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Jul 2 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

July 1, 2018 – Exodus 32:1-33:6

A Droplet of Hope

When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron, “Come on,” they said, “make us some gods who can lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.
So Aaron said, “Take the gold rings from the ears of your wives and sons and daughters, and bring them to me.”
All the people took the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron. Then Aaron took the gold, melted it down, and molded it into the shape of a calf. When the people saw it, they exclaimed, “O Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of the land of Egypt!”
Aaron saw how excited the people were, so he built an altar in front of the calf. Then he announced, “Tomorrow will be a festival to the LORD!”
The people got up early the next morning to sacrifice burnt offerings and peace offerings. After this, they celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry. 
Exodus 32:1-6

Intro: Last week took us into God’s gift of creativity
(in the construction of his sacred tent)

Our story today begins with an example of creativity gone bad
– this episode is a mirror image of the previous seven chapters
• it runs parallel to God’s instructions for the sacred tent
◦ only what is produced here is a grotesque distortion
• the resources that were to be used for God’s tent–
◦ including the sacred objects, sacrifices, and service of its artisans and priests
◦ gets hijacked by patchwork cult
– we can explore this episode using a key marker
• when the word “this” is used in a dismissive way
◦ for example, the way the Israelites refer to this Moses in verse 1
◦ “this” creates distance from a person
(like when a mother refers to her child as “this son of yours . . . .”)
• when we come to these markers, they will indicate a change of attitude

A new chapter: the people are done with this fellow Moses

The people had grown impatient with how long Moses was gone
– the particular phrase they used refers to an embarrassing delay (Jdg. 3:24-25)
• people are shamed into feeling pressured until they feel they must act (2 Ki. 2:16-18)
• Moses had left Aaron in charge, so the people confront him
Make gods for us – they want Aaron to fabricate something tangible
• they were the only people who had only one god and no idols
◦ naturally, their thoughts turned to what was familiar
• tired of waiting, they wanted to move on
◦ and they felt like they needed gods to lead them

The first thing Aaron did: he asked for their gold
– when God told Moses he wanted a sanctuary where he could live among his people,
• the first thing he asked for was gold for the sacred objects and clothing (Ex. 25:2)
◦ this was exactly where God’s instructions for the sacred tent began
• unknowingly, Aaron was imitating God
◦ but he was creating something very different from God’s design
– it seems Aaron poured molten gold into a mold,
• and then refined its details by sculpting it with an engraving tool
◦ he was doing the work of artisans like those we met in chapter 31

Robert Alter observes that “golden bulls or calves were often used as cultic seats for deities in the ancient Near East”

• in other words, the very purpose of the golden cherubim on ark’s lid

Please listen, O Shepherd of Israel . . . .
O God, enthroned above the cherubim, display your radiant glory (Ps. 80:1)

◦ this had been the first object God told Moses to construct
◦ now the calf is the first religious object Aaron makes

From that point, the people took over, they exclaimed,

O Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of Egypt!

– everything that belonged to Yahweh was now being given to the golden calf
• even the credit for liberating Israel from Egypt
– I’m thinking that their excitement and response took Aaron by surprise
• he quickly built an altar (unaware of God’s plans for a sacred altar)
◦ was he trying to steer the spiritual energy back toward Yahweh?

Tomorrow will be a festival to Yahweh!

• but it was all wrong and by now had built too much momentum
◦ the next day, the people offered sacrifices, then feasted
◦ they combined sacred ritual with heavy partying

7-14 Aware of their actions, God was done with this people (v. 9)

God informed Moses of what was going on below

He refers to them as Your people whom you brought from the land of Egypt and corrupted themselves

 – that is, they had ruined their status as God’s covenant people
corrupted can refer to overripe fruit that has become rotten
• they quickly violated the commandments they had received from God
◦ they broke the covenant Yahweh had made with them
– God already had a history with these people
• he knew their chronic stubbornness and rebellion
◦ so he tells Moses, if he would stay back, he would destroy the people
◦ God was willing to start over and from Moses create a new nation
• note, God did not say his anger was burning, but that he would allow it to burn
◦ but the decision was left up to Moses
◦ it was almost as if he were saying, “If you’re done with them, Moses, so am I”

There’s a break in God’s speech, between verses 8 and 9
– he paused to let Moses respond to his announcement
• Moses, however, had nothing to say
◦ after all, this was news to him
◦ and what could he say?
• but when God mentioned wiping them out, Moses spoke up
– first, he corrected God

Moses refers to Israel as your own people whom you brought from the land of Egypt

◦ he wasn’t about to fall for that trick, or assume the burden of the people
◦ as if to prove his point, he reminds God that he delivered Israel

with such great power and such a strong hand

• Moses made two more points:
◦ what would happens to God’s reputation when Egyptians heard about Israel’s destruction?
◦ and he reminds God of the oath he swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob

That was enough – Yahweh changed his mind
– the Old Testament isn’t bothered or embarrassed by anthropomorphisms
• God wanted his people to know,
◦ his actions could be influenced by their actions and prayers

15-29 Aaron explains why he made this calf

Moses descended mountain, and brought with him the two stone tablets
– the storyteller makes specific mention that they were written by God himself
• Joshua had been waiting for Moses on a lower level of the mountain
◦ hearing a loud noise ascending from the camp, he said, It sounds like war
◦ Moses’ three-line poetic response:

It is not the sound of victory,
It is not the sound of defeat;
It is the sound of singing that I hear.

• when Moses saw what was going on, it was his anger that flared up
◦ in the space of two verses, both the stone tablets God made and the golden calf Aaron made were destroyed
◦ why smash the tablets? because the people had broken and smashed the covenant
– Moses interrogated Aaron,

What did these people do to make you bring such terrible sin upon them? How could you be coerced into doing something so wrong?
Aaron’s answered, You yourself know how evil these people are. They clamored for gods, so all I did, was to throw gold in fire, and out came this calf!
This must go down as one of the lamest explanations of all time

• was Aaron implying that the making of the golden calf was “a miracle,” an act of God?
• if so, it was classic blame-shifting,
◦ and not unlike Adam’s subtle attempt to blame God for his sin

It was the woman you gave me! (Gen. 3:12)

One of Moses’ concerns was the  reaction of their enemies
– Israel’s self-perception was that they always living under the threat of neighboring enemies
• they constantly looked for an ally to protect them
◦ sadly, they had alienated the greatest Ally they would ever have

Yahweh had promised, I will be an enemy to your enemies (Ex. 23:22), so they had nothing to fear. But in abandoning Yahweh for other gods, they forfeited their protection. It was as we read in Jonah, Those who worship false gods turn their backs on all of God’s mercies (Jon. 2:8)

– Moses calls for volunteers,

All of you who are on Yahweh’s side, come here and join me

• so now there are “sides” — Yahweh’s side and that of the gods of the golden calf
• it was Moses’ tribe of Levi that responded and distinguished themselves by their loyalty to Yahweh
◦ they executed 3,000 offenders
◦ these may have been people who persisted in their devotion to the calf gods despite Moses’ reaction

For a second time, Moses interceded for them
– he doesn’t allow an opening for God to repeat his offer to destroy Israel and start over with him
• he tells God that if he’s going to wipe out Israel, he will have to wipe out Moses as well
• God’s answer is that his response would be just

The LORD said to Moses, “Get going, you and the people you brought up from the land of Egypt. God up to the land I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I told them, ‘I will give this land to your descendants.’ And I will send an angel before you to drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perzzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. Go up to this land that flows with milk and honey. But I will not travel among you, for you are a stubborn and rebellious people. If I did, I would surely destroy you along the way.” Exodus 33:1-3

33:1-6 Yahweh is done with this place (literal translation of verse 1)

This is the most distressing point in story – God makes explicit what he had hinted at
– why was Moses gone those forty days? what were the last seven chapters all about?
• we learned the answer in chapter 25,

Have the people of Israel build me a holy sanctuary so I can live among them (Ex. 25:8)

so I can live among them — and now that is exactly what they will be denied
◦ for now it seems there will be no sacred tent — they forfeited their destiny
• Moses had argued God’s promise to Abraham etc.
◦ here he reaffirms that oath, but now it sounds impersonal and very business-like

When the people heard these stern words, they went into mourning and stopped wearing their jewelry and fine clothes. For the LORD had told Moses to tell them, “You are a stubborn and rebellious people. If I were to travel with you for even a moment, I would destroy you. Remove your jewelry and fine clothes while I decide what to do with you.” So from the time they left Mount Sinai, the Israelites wore no more jewelry or fine clothes. Exodus 33:3-6

– Of course they mourned – and wearing jewelry was inappropriate
• like themselves, their jewelry had a destiny; that is, to be used in God’s sanctuary
• God tells them to leave their jewelry off until he made up his mind about them

Conclusion: This is hard, but if we’re honest we can see ourselves here

After all God’s done and promised, we screw up
– can I say there’s not a golden calf that usurps God’s place in my heart at times?
– at first, I thought this had to be my message:
• that we too can lose our identity and forfeit our life’s destiny
• but then I looked closer at God’s words, while I decide what to do with you
◦ the outcome was still open – and God had shown them that his mind could be changed

When my grandson Calum acts up and I threaten to deny him a treat,
– he will start begging me, “Last chance, Grandpa? Pul-leease!”
• frequently I give many “last chances,” even after his “last chance”
• the deciding factor for Israel would be the nature of their grief
◦ was it real? was it the beginning of a genuine change?
◦ Paul explained to the Corinthians,

For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death (2 Cor. 7:10)

The strength and survival of God’s covenant cannot depend on Israel
– it will always have to depend on God’s compassion and forgiveness

God gives us lots of second chances,
because he wants us to succeed
and he wants to make us whole
So, what we want to do is this:
when we screw up
(and we will)
we want to turn back to God immediately
God is far less concerned with or interested in
the falling
as he is the returning
That is the part of our story that gives him joy,
and all heaven with him
We had to celebrate this happy day.
For your brother was dead and has come back to life.
He was lost, but now he is found
(Lk. 15:32)

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