Exodus 32:4, "And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt."
This morning, there is so much to distract the child of God from his devotion and thoughts of Christ. Recently, I read a report that more than 60% of people in this country spend more of their waking hours on their cell phone than any other activity. Every day the distractions increase, become easier to engage in, and sweep up large chunks of our time. More often than not, activities such as these are not intrinsically sinful, but the prolific occurrence of them makes them so. In recent meditations and writings, I have been reminded once again that the greatest threat and enemy to a church or individual is idolatry. When something takes an equal or higher position to our Lord, His kingdom, and His service, we have fallen prey and guilty once again to one of the most heinous offences before the Almighty. As Scripture declares, idolatry revolves around a basic motivation: covetousness. (Colossians 3:5) Whenever we want something for ourselves more than doing for the Lord, we have idolized that person or thing that we covet after. However, one of the utterly amazing things about idolatry is that by standing back a bit and viewing the scene objectively, idolatry is seen better for how it really is: completely and totally ridiculous.
In the passage our study verse resides in, we can look at many different circumstances that make our study verse seem all the more surreal. However, by the end of the lesson, the surreal nature of it will take on a much more painful tone: injuring our own silly and prideful notions. Moses is currently on top of Mt Sinai with the Lord receiving the 10 Commandments and other patterns of worship directly from the Lord. He has been up there so long that the people's impatience grows into convincing Aaron to make them an idol, which he does in our verse. By taking their gold, he makes a calf, and fashions it into – doubtless – a naturally good-looking piece of craftsmanship. The sight of this craftsmanship incites the people to proclaim this non-living piece of metal a god that delivered them out of Egypt.
The more I consider this scene, the more I find that makes an objective observer's gaze both sad and amusing. Let us take note of a few things in this scene that make their actions all the more foolish. Simply because Moses had been gone up into the mount for a long time, they decided to choose a different path based on how they felt. Their statement was that they did not know what had become of Moses (Verse 1), so they were going to do things that they felt were right. Friends, that is always a dangerous road to start down, and consider how much they still had before them to prove to them they did not need to choose a path of their own making. Though Moses was still in the mount, the mountain still had a cloud upon it denoting that the Lord was still in their midst. This sight of the mountain was go great and terrible that even Moses himself feared, but the people even moreso. (Exodus 24:16, Hebrews 12:21)
Whether day or night, they always had a pillar of cloud or pillar of fire to guide them and show the Lord's presence with them. (Exodus 13:21) Therefore, no matter how many days and nights it took Moses on their mountain, they had every evidence necessary that God was still with them. In fact, they were shown whether to stay camped or arise and move based on the pillar's movement or lack thereof. So, if the cloud and fire had been stationary all the while that Moses was on Sinai, then they had no reason to even think that it was time to go anywhere. Looking at the evidences that God had placed, one could reasonably say, "God was manifest all around them, above them, before, and beside them." Truly, He had set great signs and wonders to show forth His glory in their midst so that it would seem impossible that someone in such a position could doubt, stray, or turn from the right path.
Have you ever run into the mindset (or had it yourself), "If I could see the things the Bible talks about, I wouldn't doubt, and my fears that I struggle with would be taken away." I have encountered many people with that mindset, but interestingly, the people that did experience these things were guilty of the same doubts, fears, and stumblings that we have today. Even with God evidently all around them, they still idolatrously ran after their own fallen and frail ways. Lest we come down too harshly on these wayward people (though they justly deserve consternation for their actions), Paul clearly makes a point that we are very much like them. (I Corinthians 10:1-13) Though we should learn not to do many of the things that they did, we still are guilty of the same things with a similar set of circumstances.
One might protest here, "Preacher, I've never crafted a golden calf and called that my god that delivered me." Nor have I. However, idolatry comes in many forms, but every time, we have a set of manifest circumstances like they had that make our decisions seem even more foolish. No, we do not see a mount that burns with fire and has a cloud of glory descend upon it like they saw on Sinai that day, nor do we have a pillar of cloud and fire that tells us when to move and when to stop. However, consider what we do have all around us. The Lord promised that He would continue the ordinances of the sun and moon by day and night. (Jeremiah 31:35-36) Every day that we live, the sun rises and sets during the day, while the moon continues as a light by night. Why do these ordinances remain? God commanded them so, and whether in the day or night, we have clear evidence that God still rules and reigns on His throne. Just as they had the pillar by day and night, we have the firm promise that ordinances will be seen in heaven that declare to us that God is in our midst.
In looking at what we do have today as opposed to that day at Sinai, Paul describes much of what we have in our mountain (Zion) that supersedes Sinai in many respects. (Hebrews 12:18-24) While we do not see literal smoke and fire upon a literal mountain, our worship in Mount Zion shows more glory than they had then. We do not have literal tables of stone written on by the finger of God like they did then, but our Book has more glory and sureness than they did then. Our mountain has the glory of the Lord in the descending of the Holy Ghost (I Peter 1:12), and the Bible of God's word from which we preach was Divinely breathed into existence by God's inspiration. Every time the Lord takes a mortal man and blesses him with power from the demonstration of the Holy Ghost and accompanies that power with assurance to the hearts and souls of the saints, we experience more glory and majesty than they had that day. (I Thessalonians 1:5)
What about falling into idolatry? We so often put things before our eyes that end up commanding the lion's share of our time and attention. Though we have daily reminders through the creation that God is still here and reigning as He promised, we forget Him often through our journeys of life. Though He has blessed us with awesome power and majesty in the mountain of His church, we neglect so often to honour that glory with our presence, prayers, and/or energy. We might find a reason not to be there, or when we get there, we might find a reason to worship and praise Him with little to no energy of service. Is this any different than making a molten calf and calling it your god? Not really. Consider.
The result of making this idol was that the people ate, drank, and played before it (Verse 6). It became a source of entertainment and fulfillment of fleshly pleasure for them, and should it have remained long enough, they would have followed it whithersoever it went. So are the idols of today. They become the source of people's entertainment and fulfillment of fleshly pleasure. Whether it pertains to recreation of sports and leisure, occupation of job and moneymaking, or relationships of family or otherwise, each idol serves to source our entertainment and fulfill some fleshly longing. Again, many of these idols are not intrinsically bad just as molten craftsmanship in that day was not synonymous with idolatry. They become so when we attach levels of appreciation to them that no one or nothing deserves outside of God Almighty.
Friends, we have countless evidences in the creation that God still rules and reigns. We have countless evidences in His church that He will meets with us in a place of glory. No matter how impatient we may get over the circumstances we face, let us never give in to delusions of grandeur from self-centered thinking. It leads to idolatry every time. We will – as creatures – worship something. It may be ourselves or our own worth, but we will worship something. May we contain our worship to the One that truly delivered us from ourselves and the cruel mastery of Egypt's blackness. He has not left us, and the evidences are tremendous. Finally, when we read accounts like this one and think of how foolish these people appear, may we step back and observe our own paths. To someone reading an account of our activities, how foolish would we look to them? Let us adore Him for all that He has done, is doing, and will continue to do for all eternity.