I love Exodus 32. It has long been one of my favorite stories in the Old Testament because the sin of the people of Israel is so real and even comical. We can all relate to it.
It begins with a tremendous sin against God — the people of Israel become impatient waiting for Moses and they plead with Aaron to make for them a god for them to worship. Aaron is quick to agree and attempts a type of syncretism between Yahweh and the idol of gold they create. He tells them that this golden statue of a calf is “Yahweh” who brought them out of Egypt! Laughable! The people worship this idol, sacrificing to it, and are caught feasting and dancing when Moses returns to the camp.
God is furious. Moses is furious. Finally, Moses confronts Aaron about what had happened who proceeds to blame the people of Israel for pressuring him into making the idol. (“They made me do it!”)
Then, best line in the whole story goes to Aaron: “So I said to them, ‘Let any who have gold take it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.” He completely denies his hand in fashioning the golden calf and blames it on sheer luck?? It’s a miracle! While this lie from Aaron is so ridiculous, we laugh at it because he know first-hand the reasons for the lie. We’ve all been there, tempted to cover our skin when we are clearly in the wrong.
Moses deals with Aaron and the people. There is punishment for this atrocity. But what I found most interesting is what happens after Moses deals with the people.
In verse 31, Moses returns to visit Yahweh on the mountain. He confesses the sin of the people and then pleads for the Lord to spare their lives, putting the guilt of their sin on his own shoulders. He says to the Lord, “But now, if you will forgive their sin — but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.” Moses wants to give his life for theirs!
God tells Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book.” The Lord is very clear to explain that guilt for sin is borne on each individual. We each are responsible for our sin, and we will each bear the consequences for our actions. We see from God’s Law that sin is very serious and it requires blood to atone for it… a lot of blood. Romans 6:23 reads, “The wages of sin is death”, and therefore death is what we deserve — each one of us — for the guilt of our sin.
While Moses sought to be the representative bearer of the sin of God’s people, God would not accept his humble sacrifice. There is only one who can bear our sin — Jesus, the incarnate son of God. Jesus is the only one who can adequately represent us because he was fully human. He could also be an adequate sacrifice to God because he is fully God and therefore without sin. He is the perfect, unblemished lamb who was tempted in every way and yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15).
God closes this conversation with Moses in verse 34 by saying, “…in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them.” This is one of the first glimpses in redemptive history of the final judgment. One day, the Lord Jesus will return to judge every person. On that day each of us will be judged by our deeds. Those found to be with sin receive the punishment they deserve. But only those who are found sinless will survive this judgment and will be welcomed into eternity with God.
Our only hope to survive this judgment is to put our trust in Jesus Christ who bore the wrath of God for us on the cross, then rose again in victory over death. He is our only substitute, the one who took our place when Moses could not. It is by faith that He gives us His righteousness and calls it our own — our only hope to withstand the gaze of our holy God.