Summary: Moses demonstrates what it means to be set apart for the Lord. We not only are stand apart from sin, we are also to call others to stay away from sin.
Does June 11 seem like a distant memory? It was only 40 days ago, but it probably seems like a lifetime for this congregation. On June 11 we had just started to lay tile in the sanctuary. On that same day one contractor stood among the construction chaos and said, “You want to be open by June 21? I just don’t see it happening.” As it turns out, a lot can happen in 40 days, for here we are, enjoying our new sanctuary.
A lot also once changed for many Israelites in the span of 40 days. That was the length of time Moses spent on Mt. Sinai receiving written instructions from God on how the Israelites were to conduct themselves. These laws were meant to protect the Israelites and keep them safe. They would help build a society in which love and kindness abounded. But while God was busy setting the Israelites apart in this way as his chosen nation like a set of fine china in a display cabinet, the Israelites were busy doing something else (Phil Bigelow). Like an especially naughty boy who shoots at Mom’s fine china with a BB gun they were trashing God’s commands by worshipping a golden calf! This morning’s sermon is not so much about that sin as it is about Moses’ reaction to it. Moses demonstrates how God wants us to act as those who have been set apart for him.
When Moses ascended Mt. Sinai to speak with God and receive the Ten Commandments in writing, it wasn’t like he slipped away so that the Israelites didn’t know where he had gone or what he was doing. Days before this the Israelites had seen an impressive display of billowing smoke covering the peak of Mt. Sinai. The trembling transmitted through Israelite feet at the same time was not the shifting of fault lines; it also announced the presence of God on the mountain along with trumpet blasts that filled Israelite ears. (Phil Bigelow) The people even heard God himself speak and they promised on oath to do whatever he said. After that, in full view of everyone, Moses climbed the mountain to speak with God further.
But when Moses’ absence stretched to 40 days the Israelites got tired of waiting and decided they themselves could come up with a plan when it came to spirituality. We can understand how they felt. When you’ve been waiting in the ER for hours and still haven’t even seen a nurse, you’re tempted to walk out and treat yourself the best you can. That’s what the Israelites did with disastrous results.
As Moses began his descent back to the Israelite camp carrying two tablets of stone bearing God’s handwriting and a record of the Ten Commandments, a faint noise perked his ears. It was not the sweet sound of victory. He had heard that before, and this wasn’t it. Neither was it the bitter sound of defeat. It was the sound of singing—the voices of worship. But when Moses came to a place from which he could see the camp, he saw that the object of worship was a glistening golden calf - a fool’s god made of gold (Phil Bigelow). When Moses saw the golden calf and the Israelites dancing around it with wild abandon, his anger soared as the stone tablets he held plunged, shattering on the ground just like the promise the Israelites had made to worship exclusively the true God who had brought them out of Egypt.
But look at how quickly Moses acted in love towards his fellow Israelites. His first act of love was to get rid of that hunk of garbage they called a god. (Phil Bigelow). He did so by burning it up and throwing the powder into water which he then made the people drink. Perhaps Moses did this to show just how weak that false god was.
And then Moses called for those faithful to the true God to rally to his side. After the tribe of Levi snapped to attention, Moses gave this astounding order: “Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’ The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died” (Exodus 32:27, 28). 3,000 funerals filled the land at the command of the Lord. 3,000 Israelite funerals. The Levites had killed their brothers, their cousins, their neighbors, and their friends.
It’s here that we want to slam on the brakes, bring everything to a screeching halt and shout, “What in the wilderness is going on!? How does a loving God order such a slaughter? And how come there are people willing to carry it out?” But that’s not the half of it. When the deed was done, Moses said to the Levites: “You have been set apart to the Lord today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day” (Exodus 32:29). The Lord blessed the Levites because of all this? (Phil Bigelow)