Summary: God's people are forgiven sinners who have accepted Christ's sacrifice for their sins. Repentant people are accepted by God, but those who think they are good enough to enter heaven on their own merit will be cast out.
Who Are God’s People?
Our first reading from Exodus is not difficult to understand. The Israelites have gotten impatient waiting for Moses so they ask Aaron to make them gods who will go before them.
They had had many highs and lows on their way from slavery to freedom. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, the giving of manna and quail, and the parting of the Red Sea were visible signs of God’s presence and provision. Now during a peaceful and calm time they got impatient. God isn’t doing anything visible so they assume He is no longer there and they didn’t trust He was still taking care of them.
They don’t want so much a new god as a new leader. They want guidance with a strong hand. They want a god they can see (but they are forgetting they have a God who can see them!)
God has already shown that he is on the mountain in thick fire and smoke. He has already given them the oral version of the Ten Commandments. They know they are not to have any other gods and not to make any graven images. Yet they ask Aaron to make them gods who will go before them.
Aaron caves in to the wishes of the people. He wants to be popular more than he wants to be a priest. He asks them to turn over their jewelry and he fashions a golden calf from their donations. So it “feels like” they have donated toward their worship as they had donated things to build the tabernacle.
Then they assigned glory to the idol by saying this was the god who had brought them up out of Egypt, and Aaron built an altar in front of it and declared “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.”
Now he says it is to the Lord, but he is identifying with the gods of Canaanite and Baal worship practices. They gave credit to the idol for doing what Go had done for them.
So they got up and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings and ate and drank and participated in dancing and sexual orgies just as the heathen nations around them did when they worshipped their gods made of stone.
This was both unbelievable and unbearable and could not go unnoticed or unpunished by God.
They had “corrupted themselves” and turned aside quickly. This was not a gradual drifting away but a deliberate choice.
The scene changes to the mountaintop where God has seen their disobedience and is angry. He calls them “Moses’s people” instead of His people now. He tells Moses to get out of the way so that He can destroy them and says he will make another people from the line of Moses.
They have gone from impatience to insurrection to idolatry and now God is infuriated… but there is an intercessor!
Moses stands in the gap and prays for His people. He reminds God they are YOUR people made for YOUR purpose and given YOUR promises.
Moses never said the people should be spared for any worth or merit on their part. He based His plea upon the nature and character of God. He knew God promised and God would be faithful.
Then the Lord relented and did not bring on His people the disaster He had threatened. God had left the door open for mercy when He allowed Moses to stand in His way. And pray for the people.
God knew the people were like children who needed to be taught repeatedly what the “rules” are. They couldn’t be slaves one day and heroes of the faith the next. They must grow in faith and knowledge of God.
Moses wouldn’t give up on them and neither would God.
(For the rest of that story you will have to come back next week!)
Now as we look at our reading in Philippians we notice Paul is concerned that “his people” remain as “Christ’s people” by standing firm. They are to resist the attacks of the enemy on their faith and commitment.
He mentions a local church quarrel between two Godly women who have helped him spread the gospel and calls upon others who are also church leaders to help them find unity and accord.
Paul knows that discord among believers can steal the joy of serving and knowing the Lord. He says they should rejoice always and he has joy even while he is imprisoned because the joy of the Lord is in his heart.
He says their gentleness should be known to all. The word he uses can also mean let your softness or graciousness or moderation and patience be known. This implies they would be considered fair-minded not fanatics who were rigid and impatient with others. They would not apply the letter-of-the-law but show mercy, because the Lord is “near.”