Topical Sermon on Exodus and Genesis
by Maylan Schurch
Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church 8/01/2020
©2020 by Maylan Schurch

(To watch the complete worship service on YouTube, click the link just below. The sermon starts at the 41:55 mark.)

Please open your Bible to Exodus chapter 34.

A few weeks back I began a new sermon series, which I’ve called “Exiles.” Yesterday morning Shelley and I took some books back to our local library, but we – along with everybody else except the library staff — are still exiled from the inside of the library.

The staff has set up tables in front of the front door, and they’ve marked off one-way lanes on the walkway with colorful plastic tape, and you have to mask up, and the library people will bring out your books to you. But they are such friendly, welcoming folks—you can tell they’ve been affected by the exile too.

And it seems like every few days on the news we hear about high-profile people who were too casual about mask-wearing, and who now have the virus, and in some cases have not survived the virus.

Fortunately, most people are beginning to behave themselves. Yesterday I read an online Newsweek story about how a recent poll says that 95% of Americans are now wearing a mask either all or most of the time.

But of course, when you wear a mask, you are exiling people from your facial expression. As Shelley and I walk the Lake Youngs Trail every morning down in south Renton, we have to greet people with hidden smiles and with a wave, and a cheerful (and slightly muffled) “good morning.”

So for the last few weeks, I’ve been preparing sermons on Bible people who were in exile. And as I’ve mentioned more than once, if you had been a Bible person so famous that parents name their kids after you today, you were most likely an exile in some way or other.

And today’s exile story is probably the Bible’s most dramatic and traumatic exile story aside from the Second Coming of Jesus. It’s the story of Noah and the flood.

So why did I have us turn not to Genesis 6 but to Exodus 34? Because the flood story, if we aren’t well enough informed, can raise a whole lot of questions about the character of God. What is God really thinking? Why did the flood have to happen?

As I was thinking about this, the phrase came to mind, “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy.” That’s the name of a hymn, and it’s going to be our closing song today.

And the reason I took us to Exodus first of all is because chapter 34 is where God proclaims who He is and what He is like to Moses. And before we head into the Flood story, we need to find out what God is really like. Because God’s character has a lot to do with that Flood story.

Let’s set up what happens here in Exodus by actually looking back at Exodus 33 for a moment. This is a pretty traumatic time for both Moses and God. While Moses was up on Mount Sinai getting God’s hand-engraved copy of the 10 Commandments, the people were down at the base of the mountain disobeying those commandments, even though they had heard God speak them aloud in His own voice. So Moses comes down the mountain, and shatters the 10 Commandments to pieces in their sight.

And Moses’ highest priority at this lfearful crisis-point is to make sure, as the nation continues its journey through the wilderness, that God will not forsake them but will come with them. Let’s listen in on their conversation.

Exodus 33:12 – 23 [NKJV]: Then Moses said to the LORD, “See, You say to me, ‘Bring up this people.’ But You have not let me know whom You will send with me. Yet You have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found grace in My sight.’ Now therefore, I pray, if I have found grace in Your sight, show me now Your way, that I may know You and that I may find grace in Your sight. And consider that this nation is Your people.” And He said, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Then he said to Him, “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here. For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us? So we shall be separate, Your people and I, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth.” So the LORD said to Moses, “I will also do this thing that you have spoken; for you have found grace in My sight, and I know you by name.” And he said, “Please, show me Your glory.” Then He said, “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” But He said, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.” And the LORD said, “Here is a place by Me, and you shall stand on the rock. So it shall be, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and will cover you with My hand while I pass by. Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen.”

So as the next chapter starts, God tells Moses to cut two more tablets of stone and bring them back up on the mountain so God can write those commandments again.

And then comes the dramatic moment when God reveals who He is to Moses.

Exodus 34:5 – 7: Now the LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. And the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.”

This is very interesting to me. God wanted to reveal to Moses who He was, what He was like, what His character was made up of. But why didn’t God simply say, “Moses, all you need to know is that I am love.” That’s what 1 John 4:8 says– “God is love.” Isn’t that all we need to know?

Well, if that was all we needed to know, God would have said that, and nothing more. And the Bible would contain only three words, and not 750,000. But in the 40 years Moses will be leading this nation from place to place in the Sinai Peninsula, sin is going to make life so complicated that Moses is going to need to know more details.

So in Exodus 34:6 and onward, God gives more details. When God starts listing His qualities, the first one He mentions is that He is “merciful.” Okay, that’s great, but how does that square up with the destruction of all the human and animal life during the flood? “God is love” is true, but we need more details.

Well, I believe that, as the song says, there is a “wideness” in God’s mercy. And I believe He spells it out that wideness right here. And I believe that once we see how wide God’s mercy is, we’ll be able to carry that understanding right into the story of the flood, and it might just make more sense than ever before.

So let’s read these two verses and watch God’s mercy widen out, concentric circle by concentric circle, to incredible size.

Exodus 34:5 – 7: Now the LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. And the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth . . . .

But Lord, how wide does that goodness reach? Just among Your close personal friends?

Verse 7: . . . keeping mercy for thousands . . .

There’s one Bible translation which considers that to mean “thousands of generations,” not just thousands of people.

So God’s mercy just got quite a bit wider. But Lord, is this mercy only for people who behave themselves?

Verse 7: . . . forgiving iniquity . . . .

Forgiving iniquity? That’s good news. That widens God’s mercy out quite a bit more. But Lord, there are all kinds of sins, some of them really terrible. Does Your forgiveness widen out to these as well?

Verse 7 : “ . . . forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin . . .”

A couple of days ago I hauled down my Young’s Concordance from the shelf. I don’t know if you’ve ever used a Young’s Concordance. A lot of us have Strong’s Concordance in our personal libraries, but there are times when Young’s is really helpful. And this was one of those times.

Let’s say you want to look up the word “sin” in Young’s Concordance. There are basically three different Hebrew words which the King James Bible translates as “sin,” and what Young’s does is to break them apart by Hebrew word. (Strong’s does this too, with numbers at the end of each reference, but you have to go to the back and look each number up to find the original Greek or Hebrew word. But with Young’s, those Hebrew or Greek words are right there on that same page.)

So I was able to look at those three Old Testament Hebrew words that are translated “sin,” and see what they were. And then I looked at the Hebrew words in the verse we just read, and sure enough, all those Hebrew words for “sin” are right here in verses 6 and 7. Every single one of them.

Talk about widening out God’s mercy! What this means is that God forgives sins, period – not just the weaker sins or the more minor sins, but every single category of sin that you or I could commit! That’s what the Lord told Moses right here. This is part of God’s nature, God’s character. The good news is that God’s forgiveness, God’s mercy, is wide enough to encompass any bad thing we could possibly think of doing.

As a pastor, once in a while someone will tell me about something they were really ashamed of doing. And I always tell them that God is extremely forgiving. I will tell them Bible stories that show how forgiving God is.

Because God knew that Moses needed to know, very clearly, before he marched out ahead of those 12 tribes to lead them through the wilderness, that God could forgive anything and everything. So right here on this mountain, God told him that the divine mercy is incredibly wide.

Okay, Lord, that’s great. That’s wonderful. But what about the people who don’t repent, who don’t feel any need of repentance? What about the people who spurn You, and who keep hurting Your children? Since You can forgive all sins, are You going to give these people a free pass? How wide is your mercy here?

God’s mercy gets even wider.

Verse 7: . . . forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty . . . .

Did you see how wide God’s mercy just became? This verse shows two kinds of people—the sinful people who have humbly repented (and were forgiven), and other sinful people who have not. By no means will God clear the unrepentant guilty.

So, how is this merciful? It’s merciful in two ways. First, it’s merciful to the victims of the guilty. When people sin, other people most often get hurt. And even if the guilty person does later confess and repent, there will still be consequences. David learned that when he committed adultery.

Second, God is merciful to the unrepentant guilty. Because absolutely the most merciless thing God could do to the unrepentant guilty would be to give them eternal life. Can you imagine the evil that people would do to each other? And can you imagine the unending terror and pain that would cause? Eternal life for sinners wouldn’t be an ever-burning hell, but an ever-torturing hell.

And that, of course, brings us to Genesis chapter 6. So let’s go there now. But as we go, we need to remember to pack up in our backpack all we’ve learned about the wideness of God’s mercy, and carry it with us.

Because we’re going to meet a multitude of people who are going to test the wideness of God’s mercy to the limit. Here comes one of the Bible’s most frightening verses.

Genesis 6:5: Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

This morning if we had a live portable camera and carried it out to the corner by the church and took videos of people driving by, we would see a lot of folks who are a mix of good and bad, just like you and I are.

We are all sinners in need of a Savior, and we can’t see into peoples’ hearts, but we probably don’t see a lot of people whose every heart-intent is only evil continually.

I mean, those hordes and hordes of pre-Flood people—from what we understand, everybody except Noah and his family—were just vicious and vile from the time their eyelids blinked open in the morning until those eyelids closed in sleep.

If it’s hard to believe that such concentrated evil was happening on such a huge scale, remember who it was that was inspiring them—the devil himself, and his fallen angels. And think of the bleak horror of knowing that with all their pre-flood vigor and nearly thousand-year lifespans, life would be hell on earth for a long, long time.

So, with our “God’s mercy” backpack buckled tightly to our shoulders, let’s move further into the story. And as we do so, let’s cast anxious eyes in God’s direction. I mean, if you know anything at all about the Old Testament, you know that God can get vastly annoyed, and sometimes really wrathful, in reaction to the rebellion of His people.

So you’d think that here in the pre-flood world, with all the imaginations of everybody’s hearts being only evil all the time, God would erupt with vocalnic wrath in a truly awesome way.

But He doesn’t. His reaction is totally different.

Verses 5 – 6: Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.

These aren’t the Hebrew words for wrath and anger. I looked them up. They are the Hebrew words for “grief” and “sorrow.” Because there’s a wideness in God’s mercy. God could look down on that dystopian ugliness and cruelty and abuse and slavery and war, and He could grieve.

How wide is God’s mercy?

Exodus 34 says that God is merciful and gracious, and that widens out to patient long-suffering—being slow to anger—and his mercy widens out still further to forgiveness of sins, all kinds of sins, to those who seek that forgiveness.

But God’s mercy widens still further to consider the damage the unrepentant guilty people are doing, the pain they are causing, the terror they are inciting. And that leads Him to one more ultimate, strange act of mercy.

Verse 7: So the Lord said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.”

What horrendous things must those pre-Flood monsters have done to nature? It’s appalling to even think about. But whatever it was, God decided that everything and everyone needed to be destroyed.

But God found one faithful family.

Verses 8 – 13: But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. This is the genealogy of Noah. Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God. And Noah begot three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. So God looked upon the earth, and indeed it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the earth.

And God’s mercy did not stop with the merciful extinction of a demon-inspired race who had turned their backs on the Holy Spirit. Back in verse 3, God had said that His Spirit would not always strive with these people, so they must indeed have committed the sin against the Holy Spirit.

But His mercy doesn’t stop there. He finds that Noah and his family are faithful. And rather than simply taking them up to heaven the way He had taken Enoch, He has devised another plan.

Verses 14 – 22: Make yourself an ark of gopherwood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and outside with pitch. And this is how you shall make it: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. You shall make a window for the ark, and you shall finish it to a cubit from above; and set the door of the ark in its side. You shall make it with lower, second, and third decks. And behold, I Myself am bringing floodwaters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die. But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall go into the ark—you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. And of every living thing of all flesh you shall bring two of every sort into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. Of the birds after their kind, of animals after their kind, and of every creeping thing of the earth after its kind, two of every kind will come to you to keep them alive. And you shall take for yourself of all food that is eaten, and you shall gather it to yourself; and it shall be food for you and for them.” Thus Noah did; according to all that God commanded him, so he did.

How’s that for a life motto? That’s a very tangible way you and I can respond to God’s incredible mercy. “Lord, I’m going to do just like Noah did. According to all that You command me, I will do.”

In Matthew 24, starting with verse 37, Jesus solemnly said: “But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.” (Matthew 24:37 – 39)

To me, the most chilling phrase in that passage is “they did not know.” Like Kathy Gephart, and like young Shayleigh, let’s ask the Lord to lead us to people who need to know—true, they need to know about the future events which will burst upon us, but far more importantly they need to know a God whose mercy is incredibly wide and far-reaching.

Let’s sing about that mercy as we close: “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” —