Exodus 32-34
by DSB

In I John 2:1-2, we this description of our situation as Christians and Christ’s work on our behalf . . . My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate (Intercessor / Mediator) with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.

An advocate is a person who speaks or writes in support or defense of someone who is a condition or situation where he cannot speak for himself. When we sin, Jesus acts as our advocate with God. The scripture also uses the word “mediator” to express what Jesus does on our behalf when we sin.

A mediator is one who stands between two parties in conflict for the purpose of helping the parties settle their dispute and reconcile with one another. When one party has severely offended the other, the mediator will intercede with pleading and humble petitions on behalf of the offending party in an effort to move the offended party toward forgiveness and reconciliation with the offending party. But the mediator must also press the offending party to take responsibility for his actions, to repent, and to change his ways so that forgiveness can accomplish its intended goal of reconciliation.

In the Old Testament the label “mediator” was applied to Moses. In the New Testament it is applied to Jesus Christ.

The focus of this presentation is Christ “the mediator.” The goal of this presentation is to enrich our view of Jesus – to opens our eyes and our heart to a deeply felt sense of the marvelous work Jesus Christ has done and continues to do – day-after-day –  in making it possible for us to be and remain reconciled to God.

The scripture says in I Timothy 2:5 . . . For there is one God, and also one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. It is important to understand here at the beginning of this presentation that Jesus Christ is our mediator and His mediating work is not something he did, once-for-all-time, but rather it is something he does for us each time we sin.

To help you see this mediating work of Christ more clearly I will be taking you back to the second book of the Old Testament. In Exodus 32-34, we see God and Israel mired in a severe conflict. As the mediator between God and Israel, Moses stepped in and brought about a marvelous reconciliation between the sinful nation of Israel and their Holy God – Jehovah Elohim.

As many stories in the Old Testament, this story is not just a story. It is a real-life example of the mediating work of Jesus Christ on your behalf and my behalf – again and again and again.

Now in looking at these two chapters I will be talking about Israel and their sin. However, as I speak of Israel, see yourself. I will also be talking about Moses and his work as a mediator. Yet as I speak of Moses, think and see Christ. And of course, God is god in the OT and the NT.

The story begins with Moses being called by God to ascend Mount Sinai and meet with God for the purpose of receiving the Law – the Law that was to be used in governing the people. Moses did ascend Mount Sinai, but he was gone for forty days and nights. Somewhere near the end of the almost six weeks Moses was on the mountain talking with God, the Israelites began thinking Moses was dead. This created a rather large problem for Israel because to them the death of Moses meant that neither Moses nor his god would be coming back to lead and protect them. So the Israelites turned to Aaron – the second in command to Moses and the designated Priest of Israel. They asked Aaron to make them a god who would lead them to the Promised Land.

As you already know, Aaron did make them a golden calf and Israel not only called this image their god – they spoke of this image as the god who brought them out of Egypt. They then designated a feast day – a day to pay special homage to their new god and enjoy the festivities commonly associated with idol worship. On their feast day, God said to Moses, “Go down at once, for your people (shows Moses position as mediator, not God’s abandonment of His people), whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. [8] They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. They have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and have sacrificed to it and said, 'This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt' " (Exodus 32:7-8). This news was very disturbing to Moses.

But the next thing God said was equally disturbing to Moses. The Lord said to Moses, "I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. [10] "Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation" (Exodus 32:9-10).

What do we have here? Israel sinned, and God’s holy sensibilities were deeply offended by their sin. In response to Israel’s sin God said He would destroy them. It is at this point that Moses steps between God and Israel as the mediator and speaks to God on the people’s behalf. (For the sake of information important to this story, I wish to point out that during this whole conflict between God and Israel, Moses “the mediator” made six requests of God on the people’s behalf.) Now lets get back to the story and take a look at the first request of Moses.

Then Moses entreated the Lord his God, and said, "O Lord, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? [12] "Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, 'With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth'? Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people. [13] "Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, 'I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever' " (Exodus 32:11-13).

Picture this moment. Israel has sorely offended God by committing spiritual adultery and Moses “the mediator” is standing between God’s wrath and Israel’s powerlessness to withstand God’s wrath. And what is Moses doing? He is mediating with God on Israel’s behalf for Israel’s life.

In Exodus 32:14 we read God’s response to Moses’ intercession . . . So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.
After securing this change in God’s intent for Israel, Moses proceeded down the mountain and entered the camp. As we know, it was upon seeing the idol and accompanying festivities that Moses threw down the stone tablet on which God had written the ten commandments – and they shattered on the ground. Moses then proceeded to deal with the people concerning there terrible sin. This account is contained in Exodus 32:19-29.

On the next day, Moses spoke to the people about their terrible sin. It was during this talk that he told them he was going to go back up to the Lord and see if he could make atonement for their sin.  Are you thinking of Jesus – for he too ascended a hill to make atonement for our sin.

This brings us to Moses’ second request of God. Exodus 32:31-32 says . . .Then Moses returned to the Lord, and said, "Alas, this people has committed a great sin, and they have made a god of gold for themselves. [32] "But now, if You will, forgive their sin—and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written!"  What powerful words. To Moses, gaining God’s forgiveness for the people was so important that he was willing to have his name taken out of the Book Of Life if God wouldn’t forgive Israel. Need I remind you that Jesus was willing to be separated from God and endure a time in hell to gain God’s forgiveness for us.

God responded to Moses request with these words, as recorded in Exodus 32:33-34 . . . The Lord said to Moses, "Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book. [34] "But go now, lead the people where I told you. Behold, My angel shall go before you; nevertheless in the day when I punish, I will punish them for their sin." We see in God’s response three things that we are wise to take note of. First, God made the legal position of sinners very clear – they were to be removed from the book. Second, God forgave Israel. Third, in spite of His forgiveness, God said He would withdrew His personal presence from Israel and replace Himself with an angel.

Interestingly, the withdrawal of God’s personal presence produced a sadness amongst the Israelites that overshadowed the joy of His forgiveness. We read that the Israelites went into mourning at learning of God’s withdrawal of His personal presence from their midst. But Moses “the mediator” had no intention of accepting this decision on God’s part as the final decision of God in relation to Israel. Moses wanted God’s forgiveness for the people and God’s personal presence with the people.

This brings us to a three step negotiation between Moses and God concerning the relationship between God and Israel. This three step process begins with Moses’ third request. Then Moses said to the Lord, "See, You say to me, 'Bring up this people!' But You Yourself have not let me know whom You will send with me. Moreover, You have said, 'I have known you by name, and you have also found favor in My sight.' [13] "Now therefore, I pray You, if I have found favor in Your sight, let me know Your ways that I may know You, so that I may find favor in Your sight. Consider too, that this nation is Your people" (Exodus 33:12-13).

Moses begins by telling God he doesn’t know the angel like he knows God. You see, the angel was a stranger to Moses whereas God was his friend, his Loving Father, his Provider and Protector, his Leader, and his intimate companion. Remember, Moses had a face-to-face relationship with God. So what is Moses asking for in his third request? Moses is asking God to remain with Israel rather than replace Himself with the angel. But Moses is also asking God to remain with him so that he, Moses, will be able to speak the words of God and do the works of God among the Israelites. Are you thinking Jesus here and his speaking God’s words and doing God’s deeds? Finally, Moses concludes his third request with the reminder that the Israelites are God’s people – in spite of their sin. In other words, Moses is saying to God: “Don’t withdraw your personal presence from them!” “Don’t leave them with anyone but yourself even though they have sinned against you!”  Why? Because they are Your people.

God responded to Moses by saying, "My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest" (Exodus 33:14).

This is almost the response Moses wanted. But it wasn’t all the response he wanted. So Moses jumped right back into his mediating role and said to God (request four) . . . If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here. [16] "For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?" (Exodus 33:15-16) Pay attention here because this is an important part of Moses’ mediating efforts on behalf of Israel. Moses is telling God not to let anyone other than God Himself lead them to the Promised Land. Why? Because it is God’s personal presence with them that distinguishes them from everyone else. There are many religions in the world and many sincere people pursuing religious ends. But the one thing God’s people have which distinguishes them from every other religiously sincere or even insincere person is the personal presence of God in their lives. You see, it is God’s personal presence which makes it clear we belong to Him!!

God responded to this fourth request by saying, "I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name" (Exodus 33:17). Notice: it is because of Moses that God was willing to restore His personal presence to the Israelites. Are you getting this? The mediator has moved beyond mere mediating to securing God’s favor on behalf of the sinner by means of his own good standing before God. Do you see that when you sin and God threatens to withdraw his personal presence from you that it is Jesus “the mediator” who secures God’s continued personal presence in your life? And he is able to do this, not because he is an excellent mediator but because he, in and of himself, has favor with God – and therefore God listens to him.

In spite of God’s willingness to restore His personal presence to Israel, Moses was not through. He knew that he had to see and know God as God is if he were to fuel the people’s desire to be reconciled to God. Why? Because the people knew God through Moses. As you may recall, the people did not want to approach God or get too near Him because of their fear of God. So they looked to Moses to give them a representation of God they could grasp and handle and deal with. It is at this point that Moses made his fifth request of God. Moses said, "I pray You, show me Your glory!" (Exodus 33:18)

God’s response to Moses may not be what you think it should be, but it is the response Moses needed. Read carefully. God said to Moses, "I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you;. . . [20] But you cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!" (Exodus 33:19-20) Did you catch the switch in words? Moses asked to see God’s glory. God said He would show Moses His goodness. Could it be that to see God’s goodness is to see God’s glory? I think so. It seems to me that God is telling Moses that he, Moses, needs to see and comprehend God’s goodness in order to fuel the people’s interest and ultimate decision to repent and be reconciled to God. Why? Because it is God’s goodness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). Well, God did show Himself to Moses and we read about it in Exodus 34. Listen to this description of God passing in front of Moses and see if this isn’t the same God that Jesus has made real to you!!

Exodus 34:6-10 . . . Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, "The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; [7] who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations."

What did Moses see? What do you see? I see a god who in His inmost being is a beautiful combination of love and justice, mercy and judgement, grace and wrath. I see a god who is as eager to forgive the sinner as he is to pour out His wrath on sin. And lest we forget, because of Jesus and his mediating work on our behalf, God’s mercy precedes His judgement. In fact, God’s judgement is reserved for those who despise and reject the goodness, patience, and long-suffering of God.

Now you may be thinking this story should be ending about here. Not so. Moses, being the persistent mediator he was, made one more request on behalf of the people. Read carefully, for at first it may seem as if Moses is simply repeating himself – but he isn’t. Moses said, "If now I have found favor in Your sight, O Lord, I pray, let the Lord go along in our midst, even though the people are so obstinate, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Your own possession" (Exodus 34:9).

Consider just two points of this request. First, it is based on God being pleased with Moses. If this request were based on God being pleased with the people, it would never get the hoped for outcome. Second, Moses is asking God to always be with them, to continually forgive them, and to always count them as His people – in spite of the fact that the people are going to sin again and again and again. Now let this request sink into your mind and then into your heart. Moses “the mediator” is asking the Holy God to show great grace to the obstinate, sinful people of Israel even though they will sin again and again. Is this not the very thing Jesus, our mediator, has asked for and gotten for us?

Consider God’s response. Then God said, "Behold, I am going to make a covenant (Exodus 34:10a). Israel sinned by rejecting Jehovah as their God and replacing Him with a golden calf. God said He was going destroy them. Moses mediates between Israel and God and we wind up here – with God saying He will make a covenant with Israel concerning His continued activity in and with them. Can you imagine this? Israel sins; God threatens destruction; Moses mediates; and God ends up making a covenant with Israel to guarantee He will be loving and gracious toward them in spite of future failures on their part – and the people have done practically nothing throughout this process. This sounds like the very thing Jesus secured from God for us. Listen to these words of Jesus as he passed the cup to his disciples on the night before his crucifixion, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood” (Luke 22:20).

The writer of Hebrews sums this all up with these words from Hebrews 7:22-25 . . . Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. [23] The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing, [24] but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. [25] Therefore He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

Revised 2013