As Exodus chapter 32 opens, Moses and Joshua are on the mountain, being overwhelmed with the glory of the Lord, while back in camp, the sons of Jacob are giving themselves to an unholy exhilaration. Bored and distracted, the former slaves of Egypt fashion a god from the gold of their own inheritance and begin to offer it their affection and allegiance. In verses 5 and 6 we read about the scope of the Israelites’ worship.
“Aaron made a proclamation and said, ‘Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord.’ Then they rose early on the next day, offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” (Exodus 32:5-6)
There are two noteable elements about this part of the story. First, the people of God, under Aaron, God’s ordained leadership, view their idolatrous behavior as a service unto the Lord”. (v.5) The Lord, however, looks upon the very same activity as corruption (v.7). This discrepancy is at the heart of the judgements of the Lord. We see our lives and ways imperfectly – even under a veil of delusion. We can be deceived into believing that what we are celebrating is good and even holy. We need the clear-eyed judgement of the Lord on our lives to see goodness and holiness from God’s eternal perspective.
The second salient feature of this story is that Joshua, who has been steeped in the counsel of the Lord, even when he hears the “festival singing and dancing” of the people (v.18) understands it to be the “sound of war” (v.17) against God.
“When Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, ‘There is a noise of war in the camp.’ But he said: ‘It is not the noise of the shout of victory, nor the noise of the cry of defeat, but the sound of singing I hear.” (Exodus 32:17-18)
When one has been in prolonged periods of prayer and fasting before the Lord, and then returns to the “norm” of the Christian culture, she/he often feels the great disparity between the Lord’s plumbline, and the people’s playing.
2020, and its attendant pressures have been nothing if not a season of carnal clamor in the camp of the Lord. World-weary and disconnected from the pure essence of God, our family has learned to make ourselves merry, measuring ourselves according to the unholy paradigm of our evangelical culture, rather than the unadulterated entente of the Lord.
Israel’s idolatry was more than a “one-off” set of dysfunctional behaviors. The people had taken significant time, contributed what was precious, and fashioned an object of veneration, undoubtably a familiar deity, one that offered them more predictability and apparent security than this formidable and frightening God of Moses. Furthermore, the lust for this idol was significant enough to keep many from joining forces with Moses when confronted with the folly of their misconduct. Their mind-set had undoubtably become attached to a narrative and a world-view that looked more appealing than remaining faithful to the one who had led them out of slavery. This was no shallow party. To many, it had grown to be a wholehearted “religion” sufficient to inspire songs, dances, festivals and personal sacrifice wherein which the people authentically believed they were offering service “unto the Lord”. (Exodus 32:5)
In the verses that follow, we see that the reckoning of the Lord upon His people was painful and clean.
“Now when Moses saw that the people were unrestrained (for Aaron had not restrained them, to their shame among their enemies), then Moses stood in the entrance of the camp, and said, ‘Whoever is on the Lord’s side—come to me!’ And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together to him. And he said to them, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘Let every man put his sword on his side, and go in and out from entrance to entrance throughout the camp, and let every man kill his brother, every man his companion, and every man his neighbor.’ So the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And about three thousand men of the people fell that day. Then Moses said, ‘Consecrate yourselves today to the Lord, that He may bestow on you a blessing this day, for every man has opposed his son and his brother.’ Now it came to pass on the next day that Moses said to the people, ‘You have committed a great sin. So now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.’ Then Moses returned to the Lord and said, ‘Oh, these people have committed a great sin, and have made for themselves a god of gold! Yet now, if You will forgive their sin—but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written.’ And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book…. (and) the Lord plagued the people because of what they did with the calf which Aaron made.” (Exodus 32:25-30; 33)
As His judgement fell upon the people, there was no bartering with the Lord. One either renounced their idolatry, repented of their sin, and announced their abject fidelity to God, or they were uncoupled from the Exodus that He was accomplishing.
He severed thousands who had covered their doorposts with the blood of the lamb (Exodus 12:13-28), and had sung the song of Miriam at the destruction of their enemies (Exodus 15:1-21). He divorced all who opposed His paradigm, though it had not been fully revealed. Those who transgressed the covenant established by the unapproachable God (Exodus 24:1-3) would proceed no further toward the land of promise. Without humbling themselves before His analysis of the situation and dealing with that which was defiling their relationship with God, their journey under His favor was over – literally.
It should be an occasion for us to tremble to remember that the same God of Sinai is the One Who walks among the Churches of Revelation 1, 2 and 3. The One Who is leading the Church out of this age, and into the next is the One Who rewards, Who releases pure judgements, and removes lamp stands. He is our resurrected Jesus.
The Lord Who purged the covenant children of Jacob, is the Lord Who purged the covenant people of Thyatira, is the Lord Who is purging the covenant people in America. This reality should bring every praying assembly to their knees. In the fear of the Refiner’s fire, it should compel every believer to scrutinize every vestige of racism, pride, idolatry, hostility, antipathy, indifference and selfishness in our heart.
Beloved, (and we are – Hebrews 12:6) evangelicalism will not experience the fulness of the presence of the Lord in this hour without dealing with our corrupted hearts. The Lord simply isn’t going to turn a blind eye to our false-prophecies, idolatries and contra-Kingdom ways. He knows what’s under our rug. They must be brought into the light, repented of and removed from our camp. Any talk about personal power and revival without talk about a purifying repentance borne on a paradigm of prayer is exhorting us into one more false way, in a year of many false ways. Neither is it being circumspect about the Biblical record of God’s dealings with His people.
The appropriate response of the people of God to the judgements of God is corporate prayer, confession and reconsecration to God.
In this hour, appealing to a sentimental false-grace theology, redacting the past, pointing at our ‘enemies’, justifying self on the curve, counting on the mere passage of time, or promising to do better will fare us no better than they would had our forefathers plied them at the foot of Sinai, or the city of Sardis.
The judgements of the Lord are neither optional, nor avoidable. They are not open for debate. His assessments are clean and target-specific. They are altogether true and righteous. He knows the incessant inclination of the human heart to duck and cover. And He also knows how to separate our rhetoric from reality.
He’s promised a Bride aflame with first-commandment love to His Son. I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion… Ask of Me and I will give You the nations for an inheritance.” (Psalm 2:6,8) “Understand what the will of the Lord is… that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:17,26,27)And He knows how to bring our spots to the surface.
The good news is, He loves us. He wants us. He’s committed to us. And He has an abundance of grace for every cleansing judgement that’s coming.
The sobering truth about our situation is, this grace will only be accessed by much prayer. And prayerlessness is one of the indictments the Lord is bringing against our evangelical culture. This means that in order to respond Biblically to the Lord, one will have to engage in a counter-cultural lifestyle; one that won’t be applauded by most, and will seem “out-of-step” with the majority of what the church around you is doing. It will be no less difficult than had you had to say “no” to the “cow carnival” in the Israelite camp: “No. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).
Beloved, the judgement of the Lord is in our camp. Like Moses (in Exodus 32:26) He is separating those who will surrender to His leadership, from those who will only offer more excuses for why the assessment of the Lord shouldn’t apply to the way they’re living their lives.
In the face of charges of social insensitivity, racism, idolatry, political partisanship, compromise, sexual immorality and false prophecy, our evangelical family is launching boat-loads of these arguments. It’s vital that they be seen for what they are – self-justifying defense-mechanisms of the shamed and the desperate that have no power to shield us from the depth of true holiness that the Lord is intent on forging in His Bride.
For all who yield themselve to Him, He offers us the “dead-end” way of the cross. (FYI – It’s supposed to look like a dead-end.) That’s what things look like before “resurrection”.
“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons…He (chastens us) for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:5-8, 10-11)
JSB • March, 2021