IMPATIENCE AND APOSTASY
Moses continues to speak with the Lord while the mountain is on fire and covered by a thick cloud. However, something very different is taking place below. Moses has been gone for forty days, and the people grew restless. Rumors about what happened to Moses swirled fueled by doubt and the people finally organized themselves and gathered before Aaron. The people had decided that Aaron would be their new leader and they needed a symbol for the divine presence. Aaron offers no resistance and gave instructions to bring their gold rings to him. The people complied, Aaron received it, and then a golden calf was fashioned. Perhaps the people did not intend to forsake God but meant to serve him under the symbol of the golden calf because Aaron declared the following day to be a feast to the Lord. The people sinned in their unbelief, idolatry, and failure to recognize God's presence. Israel did not need a religious symbol for the mountain before was the visible manifestation of God's presence. Israel rose the next day and offered false worship as they used what was familiar in an attempt to blend truth and error. God's people were guilty of apostasy and their offerings, feast, and revelry violated their covenant with God and kindled God's wrath.
God is aware of what is taking place, and he tells Moses to go down to his corrupt people. God does not identify Israel as his people; instead, these stiff-necked people had broken covenant quickly and turned to other gods. The Lord would consume these people in his wrath and make a great nation from Moses descendants. Perhaps this was a test to see if Moses had any selfish ambitions of his own. Moses immediately mediates on behalf of his people and implores God to relent of his anger. God had shown great power on behalf of Israel, and their destruction might lead the Egyptians to have blasphemous thoughts about God attributing evil to him. Finally, his intercession leads him to plead the covenant blessings that God promised to the patriarchs and the Lord relented. Moses heads down the mountain with the tablets of the testimony that God had written himself. At some point during his descent, Joshua joins Moses. Joshua heard the noise of the people and thought the sounds should be attributed to war, but Moses said that it was singing. Nothing could have prepared Moses for what he would see when he arrived. The scene that unfolded before Moses included the golden calf surrounded by people singing and dancing. Moses lost his temper, threw the tablets of the testimony, and his anger burned toward his people. The broken tablets were the visible picture of God's people breaking the covenant. Moses took the calf, burned it with fire, ground it into powder, cast it on the water, and made the people drink it. Moses confronts his brother who has betrayed God, Moses, and his own people. He accuses his brother of bringing great sin upon the people. Aaron calls Moses lord and excuses himself by vilifying the people, blaming the fire, and the gold. He offers the explanation that the calf made itself!
Sin Brings Death
It seems that the people persisted in their sin and the man who would be High Priest bore some responsibility, so Moses stood in the gate and issued an ultimatum. Moses asked the question, "Who is on the Lord's side?" There is only one God, and he will not share his glory with an idol. Moses' own tribe gathered around him, and he explains that the Lord has commissioned them as agents of his judgment. They were to put on their swords and slay any that continued to sin against the Lord whether they were a brother, companion, or neighbor. God shows no partiality and sin brings death. Three thousand died that day because of their sin. Moses commends the faithfulness of the Levites because they placed their loyalty to God above everyone else including family. The following day was a day of grief, sadness, and shame. Moses reminds the people of the immensity of their sin and explains that he is going to make atonement for their sin. Moses returns to the Lord and prays for the forgiveness of his people declaring that if God will not forgive, then he wishes his name to be blotted out of God's book. The Lord assures Moses that only those that sinned would be blotted out of God's book. Moses was instructed to return and resume his duties as a leader. He would lead Israel to the place he had spoken of, and his angel would go before them. God has to judge sin, or he is not just, so he sent a plague among the people and named Aaron which confirmed his lie while pointing to corporate responsibility.
Things To Consider:
- What makes exercising patience so difficult?
- Why do unmet expectations sometimes lead to doubt and fear?
- What are ways that worship is misplaced today?
- What do we make idols out of?
- What are ways that we mix true and false worship today?
- Why does God act resolutely toward sin?
- How do we see Moses' humility?
- Why does Moses appeal to God by his word?
- How should we appeal to God by his word?
- Why is sin so serious?
- How are we unfaithful to God?
- What sin do you need to put to death?