Do you find it easy to forget all that God has done for you? I do. Instead of being thankful for eternal life in Christ, peace, forgiveness and purpose, I’m ashamed to say I wish for more. Surrounded by the blessings of family, freedom, convenience and abundance I find myself thinking, “When are you really going to bless me?” I have so much yet selfishly long for more.
I can relate to our text today. The people of God had been delivered out of slavery, had seen the power and miracles of God’s ten plagues against the Egyptians and their gods. They had seen God part the Red Sea, give them manna and quail from heaven, water from a rock, and receive the Ten Commandments from directly from God at Mt. Sinai. Yet when Moses goes up at the people’s request to get more instructions from God they get impatient at his absence. They quickly turn from all that God had said and done and decide to make an image, a false god to follow and worship instead. Wow!
Their decent into chaos begins with impatience. “When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” Exodus 32:1 (NIV)
Where is this Moses fellow? They feel that they have waited long enough and it is now time to take action, now it is time to take matters into their own hands. “How long do I wait?” is a question that I am asked a lot. We ask that question of God don’t we? “How long is this going to continue? Which direction do I take Lord? At what point do we stop this waiting thing, and just do something? It’s hard to wait on God and easy to get impatient.
How many bad decisions have we made because of impatience? We want God to work on our behalf now, not later. We hate to wait. I’ve seen people marry in haste because God didn’t bring them someone on their time table or they didn’t think anything better would come along or that their biological clock was ticking. I’ve seen people cut corners morally to get ahead because God wasn’t blessing them on their time table. I’ve seen people give up on God all together because He didn’t seem to answer their prayers as they had laid out. We like them turn away from God to an image of our own creation because of our impatience.
The Israelites were tired of waiting on the true God and decided to find one who was more accommodating. I find a tendency in the human heart to do the same thing with our relationship with God. We try to formulate a god who will accommodate us.
Some people want a god that only requires them to sit one hour a week.
Some people want a god that does not require them to give any of their money.
Some people want a god that does not require them to change their behavior.
Notice the use of the plural personal pronoun “us“: “make us gods who will go before us”; “this fellow Moses who brought us”; (NIV) These people wanted a comfortable, convenient god they could control because they were self-focused. Many people want a god that caters to them.
We make the same mistake that the Hebrews did, and we do it over and over. We mold God into who we want Him to be, rather than seeking out who he truly is.
We are not necessarily interested in who God is; We are interested in what God can do for us.
I don’t know about you, but that is not where I want to be. I want to know who God is, and worship and serve the true God rather than something I have pieced together; a conglomeration of ideas about God that I like and feel comfortable with. I don’t want God only for what He can do for me.
How do we avoid falling into the same trap that the Hebrews fell into? Let’s look more at our Scripture and see what took place and how it applies to us today.
As the story continues the people complain to Aaron. This is not his best day, Aaron caves in and gives them what they want. He makes a god fashioned to their liking. A golden calf, why a calf? A popular Egyptian god, Hapi (Apis) was thought of as a bull and a heifer. The Canaanites around them worshiped Baal, thought of as a bull. Baal was their sacred symbol of power and fertility and was closely connected to immoral sexual practices. They were weary of a god without a face. But in doing so, they were ignoring the command he had just given them: “You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind” (20:4).
They are used to having images of gods around them, they grew up with this kind of thing. So, Moses, he’s out of the picture, and this Moses was their link to God. They need another link, another mediator, so they create one. They worship like the pagan culture they came out of. Never mind that the festival they created had several violations of the Ten Commandments, this is what their idea of God is.
5 Aaron built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.” 6 So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.
The festival got out of hand. The Hebrew word for revelry (tsachaq) has the idea of loose conduct, the kind of loose behavior that happens when a person has been drinking or taking drugs. The word has the idea of crude language and laughter, of sexual misconduct, of engaging in a wild dancing party or a wild drinking party.
The bottom line here is this: Are you in your life as a Christian going to follow the biblical reality (what God says in His word) or the cultural reality you live in? This is the choice that was set before the Hebrews, and they chose the cultural reality. It was familiar, it was fun, it was a good time and many seemed to agree it was ok. Our golden calf today may be money, success, a house, power or position. We may have a golden car or a golden child. Whatever is a priority of our time, emotions and money is likely our golden calf.
What is God’s response? What if you came home from out of town and found that your kids threw a wild party and you walk in to see you house trashed, your kids drunk and naked?
God was ready to destroy the whole nation because of their sin. But Moses pleaded for mercy, and God spared them. This is one of the countless examples in the Bible of God’s mercy. Although we deserve his anger, he is willing to forgive and restore us to himself. We can receive God’s forgiveness from sin by asking him. Like Moses, we can pray that he will forgive others and use us to bring them the message of his mercy. Who is God leading you to pray for? Who do you need to intercede for?
How could God relent? God did not change his mind in the same way that a parent decides not to discipline a child. Instead, God changed his behavior to remain consistent with his nature. When God first wanted to destroy the people, he was acting consistently with his justice. When Moses interceded for the people, God relented in order to act consistently with his mercy.
Let’s tie this in with the New Testament. Moses stood as the intercessor between God and the people. Moses is a picture of the great Intercessor, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus intercedes on our behalf. He took our punishment.
Isaiah 53 explains this beautifully…
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.[b]
9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes[c] his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
11 After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life[d] and be satisfied[e];
by his knowledge[f] my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,[g]
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,[h]
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.
Thank you Jesus for interceding for me!
Sources: Life Application Study Bible, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1988), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 144.