Tested by God

Exodus is such a pivotal book in the development of the relationship of God with his creation – especially with the nation of Israel.

Last week we left off on a very high note with the nation of Israel. They heard the word of God and they responded. They made a covenant with God and confirmed it with sacrifices for all 12 tribes, the sprinkling of blood and even a covenant meal with God himself on the mountain!

And the all obeyed God 100%, and God blessed them, and the whole world was good. The End. (close bible).

NOT!

ASK: How many of you LOVE taking tests? Most of us do not. Most of us prefer to avoid testing at all possible costs. But we all know that testing is important. It can help show us where we are competent and where we might need … a little bit of work 😉

The people just had a big ceremony. God appeared as a pillar of smoke and fire on the mountain in their very sight! And then, the story continues, in the form of a test.

The testing grounds

Last week we began with verse one of Exodus 24:

1 And to Moses he said, “Go up to Yahweh—you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy from the elders of Israel—and you will worship at a distance. // Exodus 24:1 LEB

They go up the mountain, they worship, they eat a covenant meal in the very presence of God! And THEN the test begins.

It is often after we enter a new phase in our relationship with God that we are tested, isn’t it?

  • When we finally decide to tithe and then the car breaks
  • When we make a commitment to read the Bible every morning and then get sick, or one of the kids is sick, and we are up all night without sleep
  • When we commit to a weekly small group and then get all sorts of great invites to go do things… all at the same time of the small group

I am not sure what your experience has been, but I have often found that when I make a commitment to God I often get tested to see if I really mean it.

God starts his test in verse 12:

12 And Yahweh said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and be there, and I will give you the tablets of stone and the law and the commandments that I have written to instruct them.” // Exodus 24:12 LEB

POP QUIZ: I am curious if you can tell me what the big difference is between verse 1 and 12?

In verse 1, God refers to himself in the 3rd person (is that a Trinity pun?). In verse 12 it is much more personal. Come to “me”. This shows how God desires intimacy and how He wants us to spend time in his presence.

God beckons Moses to meet Him on the top of the mountain, so:

13 So Moses arose with his assistant Joshua and went up the mountain of God. 14 He told the elders, “Wait here for us until we return to you. Aaron and Hur are here with you. Whoever has a dispute should go to them.” 15 When Moses went up the mountain, the cloud covered it. 16 The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days. On the seventh day he called to Moses from the cloud. 17 The appearance of the Lord’s glory to the Israelites was like a consuming fire on the mountaintop. 18 Moses entered the cloud as he went up the mountain, and he remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights. // Exodus 24:13–18 CSB

Test Parameters:

  1. Each person had a command:
    1. Moses: go up the mountain
    2. Elders & Aaron/Hur: stay and wait
  2. There was a vague period of time
    1. “wait until we return” – no idea how long it would be
    2. It was 40 days and nights

SIDEBAR: 40 Days is a period of testing. There are some other famous 40’s:

  • When God flooded the earth, it rained for 40 days & nights (Gen 7)
  • Later, when the 12 spies go out to scout the Promised Land, they will be gone 40 days & nights (Num 13&14)
  • After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to the Apostles for a period of 40 days (Acts 1:1-3)
  • But the one MOST people hear about is the 40 days right after Jesus was baptized. He went into the wilderness and did not eat or drink for 40 days, and then he was tempted/tested by Satan. (Luke 4:1-2)

40 Days…

During these 40 days, the commitment and beliefs of the people, as well as their heart and devotion to God was tested. We can make many promises, but true conviction, true commitment is only bore out in time and through trials. This is true for relationships with each other as well as with God.

Moses – On the mountain – 40 days

Moses spends 40 days in the presence of God being instructed on how to lead the people.

  • Chapters 25-27 Are God’s instructions for the building of a tabernacle – a dwelling place for God. What? His desire has been, and continues to be, to dwell among his people:

8 “They are to make a sanctuary for me so that I may dwell among them. // Exodus 25:8 CSB

  • Chapters 28-29 are about the priestly garments and the consecration of the priests – Aaron and his sons.
  • Chapter 30 is about the special rituals: cleaning, incense, lamps, etc.
  • Chapter 31, God calls out some people that he specifically gifted to be able to do the work.

The Israelites – at the base of the mountain

Chapter 32 is a flashback to the base of the mountain, while Moses is spending 40+ days on top.

1 When the people saw that Moses delayed in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said to him, “Come, make gods for us who will go before us because this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt—we don’t know what has happened to him!” // Exodus 32:1 CSB

  • The people looked to Moses and Arron to lead them to God.
  • The people gave Moses credit for what God had done.
  • The people wanted a God they could see and control.

Though they could see God’s fire and smoke on top of the mountain, and though the mountain trembled with the presence of God to the point where they were afraid, they still only knew to fear God or trust what they could see.

There was a Lack of Relationship

They knew about God but did not KNOW God. They went up the mountain to meet with Yahweh and worship at a distance, but Moses went up to be with, to spend time with Yahweh, in his very presence.

I have often heard people refer to this as the difference between religion and relationship.

  • Religion sees God as a distant being who is all powerful, and his Word as a set of rules and laws to be obeyed. Its value comes in doing, giving and in honoring rituals in order to know God.
  • Relationship is about a God who wants to be near, whose Word reveals his love for us. Its value comes from being with and knowing, and the doing comes out of those.

It is obvious that the Israelites did not have a relationship with God nor with Moses.

Grading the Test

I can honestly say that I never really understood the concept of grading on a curve, but I know I was often thankful for the practice! 😊

At the end of the 40 days, God gives us a bit of a report card on the people we have seen participate in this school of faith:

The Israelites

7 The Lord spoke to Moses: “Go down at once! For your people you brought up from the land of Egypt have acted corruptly. 8 They have quickly turned from the way I commanded them; they have made for themselves an image of a calf. They have bowed down to it, sacrificed to it, and said, ‘Israel, these are your gods, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.’ ” 9 The Lord also said to Moses: “I have seen this people, and they are indeed a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone, so that my anger can burn against them and I can destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.” // Exodus 32:7–10 CSB

God called out the Israelites. God gave the people the Ten Words, and then they promised to keep them. When they failed, God had to punish them, as any good Father would. The FIRST command was:

2 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery. 3 Do not have other gods besides me. 4 Do not make an idol for yourself, whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. 5 Do not bow in worship to them, and do not serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the fathers’ iniquity, to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me, 6 but showing faithful love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commands. // Exodus 20:2–6 CSB

Do you see the wording? Why did God have to remind them that he brought them out of Egypt? Because he knew they would soon give the credit to someone or something else – like a calf!

Do not make an idol, do not bow before them. Almost like God KNEW what they would do, eh?

This is the same God who warned Cain before Cain killed his brother, giving him a way to avoid it.

7 If you do what is right, won’t you be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” // Genesis 4:7 CSB

God is not a God that forces us into obedience, He gives us free will, and with that the ability to choose blessings or punishment.

God was clear as to what would He expected and what He would do to those that break rule number one. The people broke it completely, and God has no choice but to punish them, or God is not true and righteous. THEY FAILED.

The Elders, Aaron & Hur

The last command they had was to wait. The expectation is that they would lead the people and share with them the experience they had on the mountain. The certain expectation is that they would help the people honor God, instead they are the ring leaders in this rebellion against God. THEY FAILED.

Moses

Moses spends 40 days on the mountaintop and does not eat nor drink. 40 days!

At the end of 40 days, God tells Moses that the people have acted wickedly, and God wants to destroy them. Moses intercedes. Not just for the people, but for God’s reputation.

God is testing Moses’ heart.

TEST 1 – Taking Credit

Look at the wording God uses:

7 The Lord spoke to Moses: “Go down at once! For your people you brought up from the land of Egypt have acted corruptly. 8 They have quickly turned from the way I commanded them; they have made for themselves an image of a calf. They have bowed down to it, sacrificed to it, and said, ‘Israel, these are your gods, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.’ ” 9 The Lord also said to Moses: “I have seen this people, and they are indeed a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone, so that my anger can burn against them and I can destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.” // Exodus 32:7–10 CSB

“Your people whom you led out of Egypt” – Will Moses take credit for leading the people out of Egypt? Are they really HIS people or God’s?

There is a pride that can fall on leadership where we take the things God has blessed us with and give the credit, glory and possession to ourselves. This is my church, you are my people.

NO! This is God’s church, you are God’s people. I am just a bumbling mouthpiece.

But we can become proud and do this with all sorts of stuff: my house, my job, my money, my family…

TEST 2 – Becoming Great

Basically, what God was offering to Moses in verse 10 was to re-write he Abrahamic covenant, to make Moses into a great nation. A second reboot!

That seems like a very tempting offer.

Moses has been up on the mountain for a long time without food and water, and now he is being tested to see if he can be persuaded into taking credit from God or male a name for himself. After all, he is the only one who has a been this close to God since the garden. He did just survive 40 days with no food or water in the presence of God.

NOTE: if you study Luke 4 where Jesus is tested, you will find some of the same tests.

In the end, Moses puts it all back into God’s hands.

11 But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God: “Lord, why does your anger burn against your people you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and a strong hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘He brought them out with an evil intent to kill them in the mountains and eliminate them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger and relent concerning this disaster planned for your people. 13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel—you swore to them by yourself and declared, ‘I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of the sky and will give your offspring all this land that I have promised, and they will inherit it forever.’ ” 14 So the Lord relented concerning the disaster he had said he would bring on his people. // Exodus 32:11–14 CSB

This story is NOT about God’s relenting. It is not about God’s anger. This is a test for Moses to see if he could lead the people and stay true to the heart of God. Moses reminds God of what he already knows.

  • These are YOUR people
  • YOU brought them out of Egypt
  • YOU made a PORMISE by YOUR NAME to Abraham

Basically, Moses says, “it is not MY story, God. It always has been and always will be YOUR story.” Moses proved that he was more interested in God’s fame and reputation than in his own. HE PASSED.

NOTE: not only does Moses have a heart for God, be he has a heart for the people – AFTER their sin and confrontation, Moses goes back to the top of the mountain and spends another 40 days without food or water praying on behalf of the people.

Joshua

The last character I want to point out is the Bible character that we hear bit and pieces about but is not in the limelight. He is in “the best supporting” character role. Like Morgan Freeman 😉

Joshua is mentioned, but mostly just by name. When Moses left the people and the 70 elders, only Joshua (his Assistant) went with him

13 So Moses arose with his assistant Joshua and went up the mountain of God. // Exodus 24:13 CSB

For six days the two of them waited together. On the seventh, Moses left Joshua to go be with God. He was there for 40 days and nights.

What did Joshua do? He stayed on the mountain and waited! We know this because when Moses comes back down the mountain, Joshua is with him.

15 Then Moses turned and went down the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides—inscribed front and back. 16 The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was God’s writing, engraved on the tablets. 17 When Joshua heard the sound of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a sound of war in the camp.” 18 But Moses replied: It’s not the sound of a victory cry and not the sound of a cry of defeat; I hear the sound of singing! // Exodus 32:15–18 CSB

Some of you are a lot like Joshua. You are not the Moses leader type. You prefer to be the helper in the background that is faithful to God and others. You care for both and rarely consider it a sacrifice to be able to help someone else or do something for God.

As we continue to see the life of this Joshua, we will continue to see his faith grow, as he quietly serves.

Joshua’s test was the be faithful to Moses, trust God and to obey. HE PASSED.

So in this passage we have 4 people groups:

  1. The humble leader who is concerned with the reputation of God
  2. The quiet servant who is faithful to others and to God
  3. The stiff-necked people that want to make themselves gods and want a god that will do their bidding
  4. The arrogant leaders who make their own orders and lead people astray

That is how we see them. And how does God treat them?

  • Joshua – he mentions him, but is preparing him for something yet to come
  • The people – he decides not to destroy them, but he does punish them
  • Moses – he spends time with him, talks with him and teaches him.
  • AARON -> Lord willing, next week we are going to look specifically at him.

CONCLUSION QUESTIONS.

God recorded these people in His Word on purpose.

You and I will face testing of our faith. It is a promise, and it is designed to help us learn to trust God more and become even stronger in our faith:

2 Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing. // James 1:2–4 CSB

But if we do not persevere in our faith, if we do not keep looking at God in awe and recognizing his presence and his power, we run the risk of becoming or making our own gods and walking away from THE God who wants to be near us.

The entire time the Israelites were worshipping their idols, they were doing so in the very shadow of the presence of God, and they could see Him.

BUT – if we continue to trust, we receive blessing and the greatest blessing of all is that we grow closer to our Father.

GRADING TIME:

If God were to take a grade right now, in your current situation with your job, relationships, faith -> would you be found trusting Him and moving closer to Him (PASSING) or would you be blaming Him and looking to run your life on your own (FAILING).

Most likely, a little of both, right? Let’s thank God for the growth He has given us and seek him to grow us and test us more in the areas we need it.

Talk to God about it today. And next week we will see just what God can do with us when we fail 😊

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NCF was started in 1987 to minister to the growing population of Fort Drum and Jefferson County. Located in Carthage, just minutes away from Ft Drum, Lowville and Watertown, it is a blended congregation of local and military folks, single soldiers, young families and grandparents.

35206 Sayre Road
Carthage NY 13619
PO Box 823
Carthage, NY 13619
315-493-3958
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