After an examination of the profile of Moses, and the courage that marked him in Exodus 32, we, too, can be inspired by this man of God who stood alone in times of spiritual darkness. Unlike his mother, Jochabed, who was courageous in putting little Moses into the ark of bulrushes, Moses wasn’t exactly courageous at the beginning of his call to service. God called Moses to service (Ex 3), but Moses feared the skepticism of the people of Israel and their questioning whether God had really appeared to him. Furthermore, he trembled at his own human frailty and inability to eloquently speak God’s consistent message to Pharaoh (Ex 4:10). But as the curtain falls on his service for God, we see Moses encouraging Joshua to “Be strong and of a good courage” (Deut 31:7, KJV). Courage was developed throughout his life. The passage in Exodus 32 supports this in a powerful way, as we see various ways in which courage was displayed.
Courage to Identify Sin
Moses is highlighted in this passage as being deeply affected by what he saw. He immediately knew, as he entered the camp, that what God had told him about the departure of the people was true (see Ex 32:8). He witnessed the camp in absolute spiritual disarray and was immediately offended by the calf worship and the unrestrained behavior. The law of God, written by His own finger, was broken, and Moses demonstrated that by shattering the tables of stone.
What marks Moses here is the readiness to identify the sin of the people. He went right to the heart of the problem (v20), and destroyed the calf by burning it, grinding it to powder, and removing its existence from among the people, scattering it in the water. As the children of Israel drank of that water, they were made to taste a small portion of the bitterness their sin would bring them and to understand just how egregious their offense was to the God Who had said, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me” (Ex 20:3, KJV).
Moses was a leader who was willing to stand alone before all the people and address the sin that threatened to alienate them all from the covenant that God had made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. No longer was Moses concerned with issues, such as his lack of eloquence, but he was concerned that the sin of the people would ultimately destroy any chance of God fulfilling His promises to the fathers to make of these people a great nation. This reflects the heart of love that Moses had for the people of God, as he was willing to confront the sin that had such devastating consequences, concerned about the effect on their testimony to the nations around them.
Sometimes it’s easier in the short term to choose not to identify sin and hope it will go away. But God’s once-timid leader had the courage to stand alone and call out what impugned the holiness and character of God, and what was detrimental to His people.
Courage to Confront
In this passage, Moses also confronted his brother, Aaron, about succumbing to the pressure of the people to worship other gods. He wasn’t at all tempted to apply a different standard of truth to his brother. Moses asked, “What did this people unto thee, that thou hast brought so great a sin upon them?” (Ex 32:21, KJV). He got to the heart of Aaron’s problem, which was a desire to appease the people. Appeasement led to greater sin in the camp. It’s clear that Aaron was trying to live on the slippery slope of compromise by declaring a feast unto the Lord and building an altar. However, in response to the people asking for other gods (Ex 32:1), Aaron had already tried to appease the people by taking their earrings of gold to fashion the golden calf. It’s doubtful that Aaron really foresaw the result of his compromising of truth, but the unrestrained debauchery that followed painfully underscores the importance of not compromising truth. Moses, in his position as leader, was willing to confront the failure of Aaron’s leadership.
Courage to Intercede
A further look at Moses’ understanding of God, His purposes, and His character can be inspiring to us as believers today. Doubtless, it was this understanding that developed the courage in Moses’ life. And it was the recognition of the purposes of God to make Israel a great nation that made him willing to go before an angry, offended God and intercede for the people. In Moses’ intercession, he was confident that, since God had delivered them from the crushing bondage of Egypt, was concerned about Israel’s testimony among the nations, and had made promises to the fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, an atonement could be made. He was not convinced that God had no further use for His people, but was anxious to see restoration and consecration occur.
Courage to Act
Clearly, there were those who were not “on the Lord’s side.” They had departed from the truth of God. Moses then asked the probing question, “Who is on the Lord’s side?” (Ex 32:26-29, KJV). As sad as it was, those who were opposed to the truth of God had to be physically removed from the camp by the sword. The sad consequence of departure from all the blessings which God had displayed in delivering them from Egypt, and the pathetic result of appeasement and compromise, was that 3000 souls were wiped away from all that God had intended for them. It was the courage of Moses to stand alone and to lead that ultimately brought the people into God’s blessing, and cleared the path for a new leader to bring them into the land of promise.