Scipture: Exodus 32:1-14
Last week we looked at the final steps in what led to the Israelites finally being freed from slavery in Egypt. We saw how God spared them from the final devastating plague by passing over their homes as they followed the instructions God gave Moses. Instructions which we connected to Jesus in the last supper as Jesus gave of himself to save us from the slavery of sin, again when we follow his life, his instructions, and draw even closer to our Lord and Saviour.
This week we’ve jumped way ahead in the Exodus story. We’ve skipped over their escape from Egypt when God used Moses to part the sea so they could escape on dry land. We’ve skipped over Moses going up the mountain and receiving the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20.
Today we pick up the story when Moses has ascended to the top of a mountain alone to be with God. He’s been gone for 40 days when the people begin to get restless.
After all, their leader, both spiritually and as their guide through the desert never told them how long he’d be gone. He’s never been gone this long before, and so the people begin to think they can take the control into their own hands.
They go to Aaron, the brother of Moses, for help. They want to hear from God. They are getting antsy and need to know what’s happening next. If Moses isn’t coming back, then they are willing to try and do it for themselves. They go to Aaron and say,
“Come, make a god for us, 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.” (Exodus 32:1)
The people are longing for their leader, the one who is they’re connection to God. So Aaron thinks he has come up with an answer. He gathers all their gold jewellery melts it down and shapes it into a calf. When it’s done he declares, “This is your God, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”
Some translations record this as saying, “There are your gods.” But whether it’s plural or not is unclear. When you read through the entire section, to me it does make some sense to be the singular, “This is your God…”
So they now have this golden calf which is to represent God.
Here’s a quick pop quiz for you. What is the second of the 10 Commandments? Anyone?
Here’s the long version that the Israelites received not long ago as Moses came down the mountain earlier on.
“You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me…” (Exodus 20:4-5)
It doesn’t matter that this calf might be representing God, they still shouldn’t be doing it. It’s breaking the second commandment.
As you would expect, God was not pleased with this development. The people were celebrating, they were having a full-blown festival worshipping this calf!
Here’s what we read in response to their actions:
The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” (Exodus 32:7-8)
Many of you have children. How many of you have said, and let’s be honest now… how many of you, when your children do something that displeases you, has turned to your wife or husband and said this: “Look what your kid did!”
Admit it, you’ve said it.
Now what did God say to Moses? “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt…”
All of a sudden these people belong to Moses. They’re his problem now, God is not having any part in this.
In fact, God says He will destroy the people and start all over again. But where? Let’s look at the second part of verse 10, “…and of you [Moses] I will make a great nation.”
God tells Moses, He’s going to start all over with him.
Now I don’t know about you, but if God said to me “Let’s me and you start a thing and forget about everyone else.” I’d be pretty tempted to jump in on that program. Wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t that be a very enticing proposal? Forget all the garbage and craziness going on right now, come with me and we’ll make a great nation.
Where do I sign up?
My first question when I look at what happens next is, “What is wrong with Moses?”
Seriously though, what does Moses do? Moses asks, “Why are you so mad at these people you brought out of Egypt with your own hand?”
Then he pokes God a little harder. Moses asks God, “What would the neighbours think?” as he reminds God that the Egyptians are still watching. Those Egyptians they left behind to lead the Israelites to a better life. What would they say if God instead wiped them out?
Moses then reminds God of the promises He made to Abraham when He told him there would be a great nation from his descendants. Which, when you think about it, is just what God promised Moses in the heat of the moment.
What is going on here?
The people have broken the second commandment.
God is really angry at them.
God is so mad He’s willing to wipe them out and start over.
Moses is the one to intervene and spare the people.
What is the purpose of the outrage? Why is God so mad all of a sudden?
One reason is that it appears His people don’t trust him. Moses has been gone a while, yes. But they know he’s gone to be with God. Yet they are impatient. They don’t know what to do with themselves. They get bored. They want to know what’s going on.
They just can’t sit and wait.
40 days is nothing to God. It’s like a blink of an eye to Him. But imagine if God had us wait.
Part of my prayer time for the last number of months has been spent asking this question, “What are we going to do next at Carman?”
Want to know what the answer has been? I’m happy to tell you.
God’s answer has been, “Wait.”
For months that has been the answer to my prayer. “Wait.”
I’m happy to share this with you because now you can share in my impatient waiting.
Maybe my next prayer should be, “Lord, give me patience and give it to me right now.”
The Israelites have been following God all through the wilderness. They’ve been led by a pillar of fire and smoke. They have been close to God. Now they’ve been 40 days at the base of a mountain with no signs, no messages, nothing.
You can’t blame them for thinking, “Where IS Moses? He should be back by now with a great message for us.”
So instead of waiting longer, they break one of the rules God has given them. And God is mad!
Here’s something we can pick up about God in the Old Testament, and especially our story today.
God is passionate.
His passion for His people is unending and unequaled.
So when they break His heart by breaking His rules, His passion turns quickly to seeking justice.
Remember part of the stipulation about breaking the rule, especially the second commandment. If we worship a false image of God, or a false god, here’s what He says, “I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me…”
I’m not insinuating that God sees us a play things to be thrown out and replaced with something better every time the next week’s sales flyers come out.
I’m suggesting that God’s passion is so incredible, so fired up, so excited for us, that when we turn from Him, He’s pretty broken up about it.
There are two things God is passionate about, and we’re seeing both of them highlighted here. He’s passionate about justice, and He’s passionate about faithfulness.
When the people have become unfaithful, God seeks justice. Yet, in the end, it’s not justice which prevails for the Israelites, it’s God’s faithfulness which prevails in the end.
Which brings us to Jesus.
In John 12 Jesus says this,
“Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness. I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge, for I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I speak, therefore, I speak just as the Father has told me.” (John 12:44-50)
The key phrase in there is this, “… for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.”
Justice and faithfulness. Faithfulness and justice. Two passions of God. Yet, in the end, even Jesus tells us, it’s the faithfulness which is most important.
How important is it?
It’s so important, that God sent His Son Jesus to tell us which is more important.
Is justice very important?
Yes it is. Jesus reminds us that one day we will face our judge.
And how will we be judged?
We will be judged on how well we have taken the words of Jesus to heart.
How do we pass this test?
We must be faithful.
Being faithful means we are seeking to live as followers of Jesus. It means we are trying to take in every word from his mouth and apply it to our lives. It means we are conversing in prayer with him and learning more about ourselves along the way.
If we are being faithful, then our idle hands don’t get us into trouble. Even if we are sitting around and waiting for 40 days.
In His passionate attempt to bring the world closer to Him, God sent us His Son, Jesus Christ. He sent Jesus to teach us how to be faithful and at the same time to help bring justice to the world.
Remember all those people Jesus healed? They were all people who were facing great injustices as they were scorned and shunned from participating in the community. Jesus showed even they belong.
And what about when Jesus faced people who were being unfaithful? Remember the times when he stood up to the Pharisees when they acting out of their own self-interests, which was often. When the Pharisees and other leaders tried to put Jesus down because he was threatening their own prestige and power in the community.
And remember when Jesus walked into the temple and he saw all the people there who were seeking to make a huge profit off those who were simply trying to be faithful. What did he do? He flipped their tables and chased them out with a whip.
Jesus was teaching us how to be faithful. No doubt about that. But he also showed he had incredible passion for those who needed justice in their lives. Who needed help. Who needed barriers removed from their ability to be faithful.
There are a number of things I get passionate about. Church is most certainly one, but there are others as well. And when things don’t go my way, boy would I love to simply walk away and start over.
So I get it that God would exhibit similar characteristics when people disobey Him and set back the great work that has been happening with His people.
But I also know God is far more gracious and loving than I am. And He is certainly more forgiving than I am.
Once again, we can look to Jesus to see God’s passion, His love, His grace and His forgiveness in one person.
The human race has proven again and again, that when we are left to our own devices, we get ourselves in a whole heap of trouble. We deserve judgement. We deserve to be wiped off the planet so God can start over again.
But God won’t do that. He did it once with Noah when the rain fell and the earth was flooded. But He also promised He would never do it again.
So instead He sent Jesus.
Jesus is our replacement. What did he say in John 12 again? “for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.”
How did Jesus save the world?
He died. He died as a sacrifice for us. He took our punishment, our judgement, upon himself. All our unfaithfulness, all our disobedience, all our failures, he took it and died on the cross so that we can be saved.
And we can be saved if we follow him.
We can follow him because even all our garbage could not kill him. Jesus died, yes, but he rose again overcoming death and showing us there is life for all God’s people.
It’s a promise. It’s a promise God will most definitely keep.
Follow Jesus. Love him. Feel his love for you. Know his sacrifice and feel the healing power of it as we are forgiven of our sins.
This is Thanksgiving weekend. I know I haven’t said anything about it here, but what are you thankful for?
Are you thankful for Jesus in your life?
Are you thankful that we have a passionate God who seeks to be faithful and just?
God promises to be with us. He promises to love and guide us. Even when we break this trust, God will be there when we turn back to Him.
Passionate, loving, forgiving, full of grace and mercy.
This is our God. This is your God.
Let us pray,
Thank You for sending us Jesus. Thank You, Lord, for Your incredible passion and for showing it to us in Your Son.
Help us to see this love in our own lives; Your great faithfulness to those who follow him.
Lord, come into our hearts, stir up a passion within us, a passion for justice and most certainly a passion for living a faithful life following Your Son, who is the light which shines in our darkness.
We pray this in his name. Amen and amen.