HOPE CHAPEL - Sunday, July 4, 2021
Teaching Series - “Our Family Tree–Through the Bible in 2021"
Weekly Topic - “Short Term Memory – Golden Calves”
Text – Exodus 24, 32
The people of Israel appear to finally be getting their relationship with God in order. Following the provision of the Ten Commandments, God provides an additional set of laws and regulations for the people to follow. God wants to make it clear that they are to be different from the nations around them. He again stipulates the people’s need to worship Him directly; He lives in heaven, not an image of silver or gold (Exodus 20:22-23). God also gives them three festivals—celebrations set aside to remember the amazing things God has done on their behalf and to worship Him (Exodus 23:14-17). He then promises His direct protection by telling them that the angel of the Lord will lead them (Exodus 23:20-23) and warns them to obey this angel because he is God’s representative and will not forgive them if they choose to rebel. The groundwork has been done—the people know the expectations, have been given reminders and a guardian. So, in chapter 24 of Exodus, after having received all these directions from Moses, the people declare, “We will do everything the Lord has commanded. We will obey”—not just once, but twice (Exodus 24:3,7). At this moment they agree to do what is necessary…but how long will their resolve last?
Exodus 24:9-18 – “9 Then Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel climbed up the mountain. 10 There they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there seemed to be a surface of brilliant blue lapis lazuli, as clear as the sky itself. 11 And though these nobles of Israel gazed upon God, he did not destroy them. In fact, they ate a covenant meal, eating and drinking in his presence!
12 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain. Stay there, and I will give you the tablets of stone on which I have inscribed the instructions and commands so you can teach the people.” 13 So Moses and his assistant Joshua set out, and Moses climbed up the mountain of God. 14 Moses told the elders, “Stay here and wait for us until we come back. Aaron and Hur are here with you. If anyone has a dispute while I am gone, consult with them.”
15 Then Moses climbed up the mountain, and the cloud covered it. 16 And the glory of the Lord settled down on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days. On the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from inside the cloud. 17 To the Israelites at the foot of the mountain, the glory of the Lord appeared at the summit like a consuming fire. 18 Then Moses disappeared into the cloud as he climbed higher up the mountain. He remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights.”
The people have just had what we sometimes refer to as a ‘mountaintop’ experience. Things are going well. They have promised to obey God. The nation’s leaders have just feasted in the visible presence of Almighty God. They are on a bit of a spiritual high.
Moses is commanded by God to go up the mountain with his assistant Joshua to receive a special set of instructions from God to build the Tabernacle and to receive the Laws written by God’s own Hand. Moses is confident that the people will be faithful, the leaders will be even more so and, if there is any trouble, they have the excellent guidance of Aaron and Hur to help them.
Who is Aaron? [Moses’ brother, the High Priest] Who is Hur? [a companion of Moses’ and Aaron from the tribe of Judah, who Moses obviously trusted, but of whom we hear little]
Moses stayed on the mountain, which appeared from the people’s vantage point to be on fire and covered in smoke, for forty days and nights. Exodus 25-31 tells of the content of Moses’ conversation with God—plans for constructing the Tabernacle and all of its sacred objects, the priesthood, priestly vestments and their installation service, and even the special gifting of two men to help in the process.
And during all this time, Moses carefully wrote everything down so that they could follow God’s directions precisely and remained confident that all was going well in the camp of the Israelites with their newfound faithfulness and under the leadership of Aaron, Hur and the seventy elders. Unfortunately, he was rather mistaken…
THE TEMPTATION TO BE FAITHLESS
Exodus 32:1-8 - “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.” 2 So Aaron said, “Take the gold rings from the ears of your wives and sons and daughters, and bring them to me.”
3 All the people took the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 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!” 5 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!” 6 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.
7 The Lord told Moses, “Quick! Go down the mountain! Your people whom you brought from the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. 8 How quickly they have turned away from the way I commanded them to live! They have melted down gold and made a calf, and they have bowed down and sacrificed to it. They are saying, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.’”
I can’t help but wonder if God was providing a test for the people. After calling Moses to come up to the mountaintop, God remained silent until the seventh day. He was deliberately taking His time. But while Moses remained attentive to the sound of God’s voice, the people concluded that after forty days Moses was as good as dead; Joshua was likely dead, too; God wasn’t speaking to any of them and they couldn’t stay at the foot of the mountain indefinitely. The fact is that God was being anything but silent or inattentive, but they weren’t aware of what was happening. And so they determined it was time to take matters into their own hands.
Moses had thought he could trust his brother to provide faithful leadership to the people. But it becomes obvious, that Aaron could not be trusted—not to lead, not to remain faithful, not even to tell his own brother the truth. When Moses confronts Aaron, his every effort is to deflect blame and to find a scapegoat, “22 “Don’t get so upset, my lord,” Aaron replied. “You yourself know how evil these people are. 23 They said to me, ‘Make us gods who will lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.’ 24 So I told them, ‘Whoever has gold jewelry, take it off.’ When they brought it to me, I simply threw it into the fire—and out came this calf!” (Exodus 32:22-24)
But he isn’t the only one—what of the other seventy elders who had eaten in God’s very presence? What of Aaron’s sons? Why hadn’t Hur stepped up to stop this madness? If there was any resistance to the suggestion that ‘gods’ be made, the Bible doesn’t tell us of it.
They had been instructed to wait, but ‘waiting’ is probably one of the most difficult things to do. After forty days, they felt they had waited long enough and decided it was time for action. So, what did they do? [had Aaron create an idol for them to worship] They went right back to what they knew from the land of their enslavement. Back to their old life. Back to the ‘golden calves’ of Egypt. From our perspective, their response can appear ridiculous, but be careful. Hindsight is usually 20/20. It’s much harder to be faithful when the future is uncertain.
God often uses times when we are forced to wait to refine us. Will we grow increasingly faithful or faithless? Even in our small congregation, we have all experienced our share of waiting, both as individuals and as a group. The sale of the Kelly’s home in Barbados…the Bentil’s application for Permanent Residency…the resolution of housing needs...the sale of the church parsonage…even my process of ordination (this year marks 27 years since I was first licensed for ministry). We need to allow the times of waiting to grow our faith muscle and actively resist the temptation to try and sort out the issues ourselves—to resort back to our ‘golden calves.’
What we see in the Israelites, demonstrates how very little faith they yet had in God. They had experienced fabulous miracles, yet God’s direct intervention in their lives appears to have done little to grow their ability to persevere in their faith. As much as we think a miracle here and there would increase ours and others’ faith, there is very little in the way of evidence to support this theory. Miracles—tangible displays of God’s power—while preferable to our way of thinking, do not produce the quality of endurance that is required to remain faithful. Our faith is not tested on the ‘mountaintops’ of spiritual experience, but rather in the ‘valleys’ that God knows are necessary for our spiritual well-being.
But like the Israelites, we don’t always prove faithful and, in our impatience, can become disobedient. However, we must understand that disobedience always bears consequences…sometimes in the form of immediate punishment, but often in the hardening of our hearts and continued resistance to the lessons God is trying to teach us.
DISOBEDIENCE MERITS PUNISHMENT
1) GOD CONTEMPLATES STARTING OVER - Exodus 32:9-14 - “9 Then the Lord said, “I have seen how stubborn and rebellious these people are. 10 Now leave me alone so my fierce anger can blaze against them, and I will destroy them. Then I will make you, Moses, into a great nation.”
11 But Moses tried to pacify the Lord his God. “O Lord!” he said. “Why are you so angry with your own people whom you brought from the land of Egypt with such great power and such a strong hand? 12 Why let the Egyptians say, ‘Their God rescued them with the evil intention of slaughtering them in the mountains and wiping them from the face of the earth’? Turn away from your fierce anger. Change your mind about this terrible disaster you have threatened against your people! 13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You bound yourself with an oath to them, saying, ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven. And I will give them all of this land that I have promised to your descendants, and they will possess it forever.’”
14 So the Lord changed his mind about the terrible disaster he had threatened to bring on his people.”
Notice what God is here prepared to do. [destroy them entirely and start again with Moses] What causes Him to change His mind? [His respect of Moses]
Our disobedience of God can cause Him to reject us and choose another course of action to accomplish His Will. No one person or group is indispensable to the fulfillment of God’s plans.
Charles Templeton and Billy Graham were both notable evangelists in the 1940s, founded Youth for Christ International with Torrey Johnson, and were close friends. But whereas Billy Graham stayed true to his calling to preach as an evangelist, Charles Templeton let go of his faith, first becoming an agnostic, then a self-confessed atheist. What made the difference in these two friends? Charles allowed the knowledge of the scientific world and humanistic philosophers to erode his faith in the truth of the Bible; Billy would not. Rather than rejecting the Bible for science, he allowed the new discoveries of science to grow in him a profound appreciation for the God of the universe, “…I’m overwhelmed by what astronomers and other scientists have discovered about space during my lifetime—countless galaxies, incredible distances, phenomena we can barely understand. Yet nothing is as profound as those first words of the Bible: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).”1
Templeton’s rejection of God did not stop God from reaching the world with His message of Good News, it simply meant that Charles missed out on a life of faithfulness to God and eternity with Him.
2) GOD’S GIFT IS DESTROYED – Exodus 32:15-20 – “15 Then Moses turned and went down the mountain. He held in his hands the two stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant.[b] They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. 16 These tablets were God’s work; the words on them were written by God himself.
17 When Joshua heard the boisterous noise of the people shouting below them, he exclaimed to Moses, “It sounds like war in the camp!” 18 But Moses replied, “No, it’s not a shout of victory nor the wailing of defeat. I hear the sound of a celebration.”
19 When they came near the camp, Moses saw the calf and the dancing, and he burned with anger. He threw the stone tablets to the ground, smashing them at the foot of the mountain. 20 He took the calf they had made and burned it. Then he ground it into powder, threw it into the water, and forced the people to drink it.”
I wonder if Moses came to regret having destroyed the original tablets containing God’s Laws, written by God Himself, never again to be replicated except through the work of human hands. God has good gifts for us too, but our own disobedience can rob us of those. Will we ever know the number of times we exchange God’s best plan for a good one of our own, all for our lack of waiting?
3) DRUNK ON DISOBEDIENCE – Exodus 32:25-29 – “25 Moses saw that Aaron had let the people get completely out of control, much to the amusement of their enemies. 26 So he stood at the entrance to the camp and shouted, “All of you who are on the Lord’s side, come here and join me.” And all the Levites gathered around him.
27 Moses told them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Each of you, take your swords and go back and forth from one end of the camp to the other. Kill everyone—even your brothers, friends, and neighbors.” 28 The Levites obeyed Moses’ command, and about 3,000 people died that day.
29 Then Moses told the Levites, “Today you have ordained yourselves for the service of the Lord, for you obeyed him even though it meant killing your own sons and brothers. Today you have earned a blessing.”
God never removes the possibility of our choosing to reject Him, but those choices always come with consequences. Some of the people had become completely out of control, even after Moses had destroyed the idol. There was no calling them back to repentance. They were drunk, both literally and figuratively on their disobedience of God and refused to be corrected.
I can’t imagine how difficult the next scene in the story was. People within the community are called upon to discipline their own people—literally removing the sin from the camp by killing those who have become out of control in their worship of the idol created. As a result, 3,000 people died.
The New Testament also provides instructions for believers on the removal of people from within the congregation who have no intention of coming under God’s authority. The Church is to serve as a community where people can find their way to God, but when these same people refuse to submit to God and encourage others to as well, there comes a time when they must undergo the discipline of the Church.
And finally, we each are called to give an account to God for our thoughts, words and actions—whether pleasing or not.
GOD SEES & REWARDS EACH ACCORDINGLY – Exodus 32:30-35 – “30 The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a terrible sin, but I will go back up to the Lord on the mountain. Perhaps I will be able to obtain forgiveness for your sin.” 31 So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Oh, what a terrible sin these people have committed. They have made gods of gold for themselves. 32 But now, if you will only forgive their sin—but if not, erase my name from the record you have written!”
33 But the Lord replied to Moses, “No, I will erase the name of everyone who has sinned against me. 34 Now go, lead the people to the place I told you about. Look! My angel will lead the way before you. And when I come to call the people to account, I will certainly hold them responsible for their sins.” 35 Then the Lord sent a great plague upon the people because they had worshiped the calf Aaron had made.”
The Levites had killed a number of the Israelites who had gotten out of control, but God knew all who had been guilty and sent a plague to further purify the community. Sometimes we are tempted to think we have gotten away with something because no one appears to have noticed or taken action, but that is wrong-headed thinking. There are no secrets with God, and whether on this side of the grave or on the side to come, justice will be served.
What are some of the key takeaways?
· No amount of miracle working on God’s part will ever guarantee faithful obedience on our parts – We pray for miracles so that people will believe, but miracles on their own cannot transform the human heart. Spiritual muscle is grown most often through faith testing moments not as a result of God’s miraculous intervention. Times of drudgery, anxiety and uncertainty test and grow us spiritually.
· We must resist the temptation ‘to go back’ to do things in ways that we find comfortable. The pandemic upended many of our comfortable ways of living life and even of our notions of ‘doing church;’ I pray that we will not forget the reminder that we are to ‘be’ the church—we need to keep moving forward under God’s direction, resisting the temptation to just do things the way we used to. We must actively commit to rejecting all the ‘golden calves’ of the past that try to steal our loyalty to God alone.
· We can reject God’s salvation, even after experiencing it – You cannot ‘lose’ your salvation like you can lose an object and nothing can steal it from you, but you can choose to walk away. Our belief in Christ does not remove our ability to later choose differently. This should be a sobering thought for all of us. The writer of Hebrews warns us, “Dear friends, if we deliberately continue sinning after we have received knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice that will cover these sins” (Hebrews 10:26). There is a line that can be crossed. The question should never be how far can I go before I cross the line, but rather how can I keep getting closer to God? Our faith is not to be a leash we strain against, but a magnetic force that keeps us close.
· Nothing is hidden – How much of what people say and do would change if we could literally see God watching us? We may not see Him, but that doesn’t make Him blind to our thoughts, words and actions—either commendable or reprehensible. Every act of obedience will be rewarded, every misdeed uncovered. Those who love and serve Christ, will experience forgiveness, but even our ‘secrets’ will come to light at the judgement seat. I would rather that the accounting of my life contain a far greater number of acts of obedience than acts of forgiven disobedience, wouldn’t you?
· Even when we don’t see God’s Hand at work, we can trust that He is present and involved. During the forty days Moses spent on the mountain God was there, setting things in order for His people. In the uncertainties of life, God is our only surety…forever faithful!
References, Further Study & Encouragement
Charles Templeton: Missing Jesus - https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/charles-templeton-missing-jesus/
Sunday, July 11, 2021- Guest Speaker: Claran Martin, EMCC Regional Minister - Ordination Service for Pastor Jane Peck – In-person and Online
Weekly lessons are now being made available on Youtube – “Pastor’s Study” - Go to our website: hopechapelcollingwood.ca and click on the Youtube icon or click on the link below https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCrF8GWFnLjTmRyXjYnq1Ytw
Pastor Jane Peck, Hope Chapel
(Collingwood EMCC Church)
"Learning and Living the Way of Jesus!"
First licensed for pastoral ministry in 1994, Pastor Jane Peck has served in camp and church ministries in three denominations, five provinces and in a variety of roles. Her most recent position is that of Pastor at Hope Chapel which she began in 2020. She is excited to see what God can and will do in the days to come!