Has it ever hit you? You deserve death! Okay, most of us walk around believing that we are descent people; somehow deserving life. O sure, we’ll give lip service to grace. We know – because it is found throughout the Bible – that we are saved because God is gracious. But deserving of death? We say it, but I’m not sure we feel it. I may lie on occasion, but I haven’t killed anyone. I might rationalize away the whole obeying the laws of the land or giving to Caesar what belongs to Caesar thing, but I haven’t tortured anyone. I’m a pretty descent fellow. Deserve to die? Surely not. I deserve to be born among the wealthy spewing a gospel of money and privilege while my brothers and sisters die of starvation in those poor third world countries. Well? Maybe we need to rediscover the truth of being poor in spirit; mourning; rejoicing when others persecute us. I am favored by God not because I am, after all, much more of a descent fellow than, well practically anyone else. Nah, I am favored by God because I believe. Pure and simple. I deserve death and yet God has given me life. He offers the same thing to everyone. That’s fair.
Exodus 34:1-9 is the beginning of covenant renewal. Moses is told to cut out two stone tablets so that God can write the Ten Words on them all over again. Covenant has been broken. And now Yahweh must renew. Because of their rebelliousness, Yahweh is forced to do the whole thing over again. And this is not a re-write. The message is to be the same. And just like last time they are reminded to respect God’s holiness. Moses is to come up alone. There may be an intensification here. Last time there was this sit down meet and greet luncheon with seventy of the elders and Joshua was allowed to go up part way (24:1-13). This time it appears that only Moses is allowed on the mountain. I’m thinking that if Yahweh tells you that you have until morning to get prepared, you will want to get busy. And Moses does. He traipses up the mountain at rising sun with newly hewn stone tablets in hand.
Yahweh then descends and stood there with Moses. There is an eternal message here. Approaching God is always about us ascending, climbing up. But we are not able to climb up to the Presence of Yahweh. So, he descends. When we draw near to him, he draws near to us. I heard that somewhere. You can climb, but without God coming down, there would be no experiencing the presence of God. Having descended, Yahweh passes by Moses’ face. So, Yahweh keeps his promise to Moses and as promised as he passed by, he declares, “Yahweh! Yahweh El (God)!” Moses wanted to see God. You cannot truly see God without hearing his name – The I Am. And what does it mean to be I Am? God is compassionate and gracious, which is being demonstrated through covenant renewal. He is slow to anger, abounding in covenant love and truth. The word “lovingkindness” used by God twice here, is an important word to the Israelites. It can mean loyalty love, mercy, kindness. It refers to covenant love. Yahweh keeps covenant love for thousands, forgiving iniquity, rebellious transgressions, and sin. They broke covenant. Yahweh keeps it and the only way it can be kept with us stiff necked ruffians is to have a boat load of forgiveness.
Yet, God is all about justice as well. Forgiveness and punishment can dance my friends; and often should. Covenant can be renewed, but on God’s terms. Sin is still something that must be dealt with. It travels down generations, disrupting families. The word “visiting” can also mean “appoint” and maybe God appointed sin to be something that is never about one person. Sin is a cancer that is never content to stay in the pancreas. It travels and causes havoc as it goes. Again, renewal must be according to the nature of Yahweh and the nature of sin. Both must be respected. Moses quickly bows down and worships God, pleading once again for his presence to travel with them and seeking forgiveness. Maybe it hit Moses. They were deserving of death. And not just those crazy calf worshipers. Moses was deserving of death as well.
People spend a lot of time complaining of God’s judgment. We need to wrestle with this. But maybe if we saw Yahweh; if we heard his name; if we grasped that he is truly slow to anger and full of compassion; if we understood that we are a stiff-necked rebellious people deserving of death, maybe then we could rejoice in his grace. Even after all that we have done in defiance of his holiness, he is still willing to renew the covenant. Jesus died on the cross as the ultimate covenant renewal program. And Yahweh merely asks that you believe; that you trust in him and his covenant love. That is much more than fair. Peace, Walter