God Will Not Forsake You

October 3, 2010
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Exodus 32:1-14

The Events At The Foot Of The Mountain

1. In the Old Testament scriptures which I read to you today the text says that Moses did not come down the mountain right away. Why did Moses ascend the mountain? He ascended the mountain in order to receive the two tablets of stone upon which were written "the ten commandments." When you look at chapter twenty-four and verse sixteen, the scripture says, "Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights." In saying "forty days" it means a very long interval of time. "Perhaps he might not come back again." It would not be odd at all if that's what they thought. During this time, the people gathered before Aaron, who was the elder brother of Moses, and they said, "Now, please construct gods who will go before us to lead us; because we do not know what has become of that Moses, the man who lead us up out of the land of Egypt," (verse one). In response to this request, Aaron constructed a molten image of a young bull. And, the people offered up gifts on the altar that was constructed before it. This is the first half of the passage read out loud today.

2. "Please construct gods who will go before us to lead us." -- What is the reason that they asked for the manufacture of "gods who will go before us to lead us?" They said, "... because we do not know what has become of that Moses, the man who lead us up out of the land of Egypt." This is [their] reason. Here in this text Moses is described as "the man who lead us up out of the land of Egypt." They were certainly correct about that. But, it is not true that Moses had by his own strength and work set them free from Egypt or guided [their] journey in the wilderness. It was not the power of Moses, but none other than God's gracious work. You would think the Israelites had received a [clear enough] demonstration of this grace from God. And, since their being set free and their being guided up [from Egypt] had come through the grace of God, their being lead into the promise land would also come through the same grace of God. This relationship of the people with God did not originally come into being because Moses was there. Whatever might become of Moses it should in no way change their relationship with God.

3. But when all is said and done, the Israelites had been looking only at Moses. The fact that they were only putting their eyes on the human named Moses became quite clear here. It became clear by the figure of Moses' vanishing and being lost from before their sight. Moses had not come back. Perhaps he might never come back again. They shook. And by Moses' vanishing from their sight, both the lives they lived in trust in God and their order as the people of God had collapsed.

4. We will see how really close of a problem this is even for us if we consider our own church life. If we are only looking at [some] human being, be it the pastor, or a respectable believer, or a Sunday School teacher, then the same thing [could] happen to us as well. If we are only looking at "the assembly of people" in the church, then the same thing [could] happen to us. When your relationship with [some] human being is shaken, then your faith life will end up shaken up. When your relationship with the leader is shaken, then the order of the community is also shaken up.

5. In the final analysis, the life that keeps its eyes only on the people visible to the eye or the events visible to the eye is bound to be rocked by the things visible to the eye. We must keep our eyes on the works of God's grace, the works of God as accomplished through the people we can see or the events in this world. We should be keeping our thoughts on what God has done by [his] grace, on what God is doing now, and on what God is about to accomplish. Essentially speaking, the faith life first comes into being by turning one's eyes unto God's work of grace. That's because trust and obedience unto God are a response to God's grace. Whenever obedience comes into being through only the relationship to just a human being, then when that relationship is lost, then one's obedience is also lost. That's pretty much a matter of course.

6. The people of Israel, who had lost sight of Moses, sought "gods who will go before us." Doesn't it seem strange? Having lost the leader named Moses, we would still understand if it said they had sought some other leader. We would still understand the logic of it all if it said they sought someone else to take Moses' place, so that they might live in obedience to the word of God. But, they sought "gods who will go before us." Even though it says, "[gods] who will go before us," it was the image of a calf. There is no justifying to even suppose the calf could ever lead them forward, is there? After all, they would carry it. From then on they will be carrying it to the places they desire. Humans are not required to be obedient by such an image. [They used to have] an obedient life, which came into being because the leader named Moses was there. When that was lost, it meant they [could] seek at that time a god convenient to them, a god who did not require obedience of them any more.

7. This is revealed by their actions. They held "the festival of the Lord" before the image of the calf. Then they offer up a sacrifice to it. And, "The people sat to eat and drink, then got up and frolicked about," says the scripture. Many scholars have pointed out that the word "frolicked about" had a sexual connotation. It is quite probable that what took place there were acts of promiscuity. [Such] activity was not at all unusual during the worship of the harvest god in the ancient orient. It was performed in the name of the Lord. That is obviously not a response to the grace of God. That is clearly not an activity born from thanksgiving unto God. In this way then, when Moses was lost, their lives of trust and obedience were also lost. It was because they did not keep their eyes on the grace of God.

While On The Mountain

8. Well, let's shift our eyes from the foot of the mountain to the mountain top. The conversation between Moses and the Lord while on the mountain is recorded beginning in verse seven, which is the second half from the section from today's lectionary passage. The Lord said to Moses, "Get down the mountain right away! The people whom you have lead up out of the land of Egypt have fallen into depravity, and they have strayed so quickly from the path that I have commanded, and they have constructed a molten image of a young bull, they have bowed to it, and as they offer sacrifices to it, they are calling out, 'O Israel, these are the very gods which have lead you up out of the land of Egypt!'," (verses seven and eight). At this point in the text is expressed a severance between the Lord and the people of Israel. The Lord no longer calls the people of Israel "my people." The scripture (literally) says in verse seven, "your people, whom you have lead out of the land of Egypt."

9. God pronounced judgment against such a people. "I have seen this people, and they are truly an obstinate people. Now, don't restrain me. My anger is burning against them. I will utterly destroy them, and I will make you into a great people," (verses nine and ten). In reply to this, soothing the Lord, Moses interceded for the people. He made a rigorous appeal that Israel was the people of God. "O Lord, why do you burn with anger towards your people? Are they not the people whom you have lead out of the land of Egypt with your great power and strong hands?," (verse eleven). And he plead [with God], "Please, o please, end your burning anger and reconsider the disaster that you have ordered upon your people!," (verse twelve). Because of this intercession and persuading, "The Lord reconsidered the judgment that he had announced, that he ordered upon his people," (verse fourteen). This is what's written in the second section.

10. Doesn't it seem like something very strange is in the text? When I say it's strange, it's not that God changed his mind and gave in to Moses' persuading. Something more odd that than is written. It is that the Lord commanded Moses to "Get down the mountain right away!"

11. God says he will "utterly destroy" them. And only Moses will be left and he will construct a new people from him, he says. However, if he intended to do that, then why was it necessary for him to command him to "Get down the mountain right away!?" It doesn't seem to make any sense, that he has Moses go back to the people who are to be destroyed. In the first place, why is it necessary for him to announce to Moses that he is about to destroy the people? Upon announcing to Moses that he fully intends to destroy the people, why does he find it necessary to have Moses go to the Israelites? Had he not done that, he could have utterly destroyed the Israelites instantly just like he said!

12. The Lord deliberately expressed his wrath openly and pronounced judgment against Israel. It seems as if he was expecting Moses to intercede. Even though Moses still hadn't restrained him, he says, "Now, don't restrain me!" It seems as if he was expecting Moses to restrain him. I get a really odd feeling from this, and when I ponder this passage, various other passages from the scriptures come to mind. It's not just here. The Lord did something similar with Isaiah. He did it with Jeremiah. He did it with Ezekiel. In short, the Lord did the same thing with the people called the prophets, like Amos, Hosea, Micah, and others. He made the sins of the people plain, he made the judgment against the people plain, and then having spoken it to them, for some reason God sent the prophets to the people. The figure of the Lord that we see here permeates the entire scriptures.

13. Please think about it. While on the mountain, the Lord did not just give to Moses the two tablets upon which were inscribed the ten commandments. From chapter twenty-five until just before this chapter, there are passages given in the text that just go on and on. They are about how to build the tabernacle and about how to do worship. The Lord told Moses, "Have them build a holy place for me. I will dwell among them," (25:8). The Lord fully intended to live with them and to walk with them. Therefore, God did not desire to judge and destroy them. What the Lord desired was for the people to turn to the Lord and live. The fact that God sent Moses to the rebelling people and he sent prophets to the rebelling people means that God would never forsake them. It means that there is forgiveness with God, there is salvation.

14. It is precisely because he is this way that he ultimately sent Jesus Christ. In today's gospel reading, the Lord says, "All of you, drink from this cup. This is my blood shed for many, so that sin is forgiven, [this is] the blood of the covenant," (Matthew 26:27-28). He is still saying this very same thing right now to us. God will never forsake us. A sign of that is the placing of the Lord's Supper table right here like always, and [a sign of that is] the conducting of Holy Communion by which the word of the Lord is spoken even right now here in this church. We stand again at God's grace, which points to that sign, and we begin to walk as we keep our eyes turned on that grace.