25 November 2014

BSF 2014-2015: Exodus 32:1-33:6

While reading this week’s lesson, it was easy to point my finger at Aaron and the Israelites because they quickly turned from God and built an idol.  But there are many ways we can create idols in our own lives now.

An idol is something in creation that is inflated to function as a substitute to God. An idol can be an object, a person, an activity, an organization, an idea, a hobby and so many more things. When your loyalty to something or someone causes you to disobey God, you are in danger of idolatry.

In this passage in Exodus, the Israelites’ faith is weak because they can’t wait for Moses to return from his mountaintop experience with God. So they go to Aaron and request that they build a physical god. Aaron tells them to bring their gold earrings to him. He is weak himself. He uses the earrings to create a calf idol.

The people begin to celebrate and run wild. Translations of this passage indicate that this is a time of drunkenness and sexual immorality. The people are worshipping like the pagan nations around them, not like the holy nation God called them to be.

Later we will see that Aaron is to blame for the people’s actions. Moses and God put him in charge, yet Aaron didn’t stop the people and point them back to God. Instead, he gave in to what the people wanted.

On the mountain, God tells Moses that the people are misbehaving in his absence and worshipping an idol. God says He is ready to destroy them all. He calls them a stiff-necked people – they know idolatry is a sin, yet they do it anyway.

God tests Moses by offering to make a new nation out of Moses and his family. Moses doesn’t abandon the Israelites but pleads for the people on their behalf. God relents. He changes His action toward the people, but He doesn’t change His behavior. He let Moses pray and intercede for the people. Even today, our prayers combined with God’s determination make His will come to pass. He involves us in His will.

Moses comes down the mountain with two tablets of God’s law, written by God’s own hand. Moses hears the people shouting in their revelry. In his anger, Moses destroys the tablets and burns the calf. He shows the people that they have broken God’s law and that the idol was worthless and powerless.

Next, Moses approaches Aaron who refuses to accept responsibility for his sin. He blames everyone and everything else – he blames the nature of the people, he blames the people for forcing him to do it, he blames Moses for being gone for too long and he blames the fire saying the calf idol appeared from it.

More people need to be punished for this sin. Moses calls for everyone who stands with the Lord to come to him. The Levites obey. Moses commands the Levites to kill some of the offenders, including their friends and families. About three thousand people are killed. How could God call for us a harsh punishment? It is because God demands absolute holiness.

Moses realizes that a price must be paid for the people’s great sin. He attempts to atone for their sins by offering himself as a substitute. Moses asks God to take his life for the people’s lives. God refuses Moses’ offer because he is a sinner and can’t reconcile the people to God. We cannot atone for the price of our own sins. Instead, God sent His sinless Son to die for the sins of the entire world.

God tells Moses to lead the people to the Promised Land. God says He will not go with the people but will send an angel to accompany them. The people mourn for their sin, especially because their sin caused God to remove His presence.

Things to Think About

  • What in my life is in danger of becoming an idol? What is consuming my money, time and attention? Ask God to reveal these things to me and then get rid of them.
  • Am I so intimate with God that I can reasonably talk with God like Moses did?
  • For whom am I praying (interceding)?
  • Idolatry is disobedience to God’s command to love Him wholeheartedly and to worship Him only.
  • Self-centeredness drives idolatry. The opposite of self-centeredness is selflessness.
  • Where in my life am I more concerned with my own comfort or convenience than for the kingdom of God?
  • Which worldly practice am I making into a habit?
  • For which of my own sins am I blaming someone else?
  • Only God can give us the happiness, peace and joy that idols deceptively promise.
  • The Israelites were impatient while waiting for Moses and God. It takes faith to wait for God.