Leaving Sinai (Exodus 33-34)

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Our study of the book of Exodus ends today with the Israelites leaving Mt. Sinai. We have journeyed with the Israelites from bondage in Egypt to worship at Sinai. Now, Yahweh (God) is telling them to leave the mountain and go towards the Promised Land. God told Moses that He would not go with the Israelites “because you are an obstinate people, and I might destroy you on the way” (Ex 33:3). Why would God say this? Because He almost did! Israel had just committed idolatry with a golden calf and it was Moses who pleaded with God to be merciful to them. To his credit, Moses did not like this at all. He said to God, “If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here” (Ex 33:15). Moses interceded for the Israelites and God agreed to go with the Israelites on the condition that they follow His Law closely and refrain from idolatry. God would go with the Israelites after a covenant renewal. This incident in the life of Israel is important because it helps us understand God’s mercy and grace. When we understand God’s mercy and grace we will walk humbly and give thanks.

God’s Mercy

Mercy is God not giving us punishment that we deserve. God demonstrated His mercy when He relented of His destruction of Israel. They deserved judgment because of their idolatry. They had Aaron make a golden calf, but God was merciful towards them and did not give them the punishment they deserved. God’s mercy was brought out through the intercession of Moses. Mercy is counter-cultural because the culture says that there is no objective truth. Therefore, you can have your own truth, and no one should judge you (especially those judgmental Christians). You don’t need mercy because you haven’t done anything wrong. But the culture also holds a contradictory view that says that it is important to be “morally right” according to the world’s (not God’s) standard of morality. Moral truth may or may not actually be true but must be accepted as truth or else. If you do not fall in line, there is only punishment with no opportunity for mercy no matter how apologetic you may be. Mercy is biblical and wonderful because the Bible tells us that we are all sinners (Rom 3:9) and all deserve judgment. The Bible tells us that the “wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). The punishment we deserve is eternal damnation away from the Lord. Our rebellion against God is horrific and cannot be overlooked. God is merciful towards us and relents of His judgment because the punishment is taken by another: Jesus Christ. God is rich in mercy (Eph 2:4) and because of Jesus we can receive mercy from Him. God is not only merciful but also gracious.

God’s Grace

Grace is God giving us good things that we do not deserve. As wonderful as it is to be delivered from God’s wrath, we are also graciously brought into His family. Those who are born again are adopted. John wrote, “but as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12). God demonstrated His grace when He agreed to go with the Israelites into the Promised Land. God would not only drive out the inhabitants but would be with them on the journey. Grace is counter-cultural because the culture divides everyone into a hierarchy of groups. Some groups are more oppressed than others; some groups are more oppressive than others. There is no grace in this system, just perpetual outrage and appeasement.

Grace is biblical and glorious because it recognizes that no one deserves anything, but everyone can receive it. Grace isn’t interested in your past or your worthiness. Because of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, God shows us mercy and grace. Paul told the Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8-9). The Gospel is so powerful and wonderful because it involves God being merciful on us by not giving us the punishment we deserve, and it also involves God being gracious to us by giving us eternal life which we don’t deserve.

Humility and Thanks

God has every right to judge us according to our sin, but He offers mercy and grace to all. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Salvation is free but it will cost us one thing: our pride. God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (Prov 3:34, 1 Peter 5:5). Walk humbly before God because of His mercy and grace. God doesn’t owe us anything. God can wipe us away at any time and He would be perfectly just to do so. Our every breath is due to God’s mercy. Give thanks for God’s grace. Christians are forgiven and blessed. How can we not offer ourselves as a living sacrifice unto God because of His great love for us? Recognize that everything is because of Jesus!

Following Jesus

Moses got one thing right for sure…he was not going anywhere unless God was with Him. Let this be a lesson for all of us. When we talk about following Jesus, we mean that we follow His leadership and direction. It means that we come to Him and ask Him what we should do. We give Him our calendars and schedules. We submit to Him and plead for Him to fill up our to-do lists. It means that if Jesus isn’t leading us to do something, we don’t do it. It also means that if Jesus calls us to follow Him, we do so immediately without hesitation. I like this section of a prayer in the Valley of Vision:

Thy goodness is inexpressible and inconceivable.In the works of creation thou art almighty, In the dispensations of providence all-wise, In the gospel of grace all love, And, in thy Son thou hast provided for our deliverance from the effects of sin, the justification of our persons, the sanctification of our natures, the perseverance of our souls in the path of life.

Valley of Vision