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Wednesday in the Word

Second Baptist Church

May 16, 2018

Exodus  32:1-14

  1. It is important to remember that some of the events of chapters 25-31 are happening simultaneously with some of those in chapters 32-34. That is, while God and Moses are discussing the construction of the tabernacle, the Israelites and Aaron are preparing for the construction of the golden idol. In Chapter 32, we are caught totally off guard by the blatant disregard for the covenant which Israel has just ratified. We are shocked by the idolatry which is a flagrant violation of the commandment of God. We are puzzled by the way things go wrong so quickly, and that Aaron seems to not to offer so much as one word or one moment’s hesitation. How can those who have enthusiastically committed themselves to keeping the covenant which God has made suddenly reject it and openly disrespect God.

  2. Verse 1. Moses was gone for 40 days, and sometime after he left, the people called on Aaron to make them an idol like the ones they had in Egypt. Since they had to gather the gold from the people and make the idol, we can assume that Moses wasn’t gone long before they rebelled. How quickly we forget God when God has us waiting. Also, there is a direct, cause-effect relationship between the absence of leadership and the practice of idolatry. It is obvious that Moses is absent. He is on the mountain with God, gone for 40 days and nights (cf. 24:18). His absence gave the Israelites a pretext for rebelling, and the opportunity for doing so (Moses wasn’t there to stop them). The absence of leadership plays a significant role in the idolatry of Israel. Strong leadership is a must. Not heavy-handed leadership, but leadership that is clear. Without leadership, a mob can get out of hand. The crowd which had gathered around Aaron was not a friendly group, gathering for small talk and making casual suggestions. The expression used here suggests that this was an angry, aggressive mob, whose presence Aaron perceived to be a threat to his safety, perhaps even his life. Given the actions of the Israelites before and after, Aaron was probably right to see this situation as one that was dangerous. The people were not asking for an idol, they were demanding an idol or else. Aaron is really given no choice. Because Moses was absent and God was quiet, the people backslid into what they had seen in Egypt. They could fall away so fast because they had known idols all their lives. Old habits are hard to break. Notice that there is very little resistance to this idea of idol making. The people want a visible symbol which they can take before them as they proceed on to Canaan. Since Moses was not there to go before them, their idol will be their leader. The expression “to go before” definitely conveys the idea of leadership, and it has a military connotation: “The LORD your God who goes before you will Himself fight on your behalf, just as He did for you in Egypt before your eyes” (Deut. 1:30; cf. also Exod. 14:19: 23:23; 32:34). If the Israelites cannot look to Moses to lead them to victory, then they will have a “god” who will “go before them” as they march into Canaan, to possess it. Their history of idol gods convinced them that victory could be obtained by having a “lucky charm” idol. Just a few weeks earlier God had specifically said that they are to make no other gods.

  3. Verses 2-6. Aaron responded to “the people” by telling them to “take/tear off” the gold rings. This gold jewelry was undoubtedly Israel’s “wages” from the Egyptians (Exodus 3:21-22; 12:35-36). This gold should also have been what was contributed for the construction of the tabernacle, rather than the golden idol (Exod. 25:3). The expression, “take/tear off,” seems to suggest that what the Israelites did was a hasty, spontaneous act. Spur of the moment decisions and actions are often suspect. Seemingly, it was Aaron who decided on a calf, or, better, a young bull, as the symbolic representation of God. He melted the gold, cast the idol and fashioned it. When “the people” saw this idol they responded, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” Aaron built an altar, just as Moses had and proclaimed a festival, a “feast to the Lord,” just as there was a meal on Mt. Sinai (24:11). The next day the people got up early to “worship” their new God. Burnt offerings and peace offerings were sacrificed, too, just as these had been sacrificed in chapter 24 (v.5). All the people sat down to eat and to drink. There was a very great difference between the “worship” of the people before the golden calf and that of the elders on the mountain. The people not only ate and drank, they “rose up to play/got up to indulge in revelry” (32:6). This term “revelry” refers to illicit and immoral sex play. Thus, this “worship” had turned into an orgy. When you visualize this incident in your mind’s eye, it is a scene of incredible evil. Those who had fervently vowed to keep God’s commandments are blatantly violating them. They are in a drunken frenzy, worshipping an idol, engaging in sexual indecencies. Their worship is little different from that of the Canaanites, whose sins are the reason for their being cast out of the land (cf. Deut. 9:5). And all the while they are worshipping in front of that idol, behind and beyond them, Moses is hearing from God.

  4. Verses 7-10. The plans for the tabernacle have been given to Moses, along with the two tablets of stone, on which the commandments have been written by the finger of God (31:18). Knowing all that has been going on in Moses’ absence, God told Moses to go down to the people. Before Moses departed from God’s presence, God first diagnosed Israel’s condition, and then threatened judgment which Israel richly deserved. God gave Moses a three-fold description of the sin of the Israelites. The first two characterize the sin which the nation has just committed. These are expressed in the past tense “have corrupted themselves” (v.7); “have quickly turned aside” (v.8). The third term focuses on the root problem, the spiritual condition of the nation which has produced these sins seen in chapter 32. The cause of Israel’s quick corruption is declared by God in verse 9: And the LORD said to Moses, “They are a stiff-necked people.” In one word, the people of Israel are obstinate. That is, they are stubborn, willful, and rebellious. Literally, the Israelites were “determined to do what they want,” a term which was frequently employed to identify Israel’s sinfulness. If we are at all observant of our own Christian community, there are scores of Christians who have suddenly fallen into sin. We often agonize of such spiritual catastrophes, wondering how a person so sincere, so spiritual, so devoted to the Lord could ever do such a thing. The reason for such sin is the same as that for Israel’s sin--depravity. We, like Israel of old, are stubborn and stiff- necked. We, like they, can quickly turn from the way God has prescribed, corrupting ourselves in the process. Our unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others betrays our grasp of one of the most fundamental of all truths--man is sinful and desperately wicked, and his spiritual downfall can come quickly. Thank God for Grace. What we are to see is that the people of God could never be saved by the law, we need a heart change, an inward transformation. God will use the law to teach the people and us, that we are indeed sinners in need of a savior. What the Israelites have just done (or are presently, from the perspective of the text, doing) is the result of what they are. What the Israelites are, here, is not a new thing, not a new condition. God said, “I have seen this people” (v.9). What Israel now is, Israel has always been. Israel is not, just now, idolatrous, they have always been so. God’s words reflect the consequences of sin--a separation from God and the ominous threat of judgment. God spoke no longer of Israel as “His” people, but rather as the people of Moses: “Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves” (Exod. 32:7). Both in what God says and in the way He says it, Israel’s sin has put the nation in great danger. God then threatened to annihilate the entire nation, to wipe them out, and to start over, making a new nation of Moses: “Now then let Me alone, that My anger may bum against them, and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation” (32:10). These words pose an ominous threat to Israel’s future. It looks as though Israel will be wiped out, and, we must say, God would have been wholly just in doing so, at least from the standpoint of the seriousness of Israel’s sin. God’s words here are intended to convey the great danger which Israel is now in. But they are also intended to produce something different than destruction which is not only suggested by the outcome of the story, but is also implied by the words themselves. If God had intended to wipe Israel out, what reason was there for Him to tell Moses about it, and then send Him down to the people? God tells of judgment in advance to give them an opportunity to repent.

  5. Verses 11-14. The words which God spoke were intended to stimulate Moses to intercede for his people, and thus to bring about forgiveness. Moses was never more noble, more fervent, or more eloquent than he was here. Moses presents his case to God on behalf of the people. God is teaching Moses to love the people and see beyond their faults and see their needs. Moses speaks to God and ask God why he would destroy a people that he brought out and that he promised to make into a great nation. This is all to build Moses’ faith in God’s purpose and God’s plan. God wants to see where Moses is with all of this. Is Moses going to be quick to cancel the plans, or is he going to hang in there? Moses will face more tests so God needs to know where he stands. After hearing Moses, God relented from his judgment. There are still going to be some consequences, but not complete judgment.

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