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.”
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.”
3 So all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron.
4 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!”
We sure are an impatient people. We show it every day in our lives: in our schedules, our fast cars and airplanes, our cellular phones, our overnight delivery services, our digital video recorders. In so many aspects of our lives, we show how we want our own lives the center of all that others do. Such a desire to have things in our own time leads us to compromise. We give up a little of our independence, even sacrifice a little of our personal time, just to get things our way a majority of the time.
The sad thing is that we treat God the same way. We get impatient waiting for Him to bless us, waiting for Him to turn our lives around. Or, worse yet, we are misled about what shape His blessing is to take, and we create our own version of His blessings. Like Abram, even though God has promised He’ll take care of our future, we take it upon ourselves to try to create that future. (Genesis 16) The problem is that when we do that, we lose sight of who God really is. We forget how powerful and benevolent He is, how loving and how merciful, and we focus so much on immediate gratification that we forget His greater promises. That is what happened to the Israelites as they waited for Moses to return with the tablets of the law.
The people of Israel had been led out of slavery toward a Promised Land, and the Lord had made good on every promise, performing miracles through Moses and saving them from certain death. The Israelites had seen the power and glory of the Lord God, and they were so afraid of Him that they asked Moses to just relay whatever God said. (Exodus 20:19) Moses ascended to the mountain and received the law, but while he was away, the people got impatient.
One of the first things that is clear from today’s verses is that the people did not know Moses. It is understandable that they would have been wary of Moses when he first came to them in Egypt and said that he would lead them to freedom. But after so many signs and wonders, you would have thought the Israelites would simply believe in him.
27 “Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house,
28 “‘for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’
29 “Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’
30 “And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’
31 “But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.'”
The people of Israel didn’t hear Moses, didn’t want to listen to God themselves, and so they didn’t know either God nor Moses. Moses was just “the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt.” And the Lord? The Lord God was a distant memory handed down from their forefathers. Regardless of the wonders performed for them, regardless of the pillar of fire and smoke that they had followed to reach that place, despite the glory they themselves had witnessed before Moses ascended the mountain, the Israelites still did not truly know God.
How could they not know Him? How could they forget who He was, what He had done for them? They forgot because they were still slaves. Even thought they had been freed from bondage, the children of Israel were still mentally and spiritually in Egypt. And God knew that they were still there in their hearts, knew that they would be tempted to turn back. Look at the first commandment God gave to Moses after the people sent him to face the Lord:
22 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘You have seen that I have talked with you from heaven.
23 “‘You shall not make anything to be with Me–gods of silver or gods of gold you shall not make for yourselves.'”
God KNEW that the first thing they would do was lose sight of who He really is. Their first sin would not be murder nor adultery nor theft nor dishonoring their parents nor coveting others’ wives or possessions. Their first sin–and OUR first sin–is turning away from God Himself to seek other gods. As soon as we reject the God who saves, then all those other sins are not far behind. We seek gods who satisfy our whims, who satisfy our physical or emotional desires rather than our spiritual needs. And so we melt down our valuables and kneel before the god of mammon, the god of desire, the god of lust. We fall before the god who doesn’t thunder from the mountaintop, the god who doesn’t judge, the god who doesn’t demand our lives, only our money. “This is your god, O Israel!”
This false god is the shape we choose it to be: shiny and pretty, innocent and undemanding. A golden calf indeed! And this calf does not speak to us from the thunder nor cause us to cower in fear at its lightnings and fire. This god will never judge us but only allow us to indulge our every whim. This god has no law, no morals, no standards. And contrary to what Aaron said, this god is not the one who saved us. It never could be, because it was fashioned by our own hands–by the hands that were once in chains! We have been freed from slavery, and in our liberty we choose to create an abomination!
For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
Rather than serve each other, rather than bowing before the God who truly HAD freed them from centuries of slavery, the Israelites made a god of their own design, a mute idol without power or voice. They indulged in their lusts while the God of their fathers handed down the law to one of their own.
2 Peter 3:1-4
1 Beloved, I now write to you this second epistle (in both of which I stir up your pure minds by way of reminder),
2 that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior,
3 knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts,
4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.”
So here we are, awaiting the coming of the Lord, awaiting the fulfillment of the promise. We could choose to spend this time in worshiping other gods. We could create gods for ourselves: gods who demand nothing from us, gods who promise to reward us with riches, gods who desire only our happiness, gods who seem only to ask that we indulge ourselves and never repent of our ways. Yes, we could do that…and pay the price for our disobedience.
31 Then Moses returned to the LORD and said, “Oh, these people have committed a great sin, and have made for themselves a god of gold!
32 “Yet now, if You will forgive their sin–but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written.”
33 And the LORD said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book.
34 Now therefore, go, lead the people to the place of which I have spoken to you. Behold, My Angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit for punishment, I will visit punishment upon them for their sin.”
Only One can save us from being blotted out of the book of life. Only Christ Jesus has the true words of life that will save us from our sin of worshiping the golden calf. Not Moses and the law, not Joshua and the trumpets, not David and the ark of the covenant, not Solomon and the temple, not Hezekiah nor Josiah nor Jehoshephat, and not John the Baptist. Only Jesus can save us, and His commandment is simple: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37) If we give our all to the Lord our God, then we will not need nor ever make a golden calf or any other god.
This is your God, O Israel! With scars on His hands and brow, He stands before us, glorious in His resurrection. He seeks our faith, seeks our repentance, seeks our salvation. He has promised to lead us back to God. So let us not turn aside to worship other gods, not create idols while we await His second coming. Let us instead bow before Him in humility and devotion and love. Let the God who TRULY freed us be the only God we ever worship.
Lord God of heaven and of earth, I bow before You now. I will not give the knee to other gods, nor pursue other idols. Lead me only in Your ways, so that I see only You–Your glory, Your majesty, Your love, Your power. I cast down my idols, O Lord, to worship You, the one true and living God. Amen.