A promise is a promise (July 19, 2020)
A promise is a promise
Last week we read about a very harsh event in the book of Exodus. As a quick refresher, God called Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. They had escaped across the Red Sea from Pharaoh’s army. Then, encamped in the wilderness, God called Moses to Mt. Sinai to give him instructions and promises to share with the Israelites – God’s chosen nation. While Moses was up there, the people made a golden calf and worshiped it as their god. When Moses came back down and saw this, he threw the tablets to the ground, breaking them, and called those who are still for the LORD to come to him. The Levites came to Moses’ side and were instructed to “go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor” (Ex 32:27).
It seems that the Israelites’ complaint against God was true. Before God miraculously provided manna and quail for them to eat, they grumbled, “If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death” (Ex 16:3). It seems that God brought the Israelites out of Egypt so that he could kill them off in a variety of ways! What’s going on here?! What is God doing?!
It’s a question I actually hear pretty often given our current situation. Times when the pandemic continues to spread. Times when businesses remain closed or must close once again. Times when schools are deliberating over whether to open and the best practices if they do open. What is God doing? Is this a wake-up call? Has he left us because of our unbelief and unrepentance?
With the unsettling account we read last week – where God really did condemn a number of Israelites because of their sinful idolatry. With a similar progression we see in a number of places from Scripture – throughout the book of Judges, a repeating cycle of sin, oppression, repentance, and deliverance – a similar cycle we see during the time of the kings – we can’t help but worry and fret and live our lives anxiously wondering, “Is God doing the same thing now? Have we gone so far astray that God is handing us over to oppression and destruction? How bad is it going to get?”
God does punish sin. Make no mistake about it. In very clear words God does tell us that he punishes sin. “The wages of sin is death” (Rm 6:23). “The one who sins is the one who will die” (Ez 18:20). There’s no categories of sin here. There’s no ranking or tiers of punishment. Nothing like: these kind of sins deserve a slap on the wrist; these deserve famine and plague; and these deserve immediate death. No! “The wages of sin is death” (Rm 6:23). And that’s very sobering news for me and for you. There isn’t a one of us who is spotless and clean. There isn’t a one of us who could, on our own, stand before God righteous and holy. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rm 3:23). In other words, yes, each one of us deserves punishment for our own sins. And, at times, nations have become so corrupted with sin that God decided it was time for a stern wake-up call.
So, what are you going to do? Are you going to worry and fret over the news that comes in every day? Are you going to suffer great anxiety over every new spike in the virus? Are you going to wonder or even despair if God really cares about you anymore? Wonder if we are simply swept into destruction with the rest because of the ungodliness of our nation and of our own hearts? What are you going to do?
There’s a hymn verse that kept coming to mind this week every time I thought about this reading. And oh how true it is. I’m going to start it halfway through the verse: “Oh, what peace we often forfeit, Oh, what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer!” (CW 411). So, I’ll ask you once again, what are you going to do? I’m not going to do anything, but I’m going to remind God of what he has done for me! Because a promise is a promise – especially when it comes from God.
That’s exactly what Moses did when he approached God after the unsettling events that had just happened – blatant idolatry and swift judgment. The Israelites had just made a covenant with the Lord just days before: “Everything the LORD has said we will do” (Ex 24:3). And yet they quickly broke that covenant and worshiped an idol. Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, who you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt… They are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them” (Ex 32:7,9). As an intercessor between God and the Israelites, Moses didn’t despair or worry. He simply relied on God’s promises and brought them before the Lord.
“These are not my people,” Moses said. “Remember that this nation is your people” (Ex 33:13), he reminded God. “You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me’” (Ex 33:12). “If your presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us?” (Ex 33:15-16). And, in hearing this petition, the LORD replied, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (Ex 33:14).
A promise is a promise – especially when it comes from God. What Moses did here is so important in any believer’s life. It’s a pattern for living that we should follow every day. He prayed God’s promises back to him. A fellow pastor calls it, “tickling God’s ears with his promises.” To be able to do this, however, you of course need to know God’s promises. So, there’s 2 things that Moses did, and it’s the same 2 things I call each one of you to do as well. 1) Listen constantly. 2) Pray confidently.
Listen constantly to God’s Word. How are you going to know his promises if you never take the time to hear them? How are you going to remember his promises if you don’t hear them repeatedly? How are you going to pray God’s promises back to him if you don’t know them? Listening constantly is something that God urges throughout Scripture and I think is really highlighted here. Because when Moses asks, “Show me your glory” (Ex 33:18), what is it that God says he will do? “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Ex 33:20), but, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will PROCLAIM MY NAME, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion” (Ex 33:19).
People often long to experience God in a deep and personal way. They look for “faith experiences” to bolster their faith and trust in God. They want to experience God in a deeper way – and it’s the same thing that Moses requested here. But that’s not what God gives him. That’s not primarily what God gives him. The focus is on God proclaiming his name, “the LORD” (in all caps).
And you and I might be thinking, that’s kind of strange and meaningless. Moses already knew what to call God. What’s the point of proclaiming his name? Well, this is much more than simply saying a name. This is much more than knowing the sounds your mouth has to make to address God. It’s maybe not as much anymore as it was in the past, but a person’s name is who they are – their reputation. Think back to the days when a good name and a handshake is all it took to make a binding contract, a promise. That’s what God is doing here. By proclaiming his name, he is restating his promises.
That name, “the LORD” in all caps – in Hebrew it’s “Yahweh” – that name means, the God of free and faithful love. Essentially, God was telling Moses, “Remember, my love is not contingent upon your actions. I am love. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. I am the God of free love. And remember, my love is not contingent upon a covenant that you keep with me. My love is contingent upon the covenant, the promise, I have made with you. I am the God of faithful, enduring love.”
We have a symbol, a reminder, of that covenant that God made and kept right here in the front of church. It’s the cross. Whenever you see the cross remember God’s promise, “the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 Jn 1:7). But don’t let that be all. Listen constantly to the Word. It’s full of his promises! Be in it all the time. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). We rest in God’s promises. See the cross of Christ – the promise of forgiveness – written on every page in all it’s beauty and intricacy. And do this often so that you can pray these promises back to God – especially in distressing times. Do this often so that you can rely on the promises of God and live confidently no matter what happens in life, because a promise is a promise – especially when it comes from God. Make this such a part of your life – listening constantly and praying confidently – that your friends, neighbors and relatives know exactly where you go to find rest in such troubling times.
2 Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged-Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our ev’ry weakness-Take it to the Lord in prayer.
3 Are we weak and heavy laden, Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge-Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do your friends despise, forsake you? Take it to the Lord in prayer.
In his arms he’ll take and shield you; You will find a solace there.