We seem to think that tolerance is the ultimate virtue. We fail to understand how dangerous tolerance can be. Too much tolerance can:
- Result in a loss—If your football tolerates the other team and allows them to score, it will cost you a game.
- Cost you money—If a manufacturer doesn’t follow the specified tolerance in machining a part, it will cost extra when they have to machine it a second time.
- Compromise your health—If you tolerate cancer cells in your body, you won’t have long to live.
- Kill millions of people—The British government’s policy of appeasement towards Adolf Hitler helped contribute to the Holocaust and the death of millions during WWII.
What is true physically is also true spiritually. Exodus 32 explains that God is graciously intolerant of sin. We should be as well.
By way of background, Moses prepared the nation of Israel to hear from God (Exodus 19). God spoke the 10 Commandments in the hearing of all the people (20). The people were frightened by the voice of (20:18) and asked Moses to speak with God and then relay the information to them (20:19-21). God communicates the law to Moses (21-23) and Moses passes it on to the people (24:3). The nation reaffirms their commitment to be obedient (24:3-8). Moses, Aaron, and the leaders worship in God’s presence (24:9-11). Moses and Joshua go up on the mountain (24:12-13), leaving Aaron, Hur, and the elders in charge of the people (24:14). Moses spends 40 days on Mt. Sinai (24:15-18) receiving the plans for the tabernacle and the practice of worship (25-31).
No sooner was the ink dry on the contract, the people of Israel walked away from God and broke the first three of the 10 Commandments (32:1-6). Less than six weeks after receiving the 10 Commandments, the people begged Aaron to make them a visible god. He satisfied their desire by crafting a golden calf. Based on the people’s response, he did a good job. He also made an attempt at syncretism by suggesting they worship the Lord while bowing before the idol.
When we do what is popular rather than what is right, we fall into sin. When we choose convenience over commitment, we fall into sin. When we forget who God is and what he has done for us, we fall into sin.
When it comes to sin, God is graciously intolerant (32:7-14). God explains to Moses what the people are doing. Unless Moses intercedes, God will rightfully destroy the nation. Moses reminds God that Israel is his people and that his reputation is at stake.
We should be graciously intolerant of sin (32:15-29). Moses breaks the tablets of the law to signify that Israel had broken them. He burned the idol, ground it into powder, and made the people drink the concoction. This symbolized the powerlessness of the idol and made the people feel the pain of the consequences.
Moses confronted Aaron about his lack of leadership. Aaron responded by blaming the people (“You know how they are”), Moses (“If you weren’t gone so long”), and everyone but himself (“The golden calf just magically appeared”).
Moses drew a line in the stand to determine who was still committed to obeying God. The Levites responded and were God’s instruments in surgically removing the instigators of the rebellion. While it appears harsh that 3,000 men were killed, consider that it was only 3,000 out of 2-3 million people.
We should intercede for other people (32:30-45). Moses goes back up the mountain to intercede for Aaron and the nation of Israel. He even offers to die himself in exchange for God sparing the rest. God rejects Moses’ offer and explains that he will be fair in his punishment.
How’s your tolerance level? Do you have any golden calves you need to get rid of? Any areas of compromise where you are crossing lines you know should not be crossed? Are there any sins you’ve become far too familiar and comfortable with that need to be gotten rid of?
If the answer is “Yes” to any of these questions, stop what you are doing and repent. Turn to God and seek his forgiveness. Just like Aaron, you can be forgiven and restored. But don’t wait, thinking you can avoid God’s judgment.
God is graciously intolerant of sin. We should be as well.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on September 17, 2017. It is part of a series of sermons on the life of Moses. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.