Grasping God’s Purpose: “The Heart of the Matter” – Exodus 34:17-27

Did you ever try to communicate with someone and find it really wasn’t working? Did you ever feel like you just “weren’t on the same page” as another in your family, or on your team?

A new resident was walking down a street and noticed a man struggling with a washing machine at the doorway of his house. When the newcomer volunteered to help, the homeowner was overjoyed, and the two men together began to work and struggle with the bulky appliance. After several minutes of fruitless effort the two stopped and just stared at each other in frustration. They looked as if they were on the verge of total exhaustion. Finally, when they had caught their breath, the first man said to the homeowner: “We’ll never get this washing machine in there!” To which the homeowner replied: “In? I’m trying to move it out of here!” Good communication is terribly important. Thankfully, we serve a God that INVENTED every form of communication.

In our last study in Exodus, we peeked in on the meeting between Moses and God and asked the questions: “How should I come to God for a REAL MEETING? What is REQUIRED by God for such a meeting?” Looking closely at the text, we saw five truths we needed to embrace:

  • First, we come with a knowledge of our sin. Exodus 34:1 “Now the LORD said to Moses, “Cut out for yourself two stone tablets like the former ones, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets which you shattered…”
  • Second, we come on God’s terms. Exodus 34”2 “So be ready by morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself there to Me on the top of the mountain…
  • Third, we come privately. Exodus 34:3 “No man is to come up with you, nor let any man be seen anywhere on the mountain; even the flocks and the herds may not graze in front of that mountain…”
  • Fourth, we come with the intent to embrace Him. Moses didn’t come to bargain with God or re-shape His thinking – just to worship and celebrate Him. Exodus 34:4 “So he cut out two stone tablets like the former ones, and Moses rose up early in the morning and went up to Mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and he took two stone tablets in his hand. 5 The LORD descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the LORD.”
  • Fifth, we come to hear Him speak the truth. For the moment, listen to the words God proclaimed about Himself as He met with Moses. Exodus 34:6 “Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth…”

The timing of this meeting with God was AFTER THE PEOPLE’S SIN and AFTER MOSES’ SINFUL RESPONSE to that sin. God is ready and willing to rejoin you when you have sinned. He isn’t resistant to love and grace – He is the author of them both. He went looking for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden after their sin, in order to draw them back. At the same time, the relationship changed from innocence to awkwardness – because of guilt. The same must have been true by the time God set up the meeting in Exodus 34.

Moses was no sooner on the mountain, and the people were quick to leave God – after only a forty day absence of Moses’ leadership! Yet, Moses sin was different than the people’s sin. His wasn’t one of defection – but one of reaction. He wasn’t tempted to wander off and serve anotherbecause He was spending time with God. He was “sitting at God’s feet” and hearing God share mysteries and insights.

Removed from the voice of God and the voice of those who followed God closely, the others among the children of Israel became like the recent graduates of high school when they move to a public university dormitory. Suddenly they are not hearing the daily voice of mom or dad who stay in the Word and walk with God daily. It is only then we can see if they have grasped the faith as their very own. The first wave hits with the first party invitations at college. Why? Because temptation increases with each step away from God. If they are not careful to walk in His presence daily – they will be drawn into compromise, and then question the truth of their faith – as if the truth of God is found in their own choices to faithfulness or unfaithfulness. In the end, straying is much less a temptation, when the voice of God is near – even if that voice is indirect through the words of a godly parent or leader. Here is the point: Moses was on the mountain, and the active work of the Word was gone in their lives. That became the point at which the slippery embankment gave way in their lives.

God’s response to man’s sinfulness is always the same: provisions of grace and commands of obedience. We sing it as “trust and obey” – and it is really that simple. God offers sin payment and says “trust”. God offers command to demonstrate submission and says “obey”. Obedience doesn’t take the place of trust, because sin and salvation are issues of the heart (surrender) and not the hands (works). At the same time, a trust without obedience is a theology without submission – and leaves God with nothing. We get salvation, and He gets a stubborn and selfish so-called “Christian”, who plays no deliberate role in working out that salvation and winning a lost world. The most miserable people in the world are not the lost (this side of death) – but those who have chosen to know God, and then not follow Him. In that state, God beckons His people back to trust and obedience.

The five requirements we looked at last time were singularly about what WE were to care about in our meeting with God. We need to take responsibility for sin, carefully check that we are coming on His terms, come without a show to embrace Him and listen to Him. These are OUR view of OUR preparations… but that is only ONE SIDE of the issue.

This time I would like to address the end of the passage and ask a different question: “What did God want to communicate?” What was on His heart that He wanted to share with Moses and then the people?

If we look closely at the last verses of the text, they deal with the CONTENT of what God wanted to say to Moses. Look at the THINGS GOD WAS CONCERNED ABOUT in the narrative. God leveled eight direct commands to Moses – each reflecting a concern.

Key Principle: God is concerned that men know Him as He truly is. A marred view of God will lead to a life of confusion and grief.

Eight Concerns of God

  1. SHAPING: Go without representation of Me. Exodus 34:17 “You shall make for yourself no molten gods. God doesn’t want His people to define Him pictorially or theologically – attempting to limit what God can and will do.

This may seem slight to some – that God would care if we made a statue, picture or diagram of Him. At the same time, I cannot begin to describe how many people I know that walked away from God because of a theological explanation of Him from a local church. This week I spoke to a woman who told me of the heartbreak of raising a child in the church, only to have that child stripped away from the faith by a professor at school. He focused the child on the teaching of election in order to impugn the God of the Bible as unfair.

The child was drawn into a theologically difficult deduction, and then pulled away from any belief in God. I want to suggest the problem wasn’t the child finding God’s loving character at fault – but believing a picture of God painted by a debate within Christianity about the meaning of some passages of the New Testament. It is terribly important that we remember that the Bible was nowhere meant to truly explain God and His inner workings. This autobiographical library was intended to be instructive to the follower – not restrictive to the author. God cannot explain to me how and why He does what He does – for my mind cannot really grasp that.

When we shape God, whether in picture, diagram or theological statement – we limit God to our own understanding and devices. We draw conclusions beyond the text of Scripture base on finite and flawed logical reasoning apparatus. Here is the point: I am not God. I can experience Him, but not truly define Him. I can picture Him (for Jesus is the expressed image of His person), but I cannot really grasp the depths of how He runs the universe. In my life, it has mostly been Christians that are guilty of overstating what we truly know of God. Be careful not to draw tight lines around your theology such that you give the impression that the Bible reveals all the mysteries of God – it simply does not.

When I leave this life and see the great and exalted God in the high throne of the universe – I will stand in awe. I will not evaluate how close I came in my mental pictures from this life – I will just cry. I will just drop to my metaphorical knees and bow before His greatness. No other image will flood my mind. No distraction will overcome me. No other person or picture will compare. No grand vista from a mountain peak, or calm horizon on the sea will compare with a view of the One who hurled the stars into place. There is no experience in this life that can truly prepare me for that view…but I can long for it. I can seek to know what I cannot truly grasp – because the excitement is in the trying!

We are foolish when we think we can truly understand God’s mysteries this side of Heaven. We must speak of God with humility and anticipation of understanding. God was concerned about that from the beginning…

  1. MEMORY: Recall my work of redemption for you annually. Exodus 34:18 “You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread. For seven days you are to eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in the month of Abib you came out of Egypt. God doesn’t want His people to forget how He saved them – and drew them into the relationship.

When we forget how we got into a relationship with God, we become haughty. We look at others who are dashed about in a lost world of darkness and lose our mercy. We get revenge oriented and angry. We lose the “mind of Christ” that we were told to emulate in His coming to earth to save, and take on the mind of Christ the coming Judge. We were not told to level judgment, but to offer mercy. We were commanded by God to work in the ministry of reconciliation of men to God. Our job isn’t to join the enraged masses who condemn, but to see with pained eyes and reach out with open hands. When powerful and heinous sins are committed, we want to criticize. It is not always wrong – especially in a generation that seems to have so little connection to right and wrong. Look at the news and it is easy to see:

VICTORIA, B.C., June 15, 2012 ( – The B.C. Supreme Court has ruled that Canada’s ban on assisted suicide is unconstitutional. Justice Lynn Smith issued a 395-page ruling in the Carter v. Canada case Friday morning, determining that the ban discriminates against the disabled. … Given that suicide is legal in Canada, Justice Smith argues that the ban violates the equality provision in section 15 of Canada’s Charter because it prevents the disabled from getting the help they may need to kill themselves. Interesting thought – a “right to life” issue is the right to find someone that can help me end life. Hippocrates would be stunned at the logic.

Peter Singer, notorious infanticide and bestiality-promoting ‘ethicist’ was made a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) this week, …given for “merit of the highest degree in service to Australia or humanity at large,” on Monday at the 2012 Queen’s Birthday honors. It was granted for his “eminent service to philosophy and bioethics as a leader of public debate and communicator of ideas in the areas of global poverty, animal welfare and the human condition.” (Posted by Adina Hoshour from lifesitenews). Really? Sleeping with animals and killing children is now a help to modern ethical development?

Are believers to IGNORE this slide of our culture? No. But we must not become belligerent and angry in public discourse either. I suggest you put down the signs if they are not lifted AFTER we drop to our knees and seek God. Anger is not the right motivation – love is. We should write the necessary letters to legislators when we have opportunity for public voice, but be careful about how we sound. Be reasoned and always loving. Pretend you actually have the chance to reach the other party for Jesus Christ – because you do. Even pagans feel empty when truth hits their heart. We weren’t better than them before we had a relationship with God. We may have been “off” in a different area – but we weren’t deserving of our relationship with God either. God wants us to keep the CROSS  CLOSE because beneath it – things are pretty level. Before Jesus, nobody looks good on their own.

  1. OWNERSHIP: Make sure you remember that you belong to Me. Exodus 34:19 “The first offspring from every womb belongs to Me, and all your male livestock, the first offspring from cattle and sheep. 20 “You shall redeem with a lamb the first offspring from a donkey; and if you do not redeem it, then you shall break its neck. You shall redeem all the firstborn of your sons. None shall appear before Me empty-handed. God doesn’t want His people to think they OWN what He has loaned to them.

Maybe this will help: “…on the sixth day God made man after His own image, and we have been returning the favor ever since. Listening to a sampling of the sermons of most modern TV and radio preachers makes it clear that many these days believe God exists only to meet our needs. Broke? Come to Jesus and He will make you rich. Bad marriage? Disappointing job? Difficult childhood? Come to Jesus, the great therapist, and He will fix you. Jesus came to affirm us in our upper middle-class values, didn’t you hear? Besides from this pulpit, when was the last time in church you heard about the blood of Christ, the reality and pains of Hell, the justice of God, the necessity of repentance, the demand of sacrifice, and the call for believers to live as strangers and pilgrims in this lost world. Most modern, so-called “seeker sensitive” preaching appeals to people’s felt needs. But you have a need, ladies and gentlemen, that you may not feel: A need to be reconciled to God and rescued from His sure and certain wrath. God does not exist for us. We exist for Him.” (Quentin Morrow, sermon central illustrations).

It doesn’t take long for us to feel pretty good about ourselves. We followed God’s Word and things started to fall into place. A few spiritual victories and we start to believe that we don’t need Him quite as much as we did when life was falling apart. We start appearing before God empty-handed. Our thankfulness gives way. Our humility drains our. Self takes hold. We start to sound more like the know it all Pharisee than the “bankrupt of Spirit” Jesus said God would bless (Mt. 5). Slowly, we forget that we are not our own – but bought with a price. The house God provided becomes OUR HOUSE. The body we have over eaten in and under-exercised becomes OUR BODY. The children of our households become OUR CHILDREN.

One of the chief concerns of God about His people is this: Know that I own you – and you are not a FREE AGENT to live the life of self and stubbornness. You were created BY and FOR me – and you will never be happy until you truly grasp that fact.

  1. TRUST: Trust me to care for your needs. Exodus 34: 21 “You shall work six days, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during plowing time and harvest you shall rest. God doesn’t want His people to believe they are the secret to their own provision.

When I recognize God’s ownership, I begin to understand that His purchase of me has placed the weight of provision on HIM. He will provide for me, and not me – apart from Him. I must work hard – but not for bread. I must be diligent – but not for self. My life’s work must not be for simple recognition of men. My heart must not take more joy in treasures on earth –where I will fight moth and rust and thieves. God’s order of the Sabbath was a specific issue to Israel for their marking without – but it was also a lesson for their heart within. They were to STOP plowing. They were to put down the harvesters. They were to wait – it was an issue of TRUST. It is worth asking ourselves: “Are we truly trusting God to provide?” Governments cannot do what God can. He is our provision, our refuge and our resource.

  1. RECOGNITION: Celebrate my provision for you. Exodus 34:22 “You shall celebrate the Feast of Weeks, that is, the first fruits of the wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year. God doesn’t want His people to be duped into believing they pulled off their own success.

Pastor Quintin Morrow wrote: I recall a cartoon in Christianity Today magazine which tellingly described our loss of a sense of the holiness of God. It depicted three scenes in three boxes. The first showed German Reformer Martin Luther, quaking with fear and sweating. He says, “In the pages of Holy Scripture I encountered an utterly holy God. And there I learned that I was completely unable, through my own good works, to acquit myself and quiet my conscience before Him.” Scene two shows John Wesley, the great revival preacher and father of Methodism, with arms outstretched to heaven, crying, “God’s holiness, revealed in His holy Word, convicted my sinful heart and there I discovered that I was undone. And after reading Luther’s commentary on the Book of Romans my heart was strangely warmed.” The final box shows a modern, 21st woman with frizzy hair, big spectacles and big earrings. Her smiling face is saying, “In Skip and Jodi’s Bible study I discovered that I needed a check-up from the neck up! I don’t need another diet. What God wants me to do is learn to love me.” We have lost our sense of the holiness of God.

Well said. I would add: Man is not starved for a greater view of himself. We have been awash in positive thinking, empowerment and ego boosting – and the result is a generation that is wholly unsatisfied with self and hungry for something more. When we exalt our Savior, we offer them a choice of One greater – One higher. He alone can fill the emptiness they have – for He was the Father’s agent of creation that formed their very being. No one knows me better than my Creator. God’s early concern was that His people would falter in their celebrations because they began to focus on their own success – and forget that without HIM they could do NOTHING.

  1. PROTECTION: Recognize that obedience brings peace. Exodus 34: 23 “Three times a year all your males are to appear before the Lord GOD, the God of Israel. 24 “For I will drive out nations before you and enlarge your borders, and no man shall covet your land when you go up three times a year to appear before the LORD your God. God doesn’t want His people to believe their might is the secret to their own protection.

When we embrace the reality that provision and success are not from our hands, we still must grasp the truth that protection comes from the Lord. The Psalmist knew the God who was his “rock” and his “fortress” and his “deliverer”. We are quick to appear before men. We are quick to ask for and receive counsel. We are slow to appear before the Lord. We are slow to trust Him to care for abuses and attacks against us. Our might will fail. Our body will give way. We must learn a new level of trust in the Lord for protection against the assault of the world’s pagan values, the enemy’s snares and the flesh’s longings. We must HIDE in Him much, much more.

  1. PRECISION: Do what I say, when I say it, the way I say it. Exodus 34:25 “You shall not offer the blood of My sacrifice with leavened bread, nor is the sacrifice of the Feast of the Passover to be left over until morning. God doesn’t want His people to get sloppy about obeying the specifics of His commands.

We must become more fussy about observing God’s Word in our lives, and less fussy about pleasing our fleshly hungers. Many of us suffer from prosperity. We choose what we want to eat every night. We can eat Mexican for lunch and Thai for dinner. We have leisure time and relaxation choices. We KNOW when we don’t get exactly what we order in the restaurant, but are pretty casual about our obedience to the Lord.

Bad word? Oops, slipped. Eyeballing that woman? Well, it’s only natural! Silent about the extra change the cashier gave you? Well, after all if they cannot add… We just aren’t prepared to take God’s Word seriously on many levels of life. God knows those who want to be careful in word and deed. The question is not just if you ARE but if you even DESIRE to be.

  1. PRIORITY: Each increase should be celebrated before Me first. Exodus 34:26 “You shall bring the very first of the first fruits of your soil into the house of the LORD your God. “You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.” God doesn’t want His people to think He is less important than what they share together.

Too many people are FAKING IT when it comes to their Christian life. Some will enter church today because they need the social experience more than the encounter with God! I am not arguing that we should be COLD one to another – that isn’t what the Word teaches. Rather, I am say that we must understand the real priority and not FAKE IT.

The Catholic priest and author Arthur Tonne told of an overnight visitor to the White House during the Coolidge administration. Calvin Coolidge was not one of the warmest people to be around – he was well known for his brevity and reserved nature. Seated at breakfast with President, the visitor determined to attempt to be as “invisible” as possible by imitating everything the President did and thus avoiding any possible digressions of etiquette. All went well, until Coolidge began to catch on. Reaching for his coffee, the President poured some of it into his saucer… the visitor followed suit. Then Coolidge reached for the cream and poured a generous amount into the saucer… the visitor did the same. Then Coolidge bent down and placed the saucer on the floor for his cat. There is a difference between those who merely get by – who copy, imitate, and fake it – AND those who are “real” or authentic about what they believe and do. (Pastor Jeff Strite, sermon central illustrations). We don’t want to be caught “faking it” like the pompous church member who visited a young Sunday School Class and at one point asked: “Why do you think people call me a Christian?” After a pause, one little boy raised his hand timidly and asked “Because they don’t know you?”

God is concerned that men know Him as He truly is. A marred view of God will lead to a life of confusion and grief.