by: Tim Kelley
The history of the children of Israel can be summarized as a pattern of cycles, they forget YHVH’s commandments, YHVH brings trials on them which cause them to cry out to Him, and YHVH sends a savior who returns them to YHVH. This happened over and over.
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul states that the things that happened to Israel were written down for the benefit of those living in the end times . . .
NKJ 1 Corinthians 10:11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.
The good things were written down as well as the bad so that we can see how to avoid the traps that many of them fell into. One of those traps was plain, outright, disobedience. The generation of Israelites that came out of Egypt was somewhat unique. It appears that, in spite of being corrected time after time for disobedience, they never seemed to see that they had a great flaw – they never took responsibility for their actions. They always blamed their problems on God or Moses, and seldom, if ever, repented of accusing God and disobeying His clear instructions. Thus, they never really grew in love and faith toward the One who had brought their salvation.
So in this teaching we’re going to talk about what happens to a people who fail to repent and it will focus, to a large degree, around the sin of the golden calf.
As you recall, God took them on a journey designed to prepare them for wedding. Though there were pitfalls along the way, it appears that through their trials that first 40 or so days, they did gain enough trust and faith to eventually take on the army of Amalek and defeat him. But their allegiance to God was shallow at best. Though they were quick to complain to Him about their problems, they were negligent when it comes to acknowledging Him when He delivered them and outright void of asking Him for forgiveness when they had sinned. They simply failed to repent. Thus, they never really changed.
What is repentance? For our purposes, we’ll deal with repentance as it pertains to a man and his relationship with God, and the first place we see the word “repent” in that regards is in 1 Kings 8. At the dedication of the first Temple, Solomon prophesied of the time when Israel, as a whole, would be scattered throughout the nations . . .
NKJ 1 Kings 8:47-48 "yet when they come to themselves in the land where they were carried captive, and repent, and make supplication to You in the land of those who took them captive, saying, 'We have sinned and done wrong, we have committed wickedness'; 48 "and when they return to You with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their enemies who led them away captive, and pray to You toward their land which You gave to their fathers, the city which You have chosen and the temple which I have built for Your name:
In this example, the word repent as well as the word return come from the same Hebrew word – ‘shuwb’ (שׁוּב - 7725). It simply means to turn around, return, or restore. Implied within its meaning is that you return to where you came from, not that you start off in a different direction.
In the 1 Kings passage, Israel is sent away because of lawlessness (sin is the transgression of the law), so if they are to repent that would indicate they would return to obeying the law. Pretty simple.
One of Israel’s greatest sins was the sin of the golden calf. It happened after Israel had “signed on” to the covenant, and while God was still in the cloud above them. You know the story - Israel was given the Torah, the instructions of God, at Mount Sinai. They agreed to the instructions (which served as a type of marital contract, but more importantly as stipulations of a suzerain treaty1) and a covenant was made between Israel and God. The covenant was ratified when Moses wrote the laws down and read them to the people. Moses then ascended the mountain to receive tablets of stone that were a condensed version of the covenant stipulations. This would be customary in the case of a suzerain treaty. But while Moses was on the mountain, Israel openly committed idolatry - spiritual adultery - before God’s eyes (remember, He was in the cloud above them2). This is how Moses describes it.
NKJ Exodus 32:8 They have turned aside quickly out of the way (derek) which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.
God dealt with the instigators in accordance with the covenant, but what did he do with the rest? He told Moses -
NKJ Exodus 33:3 Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people."
Even though the people had committed adultery before His eyes, God maintained his role in the covenant. He would see to it that they make it to the Promised Land, but He would not go with them. Rather, He would send a messenger that would lead them in the way. What that meant though, was that the cloud and fire would disappear. That presence of God would be gone. In other words, they would be on their own.
This was not good! They had grown accustom to God’s presence being with them in the cloud, which to them represented sustenance, shelter, and security. But look how they reacted to the loss of God’s presence. You would think they would repent, but they did not, they were just mourned their loss.
ESV Exodus 33:4 When the people heard this disastrous word, they mourned, and no one put on his ornaments.
No repentance; they just mourned. It’s like, “Oh, we got caught!” It was not - “Oh, we really blew it. We must stop what we’re doing and again honor the One who saved us from the Egyptians”.
Never-the-less, at first glance, it appears that God pardoned and forgave them, for it says -
ESV Exodus 34:9 And he said, "If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance."
‘Seems heart-felt, but that was not the people speaking – it was Moses. Moses is petitioning God on Israel’s behalf, and thus God offers to pardon them. We know that God ultimately did relent and go with them, so we naturally assume that God pardoned their sin, but is that is not really what the text says.
According to the Gesenius’ Lexicon, the Hebrew for the phrase “and pardon our iniquity and our sin”, is cast in the future tense, and thus should read “since you will pardon our sins and our iniquities”.
This is in fact, just what the LXX indicates . . .
LXE Exodus 34:9 and said, If I have found grace before thee, let my Lord go with us; for the people is stiff-necked: and thou shalt take away our sins and our iniquities, and we will be thine.
It appears that Moses, in his wisdom, pointed God’s thinking to the promises and the covenants, and the fact that it was “in the plan” to send another redeemer for the children of Israel. This is what the psalmist says . . .
ESV Psalm 106:19-23 They made a calf in Horeb, and worshipped the molten image. 20 Thus they changed their glory into the similitude of an ox that eateth grass. 21 They forgat God their saviour, which had done great things in Egypt; 22 Wondrous works in the land of Ham, and terrible things by the Red sea. 23 Therefore he said that he would destroy them, had not Moses his chosen stood before him in the breach, to turn away his wrath, lest he should destroy them.
Moses stood in the gap for them. It was not their repentance that kept them from being destroyed, it was Moses . . . and I would submit – what Moses stood for – the coming Messiah of Israel. What the psalmist says reminds me of what Paul said about Messiah Yeshua . . .
ESV Romans 8:34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died- more than that, who was raised- who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
Though it doesn’t appear that Israel ever repented3 of the Golden Calf incident, this doesn’t suggest Israel always disobeyed. They did have a little more than a year of time when they honored and obeyed God. This, of course, was during the building of the tabernacle.
After things cooled off, the people took up a collection for the building of the tabernacle – a place for God to reside within the camp of Israel. What better way to get the people’s minds focused on something other than themselves than a building project? As congregational building projects go, they sometimes unite, sometimes divide. This time it seems to have united. They worked together and were probably quite proud of the things they were able to get done by the help of the Ruach (Holy Spirit). The first anniversary of their redemption from Egyptian slavery came around and some were so concerned about offending God (by not bringing a Passover lamb to the tabernacle) that Moses entreated YHVH for a remedy for their unfortunate state of corpse uncleanliness. Their zeal for God was renewed and they were “gonna give it another try”. Unfortunately, all it was, was zeal.
On the twentieth day of the second month of the second year after they left Egypt, God was ready to move on. Moses was excited. The people were all arranged as armies around the Tabernacle, and they were ready to go. “Let’s get to the promised land” they thought. Nothing could stop them! Moses shouted . . .
". . .Rise up, O LORD! Let Your enemies be scattered, And let those who hate You flee before You." ( NKJ Numbers 10:35)
. . . and they began to march. But within days, they had begun to complain again. It even got to the point that Aaron himself began to complain. There was something about that wilderness march that didn’t set right with the Israelites. Then, of course, when they got to the land . . . we all know the story . . . they refused to go in and basically accused YHVH, the one who less than fourteen months earlier had delivered them single-handedly from Pharaoh, of bringing them out of Egypt just to kill them in the wilderness. God again stated His intent to destroy them, and again Moses interceded. And again, the people mourned4 - they didn’t repent. In fact, the closest it comes to them ever repenting was when they repented of following Moses out of Egypt in the first place! In pronouncing God’s sentence upon them, Moses says . . .
ESV Numbers 14:43 “For there the Amalekites and the Canaanites are facing you, and you shall fall by the sword. Because you have turned back from following the LORD, the LORD will not be with you."
Israel had a desire to return, it was just not to God. They always wanted to return to Egypt5. They never got it. They never stopped looking over their shoulder, and they never stopped “playing church”.
Though one might think that Israel’s problem was simply a lack of faith - and I can see that faithlessness was probably a big part of it - Steven, in his message to the Sanhedrin, indicates that their problem was simply lawlessness . . .
NKJ Acts 7:37-41 This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, 'God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.' 38 This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us. 39 Our fathers refused to obey him, but thrust him aside, and in their hearts they turned to Egypt, 40 saying to Aaron, 'Make for us gods who will go before us. As for this Moses who led us out from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.' 41 And they made a calf in those days, and offered a sacrifice to the idol and were rejoicing in the works of their hands . . .
The psalmist, in describing God’s patience with Israel in the wilderness and the times of the judges says that . . .
“They remembered that God was their rock, the Most High God their redeemer. 36 But they flattered him with their mouths; they lied to him with their tongues. 37 Their heart was not steadfast toward him; they were not faithful to his covenant.” ( NKJ Psalm 78:35-37)
The story of the generation that came out of Egypt is unique in the annuls of history, and though we have no way of knowing what the outcome would have been otherwise, would you not think that if Israel had simply confessed their sins to God, did what they could do to restore the relationship, and then rededicate themselves to walking in the way they had been shown, God would have forgiven them and that first generation would have been able to enter the land? We just don’t know.
What we do know is this - These things were written for us. A future exodus of the children of Israel is prophesied at the end time6, and human nature has changed little in 6000 years. Will we have the ability and the humility to confess our mistakes and change our walk as God leads us?
* * * * *
This ends our Salvation Cycles series. What we've seen is that the 'Exodus' story gives us a pattern by which we can make it to the promised land. It starts with realizing we are in bondage and need a redeemer. Once the redemption price has been paid, we need a savior who can destroy the enemy that enslaved us in the first place. Once we've found that savior, we are baptized to show our desire to follow that savior, which leads us to making a (marital) covenant with him. At that point, we should be willing and able to walk in his way - to follow him, but at times we will get off the path and we need to repent - return to the path.
This is the cycle God has given us to follow. If we choose to follow it, we will ultimately find ourselves in the Promised Land.
1 See preceding articles on Covenants;
2 Exodus 40:;
3 Jewish tradition holds that “the Jews” only created the golden calf as a means to make repentance accessible to them. R' Joshua ben Levi taught: "The Jews only made the Golden Calf to open the way for repentance. It is written, 'If only they would retain this feeling in their heart, to fear Me and observe all My commandments ... forever.'" (Deut. 5:26) (Talmud, Avoda Zara 4b);
4 Numbers 14:39;
5 ee Num. 11:4 - replace the word “again” (one translation of ‘shuwb’) with “to return” (the more common translation of ‘shuwb’) and you will see how deeply they wanted to go back; See also Num. 14:3-4;
6 Jeremiah 16:14-15;