Sermon on Exodus 34:1-28 – “The Mercy and Grace of God”

Sermon for Sunday, February 13th, 2022 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Old Testament reading:

[Exo 34:1-28 ESV] 1 The LORD said to Moses, “Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. 2 Be ready by the morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself there to me on the top of the mountain. 3 No one shall come up with you, and let no one be seen throughout all the mountain. Let no flocks or herds graze opposite that mountain.” 4 So Moses cut two tablets of stone like the first. And he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and took in his hand two tablets of stone. 5 The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. 6 The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” 8 And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. 9 And he said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.” 10 And he said, “Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the LORD, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you. 11 “Observe what I command you this day. Behold, I will drive out before you the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 12 Take care, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you go, lest it become a snare in your midst. 13 You shall tear down their altars and break their pillars and cut down their Asherim 14 (for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God), 15 lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and when they whore after their gods and sacrifice to their gods and you are invited, you eat of his sacrifice, 16 and you take of their daughters for your sons, and their daughters whore after their gods and make your sons whore after their gods. 17 “You shall not make for yourself any gods of cast metal. 18 “You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month Abib, for in the month Abib you came out from Egypt. 19 All that open the womb are mine, all your male livestock, the firstborn of cow and sheep. 20 The firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. All the firstborn of your sons you shall redeem. And none shall appear before me empty-handed. 21 “Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest. In plowing time and in harvest you shall rest. 22 You shall observe the Feast of Weeks, the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the year’s end. 23 Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the LORD God, the God of Israel. 24 For I will cast out nations before you and enlarge your borders; no one shall covet your land, when you go up to appear before the LORD your God three times in the year. 25 “You shall not offer the blood of my sacrifice with anything leavened, or let the sacrifice of the Feast of the Passover remain until the morning. 26 The best of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring to the house of the LORD your God. You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.” 27 And the LORD said to Moses, “Write these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” 28 So he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.

New Testament reading:

[1Ti 2:1-7 ESV] 1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. 7 For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

Gospel reading:

[Luk 1:67-79 ESV] 67 And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, 68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people 69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, 70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 71 that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; 72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, 73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us 74 that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. 76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, 78 because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Introduction

You’ve probably heard the saying that parents sometimes use:

“This is why we can’t have nice things.”

A kid writes on the wall with permanent market, or carelessly breaks a lamp. Or even a dog chews the leg of a thousand-dollar table.

And so a parent exclaims, “This is why we can’t have nice things.”

I. Remaking the Tablets

This may be somewhat like what God is saying when he says too Moses:

“Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which YOU broke.”

You broke these tablets. This is why we don’t have nice tablets of commandments. You broke them.

But remember it was the people, not Moses, who had broken the actual covenant. They had worshipped the golden calf. Moses, in breaking the tablets, in his anger was only symbolizing what had already happened, what the people had already done.

So Moses smashed the tablets on the ground.

And when God says “Which YOU broke.” I think if I were Moses, I would be saying “Ouch, did you have to bring that up?” Imagine being in Moses’ situation. Yes God, I’m terribly sorry about breaking your tablets.

And perhaps God is thinking “This is why we can’t have a nice nation.” “This is why we can’t have close relationship – you stiff-necked people keep disobeying me and breaking the covenant.

Fortunately, the Lord and Moses together will restore those tablets and God will restore and renew the covenant. He is a God of mercy and of grace. Moses is to cut the tablets out of stone and God will then write the words of the commandments on them.

The first tablets are given from God to Moses. (Exodus 24:12). There is no statement of Moses’s involvement in cutting them. They are totally a production of God. Exodus 32:16 says of the first tablets “the tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.”

The second tablets are again written by God, but the stones are cut by Moses.

What are we to make of this? It seems that it is a downgrade in a sense. The first tablets were entirely of God, the second tablets are only partially of God.

But of great importance, the commandments are the same. Though the tablets were broken, God’s law always remains. That which was written on the second set of tablets is the same that was written on the first set, the very Ten Commandments.

II. The Mercy and Grace of God

This remaking of the tablets tells us not only that God’s law is ultimately unbreakable (not in the sense that we do not sin and break God’s laws, but in the sense that God’s law is eternal), the remaking of the tablets tells us not only that God’s law is unbreakable, but it shows us something of his grace and mercy, that God is forgiving though the people have broken his commandments.

Now He is again resetting things; starting over again. He could have left the people at this point, but with Moses’ intercession and reminder to God about his promises, God did relent and then He rewrote the words on the tablets.

In our text then we next find the great mercy and grace of God declared with about every term possible:

God is said to be:

-merciful (rahum)

-gracious (hannun)

-slow to anger (erek apayim)

-abounding in steadfast love (hesed)

-and faithfulness (emet)

-keepings steadfast love for thousands (of generations) (nasar hesed)

and

-forgiving iniquity and sin (nasa aon pesa hatta’at)

One of the terms used here is that well-known Hebrew word “hesed.” God’s s steadfast love.

And the term is used twice. Not only is God “abounding in steadfast love” he “continues in steadfast love.”

All these terms, referring to God’s grace and mercy, are piled up and repeated for our benefit. God really is merciful! God really is gracious! Even to me! Even to you! Though you sins be great, though you sin be repeated a thousand times, God is gracious and merciful, keeping steadfast love and forgiving iniquity.

All these references to God’s grace and mercy outweigh the references here to his justice, but his justice is present as well.

God is indeed very merciful, BUT he “will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.”

This, we might call, a generational curse. And no doubt that problems can run in a family. Bad habits, sins, that exist in one generation often proceed to the next. Diseases are hereditary. Even alcoholism and foul language may proceed from father to son and son to grandson. Sometimes the generational curse is more pronounced. Consider the caste system in India. The bottom rung – “the untouchables” – have from generation to generation been the poorest and most ill-treated of all peoples. It is almost entirely unheard for an untouchable to rise up and escape to a better life.

But the generational curse is not an unbreakable curse. The Lord can rescue anyone at anytime from any curse, from any situation, from any evil, no matter how impossible it may seem.

So we find Moses again acting as a mediator to bring about God’s grace and mercy upon his people. Moses says: “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.”

III. God Renews His Covenant

And God renews his covenant.

Surely these Israelites are guilty people, are they not? Then why are they not punished? They have terribly opposed the Lord. They made a golden calf and danced and sang in front of it. The deserve the curse of generations.

But … they get … the mercy of God. For He is a covenant God and remembers His covenant and is graceful to his people, forgiving their sins. They are his people not because they haven’t sin, but because he has chosen them despite their sins. And WE are God’s people not because we are holier than other people, but because our gracious and merciful God has chosen us and forgiven our sins.

God then promises to do awesome things in their midst. Surely awesome things have happened throughout the Exodus. There were many miracles in their departure from Egypt. And there will be, God now promises, many miracles in their conquering of the promised land, for God is with them.

God will drive out those living in the land. The Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. God will do that for his people.

And many here challenge the Bible saying God is favoring genocide, the slaughter of whole nations of people. And the response is the same here as it is in so many other places – God can do what He wants, he is God.

And God is not just killing off the Canaanites for sport. He has a great reason for driving them out of the land. He is preparing the land for His people. He’s driving out the Canaanites not only so there is room for the Israelites, but so that the Israelites will not MIX their religion.

Through the Exodus God has been giving specific information for how he is to be worshipped. His commands are detailed, and any departure from them is sin. So he does not want them to be half-following His word and half-worshipping the Canaanite gods.

Canaanite is often used as a broader name. There are various peoples living there. The Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, etc. And these peoples need to be driven out so that God’s people don’t all AGAIN into idolatry, worshipping their foreign Gods.

God does not want a mixture.

So it is that we understand that Biblical prohibition against foreign (or mixed) marriages is never because of race but because of religion! This is what it means to be unequally-yoked; a difference in one’s views and lifestyle. Its not about skin color or height or something like this. If you’re a foot taller than you’re spouse you would be unequally yoked if you literally were attached with a yoke and had to put a cart. But you height, your skin color, your comparative wealth, is of no difference compared to your spiritual status. Christians are to marry Christians. And Paul tells us, if you are a Christian and your spouse is not you are to remain married.

But more importantly, the text is referring to God’s desire not to have a mixed religion. He wants pure worship, worship according to his pronouncements.

Application: Let us not be half-worshippers.

Let us not mix our desires with the commands of God.

This, I’ve mentioned from time to time is called the Regulative Principle of Worship. It is the idea that we are to worship God only as he has commanded in Scriptures. Some other Christian traditions are looser saying “we can worship God in any way as long as he hasn’t ruled it out.”

But throughout the Exodus we’ve seen over and over again such strong saying of the Lord, giving the people explicit instructions and toleration no diversion from them. There is no indication that He wants us, or even allows us to use our own creativity or opinions in His worship. We are to listen to the Lord and obey his commands.

And while we can’t push out all the non-Christians out of our land as God drove out the Canaanites from the promised land, we are to keep separate from the practices and gods of the world. We are, with the Lord’s work in, we are to drive out foreign unbiblical ideas. We are to be Christians and not of a mixed sort. Let us strive to worship God purely and let us strive to live according to God’s word, for our whole life is to be lived for His glory.

And not only were the Israelites to not associate with the Canaanites, they were to destroy all signs of their idolatrous worship, such as altars, monuments, and asherim, the idols of the gods of Canaan.

God is a jealous God, he can stand no competition.

So we are to distance ourselves from the practices of the world, even to destroy any connection with them. Yes, we are to be friendly. And yes we are to be evangelistic, not isolating ourselves. But we are to beware of having non-Christian friend’s who views and ways we might be apt to pick up through osmosis, through being near to them. We hear bad language at the bar and thus we do well to stay away from there. But language just as bad, if not worse, is in the schools. We do well to avoid sending our children to the government schools, but if they absolutely cannot be avoided we must work all that much harder to teach our children not to pick up the ways of the world, and we must work all the harder to root out of our christian children the atheistic notions pressed upon by pupils and teachers alike.

The Christian life is a separate life, but not an isolated one. We are to be separate from the world, but yet live in the world. It is a great challenge, but it is our calling. And not only are we to live in the world, we are to reach out to the world. Love to is flow out from us. Whereas evil flows out of world, we are not to respond to the evil with evil, but with good. We are called to be different, to separate, to be holy, and worship God purely, in spirit and in truth both in our worship service and in our life.

Application: Take heart, woefully bad Christians.

If you are a woefully bad Christian, remember this passage. Moses says they are a stiff-necked people and they need God to go up with them, and to pardon their sin.

Take heart because God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.

Take heart, woefully bad Christians.

Who are these woefully bad Christians? I hope that you all realize that you are included in that number. I hope you don’t think that you are the pinnacle of perfection and thus look down on others.

Even the Israelites – all of them – the very people of God were woefully bad. They would have been totally lost and destroyed but for the mercy and grace of God.

Conclusion

Ultimately, we know of God’s mercy and grace in the person of Jesus Christ.

In God’s mercy the punishment we deserve is not put upon us.

In God’s grace He gives us many blessings that we do not deserve.

We should be thankful that God isn’t “fair.” For if God dealt with us according to fairness, we’d all be punished. But because God deals with us through mercy and grace we are forgiven and given eternal life.

And God’s mercy and grace comes to the forefront in Jesus Christ on the cross. Though we were not punished, he was. Jesus’ death on the cross was the ultimate act of God’s mercy and grace.

Jesus went willingly to the cross (John 10:17-18) because of His love for his people.

So we will next sing these words, “God be merciful to me, on thy grace I rest my plea.”

And indeed we rest upon Jesus Christ and His grace and mercy.

4 thoughts on “Sermon on Exodus 34:1-28 – “The Mercy and Grace of God””

  1. Please be careful, Pastor Doug. This language that you use here:

    And many here challenge the Bible saying God is favoring genocide, the slaughter of whole nations of people. And the response is the same here as it is in so many other places – God can do what He wants, he is God.

    And God is not just killing off the Canaanites for sport. He has a great reason for driving them out of the land. He is preparing the land for His people. He’s driving out the Canaanites not only so there is room for the Israelites, but so that the Israelites will not MIX their religion.

    This language is nearly identical to those who favored U.S. westward expansion (also known as genocide) 200 years ago. They felt they were doing God’s bidding, did they not? The indigenous peoples were the new Canaanites. The Americans were the new Israelites. God was preparing the untamed West for His people. Does this accurately reflect your understanding of American History? If not, please explain why.

    You say, ‘God does what He wants, He is God’.

    Sure.

    Sometimes in the Bible, God kills people directly (as in the Flood, and the Tenth Plague of Exodus) and other times, God tells his people to kill other people (as is the case of the slaughter of canaanites).

    So what is your answer to the person who kills his pagan neighbor because ‘God told him to do it’?

    I gather that we see things quite differently these days. Though I remember you as a curious, thoughtful and compassionate person. I hope that hasn’t changed.

    1. //So what is your answer to the person who kills his pagan neighbor because ‘God told him to do it’?//

      God didn’t tell him to do it.

      1. You’re better than this, Doug. You’re better than these cheap, trite answers. I hope you know that.

        Best to you and the family

        1. A fuller explanation is that as a Presbyterian I’m a cessationist, believing that God’s revelation to man is completed in the Bible. My answer was not intending to be trite, but to be truthful and to the point.

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