The Two Greatly Contrasting Experiences Of Moses


We can only imagine what it would have been like for Moses to have been up Mount Sinai speaking with God for forty days and forty nights, Exodus 24:18. We can’t even begin to imagine the awe he must have felt as he was in the presence of God Himself.

We can also imagine the disappointment he felt when he came down from Mount Sinai forty days later. This would have been two greatly contrasting experiences for Moses, to say the least.

1. Moses had spent 40 days and nights on Mount Sinai in communion with God Himself, an experience that had begun with the breath-taking vision of the Glory of God.

‘Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of lapis lazuli, as bright blue as the sky. But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.’ Exodus 24:9-11

I cannot offer an explanation for this experience, the most I can say is that it probably means that, so far as it is possible or human eyes to see God, His glory was revealed in a way that did not overpower them or harm them.

Whatever the true explanation is, it certainly means that this was something never before witnessed by mankind.

2. But, forty days later, coming there was that appalling contrast down from the meeting with God, Moses found that, aided by his brother Aaron, the people had been worshipping a golden image or a bull-calf which was a common pagan deity of that time and region.

‘When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, ‘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 answered them, ‘Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.’ So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’ Exodus 32:1-4

Remember that Aaron had shared that vision of the glory of God, yet he organised the people in this act of idolatry. Could it be that, because, after that awesome vision, God had called Moses up the mountain, accompanied by Joshua, not Aaron, and Aaron felt affronted or humiliated. We shall probably never know!

Bear in mind that this was happening down below, on the Plain of Sinai, whilst Moses was with God, and God knew about it before Moses discovered it! In fact, God told Moses what he would find when he went back to the people!

‘Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt.’ Exodus 32:7

It seems that at that point, God was preparing to abandon the children of Israel and make Moses the father of a great nation. But He could not abandon the promise that He had made to Abraham, Genesis 15:1-20. The last verses in Exodus 32, suggests that Moses’s enthusiasm for the Promised Land had evaporated, nor were the people excited by the prospect of that journey, either.

‘So Moses went back to 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—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.’ The LORD replied to Moses, ‘Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book. Now go, lead the people to the place I spoke of, and my angel will go before you. However, when the time comes for me to punish, I will punish them for their sin.’ And the LORD struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made.’ Exodus 32:31-35

Later, we read that they ‘mourned, and no one put on ornaments’. Exodus 33:4.

‘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 found favour with me.’ If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favour with you. Remember that this nation is your people.’ Exodus 33:12-13

It is clear that Moses had lost his enthusiasm for the journey, because he said to God, in effect, ‘You have told me to take this people to Canaan, but you still have not told me who is to go with me. You tell me that I have found favour in your sight. Then let me know your plans! Tell me what is going to happen! And, remember that they are your people!’

The record tells us that God accepted the signs of the people’s repentance, and the appeal of Moses.

‘The LORD replied, ‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’ Exodus 33:14

Moses had no idea what lay before him. The people were later told, ‘you have never been this way before’, Joshua 3:4, so his appeal was reasonable. Who could he rely on? I imagine that the more he thought about the alternatives, the more daunting the prospect of that journey became!

Who was available?

1. Well, he had a personal servant in Joshua, who is described as his bodyguard, Exodus 24:13 / Exodus 33:11, but Joshua was a young man at this stage of the journey and too young for such a great responsibility.

Only after Canaan was in sight and Moses was dead, did God instruct Joshua to complete what Moses had begun, Joshua 1:1-2.

2. What about Aaron? Well, Aaron, the brother of Moses, Exodus 4:14, was certainly old enough. In fact, he was 83 three years old, three years older than Moses, as Exodus 7:7 tells us.

But age does not always bring wisdom and reliability, and, after the Golden Calf episode, it would have been difficult to have full confidence in Aaron. It is possible that Moses could not overlook the weakness Aaron showed at time, when he should have been able to control the people. Instead he had been controlled by them!

Listen to what Moses said to his brother, ‘What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?’ Exodus 32:11. And so, Moses was driven to the only possible solution, God must go with them!

Of course, when we think about this dialogue with God, we might regard Moses as being very daring, even audacious in the manner in which he speaks. But, if he showed daring, it was a boldness born out of desperation! But he realised that he desperately needed the presence of God on that journey to the promised Land.

1. He looked at himself.

He was a man who was humble enough to recognise that if he went without God he would fail! It is not for nothing that the Bible tells us that Moses was the meekest of men, Numbers 12:3, who was aware of his own limitations. Far too many of us have exaggerated views of our own importance!

Read again how Moses responded when God first called him, His first words in response to God’s commission, were, ‘who am I that I should to Pharaoh?’ Exodus 3:11.

2. He looked at the past.

He remembered how well God had cared for His people when He delivered them from Egypt and had provided for them up that very moment. The Passover, Exodus 12:1-29, the crossing of the Red Sea, Exodus 14:15-30, the provision of food and water, Manna from heaven, Exodus 16:1-16, water from the rock at Horeb, Exodus 17:1-7.

Protection from the Amalekites, Exodus 17:8-13, when they certainly did not have the weapons with which to defend themselves.

3. He looked to the future.

Moses says something to God, which is usually overlooked, but which reveals that he knew something very significant. He advances the distinctiveness of this people, a reason why God should go with them.

‘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 33:16

He argues that when the nations with whom they come into contact on the journey see that God is with them, that they will recognise that they are His people, a distinctive people, and that He has a special purpose for them. He must also have been aware of the blessings in store, the reward, for those who commit themselves to God.

‘But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.’ The LORD replied to Moses, ‘Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book.’ Exodus 32:32-33

Moses’ love for his people is very evident, but I don’t know too many people that would be courageous enough to say to God, ‘please forgive someone’s sin, if not remove my name from the Lamb’s book of life’, Revelation 3:5 / Revelation 21:27.

‘By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.’ Hebrews 11:24-26

We are told that ‘he refused to be called the son of the daughter of Pharaoh’, and he chose, he reckoned to be mistreated, which tells us that such conduct as this can only mean one thing, Moses lived by and acted upon faith.


What a difference forty days can make in someone’s life, Moses went from being in awe of God, to being deeply disappointed with his people’s idolatrous behaviour. Life can be like that for most of us, one day we’re feeling extremely blessed and the next day, we struggle to see the future.

Although Moses felt let down by his people, He knew that God was still with him, he fully trusted and lived accordingly.

‘Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.’ Deuteronomy 31:6


"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God."