Elon, North Carolina
We are in Exodus and have been studying the story of the golden calf in Exodus 32. It is a famous story. We spent several weeks on it. We looked at it from the standpoint of leadership. This story has a lot of lessons for us on leadership, good leadership and bad leadership. Today, we want to look at it from a completely different angle. Today, we want to look at the consequences of sin from this chapter.
In our day, we do not take sin too seriously. We have removed the concept of sin, shame and guilt. Sin is culturally accepted today. It is legal. It is often popular. This section shows the consequences of sin. Sin is serious. God takes sin far more seriously than we do. God almost wiped out the entire nation because of this one sin.
The Seriousness of the Sin
Worshiping the golden calf was no minor sin. It was great sin. It is called “great sin” three times in the chapter (32:21, 30, 31). Some have called this “Israel’s greatest sin.” The nation chose to worship a cow over worship of Jehovah. This was NATIONAL APOSTASY. It was spiritual adultery.
Idolatry in the Bible is described as spiritual adultery. We will see that in the Book of Ezekiel, which will be our next study. Unfaithfulness to God is similar to unfaithfulness to your spouse. One scholar compared the sin of golden calf worship with a man who commits adultery on his wedding night. It was not done by one or two people. Thousands participated in it.
This was all done by a nation that was rescued by God out of slavery in Egypt and supernaturally delivered by God. They all passed through the Red Sea. God provided for them with food falling out of the sky. It was the only nation in the world that God made a special covenant with. No other nation had this special covenant.
This sin was done quickly. God gave the Jews the Ten Commandments. Moses went up on the mountain and could not even get down the mountain before the people already broke the first two of them.
Moses went up on top of a mountain and went into a cloud. He spent forty days and forty nights in the presence of God. He didn’t eat or drink anything during that time. While Moses was up on the mountain in God’s presence, he could not see what was going on at the bottom of the mountain. God could see what going on, so He told Moses about it and He gave him some instructions.
He told Moses to go down the mountain. He said, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt.8 They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them” (32:7-8 NIV). Before he got down the mountain, he could hear a loud noise. It sounded like a rock concert.
When Joshua heard the noise of the people shouting, he said to Moses, “There is the sound of war in the camp.” 18 Moses replied: “It is not the sound of victory, it is not the sound of defeat; it is the sound of singing that I hear.” (32:17-18 NIV).
Some misguide preachers have called this the first contemporary worship service but God was not complaining about the loud music at the bottom of the mountain. He does not say to Moses, “Your people are becoming corrupt because they are listening to this evil music that sounds like the Beetles.” What got God angry was the idolatry and immorality.
Exodus 32:5-6 says “When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, ‘Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.’ 6 And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” (ESV).
What was going on here is more than your typical church service today. This was not only a WORSHIP SERVICE (burnt and festival offerings); it was an IDOLATROUS worship service. It was a PAGAN worship service, worshiping a cow. It was not only a worship service; it was a CELEBRATION. The celebration involved food. It was a feast (32:5). There was eating and drinking (32:6).
The celebration involved ENTERTAINMENT. It involved loud music (32:17-18). It involved dancing (32:19), probably erotic dancing. It also involved GROUP SEX. That is what is implied by the words “And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play” (32;6). The word “play” does not always have sexual overtones but it can (cf. I Corinthians 10:7-8). In the ancient world, sex was part of pagan worship.
There were temple prostitutes in some of these pagan temples. It was not just tolerated but encouraged. Sexual orgies regularly associated with bull worship. They were an integral part of pagan religion in the ancient world. When the people rose up to play, they were not playing baseball. Moses comes down the mountain and sees the people completely out of control, religiously and morally (32:25).
Consequences of the Sin
Sin is not only serious, it has consequences. What were the consequences of sin in this chapter? God does not DESTROY the nation because of Moses’ prayer. God changed his mind about destroying them (32:14) but there are four consequences of this sin. The first consequence was DISGRACE. They had to drink water that had the golden calf in it (32:20). The golden calf was what they wanted. Now they are forced to drink it and see how bad it tastes.
The second consequence was DISEASE. God sent a plague on the people (32:35). People got sick. The third consequence was DEATH. Sin causes death. The wages of sin is death. Three thousand people died (32:28). The fourth consequence was DISTANCE.
Sin affects your relationship with other people. The relationship between two brothers (Aaron and Moses) was affected by this sin. It also affects our relationship with God. It causes separation (33:1-10).
These verses help us answer one question. How does sin affect our relationship with God? It causes a separation between us and God. That is still true today. Just because we are Christians does not mean that this has changed. Sin breaks our relationship with God. Isaiah 59:2 says, “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you so that he will not hear.”
Sin does not affect our standing but it does affect our state. When we sin, we do not lose our salvation. Otherwise, we would lose it every day. We are justified because of the death of Christ. We are declared righteous. Sin does not affect our legal standing with God but it does affect our fellowship with God. It affects our communion with God.
An Ethical Question
We now come to the hardest part of this story. It is found in Exodus 32:27-29. This is the part of the chapter that everyone skips, because it is too violent. Preachers never mention these verses. They are verses that are not taught to kids in Sunday School.
27 Then he said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’”
28 The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died. 29 Then Moses said, “You have been set apart to the Lord today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day.” (NIV)
This is a difficult passage. Moses tells people to strap a sword to their side, go through the camp and start killing people, including friends and family members. After the Levites massacre people, God rewards them with bring priests. They were the ones in charge of the Tabernacle. They got to transport the Ark of the Covenant.
28 The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died. 29 Then Moses said, “You have been set apart to the Lord today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has BLESSED you this day.” (32:28-29) This is a problem for critics of the Bible.
Isn’t the punishment a little harsh? This doesn’t seem fair. It does not seem very loving. We are supposed to love our enemies, not kill own family members. Does this make Moses a terrorist? How is Moses any different from the ISIS savages who behead apostates? How do you answer the critics? What do you say to the critics?
1) The people who did this knew they were committing a capital crime.
The Levites did not commit murder. This was not mass murder. It was not genocide. This was not killing people at random. The only people killed were idolaters. The command was not to kill family members but idolaters.
The Levites did not merely kill people they did not like. Idolatry was a capital crime. The Jews were given the Ten Commandments which prohibited all forms of idolatry. They were already told that idolatry was a capital offense.
They agreed to the terms of the covenant. They said, “All that the Lord said we will do.” They knew what God said. They knew what the punishment for idolatry was. They knew what they already said they would do. This was open rebellion.
2) The people knew exactly who the true God was.
This was not a sin of ignorance. This was not the case of honest skepticism. They lived in a theocracy. They had absolute PROOF of God’s existence. They saw God at work in a visible way every day. They saw the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud. They heard God speak to them with their own ears on Mount Sinai. They saw literal miracles.
They witnessed them firsthand. They did not have to read about them in the Bible. They saw the Red Sea split it half. They saw water come out of a rock. That made this sin unforgivable. Not only was this sin deliberate and intentional, it was inexcusable.
3) The people were all given a chance to repent.
Exodus 32:26 says that Moses “stood at the entrance to the camp and said, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me. And all the Levites rallied to him.” This offer was made to everyone. The Levites were the first to step forward which probably made Moses happy. He was a Levite.
People were given only two choices. People could choose to worship Jehovah or they could choose to worship a golden calf. You can’t do both. There was no middle ground. You can’t worship Jehovah through the image of a golden calf. All of the people had to decide whose side they were on. There are only two sides today. This is very convicting.
We have to answer the same question. Are we on the Lord’s side? This was one of the greatest questions in the Bible and it was asked by Moses. Many people think they are on the Lord’s side. If we worship idols, we are not on the Lord’ side. If we are a part of false religion, we are not on God’s side. If we try to compromise and combine true religion and false religion, we are not on the Lord’s side.
If we are involved in immorality, we are not on the Lord’s side. If we try to be neutral and not take a stand at all, we are not on the Lord’s side, because there are only two choices. Many in church think they are on the Lord’s side. They live in sin and say “Jesus is my homeboy” but Jesus will say, “I never knew you.”
4) This command came from God
This was not Moses’ idea. It was God’s idea (32:27). God created life. He is the only one who has the right to take life at any time. In this case, it was an act of grace. Instead of killing the entire nation, He only has three thousand killed.
Separation From God
1) God will not travel with the Jews to the Promise Land.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ 2 I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 3 Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. BUT I WILL NOT GO WITH YOU, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.”
4 When the people heard these distressing words, they began to mourn and no one put on any ornaments. 5 For the Lord had said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites, ‘You are a stiff-necked people. If I were to go with you even for a moment, I might destroy you. Now take off your ornaments and I will decide what to do with you.’” 6 So the Israelites stripped off their ornaments at Mount Horeb. (33:1-6 NIV)
This is interesting. God says that He will be faithful to His promise to his people. He will give them the Promised Land. He will fight their enemies. He will even send an angel to help them but He is not going with them. He says, “You can go but I am not going with you.”
That is strange. They can have the Promise Land without God. That describes many people today. Many have blessings without God. They want prosperity without God. Many today have religion without God. There are plenty of humanistic, man-made religions that leave God out.
There are plenty of churches in our land that do not have God. You walk into them and you have plenty of traditions and rituals but you do not have the presence of God. Our pastor often says that the most important thing a church needs to have is God and he is absolutely right. That is all a church needs.
Most Christians are happy to live without God. As long as they make to heaven, they do not care if God is with them. That is like saying, “as long as we make it to the Promised Land, it does not matter if God comes with us.” That is not how the Jews in this chapter felt. When the people heard this, they mourned (33:4).
In fact, when God said to Moses, “My Presence will go with YOU, and I will give YOU rest.” 15 Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with US, do not send us up from here” (33:14-15 NIV). He said, “We do not want to go without you.”
This was what made the Jews unique. They had God with them. God’s presence was with them. They had the Shekinah glory. I said before that the Jews did not have the Pyramids like the Egyptians. They did not have philosophy like the Greeks. They did not have armies like the Romans but they had God dwelling with them in their midst.
Why did God do this? How does it apply to us today? God cannot go with us when we are living in sin. He will not fellowship with us. There has to be genuine repentance. This was actually an act of grace. If God went them, he would have to destroy them (33:3, 5).
2) God has moved to outside the camp of the Israelites.
Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the “tent of meeting.” Anyone inquiring of the Lord would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp. 8 And whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose and stood at the entrances to their tents, watching Moses until he entered the tent.
9 As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the Lord spoke with Moses. 10 Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshiped, each at the entrance to their tent. 11 The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent. (33:7-11).
This is the second consequence in this chapter. The Tabernacle was not built yet but it was supposed to be right in the middle of the camp. Now God says that he will be in the Tent of Meeting located outside the camp. The camp has been polluted by the worship of the golden calf. If you want to find God, you can’t find him in the camp.
The bad news is that God is no longer in the camp. The good news is that God is still accessible. He was still close by (outside the camp). Even if the nation was apostate, individuals could still approach God, although they had to go through a mediator (Moses).
We are no different. We need a mediator today as well (Jesus). Joshua must have been Catholic because he was said to be the son of a nun. He was Moses’ aide. The text says that he never left the tent. He wanted to stay near the presence of God.
 This comes from the British scholar R.W.L. Moberly, who write a book entitled, At the Mountain of God: Story and Theology in Exodus 32-34 (2001)
 See Genesis 17:17; 18:12-13, 15; 19:14; 21:6.
 The NLT says that the people were “completely out of control.” The NIV says that they were “running wild.” The KJV has a different reading. And when Moses saw that the people were naked.” It is a possible translation but is unlikely. It is not the normal word for naked (arom).
In NONE of the sixteen times this Hebrew verb para is used sixteen times in the OT (Exodus 5:4; 32:25 ; Leviticus 10:6; 13:45; 21:10; Numbers 5:18; Judges 5:2; II Chronicles 28:19; Proverbs 1:25; 4:15; 8:33; 13:18; 15:32; 29:18; 24:14) does it refer to physical nudity, although one passage refers to spiritual nudity. This translation seems to be more based on Latin than Hebrew. The Latin Vulgate uses the word nudatus (which means to be stripped or made naked).