God’s Angel and Hornet

Exodus 23:20-33

At the outset of our study, EXPERIENCING EXODUS, I laid down what I believe to be the MATRIX of the Bible, which is comprised of three things:


Everything in the Bible can be placed under this matrix. Our text for this morning is built around these three things. Listen for RELATIONAL EXPERIENCE, QUEST FOR PLACE and COVENANT as we work our way through Exodus 23:20-33 and see how God has woven them together in this passage.

Exodus 23:20-21—

See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him.

First and foremost, Yahweh assures His people of His personal presence. Notice that Yahweh’s Name is in Him. NAME represents God’s Presence. For all that is said of Him here is attributed to the LORD Himself in Exodus 13:21—

By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.

And Exodus 33:14-15—

The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.”

This angel of God appeared to Moses at the Burning Bush. Exodus 3:2—

There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up.

This angel of God was active in the Red Sea Crossing according to Exodus 14:19—

Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them.

This is no common angel, but a manifestation of Yahweh Himself. This angel prefigures Christ, and indeed is the preincarnate Lord Jesus Christ. Think of what Jesus said in John 14:2-3—

In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

What did Yahweh say here? “SEE, I AM SENDING AN ANGEL AHEAD OF YOU TO GUARD YOU ALONG THE WAY AND TO BRING YOU TO THE PLACE I HAVE PREPARED.” As the LORD of the OT made the way for Israel to come to the place He prepared in the Promised Land, so the LORD of the NT has made the way for the Church to come to the place He is preparing in the Heavenly Jerusalem, the Holy City.

PAY ATTENTION TO HIM AND LISTEN TO WHAT HE SAYS. Similar words are said of Jesus by God centuries later on the Mount of Transfiguration. Matthew 17:1-5—

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

Notice what Hebrews 12:25 says of Jesus—

See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven?

The angel of God’s presence spoke to the OT saints. Christ spoke as the Prophet in the days of His flesh; and He now speaks in heaven by appearing in the presence of God for His people, and by presenting His blood, righteousness, and sacrifice; He speaks by His Spirit, in and to the hearts of His saints; and by His ministers in the Gospel.

The whole OT shows that those who refused to listen to God’s message delivered by men did not escape. How can those escape then who refuse to listen to God’s own Son?

With Exodus 23:22-23, notice that obedience and promises are in separately connected—

If you listen carefully to what he says and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you. My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out.

The Hebrew literally reads SHAMA THE SHAMA, that is “LISTENING LISTEN.” Attentively, listen to God’s Angel, and diligently and constantly observe and obey in whatever He shall direct and order.

It is best these people do not remain in the Land, for Israel may fall prey to the enticements of the religion they practice. Do you associate with people that entice you away from the LORD?

In order to maintain a RELATIONAL EXPERIENCE with God, we must be circumspect, that is cautious, calculating and careful, with our human relationships.

Yahweh said, “MY ANGEL WILL GO AHEAD OF YOU AND BRING YOU INTO THE LAND.” Notice that Israel’s QUEST FOR PLACE is tied to their RELATIONAL EXPERIENCE with Yahweh. If Israel expects to remain in the Promised Land, they must guard and protect their relationship with the LORD.

The placement of verse 24 —

Do not bow down before their gods or worship them or follow their practices. You must demolish them and break their sacred stones to pieces.

. . . shows that issues of obedience and disobedience of all commands proceeds from issues of loyalty and disloyalty to Yahweh.

The peril or snare for Israel is not that this or that commandment will be disobeyed, but that it will be disloyal to Yahweh and serve other gods. The golden calf debacle demonstrates this. Israel’s future as the people of God is centered on this matter. If Israel is loyal, then that faithfulness will be manifested in obedience to the commandments; faithlessness to Yahweh will be manifested in a life of disobedience.

In other words, faithfulness to God Himself takes priority over obedience. That does not make obedience of the detailed commandments somehow unimportant, but obedience follows from faithfulness, not the other way around.

Moses’ charge to Israel in Deuteronomy 30:16 prior to the nation entering into the Promised Land began with a call of loyalty—to love God wholeheartedly through obedience that brings blessing—

For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

Two prayer warriors, Nehemiah and Daniel, offer almost the same prayer in Nehemiah 1:5 and Daniel 9:4—

O LORD, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands.

And of course, Jesus declared in John 14:15—

If you love me, you will obey what I command.

Obedience follows love, loyalty and faithfulness—not the other way around!

The exhortations to Israel focus almost exclusively on the FIRST and SECOND COMMANDMENTS, thus making loyalty to Yahweh the TOUCHSTONE of RELATIONAL EXPERIENCE with GOD.

God’s command is explicit—YOU MUST DEMOLISH THEM AND BREAK THEIR SACRED STONES TO PIECES. Are there sacred stones in your life that need to be broken and demolished? Figuratively speaking, anything that comes before God in our life is a scared stone!

God will be loyal to Israel if Israel is loyal to God. Underlying the nature of Israel’s relationship to Yahweh is God’s expectation of loyalty to Him. Hence, Divine promises, which are conditioned on loyalty, permeate this section of the Book of the Covenant. Verses 25-26a—

Worship the LORD your God, and his blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you, and none will miscarry or be barren in your land. I will give you a full life span.

It is not that God will never come and bless elsewhere; it is that God promises that God will do so if they will worship Him alone. God will stick to His promises. God will be faithful!

At the same time the people can remove themselves from the sphere of promise, as they later do in the apostasy of the golden calf. but the promise of God will always be there for the believing to cling to and for the apostate to return to.

God will guard Israel and bring them to the Promised Land, driving out its in habitants. But also strongly represented are creational promises. God will bless them with food, drink healing, fertility, and long life. This ties back to their experiences with God already in the desert.

The driving out of the inhabitants of Canaan will not happen with a simple Divine move. Verses 27-28—

I will send my terror ahead of you and throw into confusion every nation you encounter. I will make all your enemies turn their backs and run. I will send the hornet ahead of you to drive the Hivites, Canaanites and Hittites out of your way.

It is not know for certain what God’s TERROR and THE HORNET are, but God’s use of entities from the natural order may be in view considering the plagues that occurred in Egypt. The Hebrew word for HORNET is like DEER in English. But its meaning is uncertain. The Greek OT translates it WASP. It can refer to a single hornet or many hornets. THE HORNETS might be natural insects that cause pestilence that produces TERROR. It’s probable that God’s TERROR and HORNET might be one in the same.

The word for HORNET appears in Deuteronomy 7:20 and Joshua 24:12, where the LORD says—

I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove them out before you—also the two Amorite kings. You did not do it with your own sword and bow.

Perhaps the HORNET is a symbol for EGYPT; just as Isaiah 7:18 uses the FLY and the BEE as symbols of Egypt and Assyria. It may have been the terrifying news of what God did to Egypt in the Ten Plagues and at the Red Sea. Rahab testified to the two Israelite spies in Joshua 2:8-11—

I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts sank and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.

In any event, the LORD promises to send some agent to disable or frighten the peoples of Canaan so that they will not be able to resist Israel’s invasion. God would send panic and confusion to every nation Israel would face.

Israel’s taking of Canaan would not be swift according to verses 29-30—

But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you. Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land.

Israel’s QUEST FOR PLACE is tied to COVENANT— THE BOOK OF THE COVENANT especially and the promises made in it.

There can be no peaceful coexistence between these nations and Israel in Canaan. Therefore, Yahweh declares in verses 31-33—

I will establish your borders from the Red Sea to the Sea of the Philistines, and from the desert to the River. I will hand over to you the people who live in the land and you will drive them out before you. Do not make a covenant with them or with their gods. Do not let them live in your land, or they will cause you to sin against me, because the worship of their gods will certainly be a snare to you.

The borders God describes here traces the out limits already given to Abraham in Genesis 15:18 and comes close to matching the extent of the United Kingdom under David and Solomon. This territory is Israel’s Land given by the Promise of God. It will be Israel’s QUEST FOR PLACE.

However, for Israel TO MAKE A COVENANT with the inhabitants of this Land or its gods violates God’s COVENANT with them! TO SIN AGAINST GOD is to break COVENANT thereby losing RELATIONAL EXPERIENCE as well as PLACE. This matrix will be played out in 722 B.C., 586 B.C. and A.D. 70.

Undivided loyalty is a matter of concern that God will not compromise. If one is unfaithful, one then stands outside the sphere of RELATIONAL EXPERIENCE with Him—no ifs, and, or buts.

Today’s passage shows the seriousness with which God takes relationship.

Israel experienced God’s GRACE and entered into a RELATIONAL EXPERIENCE with the LORD as He defined in THE BOOK OF THE COVENANT. Now the people who once were in the bondage of slavery in Egypt have a destiny—the Promised Land has become their QUEST FOR PLACE.

In the face of death, they experienced God’s GRACE at the Red Sea!

Only if one is genuinely faced with death can one grasp what GRACE is all about. Only then can one see that it is a gift, pure and simple, an incredible gift. Any halfway house regarding the issue of LOYALTY would mean that grace would never be seen for what it really is; at best, it would be kind of divine indulgence. Grace means that the promise still stands and sin is forgiven though one deserves only death.

Nor does GRACE mean that one ought to live close to the margin of God’s patience and mercy in order to experience more grace. Romans 6:1 says—

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning, so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?

The one who lives in the shadow of GRACE will HARKEN ATTENTIVELY to the voice of God for 1 John 2:3-6 states—

We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.

Are you willing to let Him guide you? Israel faced that question many centuries ago.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *