entire family is affected—
    even children in the third and fourth generations.”

Moses immediately threw himself to the ground and worshiped. And he said, “O Lord, if it is true that I have found favor with you, then please travel with us. Yes, this is a stubborn and rebellious people, but please forgive our iniquity and our sins. Claim us as your own special possession.”

10 The Lord replied, “Listen, I am making a covenant with you in the presence of all your people. I will perform miracles that have never been performed anywhere in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people around you will see the power of the Lord—the awesome power I will display for you. 11 But listen carefully to everything I command you today. Then I will go ahead of you and drive out the Amorites, Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites.

12 “Be very careful never to make a treaty with the people who live in the land where you are going. If you do, you will follow their evil ways and be trapped. 13 Instead, you must break down their pagan altars, smash their sacred pillars, and cut down their Asherah poles. 14 You must worship no other gods, for the Lord, whose very name is Jealous, is a God who is jealous about his relationship with you.

15 “You must not make a treaty of any kind with the people living in the land. They lust after their gods, offering sacrifices to them. They will invite you to join them in their sacrificial meals, and you will go with them. 16 Then you will accept their daughters, who sacrifice to other gods, as wives for your sons. And they will seduce your sons to commit adultery against me by worshiping other gods. 17 You must not make any gods of molten metal for yourselves.

Exodus 34:1-16 NLT

The next part is God repeating the laws on the festivals, the Sabbath, the first-born, etc. You can read them here. Remember, when God repeats something, that means He wants us to PAY ATTENTION!

Image by Sweet Publishing from FreeBibleImages.org,
(CC BY-SA 3.0)

27 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write down all these instructions, for they represent the terms of the covenant I am making with you and with Israel.”

28 Moses remained there on the mountain with the Lord forty days and forty nights. In all that time he ate no bread and drank no water. And the Lord wrote the terms of the covenant—the Ten Commandments—on the stone tablets.

29 When Moses came down Mount Sinai carrying the two stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant, he wasn’t aware that his face had become radiant because he had spoken to the Lord. 30 So when Aaron and the people of Israel saw the radiance of Moses’ face, they were afraid to come near him.

31 But Moses called out to them and asked Aaron and all the leaders of the community to come over, and he talked with them. 32 Then all the people of Israel approached him, and Moses gave them all the instructions the Lord had given him on Mount Sinai. 33 When Moses finished speaking with them, he covered his face with a veil. 34 But whenever he went into the Tent of Meeting to speak with the Lord, he would remove the veil until he came out again. Then he would give the people whatever instructions the Lord had given him, 35 and the people of Israel would see the radiant glow of his face. So he would put the veil over his face until he returned to speak with the Lord.

Exodus 34:27-35 NLT

I turn again to the Bible study, “Jesus In All Of Exodus – A Video Devotional”…

Moses begs God to dwell in the tabernacle and lead them into the promised land like he planned (Exodus 33:15). Unlike the idol worshipers who settled for a man-made image, Moses wanted nothing but God himself. Amazingly, God agrees. 

Then Moses makes the bold request to see God’s glory (Exodus 33:18). And, again, God says yes. God would show Moses all his goodness. But Moses could not see God’s face. Because if he looked at God’s glory, full on, he would die. So God puts Moses behind a rock with a small crack in it and makes his glory pass by. 

This encounter makes Moses’ face shine with the glory of God (Exodus 34:29b). Unlike the idol which tried to be the image of God and shine with gold, when Moses saw the real image of God he became like him and shone with God’s actual glory.  

Where is the Gospel? 

The ultimate reason Israel wasn’t to make any idols of God is because there could be only one true visible representation of Yahweh – the person of Jesus. 

And Jesus does everything Israel wanted this false god to do. Jesus intercedes for us, shows us the image of God, and leads us into God’s promises. 

Jesus also goes before us like Moses tried to go before God. Moses asked that God would blot him out as a substitute for those who sinned. But God would not allow it. Amazingly, what God would not do to Moses he does himself in the person of Jesus. 

Jesus is a better intercessor than Moses as well. Moses did not succeed in saving the idol worshipers from God’s wrath or his own. Jesus, however, takes the wrath we deserved and instead of being angry with us in our sin, he shows us nothing but love (Romans 5:8). 

Jesus does not dwell in a tent, or behind a rock, or through a messenger like an angel – he is God’s presence itself (Hebrews 1:3). How remarkable is it that this glory that would kill us if we saw it, became flesh and was instead killed for us? 

And now, because of Jesus, we can see what Moses saw – the light of Jesus’ face. And when we do this we are changed like Moses’ face was changed (2 Corinthians 3:18). The more we look at the Gospel of Jesus, the more we are transformed into the image of God. 

Jesus In All Of Exodus – A Video Devotional:
https://www.bible.com/en/reading-plans/18180

The passage referred to here is from Paul’s 2nd letter to the church in Corinth. Paul was encouraging the new believers to be bold about the Good News of the Salvation of Jesus Christ. Because we have the Holy Spirit in our hearts, we should speak boldly about the Gospel with confidence.

12 Since this new way gives us such confidence, we can be very bold. 13 We are not like Moses, who put a veil over his face so the people of Israel would not see the glory, even though it was destined to fade away. 14 But the people’s minds were hardened, and to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ. 15 Yes, even today when they read Moses’ writings, their hearts are covered with that veil, and they do not understand.

16 But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.

2 Corinthians 3:12-18 NLT

To be able to speak boldly, you first must be born again. Then study the Bible DAILY! Just reading a short devotional is like having a snack, when you could have a nourishing 3-course meal!

Every born again believer is changed into His GLORIOUS IMAGE!

And YOU can be, too! Jesus wants to be YOUR FRIEND! You, too, can have the closeness that Moses had with God. It’s Jesus’ nature to be your personal savior.

What do you need to do?

Invite Jesus into Your Heart and Receive the Gift and Confident Hope of Eternal Life…


Soli Deo Gloria! To God Alone Be the Glory!

Top Image by Sweet Publishing from FreeBibleImages.org, (CC BY-SA 3.0)

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