The Biblical Examiner
An Examination of Biblical Precepts Involved in Issues at Hand

(Originally Published in 1993)

God's Glory & the Development of Sin :


Exodus 32:1-7

While Moses was 40 days on the mount before the Lord, the people below built a calf to represent the Lord and to go before them as the Lord had done. In v. 7, the Lord told Moses to go down to the people who had corrupted themselves (Ja 1:14).

Although He could have, the Lord did not send Moses down in time to prevent the sin; in His sovereignty, God had a purpose in allowing the sin to mature. Thus, the Sovereign God of the Universe, Who can stop sin at any time, is the One allowing sin to mature. Furthermore, no one can fault His actions, Rom 9:15ff (19, 20). The world is not out of control today any more than it was when Moses was on the mount and the people were building the calf. The Lord not only can restrain sin as He pleases, but He also makes sin serviceable to the praise of His Own glory.

Hence, all things move according to God's predetermined counsel to fulfill His perfect will. (Cf. Acts 2:23; 4:28 & Rev 17:17. Also, Rom 11:36; 2 Cor 4:15; 1 Pe 2:9; 1 Pe 4:11; Rev 4:10, 11; 19:6, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.)

Though this seems to be a strange thought from an idolatrous situation, let us look at the good from the calf. There were several things accomplished for God's glory when He permitted the golden calf:

I. God brought Israel here to prove them: Exo 20:18-21.

Here at the foot of the mount, the Lord proved their heart. He proved that: A) their words did not reflect what was in their heart; B) the law could not change the heart; C) their confidence in God's servant, Moses, was very superficial; D) God's people were still Egyptian at heart: "Circumstances do not make us what we are, they reveal what we are," and E) God (and only God) can take hardened, Egypt-filled sinners and make of them a people that will serve Him and bring glory to His name. Israel was thus an unmistakable picture of the Church, Eph 3:8-12.

The Lord, by His sovereign grace, takes whom He will, makes of them what He will, and no one will say to Him, What doest thou? (Dan 4:35; cf. Ro 11:33, 36; 1 Co 2:16.)

Assuredly, the Lord will prove what His people are made of, the proof will be before the whole world and the test will come at the most unexpected time. He will prove a number of things, eg. to whom is our loyalty, God or man? what is our attitude toward His law and toward men He has raised up to places of authority? The list of things proved by the Lord is endless, for only the Lord knows what evil lies dormant in the heart of man, Jer 17:9. The Lord knows the heart; He will providentially command situations to prove what wickedness lies therein that it might be brought into subjection unto Christ, Jer 17:9; Ph 3:15.

And as pastors, the Lord will bring to pass things in the lives of our people so we will know what areas need strengthening, Eph 4:12.

II. The calf proved to the people their corruption and distance from the Lord's demands upon them. Moses will return and give a great many ordinances concerning the tabernacle and sacrifices. The people will be unable to protest anything in the law, for the memory of the calf and the 3000 people who died will be heavy upon them. As Moses gives the many stringent and sundry laws, the people will have on their conscience the guilt of their sin here in the shadow of the mount, under the glorious cloud of God's presence.

III. The calf proved who was on the Lord's side, 32:26. The calf identified the repentant among God's people: 3,000 refused to repent and were executed. (Evidently, the 3,000 continued in their "pagan festivities" after Moses appeared & called Levi to take up the sword of God's vengeance against the sin, v. 29 [consecrate, "fill your hands" with the sword]. Thus 3,000 out of the 600,000 who came out of Egypt, openly mocked God [Who will not be mocked], God's law and God's man.)

IV. The calf was the first proof of God's intolerance of sin among His covenant people: 3,000 men were executed for their wickedness. Note: 1), it was not the former Egyptians who desired to mix the worship of Jehovah with paganism. Rather, it was the men of Israel. The mixed multitude fell to lusting in Num. 11, but that was after the calf. We can justly condemn the mixed multitude for leading in lust for the good things of Egypt in Num 11, but the men of Israel led the way to lust in Exo 32. We can safely assume the mixed multitude was involved with the calf, but the blame was not placed upon them. 2), men, there is no mention of women slain, although obviously the women had participated, 32:28. Thus the Lord emphasizes the tremendous responsibility placed upon men. 3), the people see that their God is not after their own imagination. Up to this time, the Lord had "winked" at their sin. No more! The people had sinned at the waters of Marah (Ex 15), the giving of the manna (16:18) and the waters of Massah and Meribah (17:7), but no one had yet lost his life over sin. Only a few weeks prior to the calf, the law had been given in the hearing of all the people, and with the law entered death (cf. Ex 20 & Romans [7:7]). With the calf, the Lord starts to slay those who presumptuously disregard His law, Num 11; Heb 12, &c. Now the people start to see that, unlike Egypt's gods, their God is a jealous God and One to be feared. Those who mock God and His law now face certain death.

V. Undoubtedly, out of the whole situation, Aaron holds the most hope for us.

A) Aaron would be very humbled by this experience. Consider what was going through Aaron's mind as Moses dressed him in the high priest's garments after the affair with the calf. How well we "remember" past sins which are now embarrassing, and stand amazed in the presence of the Lord that He could use us in His service. Massive failures like Aaron's with the calf tend to keep one humble. Major problems develop when we forget from where the Lord delivered us, Isa 51:1. Did Aaron ever forget from where the Lord brought him? The Lord can use the godly memory of ungodly activity.

B) Aaron shows us that God, more often than not, uses people in spite of themselves, not because they are good. God's choice of Aaron as His high priest was not based upon his good, firm character or because he was such a good man: Aaron quickly and willingly followed the people into idolatry. Aaron had an extremely week personality; he was easily led astray by his sister against Moses later, yet God chose him and his line to be the high priest for the Most High God.

Hence, Aaron proves that God is not restricted by man's weakness and frailties. God's grace is sufficient to forgive sin and "make a silk purse out of a sow's ear." What the Lord did through Aaron, though he sinned with the calf, assures that God can use anyone, Pro 28:16. God reminds us throughout His word that He, by His sovereign will alone, chooses people, and no person is set apart by the Lord because of anything special in himself.

VI. Levi was the only tribe to join Moses. Unknown to Israel and Levi at this time, Levi was going to be the priestly tribe. The story of Levi their father, would have been well known in Israel. Dinah, the only daughter of Israel named in Scripture, had been violated. Simeon and Levi, in their wicked, uncontrolled anger, took it upon themselves to avenge the evil. They turned their back upon godliness, chose blood over God, lied, digged down a wall, slew Hamor, Shechem and all the male inhabitance of the city of Shechem, took the spoil unto themselves and caused Israel to stink before the surrounding nations, Gen 34:30. Simeon's and Levi's ungodly zeal is cursed by their father, Israel, Gen 49:5-8.

Levi mocked God and godliness because of a blood relationship, so before Levi's sons could be established as God's representatives to the nation of Israel, Levi had to show proof of "conversion." Will the sons of Levi be willing to place God's honour and glory over blood? When presented with the choice in Ex 32:26, all the sons of Levi sided with Moses and the Lord against the rest of Israel. Levi's commend, vs. 27, 29, is quite similar to the one in Deut 13:1-11. Without exception, the Lord required the execution of all who openly served false gods and/or attempted to influence others away from the true God. Moses tells Levi that blood relationship cannot hinder obedience to the command- word of God; Levi willingly and completely obeys God, becomes a sweet savour before the Lord and God bestows a blessing upon him.

Before Levi could be established as God's representatives in the people's eyes, his love for the Lord above his family had to be tested and proved, v. 29. The calf proved that Levi's heart and personality had been changed by the Lord (cf., Ph 2:13), and he now loved and honoured God. Levi passed the test, was blessed of the Lord and established as the chief godly tribe.

Note in passing that God presents absolutely no opportunity to blame one's parents for his own sin. If the tribe of Levi had not stood with Moses ("I am a sinner because of my dad's sin, so I don't have to be responsible"), God would have raised up another tribe and Levi would have been slain as were the others, cf. 1 Pet 1:18. (Every man is drawn away of his own lust...)

VII. Moses was proved, 32:10 (cf. Num 14:12).

God puts the fate of the nation into the hand of Moses, that he may remember his mediatorial office, and show himself worthy of his calling... [W]ould [Moses] be willing to give up his own people, laden as they were with guilt, as the price of his own exaltation[?] ...The preservation of Israel was dearer to him than the honour of becoming the head and founder of a new kingdom of God... Keil.

Could Moses have succumbed to God's offer? Notice that the Lord gave Moses the choice before Moses saw the people's actions. Would he have made the same choice after he saw the evil of the people? The answer to these questions would be pointless [God-forbidden abstract theology]. We do know that the Lord takes the unqualified and qualifies them, 2 Cor 3:5, 6; we know that the Lord will not suffer His people to be tempted above that which they are able to endure, and will, with the temptation, also make a way of escape. He will not place upon them more than they are able to bear, 1 Co 10:13. In other words, the Lord called Moses and qualified him for God's calling, part of which was faithfulness on Moses' part. Note: Moses' face did not shine after the first giving of the law but after the second. Thus it was after Moses passed his test that his face shown. God's people are glorified through, not apart from, testing.

He gives to human freedom room enough for self- determination, that He may test the fidelity of His servants. No human speculation, however, can fully explain the conflict between divine providence and human freedom. Keil.

How many leaders, both religious and civil, have sacrificed their people for the prospect of self-exaltation? How many Christians have sacrificed their "Christianity" on the altar of self? Moses stood the test! He chose God's glory over his own glory. Would we?

Furthermore, God's offer to Moses shows us that God's will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven. The Lord will either accomplish His will through us or find another through which to work. No person, people, or group of people (church, denomination, race or nation) has a corner on God. Hardness in sin may well cause the Lord to lay aside someone, but He will find another to replace the sinner.

VIII. The calf proved the grace of God in the OT. Moses, as well as later men of God, would tell the people that it was not for any good on Israel's part that the Lord called them unto Himself, but He called them because of His promise to their fathers. The calf would sharply remind them that Moses was not stretching the point; if anything, he understated inherent evil. (Cf. Deut 7:7, 8; 9:5; Eze 36:22, 32; 1 Kgs 9:53, 58, &c.)

All the ensuing prophets of God had to do was point back to the calf to prove that the Lord delivered Israel by His loving grace alone.

Moreover, notice Ex 25:2: while the people are building the calf, the Lord is commanding Moses to take a freewill offering of the people to build His "dwelling place" (tabernacle) of tremendous value. Their memory of their great sin with the calf, the wrath of God (3,000 died) and the forgiving mercy of God in renewing the covenant would cause them to give freely the great amount needed to construct the dwelling place of the Lord among them. Their gratefulness for the mercy and grace of God caused them to willingly give over and above the needed wealth to the Lord, 36:5-7.

IX. The calf proved that the Lord is not restricted by man's sin, for neither Aaron's nor the people's sin could change God's plan. He had chosen Israel as His holy nation; He had appointed Aaron and his sons as His head of the nation, and sin did not force God to change His plan. Moreover, God chose Aaron (and Israel) knowing his weakness. No doubt we restrict God far too much. Sin never has and/or never will thwart God's plan, for abundant sin only means more abundant grace, Ro 5:20.

X. The calf proved the power of prayer and God's willingness to show mercy. Moses prayed and the Lord showed mercy to Aaron and to a people hardened in sin. Note: A), even though the Lord showed mercy, the people did not avoid the results of their sin. The people had to drink of their sin (v. 20, cf. Pro 14:14). B), there is a "point of no return," Jer 15:1. Israel's hardness in sin resulted in their refusal to enter Canaan and their death in the wilderness. Has America reached that "point" with its: faithless Christianity (which has no power to influence society), open sodomy, unlimited murder (abortions), breakdown of Godly authority in the home, and replacement of godly law with psychology?

Yet on the positive side, we see a glorious promise of the Lord doing for and through the children what the parents were unable to do because of their "Egyptianization." This is our hope today! Our present generation is so "paganized" that there is little hope for them, but their children can be raised up with a godly, "Christianized Worldview."

My! how we need men today to stand in the gap and pray for a people hardened in sin, for who knows the mind of the Lord or the limits He has placed upon sin? Cf. Gen 18:22, but Abraham stood yet before the LORD.

XI. The calf and the NT grace of God, Rom 11:6; 1 Cor 4:7; 2 Tim 1:9; Titus 3:3-5.

Observe: the calf proved that: A) OT Israel's deliverance was totally by the grace of God; B) the Lord, not the people, is the One Who made Israel different from the Egyptians; C) Israel's call unto the Lord was an holy calling, not according to their works, but according to the Lord's own good pleasure, purpose and grace, and D) God, not man, controls history, and all history moves according to God's predetermined counsel to fulfill His purpose.

XII. Many hundreds of years after the calf, Paul would write that the law could not change or make man holy before God, Rom 3:20. Remembering the calf built after the giving of the Commandments, any argument against Paul's words is groundless. Certainly the law points out sin, but the law cannot change man's attitude toward sin; only the life-changing grace of God given through faith in the finished work of Christ can change man's attitude, Rom 3:21ff.

Conclusion

If we say that we have the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ, James assures us that it will be "proved."

Strangely enough, the sin of the calf at the foot of the mountain in the shadow of the glorious cloud of the Lord's presence holds as much hope for redeemed, though fallen, man as does any situation in the Scripture: God, for His Own purpose and praise, is the One Who permits sin to blossom; God's righteousness justifies His annihilation of sinful man, but His loving mercy provides the grace for man to continue on in service of the King. Pastor Need


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