Exodus 32 gives us real clarity around how God sees sin. And it is a pretty strong response. Moses has been up on the mountain with God. He’s been given the commandments written on stone. But while he’s been away, the people have become restless and pressed Aaron to make them a god. “As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him”. It didn’t take long for them to get off track. We tend to wander if we are not being very intentional in our focus on God. The world pulls us away, and we have a very real enemy who is out to destroy us.
God is not pleased and tells Moses to “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves”. Left without the right leadership, the people go off the rails. And God is furious. “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you”. God is going to wipe them out and start again with Moses to build a great nation. “But Moses implored the Lord his God…. Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people”.
This is what intercession looks like. Moses gets in the middle between God and the people. He stands in the gap for them, even though they are sinners who deserve what God wants to do. It isn’t that Moses condoned their actions because “as soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain”. He was ticked off too. But he begins by calling out his brother who had been left in charge. “What did this people do to you that you have brought such a great sin upon them”? How could you let this happen Aaron? But it did and Moses knows that “Aaron had let them break loose”. Lack of leadership allows the troops to go astray.
Moses knows he has to take swift action to make a strong statement that this is not acceptable. He calls together all who are loyal to the true God and tells them to “Put your sword on your side each of you, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill his brother and his companion and his neighbor….three thousand men of the people fell”. That was a pretty personal request – for these priests to go and kill their own for sinning. But Moses knows how seriously God takes sin. He can’t allow it to be a cancer for his people.
Moses also knows that God is burning hot and he goes to work at correcting the situation. So Moses goes back up the mountain and says “this people have sinned a great sin….But now, if you will forgive their sin – but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written”. Moses again intercedes fro the people. He doesn’t deny what they have done. He doesn’t try to downplay the importance. He doesn’t give excuses for their action. He stands between them and God and offers himself as the price for their sin. That is what true intercession looks like – we stand between God and the sin of another offering self in their place. Sacrificial love and leadership at its finest. God postpones the punishment and tells Moses to “go, lead the people to the place about which I have spoken to you”. It isn’t over, but Moses needs to get on with leading.