How Shall we Respond to God's Mercy

September 9, 2019 Series: Exodus Scripture: Exodus 34:11-35 by Chris Strevel

No Other Gods before Him (vv. 11-17)

11 "Observe what I command you this day. Behold, I am driving out from before you the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite. 12 "Take heed to yourself, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land where you are going, lest it be a snare in your midst. 13 "But you shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and cut down their wooden images 14 '(for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God), 15 "lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they play the harlot with their gods and make sacrifice to their gods, and one of them invites you and you eat of his sacrifice, 16 "and you take of his daughters for your sons, and his daughters play the harlot with their gods and make your sons play the harlot with their gods. 17 "You shall make no molded gods for yourselves.

No Pluralism – God is Jealous (vv. 11-14)

The spirit of rebellion is so much in the air that all the old traditions and any emphasis upon obedience are hated. Sadly, in the church this resistance goes under the name of grace and “let’s have everything new and exciting,” but this scene is one of the most gracious in the old covenant. And can you imagine Moses, having seen the revelation of God’s glory, thinking that the repetition of these duties were somehow a denial of the grace and mercy of God’s forgiving his people? What a disappointment and contradiction that would have been! I forgive you, but now go earn my favor through your obedience, or remain in suspense of my favor until you do enough good things. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Mosaic portion of the old covenant certainly was inferior to the grace now revealed in Christ, but it did not contradict God’s grace. It did have burdensome ceremonies attached to it, and since the church then was so wayward and rebellious, it required a very heavy dose of law, much like a wild pony must be kept under bit and bridle at all times. But the revelation of God’s name was grace and mercy and longsuffering, so these particular duties must be interpreted in line with that revelation – that the Lord was teaching his people how to respond to his great love and rich mercy.

For a moment, let us take a broad view of what God first says – no other gods, no entangling alliances with the world, and no graven images. Already he is stepping on our toes, even as he stepped on Israel’s. Embracing religious tolerance as a political and social virtue, as we are now learning, has been a stepping stone to setting up Baal’s in the church; in some quarters, we hear increasingly that all religions have the same basic elements and that we should not think the Christian religion absolutely true but be willing to learn from other faiths. And no covenants with the world or intermarriage with unbelievers? This is very intolerant and arrogant – how can we win the world unless we become as much like the world as possible? No graven images is a synecdoche for “worship me according to my word,” but very few think of this as having any importance, the main thing about worship being that I like it and that we remove as many barriers as possible that prevent the world from feeling at home. Surely his mercy calls for higher aspirations than this! Mercy surely, especially the full mercy in Christ, calls for higher aspirations than this! To win the world to the Savior who delivers from sin, we cannot be like the world. We cannot follow its path to respectability, or join with it in redefining love in such a way that every man is his own moral legislator and his own god. We must come out from the world’s darkness and rebellion and pursue an intentional separation.

When God forgives our sins and delivers us from corruption, he does so to make us “servants of righteousness,” as the apostle wrote to the Romans (Rom. 6:16-19). His grace empowers us to “perfect holiness in his fear” (2 Cor. 7:1). Therefore, we are not to go back to sin’s vomit and provoke the Lord’s majesty by worship its gods, the very idols and demons that the Lord Jesus has triumphed over (Col. 2:15). We are not to learn the ways of the heathen – the way they live or the way they worship their false gods (v. 13). It will be a snare to us if like Dinah, we “go out to see the daughters of the land” (Gen. 34:1). For what purpose? Curiosity? Envy? So zealous must we be for God’s glory – his goodness and mercy to us – that we “cast down every imagination and high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:4). Israel was to break down every worship grove and smash every image, something that godly civil magistrates would do if their people were godly and desired to be ruled by Jesus Christ and his holy scepter. At the very least, we must worship no other gods or any form of pluralism, for God is jealous. He is our Lord and our Husband, and he vigilantly guards his love for us and ours for him. Mercy, therefore, requires first that we keep the first table of God’s law, and especially that we be intensely loyal and exclusive in our love and service to God alone.

No Intermingling Covenants (vv. 15-16)

God is of course repeating by way of summation the Ten Commandments, which served as the basis of his covenant with Israel. This is instructive on many fronts, not the least of which is the idea that when the Lord forgives us, we cannot tell him, “Don’t tell me what I already know.” We do this with each other – hey, I have asked forgiveness, let us drop it. Others will say, “Grace means that I can do what I want to do. Don’t bog me down with obedience and written commands.” The Lord says, “Not so fast.” I forgive you, but I have some more words to say to you – actually, the same words I have already said, but the words you broke. So, listen again, as I warn you not to make a covenant with the peoples of the lands that I am giving you. Do not go to their worship services or import their worship practices into mine. Do not take foreign wives for your sons – it being unlikely in ancient societies for the son to join his wife’s family and move to her land.

This same concern for moral separation – not ethnic purity, except insofar as it broke down religious distinctions – still applies with great force in the new covenant, as the apostle makes clear in his warnings to the Corinthians. Only marry in the Lord, he wrote to them (1 Cor. 7:39). Only marry someone who is in the same covenant relationship with Jesus Christ as you are, through baptism, church membership, and Christian discipleship. There is to be no intermarriage with unbelievers, for light and darkness do not mix (2 Cor. 6:14-16). And yet, we are wiser than God, often redefine “believer” to mean “barely a believer,” and do not consider the miseries and difficulties we create by mixing what God has separated – light from darkness, grace from sin, Christ from Satan. In our age, “Christian” has almost been reduced to someone who is not actively opposed to Jesus Christ or is open to spiritual things. A Christian may pursue and marry only one who is actively committed to Jesus Christ, which means seeking to obey him, being a faithful part of his church, and loving him before every other consideration. Marrying a nominal Christian will give you a nominally happy marriage, if you are a Christian, or a miserable one, for true and false vines grow more consistent with their roots as the years pass.

No Graven Images (v. 17)

One of Satan’s most effective attacks has been at this exact point – do not maintain the antithesis with the world. Do not separate from darkness. Evil company does not corrupt good morals – that’s the boring lesson of moral do-gooders and killjoys. Find common ground with the world. You have Christian liberty to watch what you want, go where you please, associate with whom you please, eat, drink, and smoke all you want. Every age of his church has suffered devastating consequences from this foolish disregard for God’s protective wisdom. In our day, the usual rebuttals to calls for separation from the world are that they are mean-spirited, prevent evangelism, and tend toward a separatist attitude. These things may be true, but need not be, and are not necessarily evil. None of the challenges of intentional separation along the lines of 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 justify our throwing caution to the wind and neglecting God’s plain instructions. Personally and privately, in homes and churches, in decisions about education and entertainment, we are to be deeply conscious that God dwells with us. His presence calls for holiness, which is separation from sin; our response to his mercy is committed obedience to his word and separation from sin.

And this begins with worship – no graven images (v. 17). As a whole, the church needs deep repentance at this fundamental point. Worship is not for unbelievers but for God to meet with his people. The purpose of the service is not to find a lowest common denominator version of the gospel, however moving and slickly produced, that attracts the masses. All of these things actually do the very thing prohibited here – going to the blind world to learn what it likes, then importing these things into the worship of God’s holy church. The failure to separate in worship leads to the failure to separate in life – separation is all-inclusive – that we are seeking to come out of the world – in our thoughts, attitudes, words, works, activities, associations – and unto Christ. Intentional separation from sin and pursuit of faithfulness to Jesus, since it humbles, makes us ready to serve him and speak his truth much more than if we are immersed in the world and have lost much awareness of God’s holiness and the sinner’s need for his sovereign grace and mercy.

Consecration and Worship (vv. 18-26)

18 " The Feast of Unleavened Bread you shall keep. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, in the appointed time of the month of Abib; for in the month of Abib you came out from Egypt. 19 "All that open the womb are Mine, and every male firstborn among your livestock, whether ox or sheep. 20 "But the firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb. And if you will not redeem him, then you shall break his neck. All the firstborn of your sons you shall redeem. And none shall appear before Me empty-handed. 21 " Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; in plowing time and in harvest you shall rest. 22 "And you shall observe the Feast of Weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the year's end. 23 "Three times in the year all your men shall appear before the Lord, the LORD God of Israel. 24 "For I will cast out the nations before you and enlarge your borders; neither will any man covet your land when you go up to appear before the LORD your God three times in the year. 25 " You shall not offer the blood of My sacrifice with leaven, nor shall the sacrifice of the Feast of the Passover be left until morning. 26 "The first of the firstfruits of your land you shall bring to the house of the LORD your God. You shall not boil a young goat in its mother's milk."

Passover: I Have Redeemed You, and You Are Mine (vv. 18-20)

This abbreviated statement of the various feasts and celebrations is not simply repetition. God is mercifully renewing his covenant. His will is not altered by Israel’s rebellion, and he is again calling his people to consecrated lives of worship. When God in mercy returns to us after we have offended him, he does show us a different way to walk but calls us to resume the old paths. This begins with the most fundamental observances of all – Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (v. 18). Never were they to forget that God redeemed them for himself, that he gave Egypt for their ransom. And since God has redeemed his people, he owns them – the firstborn consecration was typical that the entire nation was purchased. He will accept the firstborn son – through the substitution of a sacrificial lamb. All firstborn animals are to be redeemed or slaughtered – it is the blood of the covenant or it is death (vv. 19-20).

Now we see much more clearly that these very same truths like at the bedrock of the gospel are the powerful springs from which all devotion to Christ springs. We have been redeemed not by silver or gold, but by the precious blood of Christ (1 Pet. 1:18-19). We have been purchased at a great price, and therefore we are not our own (1 Cor. 6:19-20; 7:23). Since no more bloody sacrifices are required, the dynamic of redemption-consecration requires that we daily think of what a great price the Son of God paid to redeem us, that ever after all that we are or have belongs to him, and that not for one second can we think ourselves free to live as we please. In our body and spirit, we are to glorify him. All our children, not simply our firstborn, are dedicated to him and must be taught to be his holy seed in life even as they are by promise (1 Cor. 7:14). Let us take this dynamic seriously – since God has redeemed us, we belong to him. Belonging to him, let us zealously serve him, and say with Joshua, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Sabbath and Worship: I Dwell with You (vv. 21-25)

Devotion to Christ prevents separation from being arrogant, cold to others, or enslaved to manmade regulations. Sabbath-keeping is vital in this regard, especially in the new covenant. The full glory of the Sabbath could not then be known, for it was anticipatory of the new order of God’s kingdom that Jesus Christ established by his resurrection from the dead on the first day of the week. But even under the old covenant, it was a time to rest from one’s labors, remember God’s goodness, and learn to trust him to take care of us. How much greater is our privilege and the weekly way we renew consecration to the Lord – that we draw near to his living temple as living stones, have God indwell us by his Spirit, see his glory in the sanctuary as Jesus Christ preaches to us and sings his Father’s praises, and enjoy the fellowship of the saints. This is the Sabbath-observance that remains to us (Heb. 4:9) – when we worship God for his grace to us, rest upon the finished work of our Savior who has now entered into his rest, and seek renewal each Lord’s Day in communion with our God and one another so that we can serve him faithfully in this world. Whenever Lord’s Day zeal dwindles among us, low consecration to Christ and weakness must result among us, leading to compromise with the world. And these sins in turn feed a diminished appetite for the delights of the Lord’s Day, as Isaiah speaks of them, and he lived before the Lord of glory came and ushered us into heaven itself!

Along with the Passover, the Feast of Firstfruits, or Pentecost, and the Feast of Ingathering, all the men of Israel were to appear before the Lord three times during the year (vv. 23,25). Your land and possessions will be safe, the Lord promises, for I will guard them. Be careful to keep my worship; be diligent in worshipping me as I command (v. 24). Bring the first-fruits into my house (v. 26), which was not yet built but here he anticipates a more settled order of the church. It reminds us also that the tithes and offerings were under the oversight of the priests and Levites. The growing cycle and seasons, giving and sacrifice, life itself, therefore revolved around worship and communion with God. Some of this worship was anticipatory of his blessing; some of it was thanksgiving for blessings received. How different their lives would have been – how different our lives would be! – if we recognized that everything good we have comes from the Lord, that we have nothing of ourselves except sin, and that we deserve nothing from his hand. This would produce great humility in us, and therewith zeal to serve him with thankful hearts. Remember, finally, that the feasts celebrated God’s goodness and pledge to be with his people. We must learn, however, not simply to keep up the formality of worship but the reality of it – that God now indwells us by his Spirit, receives our thanksgiving and praises, forgives our sins, and strengthens us. His goings (Ps. 68:24) are much greater in his living sanctuary now that Jesus Christ has opened heaven to us!

Separation: No Superstition (v. 26)

Exclusive love and obedience, dedication and worship – these are the hallmarks of the covenant God reestablished with his people, even as they are with us, provided we see the much greater light and grace extended to us through Jesus Christ, and rejoice that the heavy burden of ceremonies has been removed. It is rather odd in this summary to find so specific a law as the prohibition of “boiling a kid in its mother’s milk” (v. 26). But by this repetition (Ex. 23:19), the Lord has an eye to the sinful propensities of Israel – to incorporate elements of paganism into his worship and into their lives. The boiling of the baby in its mother’s milk was part of the paganism associated with fertility cults and chaos. It was the reason behind the prohibition of sowing with diverse seeds and wearing clothing of mixed fabrics. In themselves, these things may be nothing, but as part of Baal worship, it was doing bizarre and superstitious things in order to increase fertility. Christians must therefore not incorporate superstitious practices into our worship or our lives. The Easter bunny should not make an appearance in our worship services, or Santa Claus, or nationalistic displays of patriotic fervor. Fertility and blessing come from the Lord, not secret rites or manipulation of the elements or prying into the unseen things (Col. 2:18).

Transformed from Glory to Glory (vv. 27-35)

27 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Write these words, for according to the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel." 28 So he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And He wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments. 29 Now it was so, when Moses came down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the Testimony were in Moses' hand when he came down from the mountain), that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone while he talked with Him. 30 So when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 Then Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned to him; and Moses talked with them. 32 Afterward all the children of Israel came near, and he gave them as commandments all that the LORD had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. 33 And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face. 34 But whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with Him, he would take the veil off until he came out; and he would come out and speak to the children of Israel whatever he had been commanded. 35 And whenever the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses' face shone, then Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with Him.

 

Written Word Comes from Heaven (vv. 27-28)

If ever we doubt the reliability of the written word to convey transcendent truth, if ever the voice of wolves and critics threaten to drown out God’s still, small voice by undermining our confidence in his Scriptures, let us keep this moment before our minds. Moses walked down from the mountain with the word of God under his arms. It was the very Ten Commandments that we now possess. All the hatred of men for God’s law, especially its public display, is Satan’s screeching against such a clear witness to the authority and trustworthiness of God’s Scriptures. Those who hate God hate his word; those who hate his word hate him. For Israel, the Ten Commandments were a summation of God’s covenant with them – their duties, the way they were to walk in fellowship with the God who “forgave iniquity, transgression, and sin.” For forty days, Moses was on the mountain, neither eating nor drinking – God does not need earthly nutriment to sustain our bodies, although he normally chooses to use them. God’s word was Moses’ food. No wonder we can trust him to take care of us in every circumstance! But the main thing we learn there is that God has made a covenant with us, now more clearly in Jesus Christ, whose blood seals God’s promises and whose obedience is our righteousness. And God has bound himself to us in his word, so that if we hold fast to his Scriptures, this is the light that shines in the darkness of this world (2 Pet. 1:19). All the light that is in the world is found in our written Scriptures, for they are the word of the Light of the world, Jesus Christ. Let us abide in them, and so be our Savior’s fruitful disciples.

The Lesser Glory of the Old Covenant (vv. 29-35)

When Moses came down from the mountain, his face was shining, reflecting the brightness of God’s glory and indicating that God had indeed met with him. The rebels had spoken dismissively of “this Moses,” but God shuts their mouths by causing his faithful servant to reflect his brightness. Moses did not know his face shone. Those who spend close fellowship with God see more of him and less of themselves. They might and often say that they are nothing and filthy. Nothing is more common than for those who are truly close to God – chastening their souls every morning before him – to confess that they are barely Christians at all and know and do little of what they ought (1 Cor. 8:2; Phil. 3:12). A man who talks a great deal about his spiritual experiences and progress is likely to have known little of either, for when God imparts himself, he imparts also the meekness and gentleness of his Son. Initially Aaron and the people feared to come near to Moses (v. 30), but Moses brought them near again and talked with them (v. 31). He looked more like an angel than a man. They could not bear to look at him.

In this we are given a picture of the glory of the old covenant. It was a real glory particular to itself – God’s holiness and majesty, a glory that humbled and inspired fear in sinners, a glory that revealed the true distance between the holy God and sinners. For all this, it was a “ministration of condemnation” (2 Cor. 3:7-9). It was truly glorious, but it was not a bearable glory, for while God’s holiness was clearly revealed, the “way into the holiest place,” to close and safe fellowship with him was not yet clearly revealed (Heb. 9:8). The removal of sin was revealed in types and ceremonies but not as it has been to us in Jesus Christ. Because the glory was unbearable, even when it was manifested so closely to them in a familiar person, they put a veil over Moses’ face. He gave them God’s covenant, which should have comforted them for it came from God’s mercy, but the glory Moses reflected was terrible to behold. The way to stand confidently before that glory was not yet revealed, for Jesus Christ had not yet come. Another reason for the veil, Paul wrote, was that the glory was fading (2 Cor. 3:13). It was not permanent. When Moses spoke with the people, he put the veil on – hiding the glory that was fading, even as the glory of Jesus Christ is veiled to the unbelieving Jewish heart to this day, so that they cannot understand the Old Testament, that it points to him and is fulfilled in him (2 Cor. 3:14-15). When Moses went in to speak with God, he took off the veil.

Unveiled Glory in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)

The fading and veiled glory of the old covenant has given way to an unfading and unveiled glory in the new covenant in Christ Jesus. We now look upon the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ – the riches of his grace, mercy, and peace to us, the covenant of forgiveness fulfilled and offered to the world, God’s indwelling Spirit to renew and sanctify. This is one of many reasons that all the cults that come and say they are another revelation from God are false – they have no glory. There is no higher glory for us than the glory of God in Jesus’ face. All the cults and their insane leaders have is more rules and self-aggrandizement; they have no glory, no power, and no closer access to God than what we have in Jesus Christ. And here is the wondrous thing – we can and must look upon that glory, as the apostle directs all our attention heavenwards to where Christ sits at the Father’s right hand (Col. 3:1).

In Jesus Christ, when we look upon him by faith, the new eyes the Spirit gives, we see God’s love for us, his free invitation to draw near boldly to his throne of grace, the friendship we have with a reconciled God and Father, and all his other promises fulfilled. We have the hope of heaven, of seeing God’s glory in the incarnate, enthroned Son of God, of ourselves being better receptacles and mirrors of that glory when we see Jesus and are made like him. Even now on our pilgrimage, we are not kept away from the consuming fire but brought near (Heb. 12:29) – to be transformed, from glory to glory, so that we reflect God’s glory in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. We? Sinners we are, but redeemed by the blood of the Lamb and brought near to God, indwelled by God, having God with us, being the temple of the living God. This is his covenant with us, sealed with our Savior’s precious blood, and its glory has not faded but goes from strength to strength unto this hour.

If these things are true, why is there such little glory among those who profess to be looking at the glory? The Israelites could see glory shining in Moses’ face. It was an outward glory, a visible one, as ours one day will be, but now our true lives, Christ’s full life in us, is hidden (Col. 3:3). We have this treasure but in fragile vessels, easily cracked and broken, so that the power of God may be seen as our only foundation for endurance in this world. It is not surprising that a ministry of condemnation would have a shining outward glory, for the faithful needed some encouragement, or else their hearts would have broken with longing and uncertainty. Is God really speaking to us? Does he love us? Is he near? Ah, there is Moses’ face. We have and need no such external props, for we have the Spirit of holiness, who bears witness in our very hearts that we are God’s children. This inner witness is more powerful than sight, for eyes can deceive and circumstances make us fear, but God does not lie. And then when he seals the seal, if you will, verifies his witness with fruit, then there is truly glory among us. What do I mean? When we love one another with pure hearts, forebear and forgive, and cover sins with love, then the God of love is in our midst. When we are able to resist sin, even with tears and weakness, and long for holiness and righteousness, then God himself is present, stirring us not with an outward glory but with his own indwelling presence. But if we are to enjoy these tokens of God’s kindness, we must, as the apostle, keep looking at the glory that is revealed in Jesus Christ. This is the one thing needed more than anything else – that we keep the glory of Jesus Christ before us, in our thoughts and prayers, in life and love. His glory before us is truly God with us. His shining will never diminish, but move forward from glory to glory.

 

 

Profiting from the Word and Searching Our Hearts

1. Why are God’s grace and mercy our greatest motivations to love and obey God? See Romans 12:1.

2. What is the gracious context of this repetition of covenant duties? See Exodus 34:1-10.

3. How do these broad duties – idolatry, intermarriage, separation – step on our toes?

4. Why must Christians marry Christians? What is a Christian?

5. Why is worship so prominent in God’s covenant?

6. What is the redemption-consecration dynamic?

7. Why not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk?

8. How does Moses coming down from Sinai carrying the Ten Commandments help us overcome doubts about the reliability of God’s written word?

9. How could Moses not see that his face was shining?

10. Why was his face shining?

11. How was the old covenant glorious?

12. Why did Moses wear a veil?

13. How is new covenant glory greater? How do we look at the glory and what should we expect as we look at it? See 2 Corinthians 3:17-18. 4:17-18.