Exodus 32:15-29 The church must purge herself from threats to the true gospel of the kingdom
Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets which were written on both sides; they were written on one side and the other. The tablets were God’s work, and the writing was God’s writing engraved on the tablets. Now when Joshua heard the sound of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a sound of war in the camp.” But he said,
“It is not the sound of the cry of triumph,
Nor is it the sound of the cry of defeat;
But the sound of singing I hear.”
It came about, as soon as Moses came near the camp, that he saw the calf and the dancing; and Moses’ anger burned, and he threw the tablets from his hands and shattered them at the foot of the mountain. He took the calf which they had made and burned it with fire, and ground it to powder, and scattered it over the surface of the water and made the sons of Israel drink it. Then Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you, that you have brought such great sin upon them?” Aaron said, “Do not let the anger of my lord burn; you know the people yourself, that they are prone to evil. For they said to me, ‘Make a god for us who will go before us; for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ I said to them, ‘Whoever has any gold, let them tear it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.”
Now when Moses saw that the people were out of control—for Aaron had let them get out of control to be a derision among their enemies— then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, “Whoever is for the LORD, come to me!” And all the sons of Levi gathered together to him. He said to them, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Every man of you put his sword upon his thigh, and go back and forth from gate to gate in the camp, and kill every man his brother, and every man his friend, and every man his neighbor.’” So the sons of Levi did as Moses instructed, and about three thousand men of the people fell that day. Then Moses said, “Dedicate yourselves today to the LORD—for every man has been against his son and against his brother—in order that He may bestow a blessing upon you today.”
The 3000 men lobbied against the Levites and the Priests to return to Egypt. For they prefer to give up on the vision of the promised land in exchange for a life of wanton comfort. Moses returned to stem the rebellion by putting to death the 3000 men by the sword of the Levites. Indeed, the greatest threat to God’s kingdom plan comes not from those outside the church, but those from within. Such are wolves in sheep’s skin, who love religion rather than God; who peddle the gospel of self-preservation rather than sacrifice. Today’s devotion teaches us: The church must purge herself from threats to the true gospel of the kingdom.
Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand.
After God changed His mind and did not destroy the people, Moses took the two tablets of the law and started down the mountain. This is significant for it shows that despite the rebellion, God’s covenant with Israel still stands. Moses had taken upon himself to shepherd and turn the people back to God. Even though the people did not commit to the covenant, God continues to honour His part of the bargain.
It came about, as soon as Moses came near the camp, that he saw the calf and the dancing; and Moses’ anger burned, and he threw the tablets from his hands and shattered them at the foot of the mountain.
Moses’s display of anger showed that he had earlier underestimated the extent of the rebellion. He was clearly in shock. For no more than a few days after they have committed to God’s commandment and having seen God’s glory they reverted to their old selves. The spontaneous throwing and shattering of the tablets depicted a covenant in tatters. Moses wasted no time but grind the idol to bits and made them drink it. It was obvious that Aaron was to blame when he capitulated to the people’s demands. For they wanted Aaron to create an idol to lead them back to Egypt.
Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, “Whoever is for the LORD, come to me!”
Moses noticed the people had started to scatter and go out of control. For they were about to a make a mockery of God by returning to Egypt. Here, Moses decisively appealed to the followers of the Lord to come forward and only the Levites did. For it is necessary to make a distinction between the followers of the Lord and of the flesh for there is no middle ground. Effectively, Moses’s call forced everyone to make a decision between going to the promised land and returning to Egypt. Moses immediately directed the Levites to kill “every man his brother, and every man his friend, and every man his neighbour”. These were in fact people who were in close relations with them. The reason they were selected for annihilation was not because they have sinned, else all would have perished. Such were singled out because they posed a grave danger to the mission of Israel.
The church must purge herself from threats to the true gospel of the kingdom.
Why did Moses kill the 3000 men?
The 3000 were severely punished because they hindered God’s people from advancing towards the promised land, the kingdom of God. Because they were kins of the levites and priests, they assert great influence over the leadership. They were aggressively lobbying for the nation to return to Egypt. Many of them have begun to perceive the promised land as unworthy of their sacrifice. For they prefer to give up on their divine call and live out their days in comfort and sin. Aaron’s capitulation to their demands showed the kind of pressure the leadership was facing. The fact that God even mooted the idea of destroying the people speaks of Israel’s state of apostasy. Israel once struggled against Egypt, a super power in those days. Now, the threats come from within Israel. By killing the 3000, not only did Moses stem the rebellion, he rescued the nation from destruction.
The same happened in the early church when God struck down Ananias and Sapphira apparently for lying (see Acts 5:1-11). Why does God strike them down? In the first place, giving was entirely voluntary, and they had the right to do whatever they wanted with their property and its proceeds. On closer observation, it was highly probable that their motive was to gain credence to exalt themselves, to detract the church from the pursuit of God’s kingdom. Certainly, God will deal harshly with anyone who hinders others from entering God’s kingdom.
Paul spoke of divine wrath coming upon those (believers or non-believers) who hindered his ministry to the Gentiles. He said,
They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost. – 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16
The greatest threats come not from those outside but from those inside the church
Moses’s gravest challenges came not from the Canaanites, or the Amorites, but from the Israelites. For when his own sister Miriam opposed him, God struck her with leprosy (see Numbers 12). In Jesus’s case, the Jews hated Him, but the Gentiles loved Him. For He came to His own, but His own did not receive Him (see John 1:11). It is regrettable that the greatest threat to the mission of God’s kingdom happens to come from inside the church. That is the reason why God deals severely with wolves in sheep’s skin who hinder or pervert the gospel. Here are some of their schemes:
Such are actively replacing the gospel of Jesus with a self-serving gospel
Jesus calls us to reign with Him in His kingdom by putting God and the interest of others first. He preaches, “Follow me… Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In teaching about God’s kingdom, Jesus instructs us to put aside our personal rights, possessions and agenda to join God in saving and transforming the world. In so doing, we will salvation, which is the glory that Jesus Himself received. But many despite hearing the gospel of salvation could not put their trust in God. For they remain imprisoned to the fear of hell, sickness and poverty. And the devil feeds on their fears by replacing the gospel of Jesus with a self-serving gospel. Even as they seek to be saved, they refuse to follow Jesus’s way of life; their hearts remain self-serving and worldly. Such were the Jews of that time, for they were fixated on salvation but would not follow the way Jesus lived. While Jesus was touring the region and preaching the gospel, the Jews asked Him,
“Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” And He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” … In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being thrown out. – Luke 13:23-24, 28
Indeed, only a fraction of Christendom will enter God’s kingdom. Instead, many who are considered heathens will receive Jesus and enter in. For they are willing to follow the truth and put the interest of the community above their own. Jesus continued,
And they (heathens) will come from east and west and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last.” – Luke 13:29-30
Mistaking the love of God for the love of religion
The purpose of the church is help believers draw near to God, to sense His presence, to love Him and to converse with Him. Instead, many busy themselves with religious activities and continue to feel empty inside. For they have mistaken religion for God. In wanting to draw near to God, they double down on their religious fervour only to be further disappointed. What is the love of religion? How does it differ from the love of God?
Referring to the above diagram, those who love religion focus on acquiring salvation and blessing. Salvation and blessing are the primary reasons why they worship God. And God has become their means of obtaining salvation rather than the object of worship. Some may focus on attaining a form of holiness through self discipline. And some may even develop an intense love for theology and pride themselves on being correct. Others may busy themselves in church activities thinking they are living the Christian lifestyle.
On the other hand, those who love God focus on communing with God. Much like a marriage where the couple focus on building their empathy and concern for each other. Here, happiness and blessedness have become by-products of their love for each other. In the same way, salvation, blessing, holiness, fellowship, prayer, ministry and theology are fruits and by-products of our love relationship with God. The object of our pursuit is the face of God, not salvation, church activities or even holiness.
The apostle Paul speaks of the veil of religion that hinders believers from communing with God and becoming like Him. Therefore, we must unveil our faces by purging ourselves of the love of religion.
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 3:17-18
By knowing the difference between God and religion, we are able to commune with God clearly and deeply. One who loves God cares deeply about what God thinks and feels. And he obeys God’s will even if it means certain suffering and sacrifice. But one who loves religion does not care about what God thinks. He is led by his own thoughts and what is best for him. Therefore, it is important that the church purges herself continually of religious wolves and agents of the false gospel. For such pose the greatest threat to the gospel of the kingdom and the future of our families.
Do you pride yourself on your wealth of biblical knowledge, ministry achievements, faithfulness in attending church activities, and a form of holiness? Let us ask God to reveal what He thinks of us.
Be courageous and at the same time wise and humble to clarify falsehoods. In so doing, we awake our fellow brothers and sisters to the grandeur of God’s kingdom.
Keep preaching the gospel of the kingdom. Keep teaching about Jesus’s way of life. Keep training others in the use of spiritual gifts. Do not criticise other religions but rather focus on exemplifying Jesus’s way of life in the power of the Spirit.
Dear Lord, open my mind to understand the gospel of the kingdom. Help me experience the abundant life of the Spirit. Cause me to see you, to hear you clearly and deeply. Purify my spirit to receive the revelations of heaven and the angels. Use me to preach the gospel of the kingdom by exemplifying Jesus’s way of life. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.