Exodus 32 – June 27
When reading a chapter like Exodus 32, it is necessary to remind ourselves of the context. In this case, we can only comprehend the weight of the Israelite’s wickedness when we are reminded of what God had just done for them. These are the exact same people who had been living for generations as slaves under the oppressive hand of a genocidal maniac. They had just observed the mighty hand of God work against the Egyptians by embarrassing their gods, upend their economy, eliminating their livestock, oppressing their physical health, slaying every firstborn son, and drowning their army in the Red Sea. The Israelites had not lifted a finger in battle. The Lord fought for them. The children of Israel had seen the Lord’s power displayed in the most powerful miracles ever performed over nature. Time does not permit to tabulate all of the ways that the Lord had provided them with every resource necessary to survive as they wondered the desert. It is against this backdrop of God’s merciful power and abundant provision that we arrive at Exodus 32. Let’s consider four things that stand out.
When Moses was taking longer than anticipated, the Israelites grew fearful that he might never return. Instead of going to the Lord who had just displayed more evidence than we can imagine to prove His love for them, they instead listened to Aaron who asked them to provide their jewelry in order to craft an idol. The most abominable statement in the chapter is when Aaron points to the golden calf and says, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” Aaron was robbing God of His glory and giving it to a man-made clump of molded metal. The Israelites should have been outraged, but their hearts were furiously seeking someone/something to worship.
God had blessed the Israelites on their way out of Egypt by causing the Egyptian people to be so overcome with fear that they brought out their gold and jewelry and thrust it into the palms of the Israelites as a payment to leave and never return. This is consistently presented as a form of backpay for the free labor that was extracted from the Jews. God ensured that the Israelites left Egypt with all the spoils of war, without fighting a war. But, the Israelites took the incredible gift of God and threw it away by turning His good gifts into idols.
It is a startling thing to see these privileged people turn so quickly to adopt pagan practices that mirror those of the Egyptians. They stopped viewing the world as it is, and created an entire myth about their deliverance. They pretended like a statue, that obviously did not exist during the Exodus from Egypt, was the one who was actually responsible. (We won’t even get into the absurd claim that Aaron made in order to cover his tracks that this calf just “popped” into existence on its own.) God had freed them from slavery, and they put themselves right back into bondage under the rule of an imaginary god that they could manipulate.
It is not only easy for us to point the finger at the wickedness of the Israelites in this event, it is good for us to do so. However, we must beware the danger of seeing the speck in their eyes when we are missing the log in our own. We have been delivered from a much greater enemy than Pharaoh. We have been set free from bondage with much worse and more long-lasting effects than forced labor. Satan was holding us captive and sin was our task-master. But, praise be to God, He delivered us with works far greater than those wrought during the Exodus. The incarnation, the cross, the resurrection, and the ascension are the greatest signs of God’s power and love for His people that have ever been performed. And how do we respond? We who have been redeemed and restored still have wandering hearts. We quickly turn to lesser things that do not satisfy and we ask them to give what they cannot provide – satisfaction, joy, life, etc. Like the old hymn says, let us pray that the Lord might, “Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee!”
Similarly, we often take the good gifts that the Lord has given and we turn them into idols. Our families, our jobs, our ministries, our cars, our hobbies, our possessions; they were all graciously given to you by the kind hand of God. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above…” (James 1:17) Yet we somehow still find a way to turn them into objects of our worship. Let’s not join the Israelites in their failure. May we always prioritize God as the exclusive object of our heart’s worshipful adoration. Let us not warp reality and imagine that any work of our own hands has brought us out of our bondage. May we always give all of the glory to God for His gracious saving kindness.