The Great Discipline, Exodus 32:15-33:11

God never permits His people to sin successfully.” –Charles Spurgeon

Warren Wiersbe (Be Delivered) writes: “God in His grace forgives our sins, but God in His government allows sin to work out its terrible consequences in human life. We reap what we sow (Gal. 6:7-8). . . . What a tragedy it is to reap the consequences of forgiven sin!”

King David—a man after God’s heart (Acts 13:22)—was one example of not only experiencing God’s forgiveness, but also having to face the consequence of his sins. God told him that the sword would not depart from his family, and it didn’t (2 Sam. 12:1-14).

With Moses’ absence for 40 days on Mt. Sinai, Israel impatiently grumbles against Moses and demands that Aaron set up an idol to lead them in place of God. Aaron complies and the people say: “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt,” (32:4).

Moses Disciplines the people (32:15-29)

Moses asks Joshua to join him as he treks down Mt. Sinai. For one day Joshua would replace Moses and take up his leadership role. As Moses sees the golden calf idol, he throws down the stone tablets—that God had inscribed with His finger—in righteous anger. This act of breaking the tablets symbolizes Israel’s breaking the covenant with God. Now they would face the consequences.

After Moses confronts Aaron, he obeys God’s order and asks the people: “Who is on the Lord’s side? (see Josh. 24:15). The people are given opportunity to repent of their sin and return to God, but only the Levites respond. Setting aside the bonds of family and friendship, these men obediently follow through with the gut wrenching task of killing all involved in the orgy (about three thousand). Paul uses this event—among others—centuries later to warn believers about rebelling against God (1 Cor. 10:1-12).

Next, Moses destroys the idol calf by burning it, grinding the gold to powder, then throwing the powder into a stream. As he makes the people drink from this stream (Deut. 9:21), he forces them to identify with their sins.

Although Moses is angry with the people, God is angrier. When Moses returns to Mt. Sinai again for forty days and nights fasting and praying, he petitions God for an exchange: Spare the Israelites and kill him instead. But God rejects his offer. Maybe if the Israelites knew the anguish Moses experienced because of them they might have been more supportive of him. The Lord, however, comforts Moses with the assurance that His angel would go before them and Moses would once again lead them. But punishment would be certain, in God’s own way and in His own time.

God Disciplines the People (32:35-33:11)

“Grace is simply not just leniency when we sin, grace is the enabling gift of God not to sin. Grace is power, not just pardon.” –John Piper

After the Levites kill three thousand men, God’s first discipline comes in the form of a plague among the people. Wiersbe writes: “God knew who all the guilty people were. Sometimes God passes the sentence of judgment immediately but then delays executing the penalty. However, whether in the Old Testament or the New, ‘there is sin leading to death’ (1 John 5:16-17 NKJV).”

In God’s second judgment, He withdraws His presence leading Israel in their march to the Promised Land (33:1-6). Although He would still keep His covenant promises He made with the patriarchs earlier, He would send an angel to accompany them instead of in the person of His Son—“the Angel of the Lord”—going before Israel (23:20-23).

God’s third judgment involves moving Moses’ “tent of meeting” outside the camp where he could personally meet with God. Moses used this as a special tent to consult God since the tabernacle hadn’t been erected or dedicated yet. The cloud of pillar that led Israel thus far would hover at the tent door as God graciously granted Moses the privilege of talking to Him face-to-face (Num. 12:1-8; Deut. 34:10).

Reflect

The brief pleasure of sin isn’t worth its cost. Not only did Israel’s sin lead to thousands of deaths, but it also robbed the nation of God’s presence in both their camp and in their journey to the Promised Land. Although God punishes sin, He also shows His love to a thousand generations to those who love Him and keep His commandments (Exodus 20:6).

If you are experiencing God’s discipline, know that He loves you. Turn away from the sin and turn to Him. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Wishing you a wonderful week!

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