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The Path to Restoration

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The Path to Restoration

Exodus 33.1-17

Pastor Oesterwind


1.       God’s response to Israel’s sin with the golden calf is a test of Moses’ leadership over the people.  He passed that test by interceding on their behalf.

2.       God invested much in the redemption of Israel.  Moses reminds God of this so that He would in mercy remember this investment.

3.       Sin in God’s people brings reproach.  While we may be faithless, He ever remains faithful.

4.       Moses witnessed firsthand what God had revealed to him on the mountain.  When he did, he was filled with righteous indignation – breaking the commandments because Israel had already shattered them; grinding the calf into drinkable powder because Israel must drink the bitter results of their idolatry.

5.       Aaron responded to Moses’ indignation by deflecting and marginalizing it. 

6.       The Levites responded to Moses’ call and command to kill their brothers, friends and neighbors.  This dividing line demonstrated the true loyalties of these men, even though it must have been agonizing to follow through.  It’s like disciplining one of my sons when I’m the one who needs the discipline.

7.       There are awful enduring consequences to sin.  None are more enduring than being blotted out of God’s Book of Life, God’s record of those who possess eternal life.  We must always remind ourselves that God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3.9). 

This brings us to the text under consideration this evening (Read Exodus 33.1-17).  The aftermath of the golden calf continues.  God reveals to Moses that He will not go up in the midst of Israel because they are stiff-necked.  The people respond to this pronouncement with sorrow (1-6).  Moses responds by pitching his own tent far from the camp and meeting with God face to face, as a man speaks to his friend (7-11).  Moses presses Israel’s need for the grace of God, and God promises that His Presence will go with Israel as they continue their journey (12-17).  This passage provides for us the path to restoration after failure in our lives. 

Transition:  Restoration begins when God reveals the greatest consequence to sin in our lives:  His departure.

The Revelation of Sin (33.1-6)

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Depart and go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give it.’ And I will send My Angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanite and the Amorite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” And when the people heard this bad news, they mourned, and no one put on his ornaments. For the Lord had said to Moses, “Say to the children of Israel, ‘You are a stiff-necked people. I could come up into your midst in one moment and consume you. Now therefore, take off your ornaments, that I may know what to do to you.’ ” So the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments by Mount Horeb. ” (Exodus 33:1–6, NKJV)

The text opens with the same abruptness that verse 7 of chapter 32 opened (that’s where we began last time).  Instead of “Go and get down [from His mountain]”, Moses is commanded “Go and get up from here [to the land]”.  Leaving the mountain is really leaving the Presence of God.  That He is disgusted with the sin of Israel is obvious in the opening six verses of chapter 33. 

God will fulfill His promise, but Israel will go without His Presence.  At the close of chapter 32, the LORD plagues Israel for the sin of the calf.  He speaks of visiting them in order to punish them.  While the plague is certainly part of this, the greater grief and punishment stems from the fact that He will stay on the mountain and they will go into the land of promise without Him. 

Some of you have astutely noticed that v. 3 states that God will send His angel.  The NKJ translators have capitalized angel.  The KJV and NASB render this phrase “an angel” which is the better interpretation of the text.  That this angel cannot be the pre-incarnate Christ stems from the fact that God will not go up with Israel.  The Angel of the Lord is the second member of the Godhead; therefore, if God will not go up, it seems reasonable that Jesus, the Son of God, will not go up.

When the people hear this “bad news” (v. 4) they mourn as one would mourn for the dead.  They are struck with hopeless grief.  They express the grief by removing their ornaments.  A cursory reading of this may make you think they dressed like Christmas trees J, but it simply means festive dress and jewels – that which the people had donned in the presence of the calf to make merry in the swill pit of immorality.

This is a bleak revelation of sin.  It separates us from a holy God because it demonstrates our rejection of Him.  Instead of being separated from the world to God, we separate ourselves from God to the world!  We cannot sin without rejecting God at some level.  So, we are left alone in great grief and anxiety.  A holy God could come into our sinful midst (even as that possibility existed for Israel; see v.3), but in one moment He would have to consume us.  Perhaps God would have sent the Angel of the LORD had Israel not sinned with the golden calf; but they did.  They would settle for an angel that would simply guide them.

When sin is revealed in our lives, it demonstrates to us how far we have strayed from God to our own idols.  At least Israel grieved at this revelation of God not going with them.  Are there not times in our lives when we want the blessings of our own promised land and are perfectly satisfied with the fact that God will not go up with us?  We want eternal life, but not the restraint from living our temporal lives as we see fit!

When God reveals sin in our lives, we should strip it out of our lives in the way Israel striped the ornaments off of their bodies.  The Spirit of God moves and convicts of sin, righteousness, and the judgment to come.  We need to take off the dark robe of unrighteousness and refuse to wear it again!  The revelation of sin ought to lead to repentance of sin.  Nothing is more important in life than the Presence of God in our midst – to know He is close and to grieve not God the Holy Spirit.  When God reveals sin in our lives, He reminds us of our need for Jesus Christ.

Transition:  The revelation of sin leads Israel and Moses to an awful realization.  In verses 7-11, we have…   

The Realization of Sin (33.7-11)

Moses took his tent and pitched it outside the camp, far from the camp, and called it the tabernacle of meeting. And it came to pass that everyone who sought the Lord went out to the tabernacle of meeting which was outside the camp. So it was, whenever Moses went out to the tabernacle, that all the people rose, and each man stood at his tent door and watched Moses until he had gone into the tabernacle. And it came to pass, when Moses entered the tabernacle, that the pillar of cloud descended and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the Lord talked with Moses. All the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the tabernacle door, and all the people rose and worshiped, each man in his tent door. So the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he would return to the camp, but his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tabernacle. ” (Exodus 33:7–11, NKJV)

Moses pitched what I believe to be his personal tent outside the camp.  He called it the tabernacle of meeting.  It is here that Moses spoke with the pillar-manifestation of God.  Moses spoke face to face with God, as a man speaks to his friend (v. 11). 

The people were keenly aware of Moses’ movements.  When Moses went outside the camp, the people rose, stood at the doors of their own tents, and watched Moses until he disappeared into the tabernacle of meeting.  The people also witnessed the pillar of cloud.  They worshiped, each man in his tent door (v. 10). 

God had not abandoned Israel completely at this point.  He would not be worshiped in a tabernacle in the midst of Israel (encircled by the 12 tribes), but He would meet with their leader outside the camp.  I believe this accentuates the absence of God.  However, God would continue to protect and care for His people.

The tent of meeting is not the tabernacle (sometimes it is; context dictates the use of this term; see 40.2).  It did not hold the ark or any of the other furniture we looked at a few weeks back.  It became a substitute for the tabernacle.  It also helped Israel to realize and acknowledge what they had done.  They must now separate themselves from the camp and go out to God via Moses’ intercession.  By the way, the people would also see yet again that Moses was God’s man to lead them.

Joshua did not leave the tent, but served as a guard over it.  This foreshadows what God would intend for the people once Moses died and Joshua became the leader.  Joshua was a faithful, dependable man.

The realization of their sin would tend to drain Israel of hope.  However, God kept hope in tact through the intercession and leadership of Moses.  Moses met with God face to face, as a friend with friend.  They stood at the doors of their tents and gazed longingly for the hope that flared as God spoke with Moses at the meeting place.

The realization of sin tends to drain us of hope.  We know that we’ve blown it.  God seems to remain distant – far outside the camp …outside the ability to know and even feel that He is there.  When failure results from faithlessness, our greatest hope is prayer to a faithful God who is willing to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 Jo 1.9).

·         We should find a place to meet God.  I imagine the scene before us and see the Israelites dejected and forlorn in front of their tents.  Have you ever been there?  The guilt, self-disappointment, and dejection can be overwhelming.  But we have a privilege they didn’t have.  We have revelation they didn’t have.  We realize that which they did not.  We meet God at the foot of the cross, outside the camp.  How do we know He’s there?  Because that’s where His Son is.

·         We should find a time to meet God.  Moses went out routinely to meet with God.  How can reconciliation take place if we never find time to meet with God?  When hope is lost, we think we need to mill about at the doorway, suffer a bit, and then find our way back to God.  “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to God” (Rom 8.1). 

o   Dry, hopeless, barren places get that way because there’s no rain.  The rain for us comes from a Spirit-empowered life.  A life where Bible-reading is the norm, where prayer is as natural as breathing, where church attendance is non-optional, and where sharing Christ with others is our constant burden.

o   A 75-year-old man planted a number of very small fruit trees.  “What an optimist,” his son said to him, somewhat mockingly.  His father passed away, and now when the son returns to the old homestead, he has an option.  He can go to the grassy cemetery on top of the hill and brood over his father’s grave, or he can eat the fruit of his father’s trees and reflect on a man who knew a great deal about hope.

Transition:  The revelation of sin deepens into a personal realization of sin.  A realization that ought to bring hope – especially since we fail so miserably.  Finally, that leads us to the culmination of this text…

The Rout of Sin (33.12-17)

Then Moses said to the Lord, “See, You say to me, ‘Bring up this people.’ But You have not let me know whom You will send with me. Yet You have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found grace in My sight.’ Now therefore, I pray, if I have found grace in Your sight, show me now Your way, that I may know You and that I may find grace in Your sight. And consider that this nation is Your people.” And He said, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Then he said to Him, “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here. For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us? So we shall be separate, Your people and I, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth.” So the Lord said to Moses, “I will also do this thing that you have spoken; for you have found grace in My sight, and I know you by name.” ” (Exodus 33:12–17, NKJV)

The rout of sin is found in the grace of God.  It’s always been that way.  We’re not living in the only age of grace – every age is an age of grace. 

This passage began with God commanding Moses to depart and go up without Him.  Moses repeats what God commands and then basically asks God, “How?”  He wants to know God’s way concerning Israel.  Moses is saying, “We started this together.  I AM sent me.  I can only keep Your word as You stay with me.  I cannot go forward without Your Presence – doing so we bring your disfavor. 

Relief comes when the LORD says that His Presence will go and will give rest.  Moses replies by saying if God’s Presence does not go with Israel (us), then failure is imminent. 

But Moses found grace; Israel found grace.  Neither deserved that grace.  Yet God extends it. 

1.       Show me now Your way, that I may know You and that I may find grace in Your sight (v. 13).  The rout of sin begins with a heart that says, “I want to know God and the grace He dispenses out of His loving character.”  Knowing God is the key to overcoming sin.

2.       Consider that this nation is Your people (v. 13).  Moses wanted God’s presence to go with all the people.  God replies, “My Presence will go with you (Moses), and I will give you (Moses) rest” (v. 14).  Moses then responds, “If Your Presence does not go with us (all of us), do not bring us up from here” (v. 15).  Overcoming sin means making a commitment that we will not go anywhere without Him.  The heart of HBC should be, “If God is not with us, we will not go forward until He is!”  If we are quite willing to go forward without the LORD, how then will it be known that His people have found grace in His sight (v. 16).  He must go with us! 

3.       We shall separate, Your people and I, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth (v. 16). 

a.       Sin cannot flourish in our lives if we separate from the world to God.

b.      Those without Christ need to see this dividing line.  If it’s not there, we rob them of hope.

4.       I will do this thing that you have spoken; for you have found grace in My sight, and I know you by name (v. 17). 

a.       Moses’ mediation was effective.  God was pleased with Moses and knew him by name.

b.      But the intercession of Moses was successful only by the grace of God.  No other reason.

c.       The Lord would speak similarly of His Son at the time of His baptism:  “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3.17).  And later at the Son’s transfiguaration:  “The is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.  Hear Him!” (Matt 17.5).

                                                               i.      Sin tends to rout us.  We wonder how God could ever be well pleased with us.  He certainly isn’t pleased with our sin and rebellion.

                                                             ii.      The point is that He cannot be pleased with us because we are less than perfect.  The only way God is pleased is if we come through Jesus and continue to come through Jesus.

Conclusion:  The path to restoration begins with revelation of sin in our lives.  Conviction deepens and leads to the gate of hope when we realize and acknowledge the sin in our lives.   Finally, the rout over sin comes to those who find grace in the sight of the Lord.  Only those who come through Christ find that grace!

Hymn:  46 – O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing


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