This morning I read Exodus 32 and 33. The LORD impressed several things upon my mind and heart. The first lesson is that Moses was bold to rebuke Israel for the way in which they practiced idolatry with the golden calf. Those who are called to lead God’s people are to have the same reverence for God’s name and zeal for the purity of His worship as Moses had. We all know that Israel worshiped the calf while calling it Jehovah and crediting it with their deliverance from Egypt.
The second lesson is that we also are very apt to turn to idols(whether they be created objects without or whether we worship ourselves). We are so prone to idolatry that it is only right to conclude with Calvin that “our hearts are idol making factories.” Though most of us don’t make idol’s of gold (literally, though we do worship money quite often) the truth is that we still make ourselves gods in the place of the true and Living God. This is why David declared in Psalm 100, “It is He that has made us and not we ourselves…” We need to be reminded that we also are creatures because of our tendancy to forget and worship ourselves.
The third thing that God impressed upon me was the love and patience that Moses excercised towards a rebellious and idolatrous people. After grinding up the golden calf and making the people drink the water in which he threw the remains of the idol, Moses says, “You have comitted a great sin, so now I will go up to the LORD, perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” Moses goes up to the LORD and says, “Oh these people have committed a great sin, and have made for themselves a god of gold! Yet now if You will forgive their sin–but if not, I pray, blot me out of your book which you have written.” The response is inevitable, the LORD declares, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book…I will visit punishment upon them for their sin.” We know that although Moses could not be blotted out in the place of the people, Jesus was blotted out for us on the cross. God visited His Son with the punishment that we deserve for our sins. For those who are trusting in Christ, your names are written in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world. We learn from Moses that atonement must be made for the sins of God’s people. What a blessing it is when, in the book of Psalms, we learn that God would “provide atonement for His people and His land.”
The fact that atonement is needed for every sinner should be a compelling force in the life of the minister of the Gospel. A true minister is one that would be willing to be blotted out, if it were possible, for the salvation of others. I wonder if this is our experience as Christians for those in the church. What would it look like if ministers had this kind of longing for the salvation of those over whom God has made them shepherds. There is a dual emphasis of the minister’s love in this account. Moses rebukes Israel for their sin and then prays that the LORD would spare them even at his own expense. Don’t mistake Moses’ desire to be blotted out with some kind of weak passivism. Notice that Moses first rebukes Israel but then he prays for them. How easy it is to get discouraged at the idolatrous practices of those in the church today. If these two aspects (the rebuke of and longing for the salvation of those in the church) are not consistently practiced together there will be disasterous effects. We see this pattern set out not only by Moses but also by the apsotle Paul. How often he would rebuke the church for their deviant ways, yet how much he longed for their spiritual well-being. The supreme example, however, is our Lord Jesus Christ. he was the only One who could be blotted out so that we might be saved. He rebukes us in love (Revelation 2-3) and He lays down His life for our souls. May we remember these lessons and may God give us hearts like Moses, Paul, and our Lord Jesus Christ for the well-being of His flock.