Heroes of the Bible

Immanuel: Moses

At Mount Sinai, Moses expressed his urgent need for the Presence of God—Immanuel—as he struggled to lead God’s people after they committed idolatry by worshipping the Golden Calf. “Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with [Moses on Mount Sinai] and proclaimed his name the LORD. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” (Exodus 34:5-7). Note the contrast between the Tower of Babel and Mount Sinai. At the Tower of Babel, God came down to divide Humanity due to its arrogance and selfishness. (See my blog “How Do We Build a Civilization That Is Good—That Is Very Good?”). In contrast, God came down to Mount Sinai to give Israel the Law of Moses that will unify Humanity with compassion and grace, abounding in love and faithfulness. (Isaiah 66:22-23; Matthew 5:17-18).

The conception and birth of Jesus “took place to fulfill what the [LORD] had said through the prophet [Isaiah]: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God with us’)” (Matthew 1:22-23, paraphrasing Isaiah 7:14).

The name “Immanuel” can also be translated “with us is God” (Isaiah 7:14 translator’s note JSB).

Whether you think about it as “God with us” or “with us is God”, the name “Immanuel” expresses the universal desire to have “God with us” so that “with us is God”.

At Mount Sinai, Moses expressed his urgent need for this Presence of God—Immanuel—as he struggled to lead God’s people after they committed idolatry by worshipping the Golden Calf.

At other times in his life, it was obvious that God was with Moses.

For example, God spoke to Moses out of a burning bush, giving new purpose to his life. God sent plagues, freeing Israel from slavery. God parted the Red Sea, overcoming Pharaoh’s army. God welcomed Moses to the summit of Mount Sinai, giving him the Law and the two tablets with the Ten Commandments.

But at this high point in Moses’ life—disaster struck. Sin struck!

While Moses was communing with God at the summit of Mount Sinai, the people said: “As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” They asked Moses’s brother, Aaron, to build them an idol—a Golden Calf “who will go before us.” (Exodus 32:1).

When the idol was finished, Aaron held “a festival to the LORD” (Exodus 32:5). “[T]he people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” (Exodus 32:6).

God was not happy. Even though their mouths said they were worshipping the LORD, the reality was that they made an idol and were worshipping IT!

The people only came near to God with their mouths and only honored God with their lips. But their hearts were far from him—far from the Presence of Immanuel. Therefore, their worship of the LORD God was based on merely human rules, rather than based on the Law that God gave them. (paraphrasing Isaiah 29:13).

“[T]he LORD said to Moses, ‘Go down, because [the] people . . . have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them . . ..” (Exodus 32:7-8).

“When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain.” (Exodus 32:19).

Nevertheless, Moses asked God to forgive Aaron and the people. Moses even offered to die himself so that God would spare Aaron and the people. (Exodus 32:32).

Moses also insisted that God himself must be with Moses and the people. Indeed, Moses would only agree to continue to lead the people if God himself was with them—if God was Immanuel. (Exodus 33:12,15).

Not even the presence of an angel would be good enough for Moses! (Exodus 32:34).

“Moses said to the LORD, ‘You have been telling me, “Lead these people,” but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, “I know you by name and you have favor with me.” If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.’” (Exodus 33:12-13).

“The LORD replied, ‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’ Then Moses said to him, ‘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? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth’” (Exodus 33:14-16).

“And the LORD said to Moses, ‘I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.’” (Exodus 33:17).

“Then Moses said, ‘Now show me your glory.’” (Exodus 33:18).

“And the LORD said, ‘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 who I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’” (Exodus 33:19).

“So Moses chiseled out two stone tablets” like those he had smashed. (Exodus 34:4).

“Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with [Moses on Mount Sinai] and proclaimed his name the LORD. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.’” (Exodus 34:5-7).

Note the contrast between the Tower of Babel and Mount Sinai. At the Tower of Babel, God came down to divide Humanity due to its arrogance and selfishness. (See my blog “How Do We Build a Civilization That Is Good—That Is Very Good?”). In contrast, God came down to Mount Sinai to give Israel the Law of Moses that will unify Humanity with compassion and grace, abounding in love and faithfulness. (Isaiah 66:22-23; Matthew 5:17-18).

How do we participate in this compassion and grace, abounding in love and faithfulness? The same ways Moses did.

Moses found new purpose for his life by listening to the Voice of God.

Moses sincerely tried to mend his ways, even after he angrily smashed God’s Way.

Moses kept healing his civilization, even after people went astray by following their ways instead of God’s Way.

How?

Moses replaced the broken tablets of the Ten Commandments.

Moses offered to die instead of the people.

Moses enjoyed the Presence of Immanuel—the God who loves to be with us and the God whom we love to be with!

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To read more about Immanuel, please read my blog “Immanuel”.

To read more about how Moses established the work of his hands, please read “PART TWO: Establishing the Work of Your Hands: Moses” in my book The Promised Land, at pages 73-120.