So this week’s lesson finds God’s people in the wilderness worshipping a golden calf. If you’ve been reading along in the chronological bible, you might wonder how we have strayed so far from God’s plan for us in the Garden of Eden. What was God’s plan for Israel?
- God’s plan: Garden of Eden
- Israel’s plan: Desert
But God is faithful and continually rescues us from our own choices.
After Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden because of their sin, we then read about the sons of Adam and how they continually chose sin. God literally washed away their sins in the age of Noah, bringing a flood, but even Noah’s children and grandchildren strayed from God’s plan.
Then we get to Abraham, Adam’s 17th generation grandson. The Lord told Abraham in Genesis 15:3-18 that Abraham’s descendants would be more numerous than stars in the sky, but first, due to man’s choices, they would live as captives in a foreign land for 400 years before God would rescue them, deliver them, punish their captors, and return Israel to the land of Canaan.
Joseph, through the actions of his jealous brothers, is sold into slavery to the Egyptians, but God brings him through the pit, the prison, the palace, and makes him Pharaoh’s prime minister, second in command. Through famine, Abraham’s family relocates to Egypt. Over the next 400 years, they lived with Pharaoh’s blessing and grew from 70 people of Abraham’s family to a nation of several million people.
But eventually Joseph dies. The Egyptians forget what Joseph and the Israelites have done for them. Pharaoh enslaves the people of Israel. The people cry out to God for salvation.
God answers. God raises up a deliverer, Moses, to fulfill the promise God made to Abraham, to bring His people back to the land of Canaan after 400 years. To save His people, God provide amazing miracles. Turning a staff into a serpent, bringing the plagues to Egypt, turning the Nile into blood, parting of the Red Sea. God will do anything to deliver His people.
The walk from Egypt to Canaan isn’t far. From Cairo to Jerusalem is about 300 miles. At 20 miles a day, should take about 2 weeks to walk there. Or an hour and 20 minutes if you fly Turkish Air. But due to Israel’s unbelief and rebellion, instead of 2 weeks to cross the wilderness, it takes 40 years. Not one man stopped to ask for directions. I just wonder how long it took for one of the wives to say to their husband, “Seriously? You’re not going to pull over and ask for directions?”
The rest of Israel’s children weren’t any better. “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? I wanna go home!” Instead of acting in faith and trust, instead of being grateful for their freedom, Israel whined, complained. They blamed God and Moses for their circumstances. They even threated to turn this car around right now and go back to Egypt and live in slavery again.
As we read along in our Chronological bible, this is what’s happened this week –
- Saturday – Tuesday: God frees the Israelites from slavery after the ten plagues
- Wednesday: God provides their daily needs, mana and quail, on the journey
- Thursday: God establishes the Ten Commandments and other parameters for being a free people
- Friday: God makes a Covenant with Moses which is accepted by the Israelites
- Saturday: God gives plans for the Ark of the Covenant, the Table, Lampstand, Tabernacle; all items that will point Israel to worship the One True God, Jehovah. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
- Sunday (today): God is very specific on the elements, craftsmanship, and reverence for the Tabernacle, worship and observing the Sabbath.
Today’s lesson will actually cover tomorrow’s daily scripture reading. Some of you have asked me how the lessons line up with the reading, so I make this list for this week. Sometimes our lessons will be based on what we just read the previous week, sometimes the lessons will be for the same weekend, and sometimes it will be the day after or even the week after bible study. Don’t let that discombobulate you.
During this week, all of God’s directions, promises, blessings are communicated to the people in specific ways. God spoke to Moses on the mountain, and the people below could hear thunder, see lightening and even smoke coming from the mountain.
And it becomes a regular pattern. Moses goes up the mountain to talk to God. Moses goes down from the mount to talk to the people. Moses goes up the mountain, comes down the mountain. He goes up the mountain…
III. The God People Want
Where is Moses? Why didn’t he come down from the mountain? And that brings us to today’s bible study of Exodus 32. Moses went up the mountain to talk to God. The expectation of the people was that Moses would come back at a specific time. They expected God to do something on their schedule. But Moses is still on the mountain.
This is the same mountain where they had seen fire and smoke, thunder and lightning. They knew God was at work on the mountain in a significant way and been delivering messages, guidance, instructions for a tabernacle and an ark.
They also knew that Moses had a connection with God that was unique and powerful. They had seen this first-hand as they crossed the Red Sea and received water and manna from heaven. They were standing where they were, at the foot of the Mountain, because of the leadership of Moses under the guidance and authority of God.
Not that I am ever impatient when waiting on the Lord.
|God to me:||Me to God:|
|Psalm 46:10a||Psalm 83:1|
|“Be still, and know that I am God.”||“O God, do not remain silent.”|
What was God doing? Exodus 31:18 –
When He had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God.
After all the instructions for building a temple, the ark, the commandments, God write Moses a personal letter. With God’s own finger. From our perspective, maybe not as big as parting the red sea, but God stepped out of heaven to take action in our world and created a miracle and engraved the Ten Commandments into stone.
The fingers of God have been at work since the beginning of creation. We saw it in the Creation Era. And now the finger of God has given us solid instructions in stone on how to live as a covenant people in the Patriarch Era. And Moses was holding that personal letter of stone. Moses was intimate with God; God spoke to Moses in a unique, personal, intense, and extraordinary way.
So, Moses was still on the mountain and the people were down below in the wilderness. We know from Exodus 24 that Moses was up on the mountain 40 days and 40 nights. Before the 40 days were over, the people became impatient that God wasn’t following the expected timetable. The people has become impatient with God.
If you’ve been a Christian a long time, this has probably happened to you. You have a difficult decision to make or a need for an answered prayer. You pray and you study, and God answers. The next time you have a difficult decision or a need for an answered prayer, you pray and you study…
Nothing but silence. Stillness. Quietness. God is not responding the way you expect. God is still on His mountain, and all you hear is the silence.
And the people of Israel waited for Moses and in Exodus 32:1,
Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”
Sometime before the 40 days were up, the impatience of the people reared its ugly head. Notice how it says, “as for this Moses.” Not, “I hope that man who led us out of Egypt is ok.” It’s “this Moses. Yeah, I know we saw the fire on the mountain and heard the thunder, but hey. Now it’s this Moses.” What has he done for us lately?
The people “gathered together;” God is too slow, let’s take action. And they didn’t ask Aaron, they demanded, “Come and make us a god.” Exodus 32:2,
And Aaron said to them, “Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool and made a molded calf. Then they said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!”
Where did they get all this gold? Exodus 3:21-22 as Moses was getting ready to lead them out of Egypt, God says,
I will grant this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and it shall be that when you go, you will not go empty-handed. But every woman shall ask of her neighbor and the woman who lives in her house, articles of silver and articles of gold, and clothing; and you will put them on your sons and daughters. Thus you will plunder the Egyptians.”
In order to prepare the Israelites for the journey through the wilderness, the Lord provided everything they needed, and the gold had come from their captors. The Lord has provided these blessings to the people, and the people used these blessings to fashion an idol and blaspheme the Lord.
The people wanted a man-made god. A god that they would have to pick up and carry. A convenient god, there when they need it. One that they could see and feel, perhaps rub it for luck. And lest we think the Israelites are idiots, that’s exactly what we the people crave today. A convenient god, there to fulfill our wishes. A god who has eyes, but cannot see, like Adam and Eve who didn’t want God to see them in their nakedness and sin. A god who appears strong, a mighty bull, but in reality lacks power, unable to punish our sins. A god who is here before us but demands nothing of us. In other words, a god who doesn’t interfere with our lives.
The people want a god that allows them to express themselves sexually, immorally, and without restraint or judgment. A god who only appears powerful.
Not even Christians are immune to this. Many Christians are only familiar with a couple of verse – God makes all things good, God has plans to prosper you, Jesus is the way, the truth and the light. Truth is, though, is that God is far more complex than that. Last month when we studied Job, we studied how God can lift his hand of protection, and God has a purpose for everything, including suffering.
Truth is, not every verse found in the bible can be embroidered on a pillow. Certainly not Judges 19:29,
When he reached home, he took a knife and cut up his concubine, limb by limb, into twelve parts and sent them into all the areas of Israel.
Or Psalm 38:7,
For my loins are filled with a loathsome disease, and there is no soundness in my flesh.
And yet, we just skip over uncomfortable verses because we want to believe our God is only a God of love and mercy, but not a God of wrath and justice. And yet we cannot truly understand His love and mercy without also understanding God’s wrath and justice and how he saved us from our sins.
Aaron was the brother of Moses, a leader of the people, the first priest of the Israelites. And on his first day of the job has already broken the first three commandments, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image,” and “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” Three strikes, you’re out.
So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow is a feast to the LORD.” Then they rose early on the next day, offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.
Now this is a god the people like. So the people rose up to eat, drink, and party.
How long did it take for the people to go from following God out of Egypt to making a false idol and partying? Less than 40 days, barely a month.
Did God notice? Our God sees everything. Our God is not the God we want Him to be. Our God is the God who is.
IV. The God Who Is
And the LORD said to Moses, “Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them. They have made themselves a molded calf, and worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!’ ” And the LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people! Now, therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation.”
God did indeed notice, and God’s holy response to sin is wrath. In barely a month, after all that God had done for His people, they had forsaken God’s commands.
The people are described as “stiff-necked”. It’s two Hebrew words, qasheh `oreph (קָשֶׁה עֹרֶף). It’s literally “hard of neck,” a phrase all-too-familiar to the Israelite. They used an ox for plowing, and the plowman used one hand to guide the plow, and the other hand held an “ox goad,” a light pole with an iron spike on the end of it. He would use the ox goad to tap the ox on the neck to turn it. If an ox was hard to control or it was stubborn, it was “hard of neck.” In scripture, this means the “stiff-necked” people were stubborn and non-responsive to God’s guidance. Oh yes, God knew these people. And He knows you and me. God’s response to sin is not to destroy the calf, but to destroy the idol worshipper.
And Moses is still up on the mountain, Exodus 32:11-14,
Then Moses pleaded with the LORD his God, and said: “LORD, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians speak, and say, ‘He brought them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your fierce wrath and relent from this harm to Your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” So the LORD relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people.
Moses’ prayer is not bargaining, it’s intercession. He prays for the people. Verse 11 says Moses “pleaded” and the Hebrew word is חָלָה châlâh and very difficult to translate. Often used to indicate illness or wounded, these are various translations –
- NASB – Entreated
- NIV – Sought
- NLT – Pacify
- ESV – Implored
- KJV – Besought
- HCSB – Interceded
So Moses interceded in prayer for his people. Moses is considered a “type of Christ,” something I didn’t really understand until I spent some time with that phrase. The bible itself defines what “type of Christ” means, but there are 4 different words used,
- typos “type” (Romans 5:14; 1 Corinthians 10:6,11);
- skia “shadow” (Colossians 2:17; Hebrews 8:5; 10:1);
- hypodeigma “copy” (Hebrews 8:5; 9:23); and
- sémeion “sign” (Matthew 12:39).
Some Old Testament stories are shadows of prophecy and truth yet to come about our Savior. Moses is considered a “type of Christ,” and as special as Moses was with his relationship with God, Moses himself says a greater prophet will arise. Moses delivered the people from Egypt, but Christ will deliver the people from our sin. And so Moses intercedes on behalf of his people, pleading for their lives. And prayer changes God’s mind.
That always amazed me, that prayer can change the mind of God. But Moses was a high priest, a type of Christ! Well you know what? So are you. And so am I, and all believers. We are the priesthood of Christ, we are to show the light of Christ within us. 1 Peter 2:9 says,
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.
James 5:16 says
Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.
It amazes me that the God of the Universe loves my prayers and God acts on those prayers.
But the caveat is that it’s the effective prayer of a righteous person. Righteous in Jesus Christ, asking for things that are in God’s will… and I probably resemble Aaron more than I’d like to admit, more than I resemble Moses or Christ. After pleading to God, Moses finally goes back down the mountain, and in Exodus 32:21-24,
And Moses said to Aaron, “What did this person do to you that you have brought so great a sin upon them?” So Aaron said, “Do not let the anger of my lord become hot. You know the people that they are prone to evil. For they said to me, ‘Make us gods that shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ And I said to them, ‘Whoever has any gold, let them break it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I cast it into the fire, and this calf came out.”
So Moses pleads for his people. Aaron says, “those people are evil. Me, I just threw a bunch of gold in the fire. Whoa, look, a cow came out.”
While we are called to be a royal priesthood, sin is always crouching at our door. We must be vigilant, on guard, and patiently waiting on the Lord.
- God’s plan: Garden of Eden
- Our plan: Desert
Let’s update this photo for today’s world.
- God’s plan: Heaven
- Our plan: golden calf
The god people want is a god that tolerates everything the golden calf stood for. Immorality. Selfishness. Irreverence. Impatience. Rejection of God’s teaching so that they can mold a god that is less judgmental and more tolerant of their lifestyle. A god that only appears powerful but cannot see any wrongdoing. A god that answers every sin with, “God just wants me to be happy.”
But we can’t make God into something. God is who He is. He is fire, He is wrath, He is mercy, He is love. He is faithful, He is mighty, He is strong, He is power, He is God of all the ages, He is the truth, He is the light out of the darkness, He is Holy, He is Holy, He is Holy. The beginning of wisdom is to fear the Lord and who God truly is, and not a golden calf representing our desire to eat, drink, and party.
After we leave this classroom, after we leave this church, and we return to the world and the worldly ways, don’t let the world tell you who God is. Study the bible, put on the whole armor of God, and let God tell you who He is.
To God be the Glory. Amen.