Imagine the scene. Moses has been on the mountain meeting with God for a long time. Of course, he is taking his time. This is literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (in fact, it is even greater than that). God is giving him the law under which He plans to govern His people as a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
And then, God tells Moses, “You need to go down and take care of the people, Moses. They have already turned away from me to worship a god of their own making. I am done with these people. Get out of my way so that I can kill all of them and start over with you.” (paraphrase of Exodus 32:7-10) Exodus 32:1-6 gives us the backstory. The people got impatient with Moses and decided, literally, to make their own god. They declared that THIS god, fashioned with their own hands, was the god who brought them out of Egypt and began to worship it – led by Aaron, the high priest and Moses’ own brother.
Our modern idolatry, while different in form, is very similar in substance. We grow impatient with God, and then we put our trust in different gods (often of our own making). We even begin to attribute to these new “gods” things that we previously attributed to God. It is all too easy for us to turn our backs on God as soon as things don’t work out for us, or as quickly as we think that they should. Regardless of what we’re going to say on Easter Sunday morning next week, we don’t really want a God who is completely in control of all things and who accomplishes His will in His timing. We’d rather have a god that we can control, who will accomplish our own will in our own timing. That is not the God of Scripture, however.
And then, I LOVE Aaron’s explanation to Moses after Moses interceded to God on behalf of the people and came down from the mountain to check things out.
And Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you have brought such a great sin upon them?” And Aaron said, “Let not the anger of my lord burn hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil. For they said to me, ‘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.’ So I said to them, ‘Let any who have gold take it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.” (Exodus 32:21-24)
Aaron, who is supposed to be the spiritual leader of the people, simply blames them, “You know the people, that they are set on evil.” And then he appears to argue that he isn’t really even sure how the golden calf was made. “So they gave (all their gold) to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.” Really? Compare Aaron’s explanation to the account of Scripture:
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.” So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.” (Exodus 32:2-5)
It is so easy to lie. It is so easy to be led astray by the power of the group. It is so easy to become impatient with God. I could beat up on Aaron for his lack of spiritual leadership here, but this is all of us. This is why those first two commandments on the tablets of stone that Moses broke in his anger are: “You shall have no other gods before me” and “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” (Exodus 20:3-4)
Our hearts are prone to wander. God knows this about us and loves us anyway. But we need to know it about ourselves. And we need to recognize and name the idols that we put ahead of God in our lives. Take a look at this list of questions and think about what your idols are. We all have them.
And yet God is gracious and forgiving in spite of our almost constant unfaithfulness to Him. He restores us, He redeems us, He renews His covenant with us. Constantly. That is what Exodus 33-34 is about. That is the gospel. When we are unfaithful, He remains faithful. (2 Timothy 2:13)