Exodus 32:1 - 35
ESV - 1 When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, "Up, make us gods who shall go before us. 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. 2 So Aaron said to them, "Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.
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Another aspect of the lesson in the golden calf incident is relevant to those of us who are proclaiming Jesus to others: ministers, evangelists, and others. In our impatience with God and our impatience to see results sometimes when folks preach the Gospel, it is done in a way so as not to offend those prospective listeners to whom we are speaking. Think of the many televangelists who try to emphasize the "benefits" of God to mix in what our culture wants and has come to expect: "God will bless us and shower us with gifts" (like money or worldly success) or "God loves us and will make everything ok" (God, fix my life!) We tone it down or it to emphasize God's benefits to us, and often ignore the huge sacrifice. Aaron and the nation of Israel wanted something NOW. Just like we want to see people accept the gift of Jesus NOW, when we are speaking and interacting with them. But we cannot water down the message. We must proclaim boldly and patiently await God's work in the people.
The obvious answer to the lesson is that only God is to be worshiped, and no image of any other God should be worshiped. It is also a lesson in waiting on God's promise and provision. The Israelites grew impatient with God and Moses while they were together on the mountain. They refused to trust God, and turned to what they had seen the Egyptians do in their polytheistic society and worship something they could actually see and touch. Their impatience in God's timing caused them to turn to this. We see this later in the impatience of Saul as king. He was waiting for Samuel to come and do the sacrifice and the offereing to seek the Lord's favor. But Saul, instead of waiting for Samuel to give the offering to God to get the blessing, went ahead at the prompting of his men, to do the offering himself. Instead of being obedient to God's instructions, he bowed to his men and did what they wanted. Instead of being a leader for God, he was led by his men to be disobedient. Aaron was led by the people to be disobedient to God's instructions to wait. Our lesson is that when we try to go outside of God's instructions- His will, and do things on our own time in our own way at our own pace, we take God out of the equation. As followers of God, we need to be patient and wait for God's timing. Wait for God to open the doors to where He wants us next. To trust in Him fully, not partially, when we seek His guidance. I for one have a difficult time doing this, even though God has shown me time after time how He has blessed me in the past- I still want to do it my way and in my time. Again, we are to worship only God and not idols. And in doing this, we must trust God fully for providing all that we need in the time that we need it.
A very interesting aspect of this experience has significant prophetic value, in my opinion. We know the story, in general, as being that Moses went up the mountain to receive the 10 commandments. During this period, God calls the sin of idol worship to Moses's attention. (Exodus 32:7-9) Moses then hurries down the mountain to see for himself. When he comes upon the scene he angrily breaks the original stone tablets of the Law. (Exodus 32:15-19) This event can signify that the original commandments were broken already and made the entire nation subject to death. So, why didn’t God destroy them? Because Moses volunteered to “[make] atonement for [their] sin.” (Exodus 32:30) The record tells us that God spared them through the intervention of their mediator, Moses. What was the basis for the arrangement? It was the life of Moses. (Exodus 32:32) He offered his own life if God would not spare the Children of Israel. After God chose to spare them, he had Moses provide new tablets for the second copy of the Law while extolling God’s grace. (Exodus 34:1-8) To briefly summarize these events, we can say that the First Law, based upon Works, was literally broken immediately, but the Second Law, based upon Moses’s life and God’s grace was completely fulfilled by Jesus Christ who introduced a New Covenant of Grace based upon the atonement of his own life.
The children of Israel had seen many signs and wonders performed by God including the twelve plagues upon Egypt, walking through the Red Sea on dry ground, and receiving God's provision of daily nourishment but yet it only took 40 days of separation from Moses for a major backsliding to occur. This is a stark warning to believers of the sad, but likely, result if we briefly forsake our assembly together or neglect our daily fellowship with the Lord.
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