Believer, do you realize how close to the wrath of God we actually were?
Unbeliever, do you realize how close to the wrath of God you are now!?
I have been preaching in Exodus 32 on Sunday nights and I was alarmed at the realization of just how close the Israelites came to experiencing the onslaught of God's wrath. Moses had been on the mountain with God for forty days, and the people had not heard from Moses during this time. They grew restless, and beckoned Aaron to assume command of the nearly two million people and appease their restless souls. Aaron leads the people to fashion an idol to worship, and thus the infamous golden calf is created, and worshipped.
Now, remember that Moses is on the mountain with God. That must have been an incredible experience. He not only receives the Law of God, but the blueprints for the Tabernacle, a place where God intends to meet with his people. Moses' heart must be full at this point. God then awakens him to the reality of the sinfulness of the people he is leading,"And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves (Ex. 32:7).” Can you imagine the heartbreak Moses must have experienced?
After identifying the sin of the people in verse 8, God declares the sentence for their transgression in verse 10; "Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you (Ex. 32:10).”
Here is the point I want you to see: Just as Moses was unaware of what was taking place at the foot of the mountain, the people were unaware of what was taking place on top of the mountain. In other words, the people had no idea of the statement that God made in verse 10. Can you imagine? They had no idea just how close they came to experiencing the all-consuming wrath of God! God told Moses to leave him alone, so that he could execute judgment. Are you not glad that Moses didn’t leave God alone? He didn’t. He stayed and implored God to relent. And God did. Moses interceded on behalf of this stiff-necked people. And I am so glad he did.
This text caused me to wonder: how close did I come to experiencing the full wrath of God? How close were you? Believer, aren’t you glad that Jesus interceded on your behalf? Aren’t you glad that Christ not only interceded, but that he bore the full weight of God’s wrath upon himself? I am.
I was reminded of one of the most famous sermons ever preached. During the Great Awakening, a true revival that swept the New England States during the first half of the 18th century, on the night of July 8, 1741, Jonathan Edwards preached a sermon in Enfield, Connecticut, entitled Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. Unlike popular revivalists and evangelists today, Edwards wrote his sermon and then read it word for word from the pulpit. He did not tell funny stories, and he did not try to emotionally manipulate people. Rather, he tried with all earnest to verbally paint the most descriptive and accurate portrayal of the reality of God’s wrath for the largely unreligious town; and God used Edwards to wake people up to the reality of their sinful state. Consider some of these sermon quotes:
“Unconverted men walk over the pit of hell on a rotten covering, and there are innumerable places in this covering so weak that they will not bear their weight, and these places are not seen. The arrows of death fly unseen at noon-day; the sharpest sight cannot discern them.”
“There are the black clouds of God’s wrath now hanging directly over your heads, full of the dreadful storm, and big with thunder; and were it not for the restraining hand of God, it would immediately burst forth upon you."
“The wrath of God is like great waters that are dammed for the present; they increase more and more, and rise higher and higher, till an outlet is given; and the longer the stream is stopped, the more rapid and mighty is its course, when once it is let loose."
"The bow of God's wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood."
Edwards was a powerful author and communicator, but more importantly he had a powerful message to communicate. After hearing the sermon from Deuteronomy 32:35, people were so convicted that they began crying out, “What shall I do to be saved? O, I am going to hell!” Some even began to crowd the pulpit and beg Edwards to stop preaching.
You see, like Isaiah, when people get a proper understanding of the holiness of God, they in turn get a proper understanding of the wretchedness of man. Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up, and his only response was “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts (Is. 6:5)!” Isaiah realized in that moment just how close to the wrath of God he was. Jonathan Edwards realized just how close the people of Enfield, CT were to the wrath of God. Moses realized how close the Israelites at the foot of the mountain were to the wrath of God. Do you realize just how close you are? O sinner, repent of your sin today! Before the dam breaks! Before the bow string of wrath is released.
Watch Part 1 of my sermon, When God Relents.... here, beginning at the 14:40 mark.
Edwards, J. (1974). The works of Jonathan Edwards (Vol. 2). Banner of Truth Trust.
Rusten, S. with E. Michael. (2005). The complete book of when & where in the Bible and throughout history. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
You can read Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God in its entirety here. Spend some devotional time prayerfully reading this great sermon.