Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Scripture: Exodus 32:1-10
“The Isrealites have been quick to turn aside from the way I have commanded them.”

The story of the golden calf illustrates that God, and God alone, deserves our complete devotion and loyalty. But what will God do if we split our devotion between God and other gods? Will the holy God remain true to the covenant promises and to an idolatrous people?

The Israelites were out in the middle of nowhere. God had spoken to them about their future together. God had told them how they needed to live. The Israelites had agreed to keep the words of God (Ex. 19:8). But now the people are alone. It has been a while since God spoke. And Moses has been on the mountain a long time (forty days according to 24:18.) The Israelites feel abandoned by Moses. They know they will not survive on their own, so they make what seems to be a perfectly rational decision. They call on Aaron to make an idol that will "go before" them (32:1). "Go before" translates a Hebrew word that suggests the people desire a god to lead them, perhaps into battle (as in 23:23).
Aaron makes a "calf" (or young bull). In ancient Near Eastern pagan religions, bulls represented the gods or served as thrones for deities.

It doesn't appear that the people want to worship gods other than Yahweh. After all, they certainly remembered the God who had brought them out of Egypt. On the other hand, the Israelites seem to be guilty of religious syncretism, or adopting pagan practices as features of their worship of Yahweh. The worship of the golden calf is described as a festival to Yahweh (Ex. 32:5). The Israelites have not forgotten Yahweh or all God has done for them. But they have forgotten that they had promised never to make or worship any sort of idol (Ex. 20:3-6). The Israelites break their covenant promise to God. This will have serious consequences! Breaking a promise often does.

This mixing of various religions traditions, ideas, or symbols is (religious syncretism) is still around today. In the past, order to translate Christian belief into certain cultures, pagan practices were adapted and given Christian meanings. Some Christmas and Easter traditions have their origins in pagan rituals and beliefs (Christmas trees, Easter eggs). Some Christians today buy into some of the New Age ideas or symbols and try to blend them with their Christian beliefs. Where should the church draw the line in its relationship to its surrounding culture? Is worship more about providing the people with an experience (is it person-centered) or is it about worshiping God ?

Now back to the Isrealites and their current siutation. They have violated the commandment to abstain from idol worship. What will God do? Will God punish them or look the other way?
To say God is not pleased would be one of the great understatements of all time. In one of the more humorous exchanges in the Bible, Yahweh and Moses palm off the Israelites on one another: "your people . . . this people" (32:7, 9). The people are described as "stiff-necked." This is a farming image of stubborn farm animals refusing to follow in the direction they are being guided. After seeing the Israelites with their idol, God intends to destroy the Israelites.

Moses doesn't like this idea. Surprisingly, Moses argues with God! Moses implores the Lord. The Hebrew words translated "implored the Lord" mean "to make the Lord's face sweet or pleasant." Imagine: Moses tries to change God's angry face and put a smile on it. When the face of God is mentioned in Scripture it is serious business. According to Ex. 33:11 the Lord used to speak face to face with Moses just like a friend. But those times of friendly face-to-face communication appear to be in the past. Moses seeks the assurance of God's abiding presence with Israel in the future. While Yahweh promises to be present with Israel, Yahweh restricts Moses from seeing God's face (33:17-23).
Moses calls God to repent (Ex. 32:11-14) of the decision to destroy Israel. Figuratively, Moses challenges Yahweh to turn off the angry face and turn on the face of blessing.

What is Moses' argument that changes God's mind? Moses has the nerve to remind God of the promises made to Abraham. God had made solemn promises and commitments to this people a long time ago. Moses does not want God to wipe the people out; that would give Yahweh a bad name among the nations. And who would want to enter into relationship with this kind of God?

What does this encounter reveal about the identity and character of God? Many people find it hard to accept that God repents (v. 14). Yet this story reveals flexibility in God's determined response to Israel's sin. If God wants to obliterate the sinful people, God will remember the covenant promises. God is inescapable, even if God is the One who wants to escape us! What does this mean for us today? If God will change His mind and forgive Israel, then no matter what our sins, He will forgive us, if we ask.

The Israelites had disobeyed God. There would be serious consequences once Moses returned to the people. It would not be a pretty sight or a pleasant experience for the Israelites. But God would not destroy the whole people and start over again. God renewed the commitment to the Israelites and called on them to renew their commitment as well.


How do you think you might have reacted if you had been Moses?
Why did Moses choose to challenge God?
What do you think about God's repentance?
Can you ever think of a time when God might have considered you to be "stiff-necked"? What was the outcome of that experience?
Can you describe a time when you were tempted to embrace an idol? What was the result?

O God, at times we can be mighty stiff-necked. We can forget who you are and who we are as your people. We give thanks that you do not forget us but continue to claim us. Help us loosen our necks. Amen.

Compiled from The Present Word and Congregational Ministries Publishing is not liable for for the content of this Bible Study and Blog.

From The Present Word © 2011 Congregational Ministries Publishing. Used by permission.

No comments:

Post a Comment