Sermon on Exodus 32:1-35 – “Who is On the Lord’s Side?”

Sermon for Sunday, January 30th, 2022 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Old Testament reading:

[Exo 31:1-11 ESV] 1 The LORD said to Moses, 2 “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 3 and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, 4 to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, 5 in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. 6 And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you: 7 the tent of meeting, and the ark of the testimony, and the mercy seat that is on it, and all the furnishings of the tent, 8 the table and its utensils, and the pure lampstand with all its utensils, and the altar of incense, 9 and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the basin and its stand, 10 and the finely worked garments, the holy garments for Aaron the priest and the garments of his sons, for their service as priests, 11 and the anointing oil and the fragrant incense for the Holy Place. According to all that I have commanded you, they shall do.”

New Testament reading:

[Act 7:35-53 ESV] 35 “This Moses, whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’–this man God sent as both ruler and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36 This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years. 37 This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.’ 38 This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us. 39 Our fathers refused to obey him, but thrust him aside, and in their hearts they turned to Egypt, 40 saying to Aaron, ‘Make for us gods who will go before us. As for this Moses who led us out from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 41 And they made a calf in those days, and offered a sacrifice to the idol and were rejoicing in the works of their hands. 42 But God turned away and gave them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets: “‘Did you bring to me slain beasts and sacrifices, during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? 43 You took up the tent of Moloch and the star of your god Rephan, the images that you made to worship; and I will send you into exile beyond Babylon.’ 44 “Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern that he had seen. 45 Our fathers in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our fathers. So it was until the days of David, 46 who found favor in the sight of God and asked to find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. 47 But it was Solomon who built a house for him. 48 Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says, 49 “‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? 50 Did not my hand make all these things?’ 51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, 53 you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”

Gospel reading:

[Mat 18:21-35 ESV] 21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. 23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Sermon Text:
[Exo 32:1-35 ESV] 1 When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 2 So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.” 6 And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play. 7 And the LORD said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. 8 They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!'” 9 And the LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, 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, in order that I may make a great nation of you.” 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? 12 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’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against 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 offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.'” 14 And the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people. 15 Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets that were written on both sides; on the front and on the back they were written. 16 The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets. 17 When Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a noise of war in the camp.” 18 But he said, “It is not the sound of shouting for victory, or the sound of the cry of defeat, but the sound of singing that I hear.” 19 And as soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. 20 He took the calf that they had made and burned it with fire and ground it to powder and scattered it on the water and made the people of Israel drink it. 21 And Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you have brought such a great sin upon them?” 22 And Aaron said, “Let not the anger of my lord burn hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil. 23 For they said to me, ‘Make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 24 So I said to them, ‘Let any who have gold take it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.” 25 And when Moses saw that the people had broken loose (for Aaron had let them break loose, to the derision of their enemies), 26 then Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said, “Who is on the LORD’s side? Come to me.” And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. 27 And he said to them, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel, ‘Put your sword on your side each of you, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill his brother and his companion and his neighbor.'” 28 And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And that day about three thousand men of the people fell. 29 And Moses said, “Today you have been ordained for the service of the LORD, each one at the cost of his son and of his brother, so that he might bestow a blessing upon you this day.” 30 The next day Moses said to the people, “You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” 31 So Moses returned to the LORD and said, “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. 32 But now, if you will forgive their sin–but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.” 33 But the LORD said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book. 34 But now go, lead the people to the place about which I have spoken to you; behold, my angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them.” 35 Then the LORD sent a plague on the people, because they made the calf, the one that Aaron made.




Who is on the Lord’s side?

The Israelites are quick to abandon God.

John Calvin says of the Israelites in chapter 32 of the Exodus account:

“In this narrative we perceive the detestable impiety of the people, their worse than base ingratitude, and their monstrous madness, mixed with stupidity.”

Over the previous 11 chapters God has been giving the law to Moses to then give to the people.

He gave the 10 Commandments and the case laws.

He gave instructions for making the Ark of the Covenant

and the furniture of the tabernacle.

He commanded how the tabernacle was to be built

and how the high priest was to be dressed and ordained.

He gave instructions for building an altar of incense and a bronze basin.

And He specially appointed Oholiab and Bezalel to have the ability as fine craftsman to get the work done.

And in the end, God concluded his speaking to Moses with a reminder to remember the sabbath and keep it holy.

And, one might suppose, Moses’s return to the people with all of these commandments from the Lord was to be a great moment, and the beginning of a holy nation.

But while Moses was away the people did play. Before they could even receive the commandments from God, the people went astray. And they did not merely wander away from the Lord, than ran into idolatry

I. The Unholy Cow (v. 1-10)

How quickly the people forgot about the Lord who had brought them out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

How quickly they forget about Him who had declared “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God.” (Exodus 6:7)

These are the people who had said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient” (Exodus 24:7)

But while Moses was away the people grew impatient. And because his return was delayed they used this as an excuse to turn away from God; to doubt God and to choose their own path.

“The people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, ‘Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’” – Exodus 32:1

The miraculous work of the Lord in getting them out of Egypt, they now ascribe to the man Moses. And because Moses is no longer present and producing for them, they desire to make gods to lead them.

This is like the impatience of man in the world of investment. The shortsighted investor wants to know about quarterly earnings. Yes, you made a million dollars last year. Yes, you brought us through the Red Sea. But what have you done for me lately? You say that your company president is away on business seeking the long-term good of the company? But I want you to press out whatever earnings you can make now, even if it destroys the future of the business. Cheat the customer, sell the equipment, fire the employers. Whatever it takes to make money.

So the Israelites, like high-pressure investors, what to run the show, and not to trust in their President Moses, nor the owner of the business, the Lord himself.

They choose new leadership. Themselves.

They choose idolatry.

They make a Golden Calf.

Even Aaron is in on it. The very high priest we’ve just been talking about consecrating and ordaining. Perhaps he hesitates for a moment, and tries to get the people to think things over. He says “take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.”

Surely the people can’t be serious about wanting to make an idol to follow? Perhaps if they have to spend their own gold, they might slow down and rethink this decision.

But they do not. They take off the rings of gold and give them to Aaron who fashions it all into a golden calf.

And they build an altar and Aaron yet says “Tomorrow shall be a feast to Yahweh.”

You see they haven’t entirely forgotten about the Lord. Aaron even wants to make a connection between this idol and the Lord God, Yahweh. It seems that golden calf wasn’t INTENDED to be another God, but to be a representation of Yahweh who they were worshipping but according to their own perverse schemes. But just saying “Yawheh” isn’t enough. Putting a “made in the USA” sticker on a mass-produced Chinese piece of junk isn’t going to turn it into a trusty product.

The people wanted control. And they wanted God’s presence. Never mind the fact that God had shown himself present by day in the pillar of fire and by night in the pillar of cloud. The Living God made himself known to them, yet they wanted to represent him in the shape of a dead idol.

And though they were impatient with Moses, note it says that “they rose EARLY the next day and offered burnt offering and brought peace offerings.” This shows that all along it was not about the timeline, but about control. The people wanted to invent their own ways of worshipping the Lord.

The Lord tells Moses what is going on at the base of the mountain. But surely when Moses returns to the people what he sees is still a surprise to him.

He comes down the mountain and …

Un-Holy Cow!

Joshua says to Moses “There is a noise of war in the camp.”

But Moses responds, “It is not the sound of shouting for victory, or the sound of the cry of defeat, but the sound of singing that I hear.”

One might say that Joshua was, in a way, correct. There was a noise of war … a noise of war against God as the people sang and danced to an idol, sinning against the Lord in one of the worst possible ways. Breaking the commandments not to have another God and not to make a carved image. And indeed while they may have intended the golden calf to represent Yahweh, they had truly created another so-called god.

“And, [Moses], as soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets out of his hand and broke them at the foot of the mountain. He took the calf that they had made and burned it with fire and ground it to powder and scattered it on the water and made the people of Israel drink it.”

But let us take a step back. A large number footsteps back to the top of the mountain.

II. Mediator Moses (v. 11-13, 31-32)

There on the top of the mountain we find Moses as the mediator between God and man.

And after God tells Moses of what the people are doing, and warns that his wrath burns red hot against them and he may consume them, Moses intervenes and says two things.

He doesn’t appeal for a second to the goodness of the people or the innocence of any of them.

He appeals to God’s good name and to God’s own promise.

The people have broken their covenant with God. But God keeps the covenant with His people.

First Moses appeals to God’s good name. He says that the Egyptians will speak badly of Yahweh that He has brought his people out in the desert to die. Lord, Moses says, don’t let your name be tarnished.

Then, and I think more importantly, Moses appeals to the covenant, to God’s own promise.

“Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.”

It is not Abraham himself, or Isaac himself, or Jacob himself who Moses asks to be remembered. These men, like all others, did sin. What Moses asks to be remembered is God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Here Moses is acting as the mediator between God and man, and so typifying a role which Jesus Christ himself will later fulfill. Later on, in verse 32 Moses again is a type of Christ in offering himself as a substitute for the people. He says “If you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of the book you have written.”

Thus it is said in the Psalms (106:23) that Moses “stood in the breach, to turn away the wrath of God.”

This points to Christ who did satisfy the terms of the covenant and save us from the wrath of God.

III. God Remembers and Relents (v. 14)

And so God “relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.”

It is important here to remember that God does not change. What we understand in the story is that God turned from the way that IT APPEARED he was going to deal with the nation. All that actually does is in fulfillment of his plan from the beginning. But to man it can appear that God has changed his mind.

And all of this is so that man might change his mind!

Moses is drawn closer to God.

And Moses breaks the tablets it is to terrify the people and wake them up to what they have done! When he breaks the tablets of the covenant, it is because the people have already broken the covenant itself.

The Lord indeed draws His people closer often through much difficulty.

Why did God relent? Because he remembered his covenant. Though the people did sin, God’s grace and truth never failed. God’s mercy continues upon purely undeserving people.

God remained true to the promise He had sworn by his own self, doing so because there is no one greater upon whom he could swear. (Hebrews 6:13)

God did intend relent.

But there was still fallout.

Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said, “Who is on the Lord’s side? Come to me.” The Levites came to him. (and perhaps others did as well)

And then 3000 men were killed by the Levites on command of God. It is implied that these 3000 were those who were impenitent, who continued to stand by the golden calf against the Lord. And in the slaughter of these 3000, all the people were reminded that they had deserved the same. God makes known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy in his destruction of the vessels of wrath.

Application 1. Let us pray that we stay close to the Lord.

There is a quick departure of the Israelites from the worship of the true God.

There is a phenomenon all too common in churches today. When the children grow up, go off to college, begin life away from their parents, they stop going to church. Perhaps these children even say, “All that the Lord has spoken I will do, and I will be obedient” But like when Moses leaves, the moment their parents are out of sight, they skip church, they forget church, and even grow to oppose church.

It is easy and comfortable for the older generations to critique the younger generations. But as we age, and arthritis sets in, our crooked fingers point only back at ourselves. The moment we don’t have oversight is the moment we go astray. The boss has left the office and its time for a long sit. No one from church is around so I can be loose with my language. My spouse is out of the house and so I’ll eat massive bag of potato chips. Or even, kids, do you wait until your parent’s aren’t looking to punch your brother or sister? These are all bad things, showing that people of all ages do sin, and quickly fall away from God.

Bible Presbyterian minister Jason Hutchinson says: “Exodus 32 cuts US wide open. It shows you and I what we are really like. How we really think. How we truly operate in many times in our life. … God’s people have left Egypt, but Egypt has not left them.”

We think, God has abandoned us. Moses isn’t back yet. We’re not getting what we want, so we shall serve another. What folly! And I say not “The Israelties” but I say “we” because we are like the Israelites. It is the nature of man as sinful to go the opposite way from the direction God tells us. Like when God said to Jonah – “Go to Nineveh” and he gets on a boat going the other way! But what folly. A sailboat vs. The Lord. Which one wins? I can tell you it wasn’t the sailboat.

Application 2. Knowledge is Not Enough

The people KNOW God, they’ve seen miracles. God has invested so much in them. And they immediate reject him.

Like the child who grew up in the church and knows their Bible, yet falls away from God.

Knowledge is not enough. Merely understanding the Scriptures is not the same as believing, not the same as following God.

You can know everything about the Bible and still be a terrible sinner. Knowledge of God does not make for holiness.

And many who fall away from the church will say that they yet have Christ. They will call themselves believers.

But notice that the Israelites do not get rid of God altogether. They get rid of the features of God that they don’t like. Is that not the state of Christianity today? God’s wrath is a prominent teaching of the Scriptures, but it is avoided. What televangelist, seeking the dollars in your pocket, is going to tell you about the wrath of God and how you must repent and how difficult the Christian life is? Or rather do they only preach love, self-help, and the power of positive thinking? In positive thinking there is no room for the wrath of God. The idea that God could be angry at them, at us, seems to never enter the mind. God is love, and all you need is love, love, love.

Indeed God is love. But we can only understand that love in relation to the truth that God also brings wrath. Wrath is what we deserve, love is what we get. We have gone astray. We do go astray every single day. And the Lord, He alone, keeps His promise and pulls us back to Him.

It is clear that we need a God who is going to hang on to us much more firmly than we hang on to him.

We need a God that forgives us not 7 times, but 70 times 7 times; always forgiving us for our sins against him.

Application 3: The Lord takes us to his side.

The title of this sermon is “Who is on the Lord’s side?” And, as the English language goes, this can be taken in a couple different ways. Firstly, as in the text, it asks “Are you going to chose to fight for the Lord or against the Lord?” But it also could be understand to say “Who is on His SIDE?” Whom does the Lord include with Him? Who are His chosen friends?

And so even when we have sinned and fallen away, God yet chooses us to be by his side, to be his friends. We ARE on the Lord’s side. Not so much that we fight for him, but that he fights for us! He remembers His covenant and keeps us on His side. Praise the Lord for this, the only way of salvation is in His name through our Lord Jesus Christ. We pray in his name, Amen.