Unification Sermons and Talks

by Reverend Joy Pople

Wilderness Lesson 3: Obedience

Exodus 19-34

When Moses was a shepherd in the wilderness, God talked to him from a burning bush near Mount Sinai. God told Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and bring them to meet God at the mountain. Three months after the Israelites left Egypt, they arrived at the great rock-walled mountain of Sinai and camped there.

Moses climbed the mountain to talk with God. The Lord told him to tell the people, "You saw what I did to Egypt. You saw how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to Myself. Now if you obey Me and keep the solemn promises of My covenant, you will be My treasured people. Although the whole earth is Mine, you will be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation."

When Moses called the people together and gave them God's message, they answered, "We will do everything that Lord says."

Moses brought their answer back to God.

God told Moses, "I am going to come to you in a dense cloud and speak to you. The people will hear Me speaking with you and they will trust you. Go tell the people to wash their clothes and get ready, because in three days I will come down on Mount Sinai. Don't let any person or animal touch the mountain."

On the third morning a thick, dark cloud rested on top of Mount Sinai. Thunder rolled down the mountain and lightning broke through the heavy cloud. The whole mountain shook. The Israelites trembled; they had never seen anything like this.

Moses led the people close to the foot of the mountain, and God spoke these words. They are called the Ten Commandments:

1. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me.

2. You shall not make for yourself an idol shaped like anything in the heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commandments.

3. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.

4. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

5. Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

6. You shall not murder.

7. You shall not commit adultery.

8. You shall not steal.

9. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

10. You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor."

When the people saw the thunder and lightning they trembled in fear and stayed at a distance. They told Moses, "Don't let God speak to us in this thunder, for we are afraid. We will listen when you tell us His words, and we will obey."

Moses answered, "Do not be afraid when God speaks. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will stay with you and keep you from sinning."

Still the people stayed back, for they were afraid. But Moses was not afraid. He went into the thick darkness where God was. God explained the Ten Commandments in more detail and told Moses how He wanted the Israelites to live. God gave His people laws to guide their worship and their daily life at home, in the community, and at work; laws to protect the weak and helpless; and laws about punishing those who harm other people or their property.

God told Moses, "I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. Pay attention to him and do not rebel against him. My angel will bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites, and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out. Do not bow down before their gods or worship them or follow their practices. Worship the Lord your God, and his blessing will be on you."

When Moses came back, he told the people what God had told him. For the third time the people said, "Everything the Lord has said we will do." Then Moses wrote down everything God had said.

Early the next morning Moses got up and built an altar and set up twelve stone pillars, representing the twelve tribes of Israel. Oxen were killed and burnt on the altar. Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he sprinkled on the altar.

Moses read the Book of the Covenant to the people. A covenant is a solemn promise between two people or groups of people. God had made a promise to His people, and the people responded by making a solemn promise to God: "We will do everything the Lord has said."

Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people and said, "This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you according to all these words."

After this ceremony, the people went back to their tents. Moses took Aaron, Aaron's sons, and 70 elders to the mountain, where they saw God's glory.

Then the Lord said to Moses, "Come up to Me and I will give you tablets of stone and I will write on them the words of the commandments."

Before going up the mountain, Moses told Aaron and Hur to care for the people. Joshua waited for Moses on the mountainside. For 40 days Moses listened to God's words. God gave instructions for making a tabernacle, which was a holy tent where God could live with His people. He told Moses to dedicate Aaron and his sons as God's priests. God taught Moses how the priests should take care of the tabernacle, receive the people's gifts, offer them to God, and pray for God to forgive the people's sins. Then God cut two tablets of stone and wrote the commandments on them.

From their tents in the valley, the Israelites looked at the thick clouds on the mountain where Moses was meeting with God. When weeks passed and still Moses did not return, the Israelites wondered if he would ever come back. They grew restless. They soon forgot how God's voice thundered down from the smoking mountain. They forgot God's promises to them and their promises to God.

Finally they said to Aaron, "Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him."

Aaron did not remind the people of their promise to serve only the one true God. Instead he told them: "Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing and bring them to me." And the people did.

Aaron melted the gold and shaped it into the form of a calf like the ones the Egyptians worshipped. The people said to each other, "This is the god that brought us out of the land of Egypt."

When Aaron saw how much the people liked the calf, he put it in the middle of the camp and built an altar before it. "Tomorrow we shall have a feast to our god," he announced.

The next day the Israelites held a great feast and worshipped the gold calf just as they had seen their Egyptian neighbors do. As they bowed before the idol and sang and danced and celebrated around it, they broke two of the commandments God had just given them.

God saw the Israelites worshipping the golden calf. He heard them singing and was very displeased. God said to Moses: "The Israelites are a stiff-necked, stubborn people. I will destroy them and make you into a great nation."

Moses loved his people, even though they often complained. He did not want God to destroy them. So he said, "O Lord, why should Your anger burn against Your people, whom You brought out of Egypt with such great power? Why should the Egyptians say that You brought them here to wipe them off the face of the earth? Turn from Your fierce anger and do not bring disaster on Your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac and Israel, and Your promise to make their descendants as many as the stars in the sky and give them the land as their eternal inheritance."

Because Moses prayed for the Israelites, the Lord did not destroy them.

Moses hurried down the mountainside with Joshua. In his arms were the two tablets of stone upon which God had written the Ten Commandments.

As they came nearer the camp Joshua said, "I hear the sound of war in the camp."

Moses replied, "It is not the noise of victory or of defeat. It is the sound of singing."

When Moses and Joshua came closer, they saw the people dancing and shouting and partying in front of the gold calf. Moses was so angry that he threw down the stones he was carrying, and they broke into pieces. He ran into the camp and tore down the idol while the people watched. He broke it up and threw it into the fire. Then he ground it into fine powder and put it in the people's drinking water. This made the water taste very bitter, but Moses made the people drink it.

Sternly Moses asked Aaron, "What have these people done that made you bring this terrible sin upon them?"

Aaron answered, "Do not be angry with me! You know how evil these people are in their hearts. They asked me to make a god for them because they did not know what had happened to you. So I told them to bring their gold earrings. When I threw the earrings into the fire, this calf came out!"

Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control. Moses stood at the gate of the camp and called out in a loud voice, "You who are on the Lord's side, come and stand by me!" Then every man who belonged to the tribe of Levi came and stood by Moses. He told these brave men to kill every person who still wanted to worship the gold calf. "Do not spare even one of them," he commanded. That day about 3,000 people died. Moses praised the Levites for their dedication to God.

The next day Moses told the people, "You have been very wicked, and in God's sight your sin is great. I will make an offering for your sin. Perhaps God will forgive you."

Moses went before the Lord and said: "Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin. If You will not forgive them, erase my name from the book You have written."

But God said, "Those who have sinned against Me will have their names erased from my book. Go, lead the people to the place I spoke of. However, when the time comes for Me to punish, I will punish them for their sin." God struck the people with a plague.

Then the Lord said to Moses, "Leave this place and go up to the land which I promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I will send an angel before you to drive out the people who are living in the land, but I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way."

When Moses told this to the people they were distressed. They took off all their ornaments to show how sorry they were.

Moses had a special tent outside the camp for talking to God. When Moses went there, the pillar of cloud stayed at the entrance of the tent. All the Israelites stood at their tents and waited while God met Moses face to face and talked to Him as a man speaks to his friend. Joshua went to the tent with Moses and stayed inside after Moses left.

Moses said to the Lord: "If You are pleased with me, teach me Your ways so I may know You and continue to find favor with You. If Your presence does not go with us, do not send us to the land of Canaan. Your presence is what makes us special."

God said, "I will do what you ask, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name."

Then Moses said, "Now show me Your glory."

And the Lord said, "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But you cannot see My face, for no one may see Me and live."

Then God told Moses to stand in the crack of a rock and God would cover him with His hand while He passed by.

After Moses saw God's glory, God said: "Cut two stone tablets like the first ones and bring them to me on Mount Sinai tomorrow. I will write on them the words that were on the tablets you broke. No one is to come with you or come anywhere near the mountain."

Moses did what God commanded. Early in the morning he climbed Mount Sinai with the tablets in his hands.

God talked with Moses and told him how to lead the people. God told Moses, "I am 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. Yet I do not leave the guilty unpunished. I punish the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation."

Again Moses asked God, "Oh Lord, if I have found favor in Your eyes, please come with us. Forgive our wickedness and take us as Your inheritance. Please stay with Your people and forgive their sin."

God answered: "I am making a covenant with you. You will see the awesome things I will do, and you must obey Me. Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land where you are going. Break down their altars. Do not worship any other god. Offer to Me the firstborn of your animals and the first fruits of your harvest. Rest on the seventh day. Three times a year all your men are to appear before Me for religious celebrations."

For 40 days and nights Moses did not eat or drink anything. He listened to God's words, and he wrote on the tablets of stone the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.

This time the Israelites did not complain or worship another god while Moses was away. When he came back they went out to meet him, but as soon as they saw him they were afraid and turned back towards the camp. Moses wondered why they were so frightened of him. He called Aaron and the leaders to him, and they told Moses, "Your face shines with a strange light, like the sun. It is so bright we cannot look at you."

Moses did not know that God's glory was shining on his face. The people came back and listened to his words. After that, Moses put a cloth over his face when he came back from talking with God, but when he entered the Lord's presence, he removed the cloth.

Examples of the laws God gave to Moses:

Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall be put to death. However, if he does not do it intentionally, he is to flee to a place I will designate.

Anyone who attacks his father or his mother must be put to death.

Anyone who kidnaps another must be put to death.

If men quarrel and one hits the other with a stone or with his fist, he must pay the injured man for the loss of his time and see that he is completely healed.

If there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

A thief must make restitution.

If a fire breaks out and spreads, the one who started the fire must make restitution.

Do not mistreat a foreigner or oppress him, for you were foreigners in Egypt.

Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan.

If you lend money to one of My people who is needy, charge him no interest.

Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong.

When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd.

Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits.

If you come across your enemy's ox or donkey wandering off, take it back to him.

Do not accept a bribe.

For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it.

 Joy Pople (pople@servtech.com) wrote this Bible story from the standpoint of the Divine Principle.

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