The Lord Who Relents – Exodus 32:7-14

by Roger McCay
29 September 2019
Sermon Passage: Exodus 32:7-14
Link to Audio Version

The Scriptures, both the Old and New Testament, provide us a picture of God’s character and the nature of his dealings with mankind. Repeatedly, the Lord’s character is revealed as consistent and unchanging. He is a God of perfect justice. Yet, he is also a God of perfect mercy and grace. There is a tension in this.

We see this tension starkly portrayed, along with its resolution, in Exodus 32:1-14. Indeed, this passage is critical to our biblical studies. J. Clinton McCann, in an article on this passage, states its importance. He writes:

Exodus 32:1-14, along with the larger narrative which it introduces (Exod. 32-34), is fundamental for understanding the Book of Exodus, the Pentateuch, the entire Old Testament, and indeed, the New Testament and the whole history of God’s dealing with humanity.[1]

“Fundamental for understanding … God’s dealing with humanity.” The clear testimony of the Scriptures is that mankind is fallen, guilty, and exposed before God—justly deserving his wrath. Yet, despite our sinfulness, God extends mercy to his people.

Exodus 32:7-14 comes immediately on the heels of the terrible sin of the Israelites—God’s chosen people—when they made and worshipped the golden-calf. Only a short time before the golden-calf incident, when, God himself had addressed the people from the mountain, giving them the Ten Commandments (Ex. 19-20), the people had even agreed to all that God commanded of them, affirming his covenant with them in chapter 24:7. Yet, here they were, just a short time later in Chapter 32, deliberately violating the first three commandments, and doing so in raucous celebration.

They rejected the living and true God, as he had revealed himself, replacing him with their own idea of what God should be—violating the first commandment. They had a graven image crafted specifically for their worship—a golden calf—and its image was shaped to fit their idea of what God should be. They then worshiped and sacrificed to it—violating the second commandment along with the first. They even went so far as ascribing the very holy name of the Lord, along with the works that the Lord himself had accomplished, to this golden-calf—violating the third commandment.

The Lord’s words in vv. 7-9 describes the nature of their sin in his eyes. Verses 7-9:

And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ ” And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people.

Because of their sin, their quickly abandoning the way the Lord had commanded them to follow, the Lord distances himself from the people, signified by his reference of them to Moses as being “your people” rather than “his people.”

Such distancing makes perfect sense, as the people had rejected the Lord for a golden-calf. In their rejection, they abandoned the Lord’s way, violating the Covenant. The Lord describes their condition as being “corrupted,” perverted. They had evilly twisted away from the righteousness path against their master. Hence, this rebellion merits them the description of being a “stiff-necked” people. You may remember Stephen, in his final speech, using this term when we studied Acts 7 a few weeks ago. The term is one used for an animal that will not obey the reins to go the direction its master wants it to go, but keeps its neck stiff in order to follow its own way. So it was with them.

Now, it’s really easy to beat the Israelites up over their sin when we study this passage here in Ex. 32. And sure, they were way out of line—no question. But, we mustn’t be too hasty to point the finger in condemnation, for many fingers point right back at us. Every single one of us here today has violated God’s commands. This is the universal lot of man. Romans 3:10-12: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

Even Christians, disciples of Christ, God’s chosen people who have entered into the covenant with the Lord, and those grafted onto the tree of true Israel (Rom. 11), we stray from the path of righteousness, each of us going our own way into sin. It is a constant struggle to stay faithful following after Christ. McCann states how for us, in solidarity with the Israelites in the desert, “Calf-making is a persistent temptation. We, no less than Israel, are constantly attempting to have God on our terms rather than God’s terms.”[2]