God's Sovereign Plan and Moses
We are in Romans, chapter 9, looking at God's sovereign plan. Now Romans 9 is one of those gritty little passages in the New Testament that we often misunderstand. We go to passages like this often with some sort of preconceived notion because we think, and this has been true of Christians down through the ages, that everything God talks about in the Bible has to do with salvation. That's just not true. Many passages that are in the Scriptures sometimes are talking about the spiritual life. Sometimes they're talking about God's plan for Israel or God's plan for the church. They're not focused on individual salvation or justification. They're focused on maybe a corporate plan.
That's what Romans 9 is addressing, God's corporate plan for the nation Israel. Nothing in Romans, chapters 9 to 11 with the exception of a couple of things in Romans 10 talk about individual justification or personal salvation. What we see is a tremendous discourse in these three chapters related to comforting believers about God's plan for Israel. It's reassurance that God hasn't gone back on His word. God hasn't forgotten His promise. That no matter how things may look in life in regard to Israel, how chaotic things might be, God is true to His word, true to His promise. We just don't always see how that's working out at any particular moment. That's the context.
I want to review a little bit about what we're reading here. If we lose context here it's real easy to start taking things out of the context and misinterpreting some of these passages. Romans 9:6 starts talking about God's promise. That's what the word of God means here. It's not talking about the Bible but it's talking about the promise of God that He made to Abraham. "But it is not as though the word of God has failed [taken no effect]. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel nor are they all children…" That's a key word that we looked at last time. The difference between children and seed is discussed here. "Children" refers to a special subgroup referring to those who are children of the promise, the promise God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
So it's not enough to be a physical descendant of Abraham because he had descendants through Ishmael, grandsons through Esau, and six sons through Keturah. These are physical descendants, the seed of Abraham, but they're not the children of promise. So he's talking about two groups. One has to do with a spiritual distinction between ethnic Israel and those who are true Israel in that they are regenerate. They have believed in the promise of Jesus as the Messiah. That's verse 6 and 7a. Verse 7b is talking about defining who are the physical line of blessing, who does that describe?
Now let's just summarize this in eight points. First of all, he's saying that the word of God, the promise of God to Abraham, has not failed. God is true to His word. He promised unconditionally by binding only Himself to the covenant with Abraham certain blessings to Abraham. He promised that Abraham's descendants would be more numerous than the stars in the heavens and that through his descendants all the nations would be blessed. That ultimately is fulfilled in Jesus Christ with salvation to all the nations. Not just to Israel.
Second, why can he say this? The reason he can say that God hasn't broken His promise is because not all who have descended from Israel, that is from Jacob, are necessarily spiritually regenerated. Paul is working at a time when there's a massive rejection of Jesus as the Messiah by the Jews. So the question is whether God is just going to sort of throw the Jews on the rubbish pile of history because they've rejected Jesus and Paul is saying, "No!" There's going to be a shift, a change, there's going to be some divine discipline but God is not permanently setting Israel aside. He will fulfill His promises.
Third, what Paul is saying is that in addition to the fact that not all Israel is regenerate, not all Israel is spiritually saved, and also not all who are physical descendants of Abraham are Abraham's children. The word for physical descendants is the Greek word sperma and that covers all of his descendants, Ishmael, Esau, and six sons of Keturah. But there's a special term for those who are the children of the promise and that's tekna in 9:7 which reads, "Nor are they all children because they are Abraham's descendants."
Fourth, children of the flesh [i.e., Ishmael, the 6 sons of Keturah] are children of Abraham, but were not of the promised or selected line through the "seed," Isaac. Fifth, the phrase "children of God" is not the same as regenerate. "Children of God" are those born through divine intervention in that the matriarchs of Israel were barren (Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel).This is really important. We have to work our way carefully here because almost every commentator I read with a few exceptions assume this is about salvation or justification so they immediately assume that the children of God equals the regenerate but that doesn't make sense in the context. Sixth, we see that to be simply a physical descendant of Abraham doesn't qualify for the line of blessing. One had to be a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. That's the foundation.
Seventh, the second illustration is that God's sovereign plan for the covenant of Abraham is determined by God who knows best. This is not personal regeneration but that sovereign God has the right to direct history and bestow blessings on whom He will bestow blessings. Not salvation. He's not picking who's going to be saved, who's not going to be saved. That's often what people read into this. The second illustration is the selection of the line of Jacob over Esau [Genesis 25:23] which is not based on their works, or regeneration, but divine planning.
This brings in two aspects of God's character. So often when you read the Calvinists line, the Reform line, this is all about God's sovereign choice. They ignore other aspects of God's character. But what we see in the Scripture, all of God's essence is involved in His planning. He elects according to foreknowledge. His knowledge of things ahead of time according to 1 Peter 1:2 and so His omniscience comes into play. The issue here in Romans 9 is God's righteousness so God's righteousness and His justice comes into play. All of God's character comes into play in His determining the course of history.
This second illustration that Paul uses here about the selection of Jacob over Esau is based not on their works or regeneration but it's based on God's decision on some basis, and we know that must be His knowledge of how things will work out, He planned and executed a course of action. It doesn't determine who is going to be saved or who's not going to be saved. Eighth, thus God's plan for the nations is based on His grace and His decision, not on the individual or their works.
The focus here is on nations as we saw with Esau. When God spoke to Rebekah. Rebekah is pregnant with twins and they're fighting in the womb and she asks what's going on. God says there are two nations fighting within you. The perspective there is not on individuals but on their descendants. He says the older will serve the younger. Well, that didn't happen in the life of Jacob or Esau but it happened in terms of the historical development and outworking of those two nations. So one of the things we understand here as Paul introduces these illustrations is that he uses these illustrations to help us understand that God has the right to determine how and when and who He blesses, because He understands all the data. He knows everything there is to know. There's nothing that he's going to miss so he has the right and authority over whom He will choose to bless and when He will bless them and how He will bless them. This is the focus on this illustration.
It's a reminder to us of the principle stated in Isaiah 55:8-9, "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts." God's thinking, His knowledge, is based on infinite knowledge. He never learns anything. He knows everything. He never acquires knowledge. He's never surprised by anything. He's always known everything. His knowledge is immediate, intuitive, and direct. It's never added to or subtracted from. We can't comprehend any of that. Our knowledge is a finite representation of His knowledge in that we come to learn things. We don't know things comprehensively but we can know things truly, accurately. So God's thoughts are not our thoughts.
There's an analogy between our thinking and God's thinking but they're different, but not so different that we can't comprehend the idea of God's knowledge at all. There's a point of analogy. This is one of the problems in the whole Calvinist approach to election and God's sovereignty in history. They're taking our empirical understanding of causation within our experience and extrapolating that to causation in terms of God's causation in human history. The terms are analogous but not equivalent.
So the way God causes things to happen is not the way we perceive causation to work in our experience. If I wanted to cause you to do something I would have to overcome your will. I would have to somehow control your will and I would have to impose my will upon you. So we extrapolate that that's what God does in His sovereign choice. We think He imposes His will upon human beings but that runs counter to the way the Scripture continuously emphasize individual human responsibility or volition. Volition is just a larger word for will and it has a broader range of meaning. It emphasizes individual accountability and yet, when we read this passage in Isaiah 55: 8-9 and look at the context there's an emphasis on human volition.
Just go back two verses and there's a command to "Seek the Lord while He may be found." Israel's commanded even in the midst of their disobedience, even in the midst of their rebellion, even in the midst of their rejection of God and their idolatry. God comes to them and offers them a way to turn back. He tells them to seek the Lord. That's an imperative addressed to the individual volition of each person. They have the responsibility and they're responsible for responding to that command. "Seek the Lord while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near." Notice the synonymous parallelism there. Seeking and calling are comparable, synonymous terms. They are both directed at the individual will of each person so that God is not overpowering people and saying that He's selected one group for salvation and another group for condemnation. Each person has a responsibility to respond to the message and we're accountable for that.
The seventh verse says, "Let the wicked forsake his way." It's a real option that people have. They can seek God or they can reject God. They can forsake their rebelliousness and they can turn to the Lord. At the end of that verse what happens?' "And He [God] will have compassion [mercy] on him and to our God for He will abundantly pardon." So there's a real offer of grace to those who turn to God.
Keep that in mind because we're getting ready to get into one of those really difficult passages. We won't get there tonight but it's the passage dealing with God hardening Pharaoh's heart. That's one of those great passages that people distort a lot. If you read it a certain way, I understand how you can do that. It makes it sound as if God is just reaching down and tweaking Pharaoh's volition so that he's can't and won't respond to God's call for repentance. Yet nothing in the Exodus account that is dealing with the Pharaoh is related to his repentance to God for salvation. That's not what it's talking about at all. We have to work our way through this because we have to learn how to read Exodus correctly and not superimpose a theological framework on the text that isn't there. That's not the point.
So Isaiah 55: 6-7 emphasizes the reality of personal volition and personal responsibility for each individual. Now in Romans 9:14 Paul is going to shift and transition to two more illustrations related to God's sovereignty. We've already seen two, one related to the children of the promise and the children of the flesh in verses 7 and 8, and the second had to do with Esau and Jacob. The third one is going to have to do with Moses. What's interesting is that if you read through a lot of the commentaries and a lot of the discussions they kind of ignore what's going on with Moses here. But this is an important part of understanding the structure here. Moses is set over against Pharaoh as the recipient of God's blessing, God's sovereign choice to bless Moses. Not in salvation because Moses is already individually saved or justified, but in terms of how God is going to use Moses in God's plan and purposes. Then, in contrast to that we see the opposite way in which God takes someone who has already chosen to reject God and is already set in negative volition and God is just going to sort of give him the courage of his convictions not to wimp out and to hang in there. That's what the hardening of the heart refers to in a nutshell.
Now we have to understand something about God. God is not a God who rejoices in the death of the wicked or the punishment of the unbeliever. It's God's desire that all are saved. We have an Old Testament passage that talks about this and a New Testament passage that talks about this. God is not a God who says, "Eeny, meeny, minee, mo. I'm going to take this one to heaven and that one to hell," and then goes to the next group to pick who's going to be saved and who He's going to send to hell. That's not the picture in Scripture. The picture in Scripture is not just an arbitrary selection process but that God has created a plan of salvation that provides an opportunity for each person to make a choice in relationship to God. Then they're held accountable for that.
In Ezekiel 18:23 God says, "Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?" God takes no pleasure at all in the death of the wicked. God has a plan offering to the wicked, the unbeliever, a grace-based solution based on faith in God's promise of salvation. In the Old Testament it was a promise that was yet to be fulfilled so they're anticipating a future deliverer, known in the Old Testament as the Messiah, the Mashiach. Once Jesus paid the penalty for sin, that's accomplished, the promise is fulfilled so from that point on the fourteenth of Nissan on the Hebrew calendar from that point to the present we look back. The promise has specificity that only in the name of Jesus is there salvation. For there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved. That's clear now. In the New Testament the same principle is stated of God's desire to save the lost. 1Timothy 2:3 and 4, "This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." God is offering salvation to one and all. The issue is whether or not the individual will accept that and put their trust in Jesus Christ as Savior.
Now let's go back to Romans 9:14 and read, "What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!" Now the way Paul sets up that question the answer is no. In fact, he answers it. It's a rhetorical question. Is God unrighteous because He chooses one instead of another? Remember, I pointed out that when the text says, "Jacob I loved, and Esau I hated". That's not a statement to be taken at face value. It's a Hebrew idiom meaning that Jacob is the one God selected for His plan. Hating Esau just means he wasn't selected. God blessed Esau in many ways but He didn't select Esau to be the one through whom the main line of the promise to Abraham would go. It's very similar to the passage in Genesis 29 when Jacob had married Leah and then he discovers that his new father-in-law had deceived him and sent the wrong sister in. Leah was veiled so Jacob was tricked into thinking that he was getting the love of his life, Rachel, and instead he had Leah and then he has to work another seven years to get Rachel for his wife. So the text says that he loved Rachel but he hated Leah. In the English they usually translate that as Leah was unloved but the Hebrew word there means to be hated. He loved Leah but he didn't love her like he did Rachel. Rachel was the love of his life. It just means that Leah wasn't the one he wanted or desired. He wanted to marry Rachel. So this Hebrew idiom expresses acceptance of one and rejection of another or one who is loved and the other loved not quite as much.
So when Paul says, "What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God?" the answer is no. This is all according to God's righteous standard. He answers the question by saying, "Certainly not!" It's the strongest way you can say that in Greek. "No, not at all. Never. Absolutely not! God is not unrighteous." In Romans 9:15 he gives us an explanation, "For He says to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion."
This takes us back to an Old Testament passage and to understand this quote we need to understand the context. This is kind of a fun and interesting thing and it really opens up the whole thing. If you just read this quote from Exodus 33:19 at face value it sounds as if God is just arbitrarily choosing who he's going to bless and who He's not going to bless. It sounds like He's saying, "Oh, I'm going to be gracious to you, but I'm not going to be gracious to you." That's as if God is just playing some kind of game in the heavens and just arbitrarily making these decisions on no basis whatsoever. So here's the quote, "I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion." This is simply an assertion of God's right to show mercy and grace in terms of His plan the best way that it should be shown. It's saying He has the right to determine who, when, and how He is going to bestow His favors. He has the right to do that because He's God.
It's not a statement even in the context that has anything whatsoever to do with salvation or justification.
Let's go back and look at the original statement. It's part of a verse, Exodus 30:19, "And He said, 'I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you…" So He's talking to Moses. God is saying to Moses, "I'm going to pass in front of you." "And I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you…" Now here's God saying that He's going to proclaim the name of the Lord to him. What in the world does that mean? It means God is going to display His character, His essence before Moses. What a privilege Moses had. Not everybody got that. He's not talking about getting saved. He's talking about demonstrating who He is, His essence to Moses.
God continues, "And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion." In other words, God is saying that He's made a decision at this point in time to reveal Himself to Moses in this way but He doesn't have to reveal Himself in this way to everybody. And He's choosing who He will reveal himself to at this point and who He won't. He has that right. That's the context of what He means by being gracious and showing compassion.
But to truly understand this we need to go back to the beginning of Exodus 32. Let's just kind of walk our way through this whole episode. What's going on here in the book of Exodus and the story of the deliverance of Israel from Egypt is that they've come to Mount Sinai. Now Mount Sinai here probably isn't where most people think it is today at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula. It's probably located much further north. There are two or three other options for where it might be but the traditional site doesn't fit for a variety of reasons. That's a totally different issue. They're there at Mount Sinai and three and half million people are camping out there for a year. God provides for them. You can just think of all the logistical issues out there in the desert. You've got water issues, sanitation issues, food issues, all kinds of clothing issues and other things to deal with.
At the beginning God speaks to them from the mountain. The people say, "Wait a minute. We can't stand the voice of God. It's too much for us. Moses, you go up and talk to God on your own." So Moses goes up to talk to God on his own and God gives Moses the Ten Commandments. This is what the movie Ten Commandments portrays in quite a graphic, dramatic way. Moses is up there getting the Ten Commandments which is only the beginning of the Law. He's getting the whole Law and while he's up there all of a sudden he hears the noise of revelry and partying and orgies down below the mountain. This is the scene here. Moses has been up there quite a while. He's up there for forty days and the people get restless. They think, "Well, God's killed him. He's never coming back." Think about that. Today is August 29. Forty days from now would be October 8. That's a long time. They don't know he's going to come back. See, we know he came back. After a while, they're thinking, "He's gone. He got lost, fell down a hole. God consumed him. How do we know he's ever coming back?" So they get restless.
We read in 32:1, "Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron and said to him, 'Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him." They think he's gone so they say, "He's gone. Make us a new god. We followed His god for a while and he did some great things. He got us out of Egypt but now we need a new god. His god destroyed him so now we need a new god. So make us an idol."
Aaron just succumbs to the pressure and in verses 2 through 5 we get the description where he tells people to bring all their gold jewelry to him and he fashions a golden calf. Then we get one of the historic revisionism in verse 4. Politicians are always good at historical revisionism. Were you watching the events yesterday in Washington, D.C. or even here in Houston, over the 50th anniversary of the speech of Martin Luther King, Jr.? It was a great speech. Martin Luther King, Jr. had some fabulous establishment principles and a lot of support from Republicans in the Civil Rights Movement in the early 60s. But to hear the revisionism today you would think that Republicans are racists, all are a bunch of Ku Klux Klansmen and guess what? It was the Democrats who were the author of Jim Crow Laws. It was the Democrats who were in the KKK. It was the Democrats who were for slavery. Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves and he was a Republican. But you listen to the talk today you'd never know it. Evidently at the last minute yesterday someone invited some Republicans but it was pretty obvious. No Republican president spoke yesterday. It was just three Democrats. The one senator who's black, Tim Scott from South Carolina, is a Republican so he obviously wasn't allowed to speak. You see their historical revisionism.
This is so typical of people in power and Aaron does the same thing. He points to this golden calf and he says, "This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt." So he's rewriting history. It's always important to understand the truth of history so you're not duped by the media, duped by politicians, duped by anyone in power who tries to give you a redefined narrative so that you can follow their agenda instead of the truth. So Aaron changes the narrative and in verse 6 they make a proclamation that they're going to have a feast. They have burnt offerings and peace offerings to the golden calf and they have a party. They have an orgy.
God says to Moses while they're up on the mountain, "Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves." They had just rejected the truth, rejected God, and just giving themselves over to every lust pattern of their sin nature. Verse 8 continues, "They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. They have made a molten calf, and have worshiped it and have sacrificed to it and said, 'This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.'
And the Lord told Moses, "I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate [stiff-necked] people." This word for stiff-necked or stubborn people is one of the words we'll see next time. It is translated in a couple of places as heart. In English you keep running into the phrases, 'God hardened Pharaoh's heart.' They hardened their hearts." Actually there are three different words used in Hebrew. One of them is the word used here. In Exodus 7:3 it says God hardened Pharaoh's heart. Exodus 13:15 says, "It came to pass when Pharaoh was stubborn [hardened his heart] about letting the Israelites go. The word here is qasheh which means to be hard, stubborn, or obstinate. It's not the idea that God is freezing his will in place so he won't do anything other than what God is making him do.
So in Exodus 32 here we read that God is now going to bring judgment against Israel. Verse 9, "The Lord said to Moses, 'I have seen this people and behold they are an obstinate people.'" The people had hardened their hearts. They're resisting God. They're resisting truth. Verse 10 continues, "Now then let Me alone, that My anger may turn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation."
What do you think about the statement that God told Moses just to get out of the way to let him destroy all of them and then make a great nation out of Moses? We have two options. Option one is that God is serious about this and He wants to destroy every single Israelite except for Moses and from Moses He's going to raise up a new people. Is God serious about that or is it a test? It's a test because if God did that He would be breaking all of His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophecies that He gave to Jacob about the twelve sons of Jacob in Genesis, chapter 49 and everything that would come to pass. So it's option two, He's testing Moses just like he tested Abraham.
In Genesis, chapter 22, remember, God told Abraham to take his son, the promised seed, and to go sacrifice him. It was a test to see if Abraham really trusted God. Now we know from Hebrews that Abraham finally understood that God was truly going to give him a line of descendants through Isaac. Abraham knew that even if God killed Isaac, God would just raise him up from the dead. So it was a test to see if Abraham really trusted God. God was not going to change His plan. It was a test for Abraham to see if he really trusted God and finally come to trust God to fulfill His promises as He had planned.
All of this in Romans 9 is about God fulfilling His plan and promise to Abraham. It's not about individual salvation or individual justification.
There's another episode in Genesis, chapter 18, verses 20 and 21 when God comes with two angels to visit Abraham. He tells Abraham he's going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. In verse 20, "And the Lord said, "The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great and their sin is exceedingly grave. I will go down now and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me; and if not, I will know." Like God in His Omniscience needs to go see if this really happened? God already knows what's going on. That's another test for Abraham. God knows there's only one righteous man in Sodom and that's Lot. But the test is whether Abraham is going to be a blessing and intercede on behalf of Lot. So Abraham passes both of these episodes, the one with Sodom and Gomorrah, and the one with Isaac. Abraham shows that he understands God's grace. He understands God's righteousness and He knows God is not going to take pleasure in the death of the wicked but in the turning back of the wicked. He understands God's grace.
This is the same kind of going on in Exodus 32. God is testing Moses to see if Moses has understood the righteousness of God and His grace. Is Moses going to say, "Oh yeah. Great. I'll just be the leader and take that on"? Moses responds in true humility and he stands as an intercessor for the people. So Moses in verse 11 begins to plead with God. Notice how he does this. He first of all appeals to God's reputation in verse 11. "Then Moses entreated the Lord his God, and said, "O Lord, why does Your anger burn against your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians speak and say, 'With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth.?'" So the first thing Moses says to God that if He does this it'll be a bad testimony. Everybody's going to think God is just a willful arbitrary God and no one will trust God.
Secondly, he goes to the Abrahamic covenant and he says in verse 13, "Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself and said to them 'I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever." Israel is the other name for Jacob. Moses reminds God that if he does this He'll violate His covenant. So the Lord relented. He's testing Moses to see if Moses is grace-oriented and has the humility and integrity to handle the leadership.
Verse 14, "So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people." But there's still an issue because they have violated God's command so there has to be divine discipline. Verse 12, "Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets which were written on both sides; they were written on one side and the other." These were probably two copies. That was standard in the ancient world. When a covenant was cut, you made two copies. One for the person and the other gets deposited in the Temple. In this case both would be deposited in the Tabernacle, in the Ark of the Covenant.
So he goes down with Joshua and they think they hear the sound of war but it's the sound of partying. As they came near the camp, Moses' anger became hot and he throws down the tablets and they break. He takes the calf and he melts it in the fire, grinds it into powder, scatters it in the water and makes the children of Israel drink it. Moses is executing divine judgment here. He's angry but he's not rebuked for this. He is executing as a leader of the people judgment for their disobedience. Moses then accuses Aaron in verse 21, "Then Moses said to Aaron, What did this people do to you, that you have brought such great sin upon them?" Verse 22, "Aaron said, Do not let the anger of my lord burn; you know the people yourself, that they are prone to evil." Aaron is reminding Moses that these people are bad to the bone and you know you can't trust them. Moses was gone for 40 days. The subtext here is that Aaron is telling Moses it's really his fault for being gone so long. He tells Moses that the people came along and pressured him into making the calf.
Verse 25. "Now when Moses saw that the people were out of control…" Then in verse 26, "Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said, "Whoever is for the Lord, come to me! And all the sons of Levi gathered together to him." Then Moses gives them orders. This is divine judgment for the people. Moses tells the Levites, "Every man of you put his sword upon his thigh, and go back and forth from gate to gate in the camp, and kill every man his brother, and every man his friend, and every man his neighbor." The Levis obeyed and killed about three thousand men. They were executed because of their sinful rebellion against God.
Verse 29, "Then Moses said, "Dedicate yourselves today to the Lord—for every man has been against his son and against his brother—in order that He may bestow a blessing upon you today." He's saying that "you guys stood up for the truth and God is going to bless you. But first you have to sanctify yourself." In verse 30, "On the next day Moses said to the people, You yourselves have committed a great sin, so now I will go up to the Lord, perhaps I can make atonement for your sin." Okay, so there's been this great sin and then there's been this execution of Divine judgment which led to the execution of three thousand people.
Then Moses has the nation, all the people, sanctify themselves, and he's going to go intercede for them before God. Verse 32, "But now, if You will forgive their sin—and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written." He's saying don't destroy them as a nation but take me in their place. That's Moses' humility. In verse 33, "The Lord said to Moses, Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book. Now therefore go lead the people to the place which I have told you. Behold, My angel shall go before you; nevertheless in the day when I punish, I will punish them for their sin. So the Lord smote the people, because of what they did with the calf which Aaron had made."
Okay, what's the point of all this? God is saying that part of the punishment is that He is not going to personally go with Israel when they go to the land. He's going to instead send His angel to lead them but God's not going. They're going to miss out on part of the blessing they could have had in terms of this personal fellowship with God. Because of their sin, sin has damaged their relationship with God.
Now it's important to understand that God has really brought down the judgment upon Israel and is removing Himself from fellowship with Israel because of their sin. They're going to go to Plan B where His angel is going to lead them. Then the Lord says to Moses in 33:1, "Depart, go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up from the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." So that's still there no matter what they did. They still get the promise. The promise of the land isn't conditioned upon their obedience or disobedience. "I'll send an angel before you and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite. Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey for I will not go up in your midst, because you are an obstinate people, for I might destroy you on the way."
This is the key thought. God's point is that because you sinned this sin you're going to get less blessing, less fellowship with me. I'm not going to travel with you because if I do I'm going to have to consume all of you because you violated my righteousness so badly. When the people heard that bad news they mourned and no one put on his ornaments. They're sad. They're not going to dress up. They're just wearing their mourning clothes. Verse 5, "For the Lord had said to Moses, Say to the sons of Israel, You are an obstinate [stiff-necked] people, should I go up in your midst for one moment, I would destroy you."
We're repeating this main idea. They had violated God's standards so much that if God came as He had intended, now because of their sin, He would just consume all of them. "Now therefore, put off your ornaments from you, that I may know what I shall do with you. So the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments, from Mount Horeb onward." In verse 7, Moses meets with the Lord. All of this is just to get us to verse 13. You can't understand the statement God says about having mercy on whom He will have mercy unless you understand the context in which He's saying it. He's not talking about getting them justified or saved. They're already justified and saved. That's already through. Moses is already justified. Aaron is already justified. The issue isn't getting into heaven as their eternal destiny.
The issue is their personal walk with God. Verse 7, "Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, a good distance from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting. [Tabernacle of meeting] And it came to pass that everyone who sought the Lord came out to the tabernacle of meeting so it was whenever Moses went out to the Tabernacle that all the people rose and each man stood at his tent door and watched Moses until he had gone into this tabernacle." This is where he's going to meet with God. "Whenever Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses." Everybody is watching Moses go out five, six, seven hundred yards away from the camp and they see the pillar of fire and the cloud. Everybody stands there solemnly and respectfully and prayerfully while Moses is in there talking with God.
Verse 11, "Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend." This phrase, "face to face" is important because it indicates an intimacy, a friendship, a fellowship level that God had with Moses and Moses had with God that is beyond anything we've seen in Scripture outside of maybe Enoch in Genesis. "When Moses returned to the camp, his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart form the tent." So this shows the devotion of Joshua. Joshua would stay out there by the tabernacle.
Then in verse 12, "Then Moses said to the Lord, "See, You say to me, Bring up this people" but You Yourself have not let me know whom you will send with me. Moreover You have said, "I have known you by name and you have also found favor in My sight." So what's going on here is that Moses is reminding God of His past promise to guide and direct Israel and His love and grace to the people. Moses is arguing that the Lord will reveal Himself to all the people. What's interesting when you go through this section Moses seems to be saying that God needs to come into the presence of the people. Moses is talking about God's presence with all the people. But God keeps talking about just His appearance to Moses individually.
Verse 13 continues, "Now therefore, I pray you, if I have found favor in Your sight consider too that this nation is Your people." Demonstrate your love to this people that You're going to be faithful to Your word. What chutzpah. Moses is arguing that God will give evidence that He is going to bless the nation and fulfill His promise. God says in verse 14, "My presence shall go with you [the people], and I will give you [Moses] rest." Then verse 15, "Then he [Moses] said to Him, If your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here. For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?" Moses is trying to argue God into going with all of the people. In verse 18 Moses asks God to show Him His glory. God's response in verse 19 is "I will make all My goodness pass before You [singular, not before the whole nation, but just Moses] and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you [I will demonstrate my character before You].
He's saying, "You may think the way to blessing for this nation is for me to go back to Plan A and travel with the people but if I do that, I'm going to consume them. I'm the sovereign God who understands all the facts. I know all the details. You can trust me to make the right decision and I'm not going to go with them because I reserve the right to bless whom I will bless. I'm going to choose to bless you by revealing this much of Myself to you. I have the right to have compassion on whom I will have compassion. You can't dictate to me what the best way for My plan to work itself out is. I have the right to do that because I'm the sovereign God who knows all the facts. So God is going to restrict how He comes into the presence of His people. There's going to be a compromise here because in a sense He's going with the people but He's going to remain in the confines of the tabernacle and the Holy of Holies and He's not going to be present with the people as a whole.
What God means by all of this is that because of His righteousness and justice, because He's a holy God, He can't do what He initially intended to do which was to have a greater presence within all the people but He's going to restrict it. He has the right to do this because He knows all the facts. He's the one who determines the best way to fulfill His plan and to answer Moses' prayer. So what we see here is that because only God knows the overall strategy and the overall goal, He has the right to determine how He's going to work out His plan and His purpose.
Though individuals are involved in this episode, the issue is not their eternal salvation or justification but how and when and under what circumstances God is going to bless people in time. Nothing in the passage, either here or with Pharaoh, relates to the eternal destiny of Moses or the eternal destiny of Pharaoh. The issue in both of these illustrations is God has a plan for Israel and they are God's chosen nation and He's the one who has the right to determine how He's going to bless them and under what circumstances.
So the conclusion from all of this is in Romans 9:16, "So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy." It's not dependent on Israel or Moses or Pharaoh but it's dependent on God who oversees history and will bring about the conclusion that He has intended. So that helps us work our way through this first part of Romans 9 up through verse 16.
Then we're going to see the next explanation in verse 17 which is the second illustration. This idea that when God says," I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion," don't rip this out of context and say that God is going to arbitrarily choose who's going to get saved and who's not. He's not even talking about that. He's talking about the fact that He's the one who chooses the outworking of blessing in history and He reserves the right to be able to choose how and when and under what circumstances He's going to work out His plan.
For application for us, it means that when we come to the Lord in prayer God is the one who determines how he's going to answer it, when He's going to answer it, and in what circumstances He's going to answer it, and He knows all the facts, all the details. He has all the data under control and He's going to work out the plan and bless us at the right time in the right way because He's trustworthy. So we can trust Him to work out things the right way because of His character.