Saturday, March 12, 2016

Moses: "I Don't Make the Rules, God Does."

Godly Leaders Are Willing To Die For Their People
Exodus 32:30-35: And it came about on the next day that Moses said to the people, “You yourselves have committed a great sin; and now I am going up to the Lord, perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” 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. But now, if Thou wilt forgive their sin – and if not, please blot me out from Thy book which Thou has written!” And the Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book.  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.” Then the Lord smote the people, because of what they did with the calf which Aaron had made.
Three thousand Israelites had just been killed in the camp and Moses had instructed the Levites to dedicate themselves to the Lord in order to gain a greater blessing. That is something we need to notice here – greater blessings come with greater dedication to God. When you think about it, there’s no other just way to have it. Sometimes it seems that God blesses those that are not dedicated to Him more than He does those that are. Two things to keep in mind: First, we don’t have the inside scoop on who really is or is not sincerely and deeply dedicated to God. Second, we may often mistake what appear to be temporal advantages in life as God’s blessings when in actual fact they may simply be things that He allows in the lives of others for His own reasons. I always used to wonder why several of my cousins always had more than me when I knew that they dropped out of school at the earliest legal age and also were not followers of Christ. Fast forward forty years later and I know that I would never change my blessings in life (especially in my loving family) with any one of them. But it took me a while to accept what I thought was unfair treatment.  Do not let yourself fall into that trap.
So it was that Moses now “on the next day” knew he had more work to do with respect to this situation. He could have stopped worrying about it ‘yesterday’ but he didn’t.  He knew that a leader’s job was to be thorough in the execution of the strategy. So Moses went to those who managed to survive the previous day’s massacre (for that is what it was) and told them outright that they weren’t off the hook – they too, regardless of not being killed the day before, were still guilty of having committed a great sin before God.
And now Moses puts his own life at risk. He first tells the people that he is going up to the Lord again with the intention of personally making an atonement for their sin. And that is exactly what he did. He went the extra metaphorical and to a point, literal, mile up the mountain, to seek forgiveness for someone else’s sin. That’s what true leaders do.
Look at how he approaches God this time. First, he tells God what He already knew. The people had committed a great sin, he admitted. Sometimes it is important to verbally confess what we have done and even to confess what our family has done. We have the right to go before God on our behalf and also on their behalf. Unfortunately, we do not avail ourselves of that as often as we can or should.
And then, that short three-letter word used often in Scripture to indicate what God did or what, as in this case, He could do if He wanted to shows up in the text.  Moses says to God, “But You can forgive their sin.” Moses understood clearly and believed what many deny today – God can indeed forgive our sins.  Have you gone to God lately on behalf of your loved ones?
And look at what else he said. “God, if you don’t forgive them (note: not if you can’t, but if you don’t), then please blot me out of your book of life.”  Wow. That’s a leader for you. Moses was basically saying he didn’t need the benefits and the perks if his people could not participate in them. How many CEO’s do you know that actually say that to their Chairman of the Board? That takes guts and Moses certainly had that. But I believe that everything he said to God at this time, he sincerely did so because he truly not only understood his people, but also deeply cared for them. At the same time, he realized that sin had been committed and only God could forgive it.  Moses could not do it, the Levite priests could not do it. Only God can forgive the sins of people.
[And yes, there is a book of life and God does write in it.  This is not the book of the law, but rather a place where God records those that He grants salvation to. We hear about this book again in Psalms, Daniel, and Malachi in the Old Testament.  In the New Testament, we read about it in Philippians 4:3, and again in the last book of the Bible, Revelations in chapter 3, verse 5.]
So how does God react to Moses’ plea on behalf of his people and his willingness to give up having his name in the book of life? God basically says, “Look it is not your call as to who I keep in the book and who I take out. I will only blot out those who have ‘sinned against Me.’” Moses was nicely being told he was going beyond his jurisdiction as leader as admirable as his desire may have been. What’s the lesson for us? As a father and a grandfather, I believe it is simply this: We have a responsibility to bring our sins before the Lord, as well as those of our family, and to ask Him to forgive them. We may also want to convey to Him how important that is to us, but we overstep our bounds when we start negotiating about who gets saved and who does not – that is strictly God’s domain. [For me, it is not unlike my position on abortion or euthanasia – we are not here to replace God’s sole authority in those matters.]
And lovingly, God does not punish Moses for his efforts, but instead God points him to his continued responsibility – “go now, do your job, lead the people how and where I told/tell you to lead them”. And furthermore, God sends His angel to go before Moses as He sends His angels to go before us when we are following His instructions and calling. That is incredible reassurance from the Commander in Chief.
At this point God distinguishes between Moses and those that committed the great sin against Him. He says, “nevertheless there will come a day when I choose to do my punishing in this regard, then they will be punished for their sin.”
Some versions of the text talk about God “plaguing” the people somehow as compared to fully “smiting” them at a later date.  Which account you adopt will depend on whether you see God doing this right away or in His own good time. Robert Jamieson says about this last verse, “No immediate judgments were inflicted, but this early lapse into idolatry was always mentioned as an aggravation of their subsequent apostasies.”
Finally, we turn to Matthew Henry, on this troublesome last verse, who writes,
For the present, the Lord plagued the people, probably by the pestilence, or some other infectious disease, which was a messenger of God's wrath, and an earnest of worse. Aaron made the calf, and yet it is said the people made it, because they worshipped it. Deos qui rogat, ille facit-He who asks for gods makes them. Aaron was not plagued, but the people; for his was a sin of infirmity, theirs a presumptuous sin, between which there is a great difference, not always discernable to us, but evident to God, whose judgment therefore, we are sure, is according to truth. Thus Moses prevailed for a reprieve and a mitigation of the punishment, but could not wholly turn away the wrath of God. This (some think) bespeaks the inability of the law of Moses to reconcile men to God and to perfect our peace with him, which was reserved for Christ to do, in whom alone it is that God so pardons sin as to remember it no more.
I will leave to you to ponder on what you believe happened. What we do know is that people were not immediately smitten right after this and that indeed the Israelites had their difficulties in the wilderness for years to come. And some would say, still do. The lesson for us is not to take lightly the fact that sin against God has to be addressed – either forgiven through Christ or punished. As one police officer of New York City implies in the book Humans of New York, “I don’t make the rules, I just have to communicate them to those that break them and see that justice is done. I don’t like them any more than you do. Don’t take it personally.” Perhaps, someone else said it better when they said, “Please, don’t shoot the messenger.”

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