Ellen G. White Writings

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The Signs of the Times

May 27, 1880

God's Abhorrence and Treatment of Sin

By Mrs. E. G. White

Moses now requested all who had been free from this great sin of idolatry, to come and stand by him, at his right hand, while those who had joined the rebellious in worshiping the idol, but who had repented of their sin, were to stand at his left hand. The people arranged themselves as had been directed. “And the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him.” This tribe had taken no part in the idolatrous worship. But a large company, mostly of the mixed multitude, who instigated the making of the calf, were stubborn in their rebellion, and would not stand with Moses, either at his right hand or at his left.

Moses then commanded those at his right hand to take their swords, and go forth and slay the rebellious, who wished to go back into Egypt. None were to execute the judgment of God on the transgressors only those who had taken no part in the idolatry. They were to spare neither brother, companion, nor neighbor. Those who engaged in this work of slaying, however painful, were now to realize that they were executing upon their brethren a solemn punishment from God; and for executing this painful work, contrary to their own feelings, God would bestow upon them his blessing. By performing this act, they showed their true feelings relative to the high crime of idolatry, and consecrated themselves more fully to the sacred worship of the only true God. “And there fell of the people that day about three thousand men.” Terror filled the hearts of the whole congregation. They feared that they would all be destroyed. As Moses saw their distress, he promised, according to their earnest request, to plead with God to pardon their transgression.

Those who plead that great charity must be exercised toward the transgressors of God's commandments, may see in this instance of God's retributive justice how he regards that charity that would cloak sin, or shield those in iniquity. The ringleaders in this wickedness, without respect to friendship or kindred, were to be punished with death. Only those were slain who stood forth in bold defiance to vindicate their conduct, while those who repented of their sins, and humbled themselves, were spared. Some would call the prompt and decided measures taken, a hard and severe spirit. But Moses here received from the mouth of God, the interpretation of, or what he calls, sanctification. In the prompt decisive act of showing their abhorrence of such disobedience and transgression, they sanctified themselves. This integrity, this undeviating faithfulness, brought a blessing upon the tribe who performed the act of terrible justice.

Aaron failing to stand up boldly for the right, his yielding to the strength of numbers, placed him with the majority. Aaron represents the cases of a large number composing our churches at the present day. They pass over sins existing in the church which grieve the spirit of God. They are lax where order and principle are involved, because it is not pleasant to reprove and correct wrongs. They are themselves carried along with the current, and become responsible for a fearful neglect of faithfulness.

Moses represents a class who will call sin by its right name; a class that will give no place to sin and wrong, but will purge it from among them. Our abhorrence of sin cannot be too strong, if we are controlled by no personal, selfish feelings, if we labor disinterestedly for the salvation of souls, pleading in behalf of the erring, and those blinded by their own transgressions.

On the morrow, Moses addressed them: “Ye have sinned a great sin; and now I will go up unto the Lord; peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin.” He went, and in his confession before God, he said, “Oh! this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if thou wilt, forgive their sin; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.” The answer was “Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book. Therefore, now go, lead the people unto the place of which I have spoken unto thee. Behold, mine angel shall go before thee; nevertheless, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them.” The Lord further showed his displeasure at their act by afflicting them with a plague.

Moses manifested his great love for Israel in his entreaty to the Lord to forgive their sin, or blot his name out of the book which he had written. His intercessions here illustrate Christ's love and mediation for the sinful race. But the Lord refused to let Moses suffer for the sins of his backsliding people. He declared to him that those who had sinned against him he would blot out of his book which he had written; for the righteous should not suffer for the guilt of the sinner. The book here referred to is the book of records in Heaven, in which every name is inscribed, and the acts of all, their sins, and obedience, are faithfully written. When individuals commit sins which are too grievous for the Lord to pardon, their names are erased from the book, and they are devoted to destruction. Although Moses realized the dreadful fate of those whose names should be dropped from the records of Heaven, yet he plainly declared before God that if the names of his erring Israel should be no more remembered by him for good, he wished his name to be blotted out with theirs; for he could never endure to see the fullness of Jehovah's wrath come upon the people for whom he had wrought such wonders.

The Lord directed Moses to move his tent afar off from the encampment of Israel, thus giving expression to the people that he had separated himself from them. He would reveal himself to Moses, but not to such a people. Here he puts a difference between the faithful and the unfaithful; and this rebuke was keenly felt by the sinful Israelites.

In sadness they had buried their dead, the subjects of the wrath of an insulted God, and their sin had also separated Moses their leader from them. Moses pitched the tent where God indicated, but he called it the tabernacle of the congregation. Anxiously the people watched the movements of Moses as he repaired to the tabernacle. They feared that God had separated Moses from them that he might destroy them in his wrath. When Moses repaired to the tabernacle, every man stood in the door of his tent until he entered. The people had laid off all their ornaments, for the Lord had said to Moses: “Say unto the children of Israel, ye are a stiff necked people; I will come up unto the midst of thee in a moment, and consume thee; therefore now put off thy ornaments from thee that I may know what to do unto thee.” They stripped themselves of their ornaments, and humbled their hearts in penitence before God. Moses had not informed the people with what success he had interceded with God in their behalf; but in response to his earnest importunities, God had promised to send an angel before them, but he had refused to go himself up in the midst of them, lest in their wayward course his wrath should consume them in the way.

As Moses entered into the tabernacle, the symbol of his glory in the cloudy pillar stood at the door of the tabernacle. Had Moses made an attempt to lessen the magnitude of the sins of rebellious Israel, he would not have been tolerated in the divine presence for a moment, for he would have shared the guilt of Israel. He plead before God that he should spare his people, notwithstanding their great sin, and in thus doing show himself a great and merciful God. Thus Moses cast himself and all Israel upon the large mercy of him whom Israel had dishonored. Moses then faithfully presented before the people the aggravating character of their sin. He knew that mere sacrifices and offerings would not remove the guilt unless their hearts repented sincerely of their transgression.

Some in this age of the world seem to think it a virtue to call sin righteousness. But Moses called sin by its right name, a transgression of God's holy law. Moses required all who were truly penitent and humble in view of their transgression, to manifest it by separating from the congregation, and in the sight of all Israel repair to the tabernacle, and he would plead with God to forgive their transgression, and receive them back again to his favor. Conviction and thorough repentance was required of ancient Israel in order to meet the standard of God. No less does God require of his people in our day. There must be genuine heart work in repentance and humiliation, in order to come under this covenant care, and protecting love of God. Unmistakable evidence is given that God is a jealous God, and that he will require of modern Israel as he did of ancient Israel, that they obey his law. For all who live upon the earth is this sacred history traced by the pen of inspiration.

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