Human Failure—Divine Faithfulness
1 Samuel 12:14–25
1st & 2nd Samuel Lesson #045
March 22, 2016
“Our Father, we are thankful that we have You to turn to, to trust at all times, that as we look at the world around us, from the chaos of terrorists attacks to the chaos of the economy and debt, to the chaos of the political sphere, the uncertainty there, the chaos around the world, simply because we live in the devil’s world and there are evil, sinful people who seek to destroy the light, to destroy that which is true, to destroy freedom that is always around, but our faith, our trust is in You. We pray that You would raise up men who would have the insight, the objectivity and the skill to be able to protect this nation and to provide for our security. But ultimately we know that You are the One who keeps us safe and secure.
Father, as we turn to Your Word this evening, we will be reminded of Your grace and Your faithfulness many times. We pray that that might help each of us realize that as many times as we fail, You are always true to Your Word, and You are always faithful. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
Let’s open our Bibles to 1 Samuel. We are in 1 Samuel 12. This is a significant chapter because it is in this chapter that Samuel gives his great address to the people at Gilgal.
The theme of this has to do with Israel’s past failures and continued failures, but, too, the ongoing faithfulness of God. That is an important principle to remember:
- No matter how bad things are.
- No matter how bad we fail.
- No matter how many times we disobey God.
- God is always faithful to His Word.
- God is always faithful to His people.
- God always loves His people.
That becomes the major theme in this last section. We only got to 1 Samuel 12:15 last time. This whole structure of Samuel’s address is from the Hebrew word riv meaning:
- to contend with someone
- to present a case against someone.
There is a format that you usually run into in these kinds of addresses where the prophet is functioning like a prosecuting attorney. He is representing God and the Mosaic Law. He is bringing charges against Israel for their failure to keep the Law and what the consequences of that will be.
We are going to look at this. The language all through here is very significant, so we are going to look at it in some detail.
Here is a map of the area of what is today called Samaria. Here we have Bethlehem. Jerusalem is outside of Bethlehem to the west of the Dead Sea. They have Jebus, which is the ancient name for Jerusalem, then Gibeah, which is Saul’s hometown. and Ramah, which is Samuel’s hometown.
Mizpah and Bethel, which is another significant sight that Abraham had visited. He had built an altar. He called on the name of the Lord. That phrase “called upon the name of the Lord” is a phrase that indicates that he made proclamation in the “name of the Lord,” that he is emphasizing the fact of what God has done for them. He is witnessing to the faithfulness and the integrity of God.
To the east just above the northern part of the Dead Sea is Gilgal, which is the place where the Israelites first gathered and reconfirmed the covenant with God when they crossed the Jordan River, when they first entered the Promised Land. This is where they meet. This is the context of the address.
We read in a statement by Samuel in 1 Samuel 12:13, “Now therefore, here is the king whom you have chosen and whom you have desired. And take note, the Lord has set a king over you.”
Twice Samuel makes this point that having a king to rule over them is their choice. Back in 1 Samuel 8, they came to Samuel and they said that they did not want Samuel to rule over them. We want a king to rule over us like all the other nations. This was their desire. They wanted to do it.
It is much like Peter in Acts 2, when Peter talks to the Jews in the audience at Pentecost and said, “this Jesus whom you have crucified” (Acts 2:36). Then he said, God foreordained this “from the foundation of the earth” (1 Peter 1:20). This is a statement that involves God’s sovereign will, His permissive will, as well as emphasizing human responsibility.
There are two statements that emphasize human responsibility:
- He says you, Israel, chose the king. This is the king whom you have chosen. You cannot blame God for this. You cannot blame Samuel.
- He says that it is a king whom they desired, whom you have desired. This is the king you have wanted.
- He states that the Lord is the One who set this king over you.
Here we see human will and its interaction with God’s will.
The best way to understand this is to put it in a chart. On the one hand we have one category of God’s will. That is what we refer to as God’s revealed will because God’s revealed will is consistent with His righteousness.
Sometimes this is called God’s moral will. But I prefer the term God’s revealed will because the only place that we find it is in the Scripture, where it is revealed to us what God wants us to do through positive commands and through prohibition.
So on the one hand we have the Revealed will of God. When somebody comes and says, “I really want to know what God wants me to do.” A good assignment is to look up the word “will” and the various places where the New Testament writer says, “this is the will of God.” Make a list and ask, are you doing those things? That is the starting point for doing the “will of God.”
The other question that comes along is in an area of will that is developed called God’s permissive will. Sometimes this is called God’s sovereign will—what God allows to take place.
This is important because sometimes God gives man the freedom to fail. You cannot be free to succeed unless you are equally free to fail. This is the solution to the ongoing problem of evil.
People ask, how you can believe in a good God when there is all this evil? The reason is because God gave man freedom. Freedom to choose wrong is just as important as freedom to choose that which is right.
God allowed Adam and Eve to disobey Him and eat the fruit of the Garden. That was not His revealed will. His revealed will was to not eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
But His permissive will was to allow them to do that, knowing full well what the result of that would be. The only other alternative would have been to create robots that had no volition.
This is what we see here in terms of God’s revealed will and God’s sovereign will. God’s revealed will is:
- what God expects of His creatures
- what He reveals to His creatures about what He desires
- what we are to do and what we are not to do
God’s revealed will is always consistent with His righteousness. It is always consistent with His perfect character so that we can prove that the will of God is perfect (Romans 12:2).
The other category—God’s sovereign will—is not revealed or known ahead of time. The only way that we can know what God’s will allows is to look backward to see what happened. We cannot know it in advance. A lot of the questions that we ask in life about who to marry, where to live, where to go to college, how many children to have, whether or not to take a promotion, whether or not to move to another city—these are not questions that are addressed in Scripture.
What Scripture addresses is the wisdom that God gives through the knowledge of the Word of God to make wise choices and to put the results in God’s hands, Proverbs 3:5–6. We trust in the Lord with our whole heart and He will make our paths straight.
If God really, really does not want you to go to Tarshish, then God is going to stop you from going to Tarshish. That is what Jonah learned. But God usually does not tell us ahead of time (unless you are in the Old Testament), what He specifically wants you to do in terms of His geographical will.
At the risk of using experiences to illustrate this, I have had many times in my life where I have had technically four or five options of things I could have done, but the reality on the ground was that when it came right down to it, there was only one option that was going to work. The others got shutdown, one way or the other. That is how God works.
He does not play a shell game with us, where He has a little pea hidden under the walnut shell and He is moving it around and saying guess where My will is: A, B, or C?
We just do what God says to do. We commit it to Him. We pray about it. We evaluate and analyze the situation and make the choice that most honors God. Sometimes God says, okay, the test here is how you would go through the procedure. That is fine. We are not going to go there. I just wanted to see if you had learned how to make decisions.
There are a lot of different things that go on in circumstances and situations. The test is how we are going to walk with the Lord and to trust Him. That is what is going on here.
Under God’s sovereign will we see that His will works in such a way that He can allow human history to function freely and either allow or prohibit what man chooses.
When you get into 2 Corinthians and Paul is praising the Corinthians for their giving, praising the Macedonians for their giving, he recognizes that people desire to give maybe more than they have. God honors the desire even though God has not chosen to give them the resources to be able to fulfill the desire.
God’s will works in such a way that He can either allow or prohibit what humans choose to do freely. That is why we call it His permissive will.
Israel could want to have a king, which is a wrong thing to desire. They were wanting it the wrong way. God would not allow it. Or, Israel could want a king, but God would allow it. Those are the two options. Israel wanted a right thing, but they wanted it a wrong way.
But God wanted to teach them a lesson. God allowed them to have a king, even though the results would be disastrous. It was through that that God was going to teach them and train them and hopefully bring them closer to Himself.
God often permits us, within certain boundaries, to do the wrong thing. We think we get away with it, but eventually there are consequences. There are consequences that even if nobody else knows about it, when we are walking according to the sin nature, there are consequences to our own soul that impact our own spiritual life.
In this situation Israel wanted a right thing, but they wanted it for all the wrong reasons. They wanted to have a king like all the other nations. God is going to give them what they need.
There is another example in the Old Testament where this happened. We are going to go through some of these examples in the Old Testament later, but I am going to deal with this one first. This is what happened when the Israelites were grumbling and complaining about the fact that they did not have any meat. They had manna every morning, but they did not have any meat.
Psalm 106:15, “And He gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul.”
Sometimes God gives us what we are asking for, because we think that is what we want, but that is not going to satisfy what we really want. God is going to show us that the details of life are emptiness. They are vanity. They do not provide what we think they are going to provide.
The word translated “leanness” here is a word that can refer to a wasting disease. It is leanness in their soul. The question in relationship to their soul is: is this talking about a physical or an emotional, psychological type of disease? It could be that He sent disease into their life, because the word for soul is often used to refer to life.
I want to look at the original context, so we are going to spend some time tonight and probably next week going through these Old Testament episodes. One of the things that has become clear to me, it may not be as true for some of you, but for many Christians, especially younger Christians, they just do not know the Old Testament stories. They do not know the Old Testament episodes. They do not know what happened.
If we are lucky they may have heard terms like Meribah or Kadesh Barnea or Mt. Sinai, but they have no idea what that means, because they really have not been taught the Scriptures, or they have not read the Scriptures. They are ignorant.
This occurs in Numbers 11. Israel has left Mt. Sinai, and they are grumbling and complaining because they are not getting the right kind of food. In Numbers 11:18–19 Moses answers them. He says that God is going to give you food. “Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow ...” That means sanctify yourself. You will eat meat tomorrow. “You have wept in the hearing of God.” You have been whining and complaining. We are going to see that word “complain” a lot tonight.
You have been whining and complaining about God. God is going to give you meat. You have been saying, “Who will give us meat to eat? For it was well with us in Egypt.”
This is where you get the phrase that is found in literature and in everyday conversation. People who hunger for the “leeks and the garlic of Egypt.” After the Israelites left Egypt, after a while they wanted to go back to those good restaurants and that fine cuisine that they had in Egypt that was highly seasoned.
The Israelites are out in the desert. God is providing all that they need, but it is not sexy. It is just manna. It has all the nourishment that they need, but it is not seasoned. It is not the comfort food that they grew up on when they were in Egypt. They want to go back to McDonald’s and Burger King and southern fried chicken and cornbread—whatever they grew up on that they really enjoyed that gave them that food comfort. That is what they want.
Moses says that they are not going to eat one day or two days or five days or ten days, but you are going to eat for 20 days. God is basically going to shove all of this meat down their throat.
Numbers 11:20 says that they ate so much that they were throwing it up. It came out of their nostrils. It became loathsome. The hated it! The hated the taste of the quail. God gave them what they wanted. He gave it to them so much that it made them miserable for a whole month.
Numbers 11:31 describes how a wind came from the Lord and brought all the quail from the sea. They crash landed all around the camp for “about two cubits above the surface of the ground.” That is about a yard, about 36 inches. A cubit is somewhere between 18–20 inches. That is around 36 inches high. That is significantly high.
It surrounded the camp about a day’s journey all the way around the camp. That would be about 10–15 miles of a yard high of dead quail. But remember, you have two and a half to three million people. Quail do not have a whole lot of meat.
I have gone bird hunting a little bit, but you have to put forth three times the effort to get half the meat. It is a little bit of a struggle there.
Numbers 11:32, the people stayed up all night and all day. They gathered the quail. They cooked it. They ate it.
Numbers 11:33–34, the wrath of God was aroused against the people and they had a very great plague. God brought death into the camp. They overate in the extreme. They began to die.
The name of the place was called Kibroth Hattaavah, which means the graves of greediness or gluttony, because that is what they did. They buried the people who had yielded to that craving.
Remember that. We are going to come back to that because that is part of what Samuel is reminding the people about in his speech.
Samuel says in 1 Samuel 12:14, “If you fear the Lord and serve Him and obey His voice.”
Notice three verbs there: “If you:”
- Fear Him
- Serve Him
- Obey Him
It is important to understand the significance of those words because they go back and are used many, many times, especially in Deuteronomy and in the Law. What Samuel is saying here is: You need to go back and do what the Law says to do. The Law again and again and again said to:
- Fear the Lord.
- Serve the Lord.
- Obey the Lord.
Negatively it said: “Do not rebel against the commandment of the Lord.”
Many, many times they rebelled against the Lord and complained against the Lord. Samuel says that if you do this (fear, serve, and obey), then both you and the king (for the king has to fear, serve, and obey also), “then both you and the king will continue following the Lord your God.”
But in the next verse we get the opposite end of the statement. The contrast is in 1 Samuel 12:15. He says, however, if you do it right, if you fear, serve and obey, God is going to take care of you, but if you do not obey, “if you rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then the hand of the Lord will be against you, as it was against your fathers.”
It is important to take the time to go through this and see the significance of this language. Samuel is not saying these things because it makes sense or because he is trying to be hard on the Israelites at this time.
Every word is picked because it is taking them back to what the requirements were for Israel under the Mosaic Law. It is going back to the stipulations of the Covenant. See, Samuel is a lawyer. He basically functions as a lawyer. He says this is what the Constitution says.
I hear a lot of people that for one reason or another do not like Ted Cruz. People do not like somebody like Ted Cruz, because he is the referee. He is the guy who has memorized the NFL rulebook. He is the guy who is always saying you have done something wrong. You cannot do that. You cannot get away with that. He is trying to hold everybody to the rulebook, which is the United States Constitution.
That is not how you make friends or get popular, but that is how you preserve the freedom and liberty in a nation.
Samuel is doing the same thing. Samuel is calling the people back to obedience, the obedience of the Law. You have these three verbs in the positive command—to fear, serve, and obey; or, negatively, not to rebel, not to disobey against the Commandment of the Lord, lest they have to watch out for the hand of the Lord. We will see this used again.
“Hand of the Lord,” a hand is what you use to build things. A hand is what you do that shows your power. “Arm of the Lord” is another metaphor for the same thing. It shows the power, the strength of God. It is with your hand that you paddle a little kid when they are disobedient. That is part of the background for this metaphor.
The Israelites are warned, “the hand of the Lord will be against you.” The power of God will be against you “as it was against your fathers.” How was God’s hand against their fathers? What were those historical situations?
Joshua uses that same term, “fear the Lord.” Joshua 24:14, “Now therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth.” This is from Joshua’s parting message to the people before he died. It starts off with “fear the Lord.” Why?
Because fearing the Lord is more, it is not just the idea of being afraid. Often we hear people say it is the idea of respect. No. It is a lot more than respect.
If you have been in the military, fear of the drill sergeant is probably the closest analogy we could come up with. When you mess up just a little bit and that drill sergeant comes down on you with every profanity that he can come up with, calls you ever name in the book, tells you what a lousy failure you are, then tells you to drop and do 50 pushups, you do not want to mess up. You have “fear” of that drill sergeant because you understand that negative consequences are going to come.
You can have the same kind of fear of your parents. When you were a little kid you realized that everything can be wonderful, but then if you mouth off, then all of a sudden your mother is going to say, “Just wait until your father gets home this afternoon.” Then you know you are really, really in trouble. At least that was the case with me.
We read, “therefore, fear the Lord.” That is that idea. It is more than respect. It is being aware that there are consequences for wrong actions and disobedience. God will bring those consequences.
“… serve Him in sincerity and truth and put away the gods, which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt.”
See, even the conquest generation had a problem with idolatry. Again and again and again we see this come up all through Israel. They are not loyal to God. The idea of cleaving to God is the idea of being loyal to the Covenant and doing what the Covenant says they are supposed to do.
We see the same phrase in Deuteronomy 6:2, “that you may fear the Lord your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments.” There is this connection—fearing the Lord means that you keep His Word, that you obey Him, that you keep His commandments.
The context is given in Deuteronomy 6:3, “O Israel, you should listen and be careful to do it …” Deuteronomy 6:2, “you fear the Lord.” What does that involve? It involves: listening to the Word of God, studying the Word of God, and learning the Word of God. In their case they would not memorize the Word of God. Everybody would memorize. They were supposed to.
In the first temple period, many times they did not. This became a major thing though in the second temple period after the Babylonian captivity because they got the stuffing kicked out of them in the Babylonian captivity. They did not want that to happen again. They went overboard through legalism to avoid idolatry and to come up with a lot of extra-biblical commands that would prevent them from being disobedient. They would memorize everything. They would memorize the whole Torah, but that still ultimately did not help.
Deuteronomy 6:13, “You shall fear the Lord your God and serve Him, and shall take oaths in His name.”
Notice how the command to “fear the Lord” is again associated with serving Him and taking oaths in His name. I am going to make a spiritual vow to obey the Word of God.
Notice that all of these are from Deuteronomy 6. This is a tremendous chapter that is reminding Israel of their Covenant responsibilities to obey Him.
Deuteronomy 6:24, “The Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the Lord.” How do you “fear the Lord?” You do what the Word of God says to do.
Deuteronomy 10 is another chapter that uses this phraseology. Deuteronomy 10:12: “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways (another way of talking about obedience) and to love Him.”
In the New Testament we have the same thing. How do we love the Lord? By obeying Him. Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love Me you will keep My commandments.”
Some people think that is legalism to keep commandments. No.
Legalism is saying that that is the cause of our salvation and that is the cause of our blessing. But it is the responsibility of being a member of the royal family of God to walk according to the standards of the royal family of God. Deuteronomy 10:20: “You shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve Him, and to Him you shall hold fast.”
Is it not interesting how we keep seeing these same words associated with each other? We do not necessarily find them all three together, but we frequently find “fear Him and serve Him” and “fear Him and obey Him.”
That is the covenantal language. That is the legal language of the Mosaic Law.
Deuteronomy 13:4: “You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear Him and keep His commandments and obey His voice; you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him.”
You have several verbs there:
- “Keep His commandments”
- “Obey His voice”
- “Serve Him.”
- “Hold fast to Him.”
That is four different verbs that reinforce the meaning of “fearing the Lord.”
In Deuteronomy 14:23, you are to pay the tithes, “… that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always.”
Deuteronomy 17:19: “And it shall be with him, and he shall read it … (This is the responsibility of the king. He is to have a copy of the Law.) “ … all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes (in context).”
Deuteronomy 31:12–13 reinforces this. I want to make the point that again and again and again the legal language of the Law reinforces this fact. It is often coupled with the negative language of not rebelling.
Deuteronomy 1:26, 43 also. Remember, Deuteronomy is Moses’ parting sermons to Israel before he goes up to Mt. Nebo and goes to be with the Lord. And before they cross over the Jordan into Israel, Moses is reminding them of their past failures. At the opening he talks about this.
Deuteronomy 1:26, “Nevertheless, you would not go up, but rebelled against the command of the Lord your God.” Deuteronomy 1:43, “So I spoke to you; yet you would not listen, but rebelled against the command of the Lord, and presumptuously went up into the mountain.”
This is a reminder of what happened at Kadesh Barnea. Here is a map. This is the traditional site of Sinai. Kadesh Barnea is probably located in the wilderness of Sinai, not this far south. There are about three or four different places that scholars think that Mt. Sinai was located. There is a lot of debate about it. Someday we will go through that.
But up here in the southern part of Israel at Kadesh Barnea is where they entered into the land. We have to understand the significance of this: that basically they sent out the spies. The spies came back. Ten spies say there are giants. There are many people. There are walled cities. We cannot do it.
Two said, sure we can—God said He was going to give it to us. The people almost stoned Caleb and Joshua. They wanted to kill them because they said we could do this. The people thought that would be like committing suicide.
Then after God lowered the boom on them at Kadesh, saying that now they would never set foot in the land, they decided to do it on their own anyway. That is what Deuteronomy is talking about.
“Nevertheless, you would not go up.” You would not go into the land. Deuteronomy 1:43 says that afterword they “rebelled against the command of the Lord, and presumptuously went up.” And many of them were killed.
This is the reminder again and again. Moses reminds them.
Deuteronomy 9:7, “Remember! Do not forget how you provoked the Lord your God to wrath in the wilderness.”
These are summary statements. I am thinking:
- Well what did they do?
- Have I ever gone through and made a list of all the ways that the Israelites rebelled against God in the wilderness?
- Have I ever walked through that because there is a lot to that?
We are going to look at that fairly briefly, but you should:
- Write down the references and go back and read these Old Testament episodes.
- Underline things in your Bible.
- Make notes and things like that.
We are going to break it down into the segments of the journey:
- They left Egypt, crossed the Red Sea, and went to Mt. Sinai.
- Then they spent a year at Mt. Sinai.
- Then they left Mt. Sinai and they made it to Kadesh Barnea.
At Kadesh Barnea, they have their major failure in the Old Testament. They refuse to trust God to enter the land. That generation has to wander in the desert for 40 years, until they all died off and were replaced by the next generation.
It is that next generation that will go into the land and conquer the land.
We have the trek from Sinai to Kadesh Barnea, then the 40 years in the wilderness leading up to the crossing into the Jordan. At the very beginning here we have a couple of different episodes that take place.
- After they had left Egypt and were on their way to Sinai, we are told that the people complained against Moses.
That is a key word that you find over and over and over and again. It is that the people are complaining against God and against Moses, who is God’s representative. They complained against Moses because they came to water. They were thirsty. They were running out of water. They came to a place that later became called Marah. Usually it is written Mara. It is from the Hebrew word that means “bitter.”
If you will remember, if you ever studied the book of Ruth, Ruth’s mother-in-law is Naomi. When Naomi’s husband dies, and when her two sons die, she says “call me Mara,” call me “bitter.” That is her response to the loss of her family.
The water here is very bitter. It is alkaline. It cannot be drunk. God instructed Moses to put a tree in the water. That is not a chemical solution to the problem of the alkaline water, but it is God’s solution because He is going to perform a miracle based upon obedience. That is told in Exodus 15:22–25.
- Then almost immediately after that they began to complain about the lack of bread and meat. The solution that God gave them was that every morning, like dew on the ground, they would find this wafer-like substance called manna, from the Hebrew ma, which means “what” and na is “what it” basically. They are saying, “what it is”. The solution is manna in the morning, and quail would fly into the camp at night, Exodus 16:2–3.
This is not the same episode that we talked about later in Numbers 11, but here God is providing for them.
- The next place they came to was at Rephidim. There was no water. You have bitter water. You have the lack of bread and meat. Then you have no water. They call this place Massah, which means tempted, and Meribah, which means contention, Exodus 16:2–3.
There are two places that are called Meribah. Meribah, the second one that we will see is the one that is usually referred back to. These are important because what happens at Massah and Meribah, and what happens at the second Meribah, what happens at all these different places are constantly referred to again, especially in the book of Hebrews.
These two places are the backdrop of what the writer of Hebrews says because he is showing how the Israelites are saved, justified. We would say that they are all pretty much destined to Heaven, but because of their disobedience, they are not even going to get their rewards on the earth, which is the Promised Land. They are going to forfeit the temporal and eternal blessings of God, not their eternal destiny, but the temporal and eternal blessings of God in this life by their disobedience.
The application from the writer of Hebrews is that we can do the same thing. You have these three incidences that are described in the last part of Exodus 15:22–25:
- The manna episode in Exodus 16:2–3.
- The complaining at Rephidim.
- God’s provision of water.
This is where Moses is told to “strike the rock.” He strikes the rock, and water gushed forth from it. This is probably a huge rock. If you have been down in the Sinai, anywhere near there, you know that there are huge rock outcroppings. Remember, you are providing water for probably two and a half million people. This is not just a good fire hose type of water. This is a major stream that is going to come pouring out of the mountain. This is how God provided that solution.
The next place we have rebelliousness is at Sinai. There are two things that happen at Sinai:
- Operation Golden Calf: As God takes Moses up in the mountain and God is going to give him the Ten Commandments and the whole of the Mosaic Law, he is gone for 40 days and 40 nights. The people got impatient. Some people say, “Why would they get so impatient?” Moses is gone for almost seven weeks. Why would they be impatient?
I know people who would not last six hours. Moses is obviously lost. He left at noon. He is not back by dark. Let’s go on. That is a lot of us. We just do not have any patience. So by the end of those 40 days, they decided that Moses was dead. He was never coming back.
The Israelites are going to convince Aaron, who is their new spiritual leader, to build a molded idol from gold. They are going to contribute all their earrings and jewelry to be melted down. Aaron is going to build an idol like they saw in Egypt. They will worship this idol. They say this idol, this golden calf, is the god who brought us out of Egypt. The Israelites are attributing the work of God to this metal object.
As a result, when Moses comes down, the people are having an orgy in their celebration. This was all a part of the sexual rituals in the fertility religions at the time. Moses gets mad and throws the Ten Commandments down. He breaks the tablet. He begins to reprimand the people.
God tells Moses to call out the Levites, the priests, whose role is to sanctify the people. In order to sanctify the people in their disobedience, the job that they are given is to execute as many as they can who are involved in this sin. We are told in Exodus 32 that there were 3,000 disobedient Israelites that were executed by the Levites.
- A second thing that occurs there and is mentioned a couple of other times, other than the passage here, is Leviticus 10:1–3—the rebellion of Nadab and Abihu.
Nadab and Abihu are two of the sons of Aaron. They are always mentioned together. Apparently they hung out together and conspired in disobedience against Moses. They decide that they were going to go into the tabernacle, into the Holy of Holies, to put incense in the altar of incense. But it is not the incense they are supposed to put in there.
It is called “strange fire.” What it means is that they made up their own brand or blend of incense. They are putting that on the incense altar. For that they are immediately executed by God.
Then what is interesting is that after God destroys them, He then gave instructions to Aaron and his two other sons that they were not to rip their garments, and they were not to visibly mourn. It is typical in those cultures that if you are going to mourn, you tear your clothes. You put on sackcloth and ashes. You do these other things.
God said, NO, you are not going to mourn them. They died because they were disobedient. God does not say that they cannot publically mourn them. He does not say you will not privately mourn because that would be impossible to do. But God said that they were not to make a show of mourning for them.
Then we get to the next stage, which is the stage from Sinai to Kadesh Barnea. All of this is because in these passages what it keeps emphasizing is the disobedience of Israel by their fathers. What we are walking through here are the many, many ways that they were disobedient to God, but God is still faithful.
- The Lord God did not violate His Covenant.
- The Lord God did not say I am done with you.
- The Lord God continued to be faithful even though time and time again the Israelites disobeyed Him and violated the Covenant.
That faithfulness of God is still true for us—no matter what we have done, no matter how many times we have done it, and no matter how many times we have failed. The grace of God is always faithful to us. God’s character is always faithful to us. It does not mean He will not discipline us, but He is always going to be true to His Word. We can always count on Him.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to study Your Word tonight, and to reflect upon Your faithfulness and Your goodness to us. Even though we often sin, and are often in rebellion Father, You always meet us with forgiveness when we confess our sins. You always meet us in blessing as we seek to recover spiritually. Father, we pray that You would help with this negative example of Israel. Help us to understand more fully Your character, Your faithfulness, and Your goodness to us. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”