I recently received a letter in the mail which was addressed to both me and my wife. As it was hand-written, I decided to open it and see who the card was from. The nicely printed card was an invitation to a meeting about life insurance and retirement investments which included a free meal somewhere in Willard, Ohio. While we won’t be taking advantage of the free meal, it was nice to receive an invitation.
In Exodus 34, Moses also received an invitation. However, this one wasn’t hand-printed on a card and received in the mail. Instead, it was a spoken invitation from the Lord to meet with Him on the mountain again. After all that had happened, and all that almost happened, this was an invitation that the leader of the Israelites could not refuse.
- The Lord meets Moses on the mountain (Ex. 34:1-9).
a. It was an invitation to start again (1-4).
The Israelites had angered the Lord by making a golden calf to worship instead of Him. Their idol worship and wild reveling had almost led the Lord to destroy them all and start over with Moses. But Moses intervened and the Lord decided to give them a second chance. The fact that the Lord invited Moses back up the mountain with a new set of stone tablets shows that He was giving the people a second chance to renew the covenant. The tablets would have the Ten Commandments and the covenant between God and Israel written on them.
Moses, who by now had learned to love the people he led, did as the Lord said. He cut two tablets out of stone and went up the mountain to meet with the Lord.
b. It was a testimony to God’s character (5-9).
At the end of the last chapter, Moses had asked to see the Lord’s glory. In reply, the Lord had promised to make His goodness pass before Moses while he proclaimed His name. But Moses would only have a limited glimpse of God’s glory because no one could see the Lord and live.
As the Lord passed by Moses, God reveals two parts of His name and character: (1) His mercy and (2) His justice. On one side, His character includes mercy, graciousness, longsuffering, goodness, truth, and forgiveness. On the other side, His justice is something that can also be counted on. Nobody can rebel against God and continue to get away with it. This brings up several questions.
If God is merciful, why does He “by no means” clear the guilty?
“God does not extend mercy by shutting His eyes to the guilty or by saying, ‘I will just forget that sin.’ Sin must be punished and a penalty must be paid. God by no means clears the guilty. What happens then? How does He keep His mercy and take care of iniquity at the same time? A sacrifice has been provided. The sacrifices Israel made in that day did not take away sin but they pointed to that ‘Perfect Sacrifice,’ the Lord Jesus Christ, who, when He did come, put away sin by His death on the cross” (McGee 306). In other words, a blood sacrifice had to be paid to cover our sins. This was the only means by which our just God could be merciful.
If God is merciful, why would He punish multiple generations for the sins of their fathers?
The results of sin are devastating especially when someone refuses to repent and leads his children to continue down the same path. While God is merciful, He will continue punishing the sins of people who continue rebelling against Him over multiple generations. “It is a good thing to remember that today you can commit a sin that will affect your children, your grandchildren, and your great-great-grandchildren” (McGee 306).
If nothing else, you should think about God’s perspective on sin today. We tend to like the mercy of the Lord but not His justice. A missionary friend recently told me that telling others about Jesus must begin with a conversation about sin. If the person does not realize he has sinned against a holy God, he will never see his need for Jesus. But once he realizes his hopelessness under the justice of God, he is ready to hear about God’s mercy through Jesus. Do you understand this?
After “seeing” God in this way, Moses “worshiped Him, then pleaded for His mercy for such a stiff-necked people, as God had called them (32:9; 33:3,5). Moses also asked that God again promise to go with them (cf. 33:3,12,14), thereby renewing His promise to dwell among His people and own them as His inheritance (cf. Deut. 4:20)” (Hannah 158). Moses knew that even though God’s characteristic mercy was great, so was the characteristic sinfulness of the Israelites. Moses was a compassionate leader who loved both the Lord and the people he led.
- The Lord makes a covenant with Israel (Ex. 34:10-28).
a. Watch out for the inhabitants of Canaan (11-17).
In this section, the Lord promised to drive out the inhabitants of the land. He mentions six people groups that were currently living there. While God promised to drive them out, it would appear that the Israelites had part of the responsibility as well. “This Conquest was conditioned on Israel’s obedience to God” (Hannah 158). As you may know, the generation after Joshua did not trust the Lord to finish the job and allowed some of these nations to remain. Knowing that this would happen, the Lord warned them of the wicked influence these people would have on them if they made a covenant with them.
Why was this such a big concern? “The land of Canaan was covered with idolatry just like a dog is covered with fleas” (McGee 308). And the Lord knew the propensity of people to tolerate sin. If Israel didn’t drive out these nations and destroy their religious articles, they would probably make peace with them, intermarry with them, and then start worshiping their false gods. “Tragically Israel did not heed these warnings and they did in fact become involved in worshiping the Canaanites’ and others’ false gods” (Hannah 158).
The same danger is with us today. If we don’t see sin the same way God sees it, we will slowly begin to tolerate it. Then when we get used to tolerating it, we will eventually embrace it. Then when we embrace it, we will have no desire to love and obey the Lord. We must guard our hearts from the deceitful temptations that come from the world, the flesh, and the devil or we, too, may fall as Israel eventually did.
b. Obey my commands (18-28).
Moses was on the mountain for forty days and nights. While there, the Lord reminded him of the things that He had commanded before. Verses 18-28 are a summary of what Moses heard from God during that time. The topics included:
• No molded idols (17)
• The Feast of Unleavened Bread (18)
• The redemption of the first born (19-20)
• Resting on the Sabbath day (21)
• The Feasts of Weeks and Ingathering (22)
• Three annual meetings (23-24)
• Instructions about sacrifices (25)
• First fruits of harvest (26a)
• Cruelty to animals (26b)
Moses was to write all of these things down as part of the covenant between God and Israel. It appears that this time, Moses wrote the commands on the stone tablets instead of God (Ex. 31:18). After forty days and nights, Moses was ready to descend the mountain and to teach the people what God required for His people.
- The Lord reflects from Moses’ face (Ex. 34:29-35).
Have you ever noticed how someone’s appearance changes after being with someone they love? When a young lady has just had a visit from her fiancée, you can tell it just by how happy her face looks. Everything is good after a visit like this. Something similar happened when Moses came back from meeting with the Lord. Except, in this case, there was a brilliant shining to Moses’ face. God’s glory had shined on him and had left a brilliant afterglow.
a. This frightened the people (29-31a).
Moses didn’t know that his face was shining. But everyone who saw him was afraid. Even Aaron and the elders were afraid to come near him. So Moses had to call out to them to convince them to return.
b. This caused them to listen (31b-32).
Moses first spoke with Aaron and the leaders of the congregation. While the text doesn’t tell us what Moses said, I would guess that he talked about God’s character, their second chance at a covenant, and the commands on the stone tablets. Next, Moses spoke with all of the people. To them he gave all of the commands required by God.
Do you think his appearance caused them to listen better this time? I would think so. This was no spooky, flashlight-to-the-face, Halloween facemask. Moses’ shining face was remarkable evidence that he had been with God. Therefore they needed to listen to what he passed on to them from God.
I remember a singular event during my college days. Before going to work one afternoon, I went to the basement of the building to pray. When I was done, I walked into the office and my coworker asked if I had just been praying. He said he could tell by my face. While I wasn’t beaming with light, spending that time talking with God made a difference in my appearance.
c. This was a reminder for them (33-35).
It seems to be that Moses’ appearance continued to be marked by God’s glory every time he met with God. The shining was so brilliant that he had to wear a veil to cover his face. He would take the veil off when he visited with the Lord but would wear it when talking with the people. This was a continued reminder that Moses was God’s chosen representative—the one chosen by God to bring His message to the people.
What did we learn today?
First, we need to understand who God is. He is the holy and just God who doesn’t let sin slide and yet He is also merciful to those who repent, believe, and obey Him. Take a moment and consider your own situation. Have you come to the place where you have seen yourself as a sinner who cannot stand before God? If so, have you called out to God for His mercy? Your only hope is to trust in what Jesus did for you when He died on the cross for your sins. If you will turn from your sins and trust Jesus, God will be merciful and forgive you of all your sins.
Second, we need to recognize what the Lord commands us to do. The Israelites were given many commands and warnings that were specific to them. The feasts and sacrifices are not requirements for Christians. But we are also given commands in the New Testament that God expects us to obey. All of these are important to the Lord and were given for our protection and well-being. Do you realize that the Lord’s commands are not just a list of dos and don’ts? He actually knows what is best for us and gives us His commands for our good. If you are a Christian today, keep that in mind as you seek to follow His commands this week.
Thirdly, we need to spend time with the Lord and be a reflection of Him to others. Just as Moses’ face beamed with glory after spending time with the Lord, so we should spend enough time with God that we are changed by being with Him. Let me ask you a question. Have you been spending time with the Lord? Have you been taking time out of your schedule to read and mediate on the Bible? Have you been taking the time to pray? to talk with God? If not, set aside some time each day to spend 20-30 minutes with the Lord. It will make a difference in your life and in the lives of those to whom you are ministering.
Bush, George, Exodus, Vol. 2, Minneapolis: James & Klock, 1852, reprint 1976.
Hannah, John D., “Exodus,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Old Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1989, pp. 157-59.
McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. I, Genesis through Deuteronomy, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1981, pp. 306-08.