Title: How Israel Almost Blew It

Changes to make to this teaching next time:

  • This is my outline from CT, so it needs discussion questions added in
  • Consider some discussion contrasting Aaron’s poor leadership and refusal to take responsibility with Moses’ willing to have his name blotted out of the book of life.
  • The first time I point out the Moses-Jesus parallel I should mention that there are three interactions between Moses and God, and in each one we see a parallel between Moses and Christ.
  • Also, under the point about Joshua lingering behind, say, “It’s cool to see Joshua lingering behind. I wouldn’t be surprised if he were having some conversations of his own with God. It’s not surprising to see a guy like him chosen as Moses’ successor to lead the entire nation. That public recognition came on the heels of decades of private decisions.”
  • Deut 9:18-21 and 9:25ff says that Moses was praying for 40 days.
    • It’s hard to tell the sequence here though. He brings up Kadesh Barnea right between these two in 9:23-24
    • The one in Deut 9:18-21 looks like it might be referring to the one in Exodus 33. Because he smashed the tablets (Deut 9:17) and then went and prayed (9:18-21)
    • Next time I teach this I need to figure out the chronology and fit it into the narrative. Maybe something on petitionary prayer.

Key ideas here:

  • The effects of sin (“sin” appears more in these three chapters than the other 37 chapters of Exodus combined – 11 vs. 10 times)
    • Sin brings death
    • Sin separates the people from God
    • Sin requires a mediator
  • The presence of God
    • Moses’ glowing face
    • Too much for a sinful person to survive
    • Worth more than anything


Exodus 24:14, 18

14 Moses told the elders, “Stay here and wait for us until we come back. Aaron and Hur are here with you. If anyone has a dispute while I am gone, consult with them.”

18 Then Moses disappeared into the cloud as he climbed higher up the mountain. He remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights.

Chapter 32

1 When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain,

They might never have been apart from Moses overnight up until this point. Moses was up there 40 days, which is a long time. So the people take things into their own hands.


Impatience is a form of unbelief and a lack of trust.

When we wait on God: (Insert discussion here)

  • Lack of tangible answer to prayer raises big questions
  • How long do I have to wait?
  • Why should I have to wait?
  • Good waiting vs. bad waiting
  • Major changes going on inside
  • Can I trust God or not?


1b they gathered around Aaron. “Come on,” they said, “make us some gods who can lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.”


They want a God who can lead them or go before them


2 So Aaron said, “Take the gold rings from the ears of your wives and sons and daughters, and bring them to me.”

3 All the people took the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron.

4 Then Aaron took the gold, melted it down, and molded it into the shape of a calf.


They would have taken a piece of wood and then hammered out the gold and fitted it to the wood.


Back in Egypt, the image of a strong young bull was the ideal way to represent a powerful god.


Old habits die hard. Especially under times of stress. They wanted some visible representation of the supernatural. Something they can get their hands on. “Even if nothing else, they now had something to dance around” (Motyer, TBST, 306)


4b When the people saw it, they exclaimed, “O Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of the land of Egypt!”


Their statement was untrue, ungrateful and a violation of the covenant. (They definitely violated the 2nd commandment and probably the 1st commandment too)


5 Aaron saw how excited the people were, so he built an altar in front of the calf. Then he announced, “Tomorrow will be a festival to Yahweh!”


Aaron realizes he messed up so he tries to salvage the situation

Instead he should have stood up to the people, or at least stalled by asking for time to consult Hur and the other elders like Moses told him to do.

He was too concerned about his popularity and the acceptance of the people.

  • That was his real golden calf
  • List other types of idols here? (may not be time for this)
    • Career and money?
    • A lover?
    • Pride and admiration?
    • Constant affirmation?
    • Performing for my parents?
    • Gaining a high standing in WOW?
    • Could even be ministry
    • Anything you follow or put your trust in


6 The people got up early the next morning to sacrifice burnt offerings and peace offerings. After this, they celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry.


Drunkenness, partying, probably sex too.


7 Yahweh told Moses, “Quick! Go down the mountain! Your people whom you brought from the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves.

8 How quickly they have turned away from the way I commanded them to live! They have melted down gold and made a calf, and they have bowed down and sacrificed to it. They are saying, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.’ ”

9 Then Yahweh said, “I have seen how stubborn and rebellious these people are.

10 Now leave me alone so my fierce anger can blaze against them, and I will destroy them. Then I will make you, Moses, into a great nation.”


God says, “Now leave me alone.” But it should be obvious that Moses had no power to block what God wanted to do (if we’ve learned anything from God’s showdown with Pharaoh). God is trying to teach an important lesson here. He states what Israel deserves and then lets this divine drama unfold.


If Moses were worried about his own glory he would have taken God up on that offer. But he’s not. Instead he pleads with God on behalf of the people, making three arguments:


11 But Moses tried to pacify Yahweh his God. “Yahweh!” he said. “Why are you so angry with your own people whom you brought from the land of Egypt with such great power and such a strong hand?

12 Why let the Egyptians say, ‘Their God rescued them with the evil intention of slaughtering them in the mountains and wiping them from the face of the earth’? Turn away from your fierce anger. Change your mind about this terrible disaster you have threatened against your people!

13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You bound yourself with an oath to them, saying, ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven. And I will give them all of this land that I have promised to your descendants, and they will possess it forever.’ ”


Moses makes three arguments:

  • What about all that you’ve done to save them?
  • What will the other nations think?
  • What about your promises to our ancestors?


Notice there is nothing about how the people deserve to live. They deserve to get wiped out!

God didn’t need reminded about his promises. This is Moses’ way of expressing faith in God.


14 So Yahweh changed his mind about the terrible disaster he had threatened to bring on his people.


Yahweh changing his mind:

  • The threat of judgment was real
  • God knew what Moses would do
  • Two lessons:
    • God sometimes will change his intended actions based on what we do
      • g. personal salvation (Rom 6:23)
      • g. prayer
    • The need for a Mediator
      • One man intervenes on behalf of the rest, bringing them out of death and into life!


15 Then Moses turned and went down the mountain. He held in his hands the two stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back.

16 These tablets were God’s work; the words on them were written by God himself.

17 When Joshua heard the boisterous noise of the people shouting below them, he exclaimed to Moses, “It sounds like war in the camp!”

18 But Moses replied, “No, it’s not a shout of victory nor the wailing of defeat. I hear the sound of a celebration.”

19 When they came near the camp, Moses saw the calf and the dancing, and he burned with anger. He threw the stone tablets to the ground, smashing them at the foot of the mountain.


Moses was angry, but this was probably not an impulsive temper tantrum. This was an important symbolic act done very deliberately to communicate a point to the people. This was routinely practiced in the ANE as a way of depicting the breaking of a covenant. (E.g. Zech 11:10)


E.g. You are engaged to a woman, but you haven’t heard from her in a few days. So you invite another girl over and start making out with her. Just then your fiancée walks in. She sees what is going on, is angry, and she takes off her engagement ring, slams it down on the coffee table and storms out of the house. That’s what happened here.


20 He took the calf they had made and burned it. Then he ground it into powder, threw it into the water, and forced the people to drink it.


At first this sounds like what you do to your dog when he poops on the carpet. Shove his face in it. But it probably just means that he threw the remains into the water supply to get rid of it, which would have forced the people to eventually drink it.


21 Finally, he turned to Aaron and demanded, “What did these people do to you to make you bring such terrible sin upon them?”


Moses is trying to give the benefit of the doubt. Aaron gives four lame excuses: (Insert discussion here instead of giving them these points)


22 “Don’t get so upset, my lord,” Aaron replied. “You yourself know how evil these people are.


  1. Relax. It’s not that bad.
  2. These people are so evil!


23 They said to me, ‘Make us gods who will lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.’


  1. Maybe if you hadn’t been gone for so long.


24 So I told them, ‘Whoever has gold jewelry, take it off.’ When they brought it to me, I simply threw it into the fire—and out came this calf!”


  1. It’s a miracle! This must have been divine intervention.


25 Moses saw that Aaron had let the people get completely out of control, much to the amusement of their enemies.

26 So he stood at the entrance to the camp and shouted, “All of you who are on Yahweh’s side, come here and join me.” And all the Levites gathered around him.

27 Moses told them, “This is what Yahweh, the God of Israel, says: Each of you, take your swords and go back and forth from one end of the camp to the other. Kill everyone—even your brothers, friends, and neighbors.”


Apostasy was a capital offense in ancient Israel. And if you think about it, which is worse? Taking someone’s physical life? Or taking their eternal life? Eternal life is worse, and during this unique time, God had to take extreme measures to keep his plan intact.


Moses is not telling them to kill everyone, but to kill everyone who won’t repent. This probably meant going person by person and finding out whether they intended to return to Yahweh and then executing them if they wouldn’t turn back.


The sad reality is that sin not only cuts the people off from God, but that sin brings death. That’s the message of the Bible from beginning to end.


28 The Levites obeyed Moses’ command, and about 3,000 people died that day.


A small fraction of the entire population, but a sad day nonetheless


30 The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a terrible sin, but I will go back up to Yahweh on the mountain. Perhaps I will be able to obtain forgiveness for your sin.”


Moses isn’t sure what Yahweh will do. Perhaps He will forgive. Moses heads back up the mountain ready to plead with God. And what he says might surprise you…


31 So Moses returned to Yahweh and said, “Oh, what a terrible sin these people have committed. They have made gods of gold for themselves.


“gods of gold” = quoting the 2nd commandment


32 But now, if you will only forgive their sin—but if not, erase my name from the record you have written!”


He’s referring here to the Book of Life. This is God’s record of all the people who will spend eternity with him. And Moses is willing to have his name blotted out of the Book of Life! One man offers up his own life in exchange for the many who deserve death!


33 But Yahweh replied to Moses, “No, I will erase the name of everyone who has sinned against me.


Apply to audience. Do you fall into that category? The Bible says that you do. “All have sinned…” (Rom 3:23) This verse cries out for a Savior.


34 Now go, lead the people to the place I told you about. Look! My angel will lead the way before you. And when I come to call the people to account, I will certainly hold them responsible for their sins.”


“And when I come to call the people to account, I will certainly hold them responsible…”


A day is coming when God will call you to account. What will his verdict be on that day?


“my angel will lead the way” – Moses gets a little farther in his second interaction with God about this. Earlier he managed to avert the wiping out of the people. Now God promises to send the angel of the Lord, which as we argued earlier is the presence of the Son of God. But God says that He will still hold the people responsible for their sins.


As we’ll see, there were still some things the people needed to learn here.


35 Then Yahweh sent a great plague upon the people because they had worshiped the calf Aaron had made.


There’s no mention of death here. This was probably a sickness plague.

Chapter 33

1 Yahweh said to Moses, “Get going, you and the people you brought up from the land of Egypt. Go up to the land I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I told them, ‘I will give this land to your descendants.’

2 And I will send an angel before you to drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites.

3 Go up to this land that flows with milk and honey. But I will not travel among you, for you are a stubborn and rebellious people. If I did, I would surely destroy you along the way.”


This is why God has to restrict his presence. It’s an act of mercy. Otherwise the people would be destroyed by being in the presence of a perfect God. Like someone who got too close to the sun would be destroyed by its intense heat.


4 When the people heard these stern words, they went into mourning and stopped wearing their jewelry and fine clothes.

5 For Yahweh had told Moses to tell them, “You are a stubborn and rebellious people. If I were to travel with you for even a moment, I would destroy you. Remove your jewelry and fine clothes while I decide what to do with you.”


God is teaching them an important lesson about sin. They needed to feel the weight of the effects of sin if they were ever to appreciate what God would do about their sin.


“Remove your jewelry” is a reminder of what they did when they made the golden calf.


6 So from the time they left Mount Sinai, the Israelites wore no more jewelry or fine clothes.


God is starting to break through here.


In the aftermath of this, he makes another provision for the people to talk with him. But unlike the Tabernacle in the center of the camp where they kept the Ark of the Covenant and made sacrifices and had a team of priests, this one was a simple tent outside the camp called the Tent of Meeting.


7 It was Moses’ practice to take the Tent of Meeting and set it up some distance from the camp. Everyone who wanted to make a request of Yahweh would go to the Tent of Meeting outside the camp.


God was saying, “Even though your sin causes separation between us, I’m still making provision for you to come to me outside the camp and talk, via my chosen mediator.”


8 Whenever Moses went out to the Tent of Meeting, all the people would get up and stand in the entrances of their own tents. They would all watch Moses until he disappeared inside.

9 As he went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and hover at its entrance while Yahweh spoke with Moses.

10 When the people saw the cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, they would stand and bow down in front of their own tents.

11 Inside the Tent of Meeting, Yahweh would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Afterward Moses would return to the camp, but the young man who assisted him, Joshua son of Nun, would remain behind in the Tent of Meeting.


Then we read of another time when Moses brings up this same subject they have been talking about: Will Yahweh go with his people?


12 One day Moses said to Yahweh, “You have been telling me, ‘Take these people up to the Promised Land.’ But you haven’t told me whom you will send with me. You have told me, ‘I know you by name, and I look favorably on you.’

13 If it is true that you look favorably on me, let me know your ways so I may understand you more fully and continue to enjoy your favor. And remember that this nation is your very own people.”


Moses has two more requests here:

  1. “Yahweh, you’ve promised to send your angel ahead of us, but who will go with us?”
  2. “Yahweh, please teach me more about you.”


God answers both requests, starting with the first one.


14 Yahweh replied, “I will personally go with you, Moses, and I will give you rest—everything will be fine for you.”

15 Then Moses said, “If you don’t personally go with us, don’t make us leave this place.

16 How will anyone know that you look favorably on me—on me and on your people—if you don’t go with us? For your presence among us sets your people and me apart from all other people on the earth.”


Moses says, “I would rather stay here with you in the desert than be without you in the Promised Land. You are the only reason why I am special and why these people are special. It’s not that we are bigger than any of the other nations, or that we are more obedient than anyone else. Before you found me and the rest of us, we were nobodies. But now, the reason why we are special, the reason why I am special, is because you’ve decided to make us your people!”


17 Yahweh replied to Moses, “I will indeed do what you have asked, for I look favorably on you, and I know you by name.”


God says, “I will go with these people because you, Moses, have found favor in my sight.” One man finds favor in God’s sight, and God accepts the others because of him.


Now Moses turns his attention to his second request: To know Yahweh more fully:


18 Moses responded, “Then show me your glorious presence.”

19 Yahweh replied, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will call out my name, Yahweh, before you. For I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose.

20 But you may not look directly at my face, for no one may see me and live.”


Not even Moses


21 Yahweh continued, “Look, stand near me on this rock.


“this rock” probably refers to Mt Sinai


22 As my glorious presence passes by, I will hide you in the crevice of the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by.

23 Then I will remove my hand and let you see me from behind. But my face will not be seen.”


Not that God has a hand or a face or a “behind.” He’s using terms we can understand. God is giving Moses more of a peek into who God is, but he still needs to shield him, because no sinful human can look directly upon God and live.

Chapter 34

4 So Moses chiseled out two tablets of stone like the first ones. Early in the morning he climbed Mount Sinai as Yahweh had commanded him, and he carried the two stone tablets in his hands.

5 Then Yahweh came down in a cloud and stood there with him; and he called out his own name, Yahweh.


Yahweh is going to tell Moses ten things about himself…


6 Yahweh passed in front of Moses, calling out,

“Yahweh! Yahweh! The God of compassion and mercy!

I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.

7 I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin.


[Point out #10 (below) before pointing out these first nine] The first nine things relate to God’s mercy and forgiveness. That would have been a huge relief for Moses to hear in light of what has just happened with the calf


7b But I do not excuse the guilty. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children and grandchildren; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations.”


[Point this out before the previous nine attributes] As we said before, this refers to the effects of sin on the entire family for those who continue to repeat the sins of those who came before them


8 Moses immediately threw himself to the ground and worshiped.


Moses got to experience God’s direct presence in some sort of new way. This is unusual. And if you ever get to experience God in some special way I hope you don’t think it’s normal. Most people never get something like this. Moses probably got it because of the huge task God had before him.


But even in the midst of this special appearance of God, the bigger thing he got, the thing that lasts, was God teaching Moses about his character.


Moses makes one final request…


9 And he said, “O Lord, if it is true that I have found favor with you, then please travel with us. Yes, this is a stubborn and rebellious people, but please forgive our iniquity and our sins. Claim us as your own special possession.”

10 Yahweh replied, “Listen, I am making a covenant with you…


God puts the engagement ring back on. And says, “Let’s go!”


Let’s draw a few conclusions before we read the epilogue


29 When Moses came down Mount Sinai carrying the two stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant, he wasn’t aware that his face had become radiant because he had spoken to Yahweh.

30 So when Aaron and the people of Israel saw the radiance of Moses’ face, they were afraid to come near him.

31 But Moses called out to them and asked Aaron and all the leaders of the community to come over, and he talked with them.

32 Then all the people of Israel approached him, and Moses gave them all the instructions Yahweh had given him on Mount Sinai.

33 When Moses finished speaking with them, he covered his face with a veil.

34 But whenever he went into the Tent of Meeting to speak with Yahweh, he would remove the veil until he came out again. Then he would give the people whatever instructions Yahweh had given him,

35 and the people of Israel would see the radiant glow of his face. So he would put the veil over his face until he returned to speak with Yahweh.


God is with his people, and Moses is definitely his chosen leader

Also shows that spending time with God will change you. Like the moon reflecting the light of the sun.


2 Cor 3:16-18

16 But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.

17 For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

18 So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.