Aaron suffered the consequences of his sin, God preserved him and then vindicated him but he was not the only one who sinned. Therefore, he was not the only one who suffered consequences. For following their leaders into worship that is a mockery of God, the church was stripped of their prosperity, God’s presence moved outside the camp, and sent a plague. All of these things happened after the 3,000 who refused to repent were killed. The people who remained either refused to worship the cow or had repented. If you sinned because you have been mislead why should you suffer any consequences at all especially after you repent? Why did God treat them severely?

If you listen carefully, God had good reasons to be severe.

Exodus 32:7

7          Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt.[1]

 The Lord God did not call these people “his people.” Yet these people are the flesh descendants of Abraham who God delivered from Egypt with amazing miracles and they were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink.[2] Regarding the nation Abraham’s flesh descendants became Paul wrote, “Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs…”[3] Yet God did not claim them as his people because they are not his people. They were in the wilderness going through the motions but their hearts were still in Egypt. They are God’s people. They are not God’s people. Both statements are true at the same time. This is a paradox so don’t get lost. Let me explain.

On Moses first trip to the top of Sinai God told him the whole earth is mine. God is not looking for a people to be “his” because everything belongs to God. There is no us and them, its’ all us, until God weeds the garden. God is looking for a people that he can make into a holy nation of priest who will be a treasured possession. God doesn’t need more possessions; he desires possessions that he can treasure.[4] There are many vessels in God’s house Paul wrote to Timothy but not all of them are gold vessels that God treasures.[5]

At this point the flesh descendants of Abraham are nothing to treasure. Abraham had many sons before he died. The sons of Isaac and Jacob are no different than their brothers. They do not know God, obey him or love him. An ox knows his master and a donkey his owner’s manger[6] but when somebody said this cow is your God Israel rejoiced and bowed before a lie while the rest of God’s people stood quietly by. They were all guilty by virtue of their action and their inaction.  

God will not receive you as a child if you do not act like his child[7] but that doesn’t mean he stops being your Father. He is the father of all things, which leaves us with a question. Why does the Bible talk about being adopted by God?[8] It’s easy to understand how the Gentiles are being adopted into God’s family but Paul said in Romans regarding the nation that came from Abraham’s flesh, theirs is the adoption as sons. If they are the original sons, why do they have to be adopted?

I recently heard a minister tell an interesting story about adoption. He was on an airplane and sat down by a Jewish Rabbi. The minister was reading about being predestined to be adopted as sons[9] when the Rabbi leaned over and asked him if he understood what he was reading. He thought he did but soon learned that he didn’t because he understood adoption the way the western mind would; you don’t have a child, so you find a child no one else wants and adopt him as your own. The Rabbi explained to the minister that Fathers’ would commit their children to tutors who would teach the children their Fathers ways. When the child came of age he would be brought before his father who would thoroughly question his son until he was satisfied that his son understood his ways. If the father was satisfied that his son knew his ways he would place a hand on both his shoulders and publicly declare, “I adopt you this day for you are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” Then the son would be allowed to participate in the family business. The Greek word for adoption in the New Testament means to be placed as a son.[10] God has set us under the tutor of law until we understand his ways before gives us the full rights of a son. In Galatians 4:5 the phrase “adoption as sons” is translated “given the full rights of a son” by the NIV Bible. 

The people in the wilderness that God refused to call his people, even though everything belongs to God, are people who do not know God’s way. They did not rejoice in what God is doing. They rejoiced in what a servant of God did even though it was contrary to what God commanded. They made God so angry that he declared to Moses,

 Exodus 32:9-10

9 “I have seen these people,”…… “and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”

 Deuteronomy tells us that God intended to destroy them by blotting their name out of his book and that God would make Moses into a nation stronger and more numerous than the sons of Jacob had become.[11] When the people rejected God’s way, God did not give up on his desire. He turned to the one man who knew his ways and made an offer hard to refuse. If Moses would leave God alone so his anger could burn God would rid himself of people that don’t want him. Then Moses and God would build something greater.

This church has not been very nice to Moses; in fact they are the same people who wanted to stone him just a few months earlier. This was the perfect opportunity for Moses to be rid of them to. An arrogant man would have seized the day and accepted God’s offer. Fortunately, Moses was a humble man, the most humble man in all the earth in his generation.[12] He could not accept God’s offer without acknowledging by his actions I’m better than my brothers and I deserve more than they do. But Moses was raised in Pharaoh’s house as Pharaoh’s son. Do you think he had never been taught lies by authority figures and bowed before false graven images truly believing he was worshipping a real God? Why didn’t Moses abandon Pharaoh’s house to deliver his brothers when he was 20 years old or even 30. It took Moses 40 years to discern the hypocrisy in Egypt’s religion and forsake it. Should he now abandon people that have had less than a year to work out their own salvation? Thankfully, he did not. Moses said to the Lord that asked him to leave me alone,

 Exodus 32:11-14

11        … “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.'” 14 Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

 First, Moses reminded the Lord that these are your people and you brought them out of Egypt, not me! Then he reminded the Lord that he has a reputation to uphold and questioned if God really wanted to sour Egypt’s opinion of him by killing all these people after he delivered them? If those were the only reasons Moses had, I don’t believe he would have persuaded God to change his mind but Moses knows God. The last reason Moses gave was the only thing that could have put an end to the argument he was having with God. He asked God to remember Abraham, Isaac and Israel to whom “you swore by your own self” that you would make them numerous as stars in the sky and give them the land you promised. When Moses reminded God of the oath he swore the Lord relented because,

 Hebrews 6:13-14,16

13        When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.”…… 16 Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument.

 When Moses brought up the oath it put an end to the argument. God’s actions are governed by one thing and it’s not our faith, unless it is our faith that God will keep the covenants he has made with himself. If you don’t understand the covenants God has made with himself you don’t know God! You might know he exists, you might know that he delivered you but you don’t know him in the way he desires to be known. When Moses touched the covenant he touched the heart of God and his very essence. God’s own integrity calmed his anger. There was nothing good in the people to give God a reason to spare them but there was something good in God that gave God a reason to spare them. The very essence of God is integrity. We are not saved by our own goodness. We are saved because God is good.

There is something else important. Even if God destroyed everyone except Moses, he could have kept the promise he confirmed with an oath, to make them numerous and give them the land, it just would have taken longer and that is not a problem for someone eternal. So why did God relent and spare all of them? The answer is in what God remembered. Moses was crafty in his intercession because this is one of the few times in the Bible that God is addressed as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel – most of the time he is called the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Moses knew that the people were still acting like Jacob, but he also knew that God promised to change Jacob’s name to Israel. God’s promise to change Jacob’s name was a promise to change Jacob’s character. When Moses called him the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel he tactfully reminded God of that promise. God could have destroyed them and still kept his promise to make them numerous, but he could not destroy the family of Jacob and still keep his promise to change Jacob’s character.

Intercession is for people who want to worship God who sin and repent or ignorantly sin against God. Intercession is not about praying long and loud or even faithfully. An Intercessor knows how to deal with God. They can do in five minutes what we stumble around trying to do for years and still fail because they know God’s ways and understand what is in God’s heart. We think if we just turn the volume up or get more people to pray God will do something, but I’ve got news for you. God won’t do what we ask unless he can honor the people that are making request because they are people who know and love his ways like Moses did. All God needs is one person that knows what he is doing not a multitude making noise in the dark. Thankfully, God has given us that one person, his name is Jesus and he lives to make intercession for us.[13]

  Once Moses had calmed God’s anger he headed down the mountain to tend to the people. It was a good thing Moses talked God out of bringing disaster on his people before he descended the mountain because hearing about sin is not as bad as seeing it.

 Exodus 32:19-20

19        When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned (Moses did not have the strength of character to do what he asked God to do.) and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. 20 And he took the calf they had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it.

 They were camped in a desert. What water did Moses scatter their sin on? Let’s find out. This is important.

 Deuteronomy 9:21

21 Also I took that sinful thing of yours, the calf you had made, and burned it in the fire. Then I crushed it and ground it to powder as fine as dust and threw the dust into a stream that flowed down the mountain.

 The Hebrew word used for stream is nachal[14] and means a river. “Nachal is used figuratively of many things that emerge and disappear suddenly or that have extreme onrushing power …This noun represents a dry valley in which water runs during the rainy season.”[15] The rainy season started when God’s presence settled on the mountain. Moses ground their sin to powder and scattered it on the river rushing down the mountain. The river was not there when they first came to the foot of Mt. Sinai. The river began to run after they spent three days preparing themselves for a visitation by their God. The river was produced by the rain that could put out the fire. There is only one reason the river is there. God is there. When God leaves the river will cease to flow and they will be in a desert again.

When I was a young Christian we sang about showers of blessings, showers of blessing we need. But noone ever told me that my sin is floating on the river that the showers of blessing produce. I’ve heard the river will heal you, but I’ve never heard it will be bitter to drink from the river. 

 Jeremiah declared,

 Jeremiah 8:14 KJV

14        … the LORD our God hath put us to silence, and given us water of gall to drink, because we have sinned against the LORD.[16]

 Many years later, when Jesus hung on a cross dying for the sins of the world.

 Matthew 27:34 KJV

They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink.

 Jesus drank the cup of gall his father gave him, but he will not drink gall from the hand of man. We will drink our own gall because we are not born with a strong inclination to arrogance. Humility is something experience teaches us.

 Lamentations 3:19-23 KJV

19  Remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall. 20 My soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me. 21 This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. 22 It is of the LORD’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. 23 They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.

 When you remember the affliction, misery and the gall you had to drink for your own sins you will understand what it means to be humble and that is good news. God gives grace to the humble and resist the proud. The bad news is that it will take most of your lifetime to learn true humility.

There is a lot of suffering in this world because our arrogance produces a lot of gall to drink but don’t lose heart. When you drink the gall your arrogance produces God’s compassion will not fail. He will not let your sins destroy you. The gall we drink in this lifetime is our own ways come upon us. If you don’t want God’s way, you will have your fill of your ways. If there is someone making your life a misery take a good long look because you are probably looking in a mirror.

 After the Israelites drank their own sin from the river of God the people were given an opportunity to repent. Those who did not repent were slain by those who did. Jesus said,

 Luke 14:26-27

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters– yes, even his own life– he cannot be my disciple. 27 And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

 After they proved that they loved God by hating those who refused to repent they had to pick up their cross and follow.

This is a hard message. Don’t take it to an extreme and assume every bad thing that happens to you is God punishing you for your sin. Life is not so simple. Sometimes we suffer because others sin not because of any sin we have committed.

You can see an example of your own way come upon you in the book of Acts. I grew up hearing messages about the Apostle Paul and how we should all be like him because if you are not suffering for the sake of the gospel like Paul did, you are not a good Christian. God ordained some of Paul’s suffering, like his imprisonment that he might testify before kings. God did not ordain immature Jewish Christians to follow Paul around and beat him up for preaching the gospel when they did not understand his doctrine and thought they were doing God a favor. That was Paul’s cross, his cup of gall, his own way come upon him. God could have easily stopped the persecution. Paul asked him to but God responded, “My grace is sufficient.” Your cross will not destroy you because God’s mercy is new every morning. He won’t allow justice to put out the fire of his love for you.

 There was an element of justice in that the man who persecuted people for preaching the gospel because he did not understand their doctrine and thought he was doing God a favor was himself persecuted for preaching the gospel for the same reason. The last words we read in the book of Acts tell us that we will not have to bear our cross forever.

 Acts 28:30-31 KJV

30And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, 31 Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him.

 Throughout the book of Acts men forbid Paul to preach just like he forbid men to preach but there is hope because Paul finally overcame his own sin. Paul did not get bitter when men persecuted him like he persecuted others before God changed the course of his life because Paul loved God. He was an expert in law and understood that justice must be satisfied. If you don’t love justice you won’t love God. God is justice and he loves to be who he is. When Paul’s own way came upon him, God stood by Paul strengthening him to endure until Paul recognized the arrogance in his heart and overcame his sin.

If you compare Paul’s early writings with his later writings you can see the transformation of an arrogant man into a humble man. He began his ministry angry with Mark, arguing with Barnabas, publicly humiliating Peter and letting everybody know that he was no less an apostle than the original twelve. Toward the end of his ministry he is writing, bring Mark with you for he is profitable to me, and I am less than the least of all saints.


July 18, 1462 BC

 Exodus 32:30-35

30 The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” So Moses went back to the Lord and said, Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin – but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.” The Lord replied to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book. Now go, lead the people to the place I spoke of, …

 Everyone who worshiped Aaron’s cow and refused to repent died, so why did Moses say they committed a sin that needs to be atoned for? Didn’t the death of the sinners atone for the sin?

Moses went back to God and said if you don’t want them you don’t want me either. If you won’t forgive them blot my name out to. God would not hear of blotting Moses out of his book. Moses did what the people failed to do. He cared about everyone. God assured him that no one would be blotted out and that they would still go to the place he promised but then 

 Exodus 32:35

… the Lord struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made.

 Why did God strike the people with a plague especially after he forgave them and the camp had been purged of the people who didn’t want God? Let’s find out because this is very important.

 1 Corinthians 12:18-27 NIV

18        But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. 27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

 God sent a plague because if one of us suffers everybody will suffer. God not only desires he demands that we have EQUAL CONCERN FOR EACH OTHER!

Moses was the only one who refused to accept something from God if his brothers could not be included. The people were willing to continue their journey without Moses, but Moses was not willing to continue without them. Moses was more than they deserved and God has given us one better than Moses. I need you and you need me. Nobody is dispensable. The three thousand who died that day will not be written off as dispensable unnecessary parts of the body. They were needed. When one part suffers every part will suffer until we learn to have the same care one for another. You may not suffer the same penalty for their sin because you did not commit their sin, but you did stand quietly by and watch them destroy themselves.

 Proverbs 24:11-12 NIV

11  Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. 12 If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?

 Hur and seventy elders stood by Aaron’s side and saw God. Yet we do not have a record they did anything to rescue those being led away to death. We do not have a record that they did anything to hold back those staggering toward slaughter. Hur and the seventy elders did not have to restrain 3,000 people to save them. All they had to do was care about Aaron. If they had cared, no one would have suffered.


[1] All Scripture are NIV unless otherwise noted.

[2] 1 Corinthians 10:2-4

[3] Romans 9:4-5

[4] Exodus 19:5-8

[5] 2 Timothy 2:20-21

[6] Isaiah 1:3

[7] 2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1

[8] Ephesians 1:5, Romans 8:23, 9:4

[9] Ephesians 1:5

[10] Strongs # 5206 huiothesian

[11] Deuteronomy 9:14

[12] Numbers 12:3

[13] Hebrews 7:25

[14] Strongs Number 5158

[15] Vines Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words.

[16] See Jeremiah 23:15

About Teena Myers

Teena Myers is the Chairman of Southern Christian Writers, a freelance writer and author of three books.
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