Confess Our Sin Before God: Revival under Moses (Exodus 23-33)

See also: Exodus 23-33, Lev. 26.40-42, Ps. 38.15-18, 2 Chron. 6.37-38, Dan. 9.4-11, 1 John 1.5-10, Ps. 51.10, Luke 15.18-24, Deut. 30.1-3, Ps. 32.1-7, 2 Cor. 7.10-11, Ps. 51.1-7, Prov. 28.13, James 5.16, Exod. 32.7-14, Psalm 51.

Revival in the community of God is simple yet radical. It is simple because those who are open and humble before God, who readily admit their own sinfulness and guilt before him, can receive his forgiveness and restoration through faith in his Son. It is radical because the Father does not forgive either excuses or alibis. He refuses to act on externals, but desires truth in the innermost being of our hearts. He is willing to forgive the admission of sin, but he will neither tolerate nor allow for anything less than the full and naked acknowledgment of our sinful acts. Sin may involve harming ourselves and others, but ultimately, all sin is perpetrated against the Lord.

Ps. 51.3-4 – For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me   [4] Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.

God records in Scripture numerous times when his people, caught in the act of their own rebellion and guilt, faced the choice either to repent from their wickedness and seek the forgiveness of God, or simply continue in the direction of their pride and suffer the consequences. If revival among the people of God means anything, it means that the will of God is restored to its rightful place in the hearts of God’s people, and through their actions in their relationships and conduct. Revival, true revival, is nothing less than a fresh manifestation of the Kingdom of God in the midst of God’s people, resulting in a new love for the Lord, a heart for the truth, a desire to obey his command, and a passion to bring him glory. Revival that does not result in holiness is little more than a spiritual flash in the pan, a kind of pseudo-emotional response that remains only skin deep and ineffective.

The setting of Moses and the children of Israel in Exodus 32 and 33 reveal the power of confession in both the judgment and mercy of God. Because of Moses’ delay in coming down from the mountain, the people demanded that Aaron make them gods that would go before them. Apparently, without any hesitation, Aaron submits to the will of the people, gathering up gold from their golden earrings, fashioning the gold with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf. Incredibly, Aaron exclaims that this image he had fashioned was their god, the one that brought them out of the land of Egypt! Aaron built an altar before it, proclaimed a feast to the Lord, and the people arose early the next morning, offering burnt offerings and brought peace offerings, and celebrated with feast, drinking, and play.

Against this backdrop, God tells Moses of their corruption and quick “turning aside” from his commandments. The Lord saw their stiff-necked hearts and idolatrous passions, and said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. [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” (Exod. 32.9b-10). In one of the moments of high drama in Scripture, Moses implores the Lord for Israel, pleading with God to save the people of his deliverance. He pleads his case for their forgiveness, arguing that the Egyptians will say that he brought them out of their land only to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth. Moses intercedes to the Lord on their behalf, asking that he turn from his burning anger and relent from this disaster against his people. In a striking claim, Moses asks the Lord to “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” (Exod. 32.13). And, in one of the most powerful displays of the grace and lovingkindness of the Lord, he hears Moses’ plea and relents from the terrible judgment he had spoken of bringing on his people. In response to one man’s pleas for mercy, God hears and saves a nation from destruction.

Above all things, this display of the power of prayer to persuade God, to move him to mercy, to cause him (incredibly!) to relent from the disaster that he would bring on his people ought to encourage us in our petitions for the city. In the same way that Israel deserved God’s just and immediate judgment, so we today deserve his righteous retribution. We have sinned against him. We have failed to keep his commandments. We have rejected his laws. We have turned our backs on his righteous judgment and brought shame to his Son because of our lack of passion, obedience, and hunger. The claim of Isaiah rings true over the centuries in our own case: “All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53.6, NKJV).

It seems transparent enough to suggest that no lasting fruit will come to the cities of America and the world without the gracious presence of God working in the midst of his people. And, correspondingly, no effective mission and ministry can be undertaken, no righteous proclamation of the truth, and no display of God’s power can be seen if we fail to receive his cleansing and mercy for our sin. Holiness is not an option in urban mission; God forgives sin, not excuses, not alibis, not protests, not blameshifting. If we will but confess our sins before him, admit our guilt and acknowledge our “turning aside” from his will, he will surely and wholly forgive us and grant us the power to accomplish his will. The blood of Jesus is sufficient for us; we need only affirm and apply our need for it.

Revival’s spark begins with the heart of God’s people readily willing and open to come before him humbly, to receive from him through Christ what he alone can provide–cleansing from sin, forgiveness, and full restoration into his will. The intercession of Moses, Daniel, Elijah, and others proves that God’s heart can be turned from judgment to grace. Let’s join in concentrated intercession, first for ourselves, confessing our own unbelief, lack of love, pettiness, and worldliness. Let us bow before God seeking his cleansing, and then join our prayers for our brothers and sisters everywhere. Let us seek the mercies of God and ask for his cleansing and empowerment.

Example of Confession before God on Behalf of Oneself and One’s People: Daniel

Dan. 9.3-5 – Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. [4] I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, [5] we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules.”

Principle: Revival flows from the cleansing and power that occur as a result of the repentance, brokenness, and contrition arising from the confession of our sins. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is a holy God whose being and will are pure and beautiful. The vessels he employs and works through must be prepared, honed, cleansed, and washed; only those whose lives have experienced the cleansing power of the Blood of Christ can truly be in a position to be used of him for his high and holy purposes. Let us bow before him in humble contrition and receive the cleansing that he alone can provide through faith in Jesus Christ.

Only when the people of God, in deep repentance, humility, and contrition, confess their sins before God can they receive the cleansing and anointing necessary to become vessels of God’s Word and his Spirit.

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