Exodus – God’s Way Out!
Do you like continuing education courses provided by your company employer? Do you dread training presentations or get excited about what you could learn so you could do your work more productively? It depends on the timing of the training, doesn’t it? If you are not overwhelmed with the work at the moment, you are more likely to accept time out to learn better, smarter ways of doing your work.
Respect is part of the learning process, too. If those tutorials are taught be people we highly respect in our field, we will be more likely to listen, learn and apply what we have been taught. We are also motivated by the leader over us, prodding us to apply what we have learned to our work.
What if the leader leaves? What if there is no real oversight or encouragement to do what we have learned? Do we fall back to what we knew from the beginning? Do we go back to what we grew up with and feel more comfortable in doing? Do the old habits creep in and eventually take over? Do we wonder why life isn’t working? Do we blame it on the new system as well as the leader who made us learn it?
“Make gods for us” scream God’s chosen to Aaron. We want to go back to what we knew. That’s easier.
As children, we did the same. As soon as Mom or Dad left to take care of a task, leaving the oldest sibling in charge, we reverted back to childish behavior. It almost became a contest to see how much we could do that was off limits while unsupervised. We assumed that what our parents did not see was okay…until someone got hurt.
Let’s see what “playing like mice while the cat’s away” kind of thinking and behavior does for God’s people. Moses training tutorials from God, his supervisor, to God’s people left their minds completely. They reverted back to what they knew best, the worship of idols. They seem to even crave the old ways of living life, even though it was a life of bondage. Wow.
Exodus 32, The Message
“Make Gods for Us”
When the people realized that Moses was taking forever in coming down off the mountain, they rallied around Aaron and said, “Do something. Make gods for us who will lead us. That Moses, the man who got us out of Egypt—who knows what’s happened to him?”
2-4 So Aaron told them, “Take off the gold rings from the ears of your wives and sons and daughters and bring them to me.” They all did it; they removed the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from their hands and cast it in the form of a calf, shaping it with an engraving tool.
The people responded with enthusiasm: “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up from Egypt!”
5 Aaron, taking in the situation, built an altar before the calf.
Aaron then announced, “Tomorrow is a feast day to God!”
6 Early the next morning, the people got up and offered Whole-Burnt-Offerings and brought Peace-Offerings. The people sat down to eat and drink and then began to party. It turned into a wild party!
7-8 God spoke to Moses, “Go! Get down there! Your people whom you brought up from the land of Egypt have fallen to pieces. In no time at all they’ve turned away from the way I commanded them: They made a molten calf and worshiped it. They’ve sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are the gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt!’”
9-10 God said to Moses, “I look at this people—oh! what a stubborn, hard-headed people! Let me alone now, give my anger free reign to burst into flames and incinerate them. But I’ll make a great nation out of you.”
11-13 Moses tried to calm his God down. He said, “Why, God, would you lose your temper with your people? Why, you brought them out of Egypt in a tremendous demonstration of power and strength. Why let the Egyptians say, ‘He had it in for them—he brought them out so he could kill them in the mountains, wipe them right off the face of the Earth.’ Stop your anger. Think twice about bringing evil against your people! Think of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants to whom you gave your word, telling them ‘I will give you many children, as many as the stars in the sky, and I’ll give this land to your children as their land forever.’”
14 And God did think twice. He decided not to do the evil he had threatened against his people.
15-16 Moses turned around and came down from the mountain, carrying the two tablets of The Testimony. The tablets were written on both sides, front and back. God made the tablets and God wrote the tablets—engraved them.
17 When Joshua heard the sound of the people shouting noisily, he said to Moses, “That’s the sound of war in the camp!”
18 But Moses said,
Those aren’t songs of victory,
And those aren’t songs of defeat,
I hear songs of people throwing a party.
19-20 And that’s what it was. When Moses came near to the camp and saw the calf and the people dancing, his anger flared. He threw down the tablets and smashed them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. He took the calf that they had made, melted it down with fire, pulverized it to powder, then scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it.
21 Moses said to Aaron, “What on Earth did these people ever do to you that you involved them in this huge sin?”
22-23 Aaron said, “Master, don’t be angry. You know this people and how set on evil they are. They said to me, ‘Make us gods who will lead us. This Moses, the man who brought us out of Egypt, we don’t know what’s happened to him.’
24 “So I said, ‘Who has gold?’ And they took off their jewelry and gave it to me. I threw it in the fire and out came this calf.”
25-26 Moses saw that the people were simply running wild—Aaron had let them run wild, disgracing themselves before their enemies. He took up a position at the entrance to the camp and said, “Whoever is on God’s side, join me!” All the Levites stepped up.
27 He then told them, “God’s orders, the God of Israel: ‘Strap on your swords and go to work. Crisscross the camp from one end to the other: Kill brother, friend, neighbor.’”
28 The Levites carried out Moses’ orders. Three thousand of the people were killed that day.
29 Moses said, “You confirmed your ordination today—and at great cost, even killing your sons and brothers! And God has blessed you.”
30 The next day Moses addressed the people: “You have sinned an enormous sin! But I am going to go up to God; maybe I’ll be able to clear you of your sin.”
31-32 Moses went back to God and said, “This is terrible. This people has sinned—it’s an enormous sin! They made gods of gold for themselves. And now, if you will only forgive their sin. . . . But if not, erase me out of the book you’ve written.”
33-34 God said to Moses, “I’ll only erase from my book those who sin against me. For right now, you go and lead the people to where I told you. Look, my Angel is going ahead of you. On the day, though, when I settle accounts, their sins will certainly be part of the settlement.”
35 God sent a plague on the people because of the calf they and Aaron had made.
At the same time God was giving Moses instructions for meeting the people’s need for a tangible center for worship and guidance, the people despaired of having that need met by God and insisted that Aaron meet it for them.
The results of taking life into their own hands were both tragic and predictable. Whenever humans insist on meeting their own needs, deification of creation follows. Deification is when a person (or thing) is treated like a god. For example, if you love your basketball coach so much that you build her an altar and bow whenever she walks by, that’s deification. And a little weird. This word is a variation of deify which means to treat someone like a deity (a god).
Close behind deification comes misuse of resources and the uninhibited expression of sexuality as the worship of the life force. In many ways this brief and poignant story teaches us the heart of the biblical drama as clearly as any other portion of Scripture.
Serving God is not merely a matter of making a decision. Nor are God’s options merely to bless or to curse. Somehow a faithful God must find ways to continue on with a people whose performance again and again falls short of their best intentions. He must do so until they can finally realize that the cure for their sinfulness lies beyond themselves.
Reverting back to the old ways of life, they shout, “build us an idol!” When we don’t know what to do, we go back to what we knew. The idol was probably of a full-grown bull, similar to idols the Israelites had known in Egypt. The bull idol represented life, fertility, and power.
“These are your gods” probably indicates that Aaron and the people did not recognize any essential problem in what they were doing. If Moses, wherever he was, was worshiping the invisible Yahweh, they were merely worshiping the visible one, or so they thought. They did not recognize that to make an idol of God was to undermine every truth about God that he was trying to teach them.
If no one else understands, Moses at least does: idolatry cannot coexist with the truth that God is not part of this world. And if that understanding is lost, all the rest of biblical faith is as well. That faith is uniquely dependent on the truth that God transcends this world.
Ex 32:24 is one of the great expressions of the human tendency to make excuses and deny personal responsibility. The results of Aaron’s inability to stand up to the people in their demand for a god to manipulate are threefold: brother set against brother, a plague, and the distance of God. God had planned for brother to serve brother, for health and abundance, and for his presence in their midst, but all that is jeopardized by the people’s efforts to achieve these things for themselves.
The most serious problem is the distance of God. Moses’ concern is seen in his attempt to maneuver God into an “or else” situation (32:31-32). God, in effect, tells him to calm down (v.33)
God’s words and actions in response (vv.33-35) show that he will forgive the Israelites as a people and continue his election of them, but that individual Israelites will still experience the temporal results of their actions.
One of the results of the golden calf incident was a new level of intimacy between Moses’ and God (33:7-34:35). The central issue is whether God will go with the people to the Promised Land. Moses argues that without God’s presence for himself personally and with the people as a whole, the whole enterprise is pointless.
This underlines what the entire book of Exodus and, indeed, what the whole process of salvation, is about: experiencing God’s presence (see on 24:12-40:38). The upshot of these encounters is that Moses himself becomes a symbol of God’s presence through the radiance of his face.
After being with God, does it show on our faces, in our thinking and through our behavior?
Dear Heavenly Father,
Transform me to be all you intended for me to be and then send me to do what you want me to do today. I love you because you loved me first. You saved me. Make your desires for my life be my desires. Change my heart. Transform my mind. Flood my soul with Your Holy Spirit. Bring your Light to all the dark places within me. I am Yours and You are mine.
In Jesus Name, Amen
If Moses is to lead God’s people, then he must have an intimate knowledge of God and his ways. It is the experience and evidence of the presence of God that distinguishes biblical religion from all others. For believers today it is the encounter with Christ that makes the difference in our lives before God. In Christ, the cleft rock of our salvation, is our way out of the bondage of sin and whose protection we have as sinners saved by grace can come into the presence of God and live.