Read: Exodus 23-32
Exodus 24:1-8 “Then the Lord said to Moses, “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel. You are to worship at a distance, 2 but Moses alone is to approach the Lord; the others must not come near. And the people may not come up with him.”
3 When Moses went and told the people all the Lord’s words and laws,they responded with one voice, “Everything the Lord has said we will do.”4 Moses then wrote down everything the Lord had said.
He got up early the next morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve stone pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel. 5 Then he sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to the Lord.6 Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he splashed against the altar. 7 Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey.” 8 Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
So Moses is about to head to the top of the mountain and he has a very specific word for Aaron and the 70 additional elders. They respond with a promise of obedience and a blood covenant is made. Exodus 24-31 gives very specific commands from God to the Israelites. Exodus 31 stood out to me: “Then the Lord said to Moses, 2 “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 3 and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— 4 to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze,” God was filling people with his specific wisdom from the beginning. I wonder if they understood what was happening?
I’m skipping ahead to Chapter 32
“When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods[a] who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” 2 Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods,[b]Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.” 6 So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry. 7 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. 8 They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’ 9 “I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.” 11 But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. “Lord,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people.13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’” 14 Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.”
So, Moses was on the mountain for 40 days. 40 days was long enough for the Israelites to begin to worship another god. The calf was created from their gold. It was done in front of them and yet they decided it was worth their worship above the Lord, who had brought them out of Egypt, provided food and drink and safety and was continually present in the form of a cloud or fire. Exodus 32 continued:
“9 “I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.” 11 But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. “Lord,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people.13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’” 14 Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened. 15 Moses turned and went down the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. 16 The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.”
So God has seen what is happening and tells Moses he’s going to wipe them out and start over. Moses reasons with God and his anger subsides. Moses has been told what is happening but when he sees it for himself his anger rages and he crushes the calf, puts it in water for the Israelites to drink and then orders the Levite to murder those who stand against God, which turns out to be 3,000.
Aaron’s part kills me. He expects Moses, who has just spent 40 days speaking directly with God, to believe gold thrown into a fire created a calf. I can’t ignore the symbolism here either. As the Israelites sit in the wilderness waiting for Moses they stray at the bottom of the mountain.
Record: When you read the specifics of all God was calling the Israelites to do what are your thoughts?
Why do you think Aaron is still so easily swayed by the Israelites at this time?
Why was it easier for the Israelites to worship a calf than to wait for Moses?
Review: When I read that a blood covenant was broken in less than 40 days it doesn’t surprise me that they had trouble trusting God would not break a covenant with them. This is a common occurrence isn’t it? For some reason, we are more comfortable boxing God into human standards. The ironic part is that we ask for outrageous things like financial provision or healing of our bodies and expect answers.
I can understand the Israelite’s nervousness with Moses being gone. Their leader was not present and they weren’t sure when he would come back. They had been given visual confirmation of God’s presence and the ability to hear from Moses at any time up until this point. They were left in the care of elders who had also been in Egypt with them. The reality was, they weren’t ready to step into a deeper faith. They weren’t ready to trust a God sight unseen.
When I reflect on my life I can pinpoint multiple times when I asked God for evidence before faith. I wanted to see provision, see my prayer answered, see my way work out and then I’d worship. The wilderness is where God teaches us to step into deeper faith. It’s the place where we either die with our own gods or move forward with the one true God.