We must look nowhere else and to no one else. There is no other Lamb,
no other sacrifice, no other hiding place from guilt and shame. But there
need be no other.
by William Smith
Perhaps you have received a call at work from your wife informing you
the kids are out of control and the house in near destruction. Maybe you
discount it, chalking it up to a woman's perspective at the end of a long
day. You do not share her point of view. It's bad you think, but surely
as bad as she thinks. You do not share her despair and you do not feel
Then you go home. The kids are running wild, fighting with each other,
shouting at the tops of their voices. You survey the house, and you see
furniture overturned, clothes strewn all over, cabinets open and cans
bags of food scattered everywhere. As you walk into the house you trip
one of the many toys. You see that your favorite and most expensive tie
tied around your daughter's waist as part of her peasant costume, and
son is using your two-hundred-dollar putter as a sword.
Suddenly you are as angry as you have ever been. You wonder why you
wanted kids in the first place, why that little girl was the light of
life and why you ever gave your name to that little boy. Seeing has a
that an oral report does not.
Perhaps then you can relate to what Moses experienced when he went down
the mountain and got close enough to hear and see what was going on in
camp of Israel. Let's walk through this experience with him.
I. The Abrogation of the Covenant
Moses started down the mountain and picked up Joshua on the way. When
got in hearing range, Joshua said to Moses, "It sounds like war down
there." Moses, who had the advantage of the LORD's having told him
going on, had a different interpretation. It was not war - neither the
celebration songs of victory, nor the wailing songs of defeat. There was
singing, some other kind of singing rising from the camp.
When they got close enough for sight, Moses and Aaron saw the whole
celebration. There was the calf and the children of Israel dancing and
cavorting before it. Moses' anger burned hot at the scene. He took the
tablets he was carrying and threw them down shattering them to pieces.
These tablets were the stone tablets on which at least the Ten
Commandments were written. The previous chapter tells us that they were
"written with the finger of God" (Ex. 31:18). In what we read
today we are
told that they "were the work of God, and the writing was the writing
God" (32:16). The laws come from God alone; they reveal His will;
have His authority. The laws are the essence of the covenant God has made
with Israel. As the LORD their God who redeemed them from Egypt and set
free from slavery, He has given these laws as the covenantal obligations
of Israel to her Redeemer and King.
There are two copies of the law, hence two tablets. One belongs to God,
who gave the covenant to Israel, and the other belongs to Israel that
lives under the covenant. But Moses takes these tablets containing the
holy law, the covenantal documents, and he breaks them. This is a highly
significant and most serious act. It is not just a display of Moses'
temper, but it is a solemn declaration that the covenant is broken. Israel
has barely entered the covenant before Israel breaks the covenant. Moses
is saying that the covenant is abrogated and that the LORD has no further
obligation to Israel except to visit upon Israel the consequences of
covenant rebellion. No longer is God bound to show Israel favor and grace,
We will do well to stop here and to observe what rebelling against God's
covenant does and what it deserves. Most of the young people here today
in covenant with God by virtue of their having been born into covenant
families and having received the covenant seal of baptism. All of us who
are communing members of this church are in covenant with God by virtue
the covenantal vows of membership we took. Let us be careful, lest we
reject and rebel against God's covenant with us, and so break the covenant
and place ourselves under God's judgment.
II. The Humiliation of the Gods
The people had asked for gods after their own imaginations and Aaron
giving them the golden calf had proclaimed it to represent the LORD who
spoken to them at Sinai. The production and worship of the calf broke
first commandment that forbade the worship of other gods and the second
that forbade worship of the true God by means of images.
Moses took the golden calf and burned it. Then he ground the remains
into powder. The powder he threw into the creek that flowed down the
mountain (Dt. 9:21) and made the people drink it. Think of the humiliation
of these gods the Israelites had made. They had attributed existence to
these gods and had connected the presence of the LORD Himself to the calf,
but now the calf is burned, ground up, turned to powder, and lapped up
the Israelites kneeling over the brook. Just earlier they have been
worshiping, holding a religious festival, and dancing before the calf
now it is in their stomachs.
The Bible is full of humiliation for false gods. When the Philistines
later captured the Ark of the Covenant and put it in the temple of their
god Dagon, Dagon fell on his face. They put him back in place (imagine
having to stand your god back upright), only to find him the next morning
fallen over again, with this head and hands cut off. Later in Israel's
history the prophet Elijah met the prophet's of Baal in a contest. When
the called out to Baal and got no answer, Elijah ridiculed the prophets
Baal suggesting that their god was perhaps musing, or going to the
bathroom, or traveling, or maybe sleeping. Still later the prophet Isaiah
made fun of those who cut down a tree, used part of it for a fire to cook
dinner over, and then used the other half to make a god they bowed down
We can share the laugh when these gods are humiliated. But we must
remember that from the LORD's perspective, all our false and imaginary
gods are just as silly. We worship people and things and our own selves,
all of them as frail and temporary and weak as we are. This incident calls
us once again to worship only the LORD and to worship Him in truth and
III. The Confrontation of Aaron
When Moses had finished making the people drink their god, he had a
confrontation with Aaron, his brother and the soon-to-be high priest.
tendency may be to overlook the sin of others, especially the sins of
relatives and friends and others who are close to us. And there is much
sin that should be overlooked. If in the church we were to confront every
sin, we would spend most of our time confronting and being confronted.
the sin of giving in to the people, of providing them the gods they
and of demeaning the glory of the LORD by an image of a young bull cannot
be overlooked no matter who commits it. We must learn that it is not act
love for us to overlook the great sins of rebellion against God that put
the covenant in jeopardy of abrogation. The only loving thing to do for
the offender and the only healthy thing for the community is to confront
So Moses said to Aaron, "What did this people do to you that you
brought such great sin upon them?" If you were here last week, you
notice that Moses is now so disgusted with Israel he now speaks of them
the LORD had, not as the LORD's people, but this people. He asks Aaron
this people had done to him to get him to make this calf, the occasion
such highhanded and ugly sin. But Aaron was looking to save his own hide.
He said, "You know the people how evil they are." Then he recounted
people demanded that he make them gods who would go before them now that
Moses had disappeared. Of course, Aaron is doing what sinners have done
since sin entered the world. Ever since Adam said, "This woman that
gave me gave the fruit and I ate," sinners have been blaming other
for their sin.
But the most fantastic part of Aaron's response was when he said that
took the gold the people gave him and "threw it into the fire and
this calf" (32:24). This is not uncommon. How many murders say, "The
was in my hand and then the gun went off", as though somehow the
itself into their hands and fired itself? Aaron is asking Moses to believe
either that it was an accident or a miracle. But we know, because the
tells us that he took a engraving tool and purposely made the gold in
shape of a young bull. It is a sad example of blame-shifting and lying
rather than taking responsibility for sin.
The record of Aaron and this sin ends here in Exodus, but later, when
Moses reflected on this event near the end of his life, he told the
people, "And the LORD was so angry with Aaron that he was ready to
him. And I prayed for Aaron also at that time" (Dt. 9:20) Aaron did
put his lie over on Moses or the LORD. The LORD was ready to put Aaron
death. Only the intercession of Moses obtained mercy for Aaron so that
lived and later became High Priest.
We can and should condemn Aaron. But we must not forget that the reason
live and are not destroyed, and the reason the LORD grants us places of
service, is because of His grace and mercy and not our merit or deserving.
IV. The Vindication of God
When Moses turned from dealing with Aaron to dealing again with the
of Israel, it was clear that there had to be a vindication of the LORD.
The Lord's glory and honor had been defamed in Israel and among the
nations. The people, having rebelled against the LORD and broken His
covenant, having gone after other gods can corrupted the worship of the
threw off all restraints and ran wild. The enemies of Israel now has
reason to mock - Israel was no different from any other nation - they
worshiped a golden bull, a symbol of strength, virility and fertility,
their worship turned into a drunken orgy. Turning away from the LORD,
whether it is ancient Israel, or a covenant young person, or an adult
has professed faith, always has serious consequences. As soon as we turn
away from the LORD we turn away from restraint and there is no telling
just how far we will go once we have rebelled. And, since we are known
God's people by baptism and personal profession, our behavior will not
only hurt us and offend the covenant community, it will also give
unbelievers a reason to make fun of the LORD and His people.
It was clear that the name of the LORD had to be vindicated. So Moses
said, "Who is on the LORD's side? Come to me." The whole tribe
Moses' own tribe, came. There is an important principle at work here,
it is that loyalty to the LORD must take precedence over even the closest
earthly relationships, even those of blood and kinship. Whenever a choice
is before us, there must be no doubt that the LORD is our choice. We must
not make an idol of family. Once when Jesus was told that His mother and
brothers were waiting for Him, said, "Who is my mother, and who are
brothers?" He held His hand out toward His disciples and said, "Here
mother and brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven
my brother and sister and mother."
When the Levites had come to Moses, choosing the LORD's side, Moses
them an order: "Thus says the LORD, 'Put on your sword, each of you,
to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill
brother and companion.' " This seems harsh to us, but before we get
indignant about it, we need to remember that this is the not Moses' command
but the LORD's. The LORD is righteously jealous for His own glory and
the affection and loyalty of His people. He will vindicate His own honor.
Rebellion against God deserves death. And, at the final judgment, all
unrepentant rebels and covenant breakers will come under the wrath of
Yet not all the Israelites who broke the covenant died - far from it.
3,000 of the people died by the sword that day. That is because the LORD
merciful and does not treat His people as their sins deserve. The LORD
had heard the intercession of His servant Moses on the mountain and had
relented from destroying the people altogether. Though the LORD acts
severely to vindicate Himself, He spares the vast majority of the people
and leaves room for repentance.
The Levites, who chose the LORD over their own brothers and kinsmen,
received a special blessing for putting the LORD first. They were set
and ordained for special service as the tribe of Israel who would be
especially the LORD's to serve Him as ministers at His tabernacle. The
principle "them that honor me, I will honor" is at work here.
were on the LORD's side and who served as ministers of His vindication
would be honored to serve throughout the generations as ministers of His
worship. The LORD still honors those who care more about His honor than
V. The Expiation of Sin
The people had been punished by having to drink the powder of the
destroyed image and by the swords of the tribe of Levi. But their sin
remained. It needed expiation - atonement to remove guilt and the
liability of punishment. So Moses said to them, "You have sinned
sin. And now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for
your sin." Moses was going back up the mountain into the presence
LORD to see what might be done to cover the sin of Israel so that God's
greater wrath, what
their sin really deserved, might not come on them.
When Moses came before the LORD, he prayed, "Alas, this people
a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if you
will, please forgive their sin...". Moses does not try to explain
excuse or diminish the sin of the people. It is great sin they have
committed and nothing can be done except to acknowledge it. But he asks
the LORD, if it is possible to forgive this sin - to let it be covered
so that it might not come between them and God.
Then, Moses, perhaps sensing that what he requests is not possible,
an extraordinary proposal to the LORD: "if you will forgive their
sin - but
if not, please blot me out of the book you have written." Moses is
much expressing his willingness to share the fate of the people, as though
he said, "If you are going to destroy them, then destroy me, too."
is offering himself as a substitute for the people. He is saying, "LORD,
someone must be excluded from among Your covenant people - if someone
must have his name erased from the book that contains the name of your
people - let it be me, not all the people. Destroy me in the place of
people. Moses is serving as a faithful mediator, not only interceding
the LORD for the people but offering His life in exchange for theirs.
But, of course, it cannot be. That became clear. The LORD refused Moses'
offer. He told Moses that He, the LORD, would deal with the people, erasing
the names of those who sinned from the book of covenant life. The LORD
would visit yet further judgment on His people. Soon thereafter the LORD
sent some kind of plague upon them as further judgment. In the end, because
of this sin of covenant breaking and rebellion as well as others, this
whole adult generation, except for two men, would fail to reach the
Promised Land. It was a noble but failed attempt at atonement by Moses.
sinner can atone for other sinners' sins. Moses could do no better than
to mitigate and delay judgment.
A better atonement was needed that the what Moses could attempt to
provide. What was required was One who could be one with us, sharing our
humanness, and yet be holy, innocent and undefiled, one with sinners in
nature, yet separated from them. Such a One, with no sin of His own,
could bear the guilt of other sinners, and be blotted out of God's book
for their sins. That is what occurred on the cross, when the Lord Jesus
Christ was disowned by His Father, and had His name erased from the book
life, and was consumed by the wrath of God. The atonement Jesus made on
the cross dealt with sin finally and fully, once for all. His blood covers
our sin and our guilt, so that we are not destroyed, as we deserve, but
His atonement on our behalf is the only effective atonement and the all-
We must look nowhere else and to no one else. There is no other Lamb,
other sacrifice, no other hiding place from guilt and shame. But there
be no other. Trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and know that your sin, as
high- handed and repetitive and ugly as it may be, is removed. You need
longer fear that the holiness and wrath of God will destroy you. By faith
in Christ you will live.
Old Testament Reading: Exodus 32: 15-35
WESTMINSTER PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH HUNTSVILLE (PCA) ALABAMA, USA.