The Broken Sentence
April 5th, 1959 @ 8:15 AM
THE BROKEN SENTENCE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-5-59 8:15 a.m.
You are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the early morning message entitled The Broken Sentence. You can easily follow the message if you turn to the Book of Exodus, chapter 32. We are following the life of Moses, and Moses has been away on a mountaintop talking with God face to face [Exodus 19:3-6, 33:11]. And God has given Moses the Ten Commandments [Exodus 20:1-17]. And Moses has delivered God’s message faithfully and well [Exodus 24:3].
Moses is God’s true servant. God spake to Moses as a man would unto his friend, face to face. But while Moses was gone, in the thirty-second chapter of the Book of Exodus, you have the story, how the people said, “As for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him” [Exodus 32:1]. So they have Aaron make for them a golden calf:
And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.
And the Lord says to Moses, Get thee down; for the people have turned quickly out of the way: they have made them a molten calf, they have worshipped it, and sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.
And Moses goes down the mountain and finds there the people undressed in Oriental licentiousness, dancing, sacrificing, worshipping around the golden calf [Exodus 32:19]. Then you have the outbreak of the fury of Moses [Exodus 32:19-29], and then, begin reading now at the thirtieth verse:
And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses said unto the people, Ye have sinned a great sin: and now I will go up unto the Lord; peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin.
And Moses returned unto the Lord and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if Thou wilt forgive their sin—
Then a long black dash, he doesn’t complete it—
and if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book which Thou hast written.
And that is The Broken Sentence, “Yet now, if Thou wilt forgive their sin”: and he does not complete it; “and if not, blot me, I pray Thee out of Thy book which Thou hast written” [Exodus 32:32].
Someone has said that that sentence is like a beautiful, graceful Greek column broken off in the middle. Someone else has said that sentence is like a strain of plaintive music, which is suddenly hushed into silence by the snapping of a string. It ends in a paroxysm of grief. It is drowned in inexpressible emotion, “If now Thou wilt forgive their sin—and if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book, which Thou hast written” [Exodus 32:32].
Now, we are going to look at this development and why it came about. You just can hardly believe, you just have to awaken yourself. You can hardly believe that this thing came to pass. It had not been three months; it had not been three months when they looked upon the majesty of the Lord in the land of Egypt; those ten miracles, demonstrations of the presence and favor of God [Exodus 7:14-10:29; 12:29-36].
It had not been three months since they stood at the Red Sea and saw the delivering hand of God revealed [Exodus 14:21-31]. It had not been three months since they were given food of the angels, manna from heaven [Exodus 16:14-16]. It had not been three months since water flowed copiously, abundantly out of the rock of flint [Exodus 17:5-6]. It had not been three months since God had pledged to go with them, and the visible sign of His presence was seen in the daytime by a great pillar of cloud and in the nighttime by a pillar of burning, flaming fire, it had not been three months [Exodus 13:21-22, 14:19-24].
And now, Moses up on that mountaintop communing with God face to face [Exodus 19:3-6, 33:11], receiving from the hand of God the tables of stone written by the finger of God [Exodus 31:18] and all of the accompanying commandments [Exodus 24:3]; while Moses is up there and the people are waiting, they begin to say to one another, “Moses, this man Moses, why, he has been gone almost six weeks. No man could live up there on that bare craggy mountain six weeks. He doesn’t have any food. He doesn’t have any water. He couldn’t live up there six weeks. Something has happened to him. A wild beast has found him a prey. He’s been destroyed. He has fallen over one of those great rocky precipices. We don’t know what is become of this man, Moses. He’s gone” [Exodus 32:1].
Then they turn to Aaron, the man of words. Ah, how he could speak and how little he could do. They turn to Aaron, the man of words, and they say to Aaron, “Up, up. Make us gods, which shall go before us” [Exodus 32:2]. And Aaron said—how easily he fits into that scheme, how vacillating, how without great commitment and devotion is this man, Aaron, he’s like a willow. The wind will blow him in any direction; he’s like a string, just falls over into anything—and Aaron said, “Everybody bring your golden earrings and everybody bring all the ornaments on your sons and daughters.” And so the people bring the golden earrings, and the armlets, and the bracelets, and the anklets, and they give them unto Aaron [Exodus 32:2-3]. And he fashions that gold into a molten calf [Exodus 32:4], and says:
These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And when Aaron saw it, the work of his hands and how the people responded to it, it pleased him greatly. And he built an altar before it and made proclamation and said, Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord.
And they rose up early in the morning, and offered burnt offerings unto the Lord, and brought peace offerings unto the Lord, there in the likeness of the golden calf. And the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.
How pleased they were, This is the Lord. This is our God. He brought us up out of the land of Egypt [Exodus 32:8]. And they worshipped Him under the image of golden calf.
Well, if we had about five days, right here we would just take off and expatiate at length over the uncanny, mysterious, diabolical hold that sensory religion has upon the minds and hearts of people. You can’t get away from it. We never have been able to get away from it, not since the days of our first parents until this present hour. Sensory religion—the indescribable, mysterious, satanic, depraved desire of human people to worship God under some kind of a form or an image or a likeness—we never get away from it. And that drive is as powerful today as it was then, as it was in the whole world of idolatry around them.
For, for this nation of Israel had been brought up for four hundred years where the people worshipped their gods under the form of images, and they saw them on every side. Abraham apparently was called out of a whole world sunken in idolatry, all the world [Genesis 11:31-12:1; Joshua 24:2-3]. And he was taught that God was spirit and it is not to be worshipped under any image or under any form. And that revelation Moses gave to Isaac, who gave it to Jacob, who gave it to his sons and it did not die; it finally came down to Moses. And God, who said His name is “I AM That I AM” [Exodus 3:14], God Jehovah sent Moses down into the land of Egypt to call them out of idolatry, out of the darkness of the Egyptian land [Exodus 3:6-10].
And Moses was teaching the people the spiritual nature of true worship and the spiritual nature of God. And Moses told the people the words of this spiritual God [Exodus 19:3-7], and the people said in Exodus 19, “And all the people answered together, and said to Moses, ‘All that the Lord hath spoken we will do’” [Exodus 19:8]. And over here after those commandments were spoken to them [Exodus 20:1-17], why, Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the judgments [Exodus 24:3], and all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which the Lord hath said will we do” [Exodus 24:3]. The first passage is in Exodus 19:8, and the second passage is in Exodus 24:3. Now, that first commandment was, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me” [Exodus 20:3]. The second commandment is, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image. Thou shalt not bow down thyself, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God” [Exodus 20:4-5].
Now, these people, these Israelites, were not breaking the first commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me” [Exodus 20:3], they were worshipping the Lord. “Tomorrow,” said Aaron, “is a feast to the Lord” [Exodus 32:5]. They were worshipping the Lord Jehovah. But though they were not breaking that first commandment [Exodus 20:3], they were still worshipping Jehovah God [Exodus 32:5]. It remained for the days of Ahab for Israel to turn to other gods; the god of Jezebel, Baal [1 Kings 18:19]. They’re still worshipping Jehovah God, but they are breaking the second commandment. “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything in heaven above, or earth beneath: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them nor worship them” [Exodus 20:4-5]. So, they make a golden calf [Exodus 32:4]. This is the likeness of Jehovah God. They made a calf because all of their lives, and their father’s lives, and their father’s fathers lives, for four hundred years they had seen the Egyptians worship before a sacred cow, a sacred bull, a sacred ox. Naturally, when they came to make a form of Jehovah before whom they could bow, why, they made it according to tradition, the only tradition they had known for four hundred years, they made it in the form of a calf. And they worshipped God sensorily, tangibly, imageably; they worshipped God, bowing down before a graven, a handmade image [Exodus 32:4].
There is, I have said, an innate drive in the human heart to do that. It is a mark of the depravity of the soul. No man, no family, no religion ever began by thinking that that graven image is the god himself. You are foolish when you think that those idolaters in the ancient world, those learned Greeks, those taught and astute Romans thought that when they bowed down before their graven images that that was the god itself. For they all begin alike, “This represents our great god.” For example, when the Greek went up to worship in his temple, he bowed down before an image of Jove. He bowed down before an image of Juno. But Jove and Juno lived on Mount Olympus, the mount of the gods. And this was an image. It was a likeness of Jove and Juno, who lived on Mount Olympus.
In the beautiful and incomparable Parthenon—on the Acropolis in Athens, the remains of which you can see today, in that beautiful Parthenon, which means “virgin,” parthenos, virgin—in that beautiful Parthenon was the virgin Pallas Athena. She was born, full born from the head of Jove. She lived on Mount Olympus, but she was worshipped there in the form of an image, in the Parthenon on the Acropolis. So all idol worshippers began that way—all of them—they began by bowing down before an image, which is the likeness of a god that lives some other place up in the heavens, or among the Greeks, Neptune, who lived in the depths of the sea.
Then as time goes on, the people who worship before that god and bow down before it, come to be persuaded that there are special blessings in the image itself. They become icons, they become gods themselves, and they are surrounded with those halos of being able to work miracles. And they are placed in shrines, and people come to the shrines because they’ve been persuaded that in those images is the presence and power of God. It is all of a piece, it is all alike—whether the image is of Jupiter, or of Juno, or of Neptune, or of Mary, or of Jesus, or of any other saint—when you bow down before an image you are an idolater. Whether you are a Greek bowing down before Jove and Juno or whether you are a western civilized man bowing down before the image of some saint or some deity, the second commandment is plain and clear: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image…Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them” [Exodus 20:4-5].
When you say, “But you don’t understand, he’s an idolater back there who was a Greek bowing before the likeness of Neptune. I am not an idolater when I bow down before the likeness of a saint or a deity.” You are no different! Whether you live today and bow down, or whether you lived two thousand or three thousand years ago and bowed down, it is the same. It is a violation of the second great commandment of God, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image . . . and thou shalt not bow down thyself to them” [Exodus 20:4-5]. Now, there is a concomitant that carries with that; it is always degrading. Wherever in the world there is image worship, idolatry, there carries with it a degraded life of the people, always, always. It never fails. There is no such thing as lifting people up to a great high spiritual plane through idolatry. I am not quite able to understand that. All I know is, God says it. And the whole history of the human race affirms it and confirms it.
Now let’s begin here in the thirty-second chapter of the Book of Exodus, “And they rose up early,” in the [sixth] verse, “And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play” [Exodus 32:6]. Now look at the twenty-fifth verse, “And when Moses saw that the people were naked; (for Aaron had made them naked unto their shame among their enemies :)” [Exodus 32:25].
There is something about idolatry, there is something about sensual religion, there is something about image worship that fails to lift up the spiritual life of the people. And that is as true as the Bible is true and as human history is true. When I take you to Africa and show you the African bow down before his image, I will show you a degraded humanity. When I take you to India and show you the Indians bow down before their monkey gods, I will show you a degraded people. And if you are in the market for some kind of a prostitute, let me take you to the Church of the Magdalene. If you are in the market for pornographic literature, let me take you to Notre Dame. I can buy it there on the court or in human flesh; all that you desire and all that you please.
One of the tragedies of great and wonderful France has been its religion! For whereas in England there were great preachers of the gospel, John Wesley, George Whitefield, Bishop Ridley, Bishop Cranmer, a half a thousand and a host of others raising England up in its spiritual worship of God, there were no such great preachers and no such great forces working in the heart of France. And France today is as debauched and immoral and drunken as any nation you could ever read of or know under the sun. To lean on France is to lean on a broken reed. Wherever some kinds of religion go, there you will find the people sitting down to eat and to drink and rising up to play and to dance. They go together; they never fail to go together, there is something about sensory religion that does it!
And in the storm and in the furor of human history, what gave rise to the terrible scourge and sword of the Muslim was the idol worship in the churches of Jesus Christ! Mohammed arose to avow and to declare and to affirm that God is spiritual, and the worship of God is to be spiritual. And in any Muslim mosque, any Muslim house of worship, you will find no image, you will find no idol, nothing but a little niche toward Mecca towards which the people bow in prayer. There is something about the Muslim religion that is impressive; you can’t get away from it.
Bowing down before a God who is spirit and worshipping God in spirit, oh, these things we read out of the Book and who dares to say them? Who dares to read them? Who dares to proclaim them? We have turned to sand. We have turned to water, we are afraid of the implications as well as the outright revelations of the true spiritual religion of God revealed here in the Bible.
Now when Moses came down from the mount at the word of God [Exodus 32:15-16], Moses said to Joshua, who, standing on the lower hills of the mountain, was waiting for the great man of God; they heard the people, and Joshua said unto Moses, “There is a noise of war in the camp” [Exodus 32:17]. Being a warrior, I can easily see why Joshua should have said that, he thought in terms of battle.
There is a noise of war in the camp. And Moses replied; No, that is not the voice of them that shout for mastery, nor is it the voice of them that are being overcome, but it is the noise of singing that I hear.
And it came to pass as soon as they came nigh unto the camp, they saw the calf, and the dancing.
Isn’t that funny? They go together, “They saw the calf and the dancing” [Exodus 32:19]. In the parish house next door, they’re going to have a ball.
And Moses’ anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount. And he took the calf . . . and ground it to powder, and strawed it on the water, and made the people drink it . . . And he called to his side the son of Levi, and said, Who is on the Lord’ side? Let him come and stand by me . . . And Moses said, Draw your sword. And there fell of the people that day three thousand men.
The impetuosity, the burning fire that had lain asleep in the heart of Moses for years and years suddenly flamed and came to life again, as his fury burned against that awful travesty of spiritual religion. Then you have this aftermath [Exodus 32:30-35].
I may be wrong in my interpretation of the passage, but I’m just thinking now of Moses in terms of you, of me. Have you ever been furious and angered and justly so and acted upon those impetuous, volatile, fiery thoughts and movements in your heart? Then after the storm is over, why, there is a reaction; and this is Moses. After the furor when he broke the tables of stone that God had given him on which God had written the commandments [Exodus 32:19], and after he had ground that calf into powder and made the people drink it [Exodus 32:20], and after he, with this commandment, had slain three thousand of the leaders [Exodus 32:28], the storm ended in a flood of tears, grieved [Exodus 30:32].
It came to pass on the morrow, when the storm had subsided, that Moses said, “Ye have sinned a great sin: yet now I will go up to the Lord; peradventure”; he does not say what. “Peradventure I should make an atonement for your sin, peradventure” [Exodus 32:30]. And Moses went up that long, long ascent to the top of the mount and said to God:
Oh, this people have sinned a great sin; they have made 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.
That was the secret he had locked up in his heart when he said to the people, “Peradventure, peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin” [Exodus 32:30]. What kind of an atonement? The blood of bulls and of goats? Could that wash away sin? The gift of gold and silver? Could that wash away sin? The secret he locked up in his heart when he said, “Peradventure” was this: he was going to offer himself as an atonement for their sins, “Blot me, I pray Thee, out of the book which Thou hast written” [Exodus 32:32].
And God was moved by the offer of Moses—voluntarily, volitionally, thoughtfully made. “I offer myself; blot me out of the book. Forgive their sins,” but Moses couldn’t make atonement. It had to be somebody else, guess who? Atonement was made, but it couldn’t be Moses, not Moses. It couldn’t even be Paul, “I say the truth in Christ, I lie not. I could wish that myself were damned, blotted out of the Book of Life, for my brethren, my kinsman according to the flesh” [Romans 9:1, 3] It couldn’t be anybody but Jesus, “the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world” [John 1:29]. It had to be Jesus. He is the atonement for the sins of the people, for Israel, for you, for the whole world [1 John 2:2]; forgiveness is in Him [Colossians 1:14].
Now in this moment when we sing our song, somebody you to give your heart in trust to the Lord, somebody you to come into the fellowship of the church, in the balcony round, on this lower floor, down one of these stairwells or into the aisle and down here to the front, would you immediately come?
On the first note of the first stanza, “Today, I give my heart to the Lord,” or “Today, I’m putting my life in the fellowship of the church.” While we sing this song, while we make the appeal, would you come and stand by me? Immediately, on the first note of the first stanza, would you make it now? While we stand and while we sing.