Exodus 32:25-35 Who is on the LORD’s side?

Notes from sermon preached 17th July 2011

110717 sermon: Who is on the LORD’s side?


If we look through a lens, we see the world differently.  A magnifying glass makes things look bigger; a telescope makes things look nearer; some lenses can distort the image to make it look strange.

We all look at the world through a lens, a little lens in our eye, and we tend to believe what we see.  And we also look at the world through a spiritual lens.  As Christians our spiritual lens is Christ.  We interpret Bible and the world through the lens of Christ – which is right and proper – we are Christians!  Our basis for this is Jesus, who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” and the Holy Spirit, who leads us into all truth.  Our interpretation of Exodus is Christological.

I mention this because this text appears a hard text.  The LORD, through Moses, orders the Levites to kill their brothers, friends and neighbours.  As I have studied it through the lens of Christ I no longer find it a hard.  Christians (and the Jews as well,) don’t use this text, or any other text to justify killing apostates.

Three points:

  1. Taking sides (25-26)
  2. Putting idolatry to death (27-29)
  3. Moses makes an offer – God turns it down (30-35)

Follow in your bibles.

Main Points

1. Taking sides (25-26)

Ex 32:25 (NIV) “Moses saw that the people were running wild, and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughing stock to their enemies.”

We know the people were having massive party and were wildly out of control.  But I think we can easily miss the main point about this verse.  The word for “running wild”, as in the KJV, it can also translated as “naked”.

Ex 32:25 (AV) “And when Moses saw that the people were naked; (for Aaron had made them naked unto their shame among their enemies:)”

This doesn’t mean they were completely naked, but it means they had become vulnerable.  This verse is more than moralising.  Through their sin the Israelites had become vulnerable to their enemies, and Moses was acutely aware of this.  They had become physically vulnerable.  Instead of being alert and on guard, they were partying.  If the Amalekites had attacked at this moment, instead of defeating them (Ex 17), they would have been obliterated.

They were also spiritually vulnerable.  Their sin had exposed them to their spiritual enemy, satan, who was always looking for the opportunity to destroy God’s plan.

When we sin God removes his hand of protection from our lives.   We see this in Romans 1, where Paul shows that the root of our immorality is idolatry.  It starts here: “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie.” [Rom 1:25]  Then, “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.”  “God gave them over” means that God has removed his hand of protection.  If it’s temporary it means God will use it to discipline us; if it is permanent you will be eternally lost and it’s unlikely you will even ‘hear’ what I’m saying.

The most tragic thing about the Israelites at this point is that they became objects of ridicule.  It was tragic because they had a special God-given calling to glorify God among the nations.  But instead they became a laughing-stock.

The same is true for the Church.  Even non-Christians know what God’s standards of holiness are.  You get drunk; you indulge in internet pornography; you make obscene jokes; live with compromise.  And the non-Christian, who is probably too polite to say it, thinks, “and he calls himself a Christian!”

Moses realised he had to do something, so:

Ex 32:26 Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, “Who is on the LORD’S side? let him come unto me.” And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him.

This is the measure of the grace and mercy of the LORD.  “[The LORD] does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities” [Ps 103:10].  Moses gave an opportunity for the people to repent and return to the LORD – who is on the LORD’s side?

But this means there is another side.  There’s the LORD’s side, and there’s the side of idolatry.  There’s the LORD’s side and there’s satan’s side.  There’s the LORD’s side and the side of sin.  There’s light and there’s darkness.   There’s heaven and there’s hell.  In this world there’s no neutrality.  We can sit on the fence for a while, but in the end, as Jesus said, “You are either for me or against me.”

Are you really on the LORD’s side?  I remember shortly after I became a Christian and I felt my soul tumbling into hell, and it was a frightening experience, and I cried out to the LORD and he saved me.  If we are going to take Jesus seriously, Jesus who taught us to love, we need to take hell seriously, because Jesus taught about hell more than anyone else.  Our eternal destiny hangs in the balance.

Are you really on the LORD’s side?  To be on the LORD’s side means that we have to cross the line.  It means we have to humbly trust and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Moses gave the call, “Those for the LORD, come unto me.”  But, those who are for the calf, you can stay where you are!  “And all the Levites rallied to him.”

2.       Putting idolatry to death (27-29)

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 neighbour.”

28 The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about 3000 of the people died.

God is not a monstrous tyrant.  There are a one or two things we have to realise before we start getting too indignant about these verses.  There has been a perceived terror threat to the UK, so our armed forces are Afghanistan, and they have killed the enemy.  When they come back to this country we don’t accuse them as murderers, we rightly hail them as heroes.  In the same way the Levites became heroes.

The circumstances in Israel were different, but the existential threat was just as real.  Also we need to recognise that God didn’t show favouritism.  He didn’t say, “These are my chosen people, I will treat them with special favouritism and excuse their sin.”  No, exactly the opposite!  They had a special calling to be a holy nation and to glorify God among the nations, and so God treated them more strictly.

But we still see the mercy of the LORD.  First, all the people had an opportunity to repent and come over to the LORD’s side.  Second, only 3000 men were slain, which sounds a lot, but was only about 1% of the male population.  Third, most commentators agree that it was the hardened ringleaders who were killed, and most of the people, when they saw what was happening, decided to come over to Moses.

But what can we learn?

a.       Those on the LORD’s side are armed.

Those on the LORD’s side were armed, those on the side of the idols were unarmed.   As Christians, we are armed, not with the sword, but with the sword of the Spirit.  We should hide the word of God in our hearts and minds because we never know when we will need it, to resist temptation or witness to our faith.

v28 3000 people died that day.  On the day of Pentecost, as Peter wielded the sword of the Spirit, the enemy was slain, and 3000 people came into the kingdom of God.

“The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of this world.” 2Cor10:4a

b.      There can be no compromise with sin

We have to be absolutely ruthless with ourselves; and we have to put idolatry and immorality to death.

c.       God’s claim on us is stronger than the claims of family and friends

Our obedience to the LORD comes before family ties.  The Levites were not to show partiality in regard to this sin, even if it was their brother, friend or neighbour. Jesus taught the same:

Luke 14:26 “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.”

3.       Moses makes an offer – God turns it down (30-35)

30 The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a great sin.  But now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.”

Moses had smashed the calf idol to pieces; had confronted Aaron in his sin; the Levites had dealt with the ring-leaders of the rebellion; you would think this was enough to deal with Israel’s sin.  From a human point of view Moses, as far as possible, had dealt with the sin.  This makes me think of the News of the World.  The headline in the Times yesterday, “Murdock makes atonement,” which meant he had said sorry, and was trying to put things right.  But can we really make atonement for our sins?  Saying sorry isn’t enough.

But Moses recognised the full horror of their sin.  They had broken the blood covenant.  How could they, or we, satisfy the wrath of a holy God against sin?  Our sins deserve hell.

Moses recognised the need an atonement, which can’t do it ourselves.

Maybe that night, as Moses was lying on his bed he was thinking something like this:

“How might it be possible LORD, to divert your righteous wrath of God against the people?  I know you show mercy, and accepted the sacrifices of the patriarchs and the newly instituted sacrifice of the Passover.  You can accept an innocent substitute in the place of the just death of a sinner.  Perhaps, maybe … just perhaps … “

When morning came Moses ascended the mountain with great determination.

And on reaching the top, he began to speak with God,

“Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold.  But now, please forgive their sin – but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.”

Moses realised even though they had tried to make amends, the offense of their sin still remained. Moses was willing to die for the people.  To put it bluntly, he was willing to be damned in order that Israel might be saved.  Moses was beginning to catch on; Moses was beginning to understand the plan of God’s salvation; the need for a mediator; for someone to die as a substitute for sin.  This was a whole new level of intercession.  Moses as a good shepherd made the offer, but God said no.  Moses could not die for the people’s sins, because he himself was a sinner.  But Jesus, who was THE good Shepherd, made the same offer.  And God accepted it.

All through the Bible we see people looking for a Saviour, someone who could atone for sin, because somewhere inside we recognise we can’t atone for our own sin.  Murdock can’t do it; the journalists; all the people who bought these newspapers because they love to indulge in gossip.  Whatever sin you have committed, you can’t atone for it; but Jesus can, and he did.

When you really understand Jesus atoned for you, then you will put things right, whatever the cost, because you realise the cost he paid for you.


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