Category: exodus 32:1-14

Freed to Follow – an exodus Journey Week 8

Sermon, Pentecost 17A
Sunday October 9, 2011.
Ocean Forest

Freed to Follow

We are in two places at once this morning. We are witness to the extended meeting of the Lord with Moses on the top of the mountain and also down in the valley with Aaron and the people.

In the one place there is intimacy between a human being and the Lord as the Lord speaks, Moses speaks and the foundation for a new nation of holy people called to be priests. In the other place there is an absence of the Lord’s presence and word which leads to a lot of trouble.

If one thing is on show here it is the very nature of our human condition and how we can at our very best moments also be at our worst. God has every right to judge this duplicity of allegiance and weak commitment to him – especially after all that he has done and still does for us. In this text he actually decides to do just that – judge his people and destroy them!

Moses, the great mediator intervenes. He intercedes for the people and amazingly God “repents” of his will to destroy the people.

Sin is serious and it is always related to the golden calf – the things of stone, wood and metal we replace God with in our hearts because when we turn away from trusting that he is present, caring or capable.

Today we ponder our idolatrous heart, God’s judgement on this rejection of him, Jesus, the One who intercedes for us and how we get to live in God’s continued grace and love as his priesthood of all believers now!

We begin in the valley with God’s people under the leadership of their 2IC, Aaron. Moses is up on the mountain wit the Lord again. He has been going up and down this mountain for a while now. It has not just been him either.

There was a great moment of the Lord’s faithfulness and his affirmation of his commitment to his people happens before our text. Moses, Aaron and his two sons (Nadab and Abihu) and the 70 Elders of the community ascended with Moses to the summit. These people “saw God” (24:10). The Lord’s feet were resting on something like a pavement of pure sapphire stone……They ate and drank together with the Lord. What a moment!

As well as this, Moses and his entourage are instructed to read the “Book of the Covenant” (The treaty the Lord made earlier) to the people. Animals are slaughtered in a great show of thanksgiving and affirmation to the Lord’s covenant. The people say en mass, “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey” (Ex 24:7). Everything looks sweet!

But, we know what is coming. Isn’t it always the way that with our best moments come with our worst! Israel’s worst moment in this desert journey with the Lord is about to happen. It will always be a reminder that sin will always be a problem to be watched carefully. It will always be a reminder that the human heart has its dark side and is capable of idolatry – trusting anything and anyone other then the Lord who has created and saved us and who loves us for our well being and our future.

The seed of idolatry seems to be a lack of tangible presence of God in people’s lives. The beginning of trouble is tied up with Moses being absent a long time. Moses is up on the mountain in an extended meeting of great closeness with the Lord. He is the mediator, priest, shepherd and representative of the Lord among this people and when there is no tangible presence of the Lord (through Moses), the human heart wanders away.

I wonder whether this is why the Lord graced us with those magnificent tangible signs of is presence – Baptism and the Lord’s Supper; even the whole ancient liturgy or pattern of worship of the Church? Did he know that unless we could see him, taste him, feel him, hear him in these very physical, concrete signs of his very presence, we would wonder off from him completely?

Aaron does not fare well in the dark episode. In verse 1 he may as well be on a rugby pitch! He is the last man on the Try line facing a hostile group of people pushing him backwards. He is surrounded by a scrum of very demanding people. The Hebrew language is strong. This is a full-on demand, and it is many against one. Aaron the leader is under great pressure.

“Make gods for us, Aaron”, they demand. They, like us, need visible signs that the Lord is still with us as we journey on from day to day in this life. The gods they want Aaron to make are that – a symbol or sign of the gods being on our side – Lady Luck, or “The Universe” or “Mother Nature”, or “Yin and Yang”, the gods of reincarnation, the planets are lining up for us……

Aaron makes the error (although understandable) of caving in to the demand for a sign of divine presence and blessing. He tells them to bring their things of gold to him (things the Lord gave them as they fled Egypt!) and he himself fashions either a wooden calf overlayed with gold or a pure gold calf. The calf is a universal sign of fertility and prosperity of the gods in these ancient people’s culture.

The people show their idolatrous heart when they make the bold declaration, in verse 4, “These are the gods, O Israel, who bought you out of Egypt!” What a total rejection of all that has happened so far on the journey of faith!

This is like one of us simply wiping out all memory of God’s speaking, doing and blessing for us in our life so far and just going head long into what ever turns us on and helps us believe that we will be fine without any spiritual connection to the Creator of all things.

Aaron can see that this is getting out of hand. He does try to salvage the situation somewhat by adding to the calf, an altar – not to the calf but to the Lord. He also calls a feast day the next day – not to the calf, but to the Lord (v5-6).

It does not work. In the Hebrew, it literally says, “The people rose early next morning and “came out to play”! They did not come out to play ring-a-ring-a-rosy, or duck-duck-goose! They came out to engage in full-on booze, substance abuse, sex and probably worse. Idolatry and immorality always go together. One leads to and feeds the other.

Back up on the quiet mountain Someone is very aware of what is happening below. God breaks off the business of giving Moses the gifts of the Covenant relationship he has been imparting to Moses.

God sums up the situation when he says that the people are perverse; God recounts word for word (with 32:1-6) the nature of their sin. It is as if every word of the people has sunk into the divine heart and stabbed it. And so, God tells Moses that “they have cast for themselves an image of a calf” and that they have “worshiped it and sacrificed to it” (v. 8). It is as if God has been sitting on the sidelines in amazement watching the performance of the heedless people.

This turning away by the people has broken the divine heart. The Lord reaches a conclusion about the people. They are a “stiff-necked” people, a stubborn people, people who really are not worthy of the love God has showered up on them.

The Lord decides to destroy them. Verse 10 is interesting because it tells us that God wants Moses to go down to the people for two reasons–to see for himself exactly what has happened but also to leave God alone. God wants to be alone when the terrible judgment is executed. Like some military General sitting in some technical nerve centre controlling satellites and a “targeted hit” on some town or compound of suspected terrorists, God does not want to see the destruction. He wants to leave the room and be alone in his grief and sorrow.

But even here, even in the resolve to destroy is a sense that mercy can triumph. In this case God makes a promise to Moses that He will not destroy him with the people. Moses will continue to be special, and Moses will be the foundational person for God’s next “great work.” But notice what has happened.

In giving these last words God has left the divine open for negotiation and intercession. It is not as if God is giving Moses an invitation to talk back, but there are ideas now floating “out there” that are more than just anger, stubbornness and destruction. God will “save” Moses. Moses will take this verse as an opening to respond to God.

Moses does what Aaron didn’t. Moses prays in faith. He trusts that the Lord could handle this situation and will listen to him. He trusts that in the anger and judgement there is still a greater heart of mercy and love for these rogues!

Moses says three things about God’s decision to judge this people as he “stands in the gap” between the righteous wrath of the Lord and an idolatrous people.  

  1. Lord, you created and saved this people.
  2. Lord, your reputation as a compassionate God of steadfast love who is faithful to your promises will laughed at by your enemies if you destroy these sinful people
  3. Lord, you promised things to these people way back in Abraham’s time.

The Hebrew words say that the Lord “repented” of the judgement he was about to carry out on his people. The Lord, at Moses’ bold praying, changed his mind and remained faithful and trustworthy when completely rejected by a loveless people.

Friends, we have this idolatrous heart.

  

And yet we have tangible signs of God’s continued presence and love to keep us true to him. We need to stick to where God has shown us he is there for us – physically and in every other way. Depend on your baptism. Reflect on it and own it because in it God owned you and loves you. Come to the altar regularly and get the hope and assurance you need for life’s journey, whatever the temptations and fears.

  

We have a role too. We are called to be Moses for people.  

  • Jesus, the One greater than Moses who stood in our place and intercedes for us still, pleads our case and bridges the gap between our holy and perfectly loving Lord and our idol factory within.
  • With him we can confess our idols, burn them and depend on his word to see us through to wellbeing now and in God’s eternal future – already guaranteed by the blood of the Lamb and Saviour of our souls.
  • And then we mediate his grace and love for others, helping them name their idols, repent of them, receive God’s gifts and walk with Jesus into their future with him.

With this simple trust in the Lord’s presence, promise and goodness, and the Calling we have each received, we can be right with Paul who says these great words of faith and conviction we share here at Ocean Forest…

  

Philippians 4:1-9, Closing Appeal for Steadfastness and Unity 

1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends! …..

4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Amen.



Freed to Follow – an exodus Journey Week 8

BETWEEN THE TEXTS



Week 8


• We left the people of God at the camp at the base of Mt Sinai after the Lord had bound himself to them in a legal agreement or covenant out of sheer love and will to live with his people. God would treat the people as his treasured possession among all peoples a and make them into his holy nation of priests who mediate God’s life and blessing to all nations.


• The people agreed to this, and God then called Moses up the mountain to receive the “laws” or “commandments outlining the people’s end of the covenant relationship – the “10 Commandments”.


• Moses is still up in the thick smoke and the glory cloud at the summit of the mountain. Chapter 21-23 contain more detailed directions on the right treatment of servants, dealing with violence and injury between people, protection of people’s property, social responsibility regarding marriage, sexuality, money, then the practice of justice in this new community. Then there is some more direction on the keeping of the Sabbath and finally, an outline of the keeping of the three great annual festivals (Passover, Beginning of Cropping (Feast of Harvest) and then Harvest time – the ingathering festival.


• At the end of Chapter 23 we have a renewal of the promise of the land in Canaan with more detail about borders and how the Lord will give this land to the people (slowly as they grow in population – 23:29ff).


• The there is another telling moment when the treaty or covenant has been understood and now confirmed. Moses, Aaron and his two sons (Nadab and Abihu) and the 70 Elders of the community ascend with Moses to the summit. As well as this the covenant is outlined to the people and animals are slaughtered in a great show of affirmation to the Lord’s covenant. The people say en mass, “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey” (Ex 24:7).


• For the once and only time, Moses (or any other leaders after him) then used the blood of the many animals slaughtered as offerings to the Lord to sprinkle the people with blood. This is the


signing of the Covenant. “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you….” Moses says (hear the words Jesus says at the Last Supper). (Ex 24:8). Also, this sprinkling of blood was annually carried out by the High Priest in the Jerusalem temple on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur)


• We get a short Book of Revelation like description of what God “looked like” by Aaron, his sons and the Elders in Ex 24:10-11.


• Moses then stays for another long stint with the Lord on the mountain (a month or more). This time he is not receiving laws about how the people are to live together with justice and mercy, but how and where they are to rest with the Lord in worship. In Chapters 25-31 Moses receives the detailed instructions on the building of the Tabernacle, the formation and attire of the priesthood (Tribe of Levi), various sacred furnishings and procedures for using them.


• God promises to meet with his people where he will listen to them and speak to them. He will do this always because he wishes to “dwell” or “tabernacle” or “tent it” with his loved and chosen community of holy people (see Ex 29:42-46 for a beautiful little summary on this by the Lord!)

• This whole moral code and system of sacrificial worship and the place where it happens (the travelling place of God’s gracious presence – Tabernacle) are now established and the people have their vocation, the promise of the Lord’s everlasting faithfulness and care and the future of the land to live in still on the way. Things are looking good!

WEEK 8 Exodus 32:1-14 (TNIV)


The golden calf ( numbers relate to THOUGHTS – the bullet points below)

1 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 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.”1 2


2 Aaron 3 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. 4 Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”5


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 6.7


7 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt.8 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.9 10 Now leave me alone11 so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. 11Then I will make you into a great nation.”10


11 But Moses sought the favour of the LORD his God. “LORD,” 12 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;13 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 relented14 and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.15



THOUGHTS
How often it is that our greatest moments are also our worst moments!? From the dizzy heights to being consecrated and meeting with the Lord and receiving his direct word on how to be community and one with him to the darkest moment in Israel’s history – up there withy the first Fall of the first people in Genesis 3.


1. Moses has been gone for at least a month. “While the farmer is away the ice will play”, as they say. The request from the people to Aaron is not a easy going thing, it is a demand in no uncertain terms. The sense of the Hebrew words is that the people “gather upon or against” Aaron.


2. Their demand is a direct rejection of Moses and also God’s leadership because it was Moses but the Lord who bought them up out of Egypt.


3. Aaron does not fare well in this dark moment. His leadership is indecisive, too compromising and it displays something of a weak character as he gives in too quickly to the people, then tries to salvage the situation, only to make it worse and then later, when under scrutiny from Moses, (v22-24), lies and denies responsibility – blaming the people for this.


4. Aaron takes control and asks the people to bring their gold and silver to him so he can make what they demand – an idol figure – a calf being an idol often used for depicting fertility of land, animals and people. Aaron fashions this calf from either wood, overlayed with the gold, or melts down a lot of gold and fashions it from pure gold.


5. Aaron does not speak these demanding words. “They”, that is, the people, speak these words of complete rejection of the Lord’s heart and actions to make them who they are.


6. Aaron then tries to turn the “worship” back to the Lord, rather then the golden calf. Of course this does not work. You cannot worship the Lord in any other way than the ways in which he says. Even worshipping the “right God” the wrong way is still disobedience and a sign of a divided heart. The Lord calls the people to worship him in the ways he gives, not in the ways they just make up.


7. The text puts things in understated terms, probably for the sake of modesty. This is all out sexually over-the-top pagan orgy – sacred sex, acute and brazen, shameless partying all in the name of spirituality and connection with the divine. The people are returning from when they came – a pagan people in a culture of immorality and satisfaction of desire at all levels. Their evil heart is on show and the evil is visible, corporate and personal.


8. The scene switches to the mountain again where the Lord sees all and tells Moses to get down to the chaos quickly – to stop it. The Lord names the sin – “the people have become corrupt”, he says. “The “corruption” is disowning the Lord. They broken that first commandment in not loving the Lord and worshipping/serving/obeying him only with all their heart, mind, soul and strength.


9. “Stiff necked” people is an expression many a prophet, king or leader of Israel has names Israel! Jesus uses this term to speak against the Pharisees often. it comes probably from working animals like oxen or cows – when the animals will just not do what it is told to do no matter what you do or say! It is an accurate depiction of the human problem of sin.


10. The Lord’s wrath is stirred. Offence is taken and he acts to judge the people for their obvious sin against his love, mercy, power and promise to be their God and treasure these people among all others.


11. However, this severest of punishment the Lord contemplates in Moses’ hearing is conditional upon Moses’ agreement. “Leave me alone to do this, “says the Lord. The Lord leaves the door open on mercy, even when greatly offended and rejected by the people he loves.


12. Moses, now all alone, between the Lord and the people, brings HIS own request for mercy to the Lord. Moses is now the great intercessor for God’s people who gives three reasons why the Lord should not condemn his people for their overt sin against him.


i. They are the people he himself has already redeemed
ii. The destruction of the people would make the Lord a laughing stock to the Egyptians who he defeated
iii. The promises the Lord has given to make this people a numerous nation living in the land he also promised.


13. Amazingly, Moses calls the Lord to “repent” (“turn” and “relent”)! Such is Moses’ relationship with the Lord that he can ask the Lord of all things to “repent” or turn around or turn away from his anger and judgement.


14. Even more amazingly, the Lord listens to his servant. Moses, and “repents” or “relents” of his judgement out of respect and love for Moses (and the people).


15. It is important to note that Moses at no stage diminished the problem or excuses the sin. He simply asks for mercy and a remembering of the Lord’s past promises and actions. This is true intercession. To pray for people is not to cover up things or make excuses for their behaviour before the Lord, but to name the problem, the sin and ask simply ask for God to act in grace, not judgement.


REFLECTIONS
1. This is a dark day where the human heart is fully exposes and all of our base human desire and sensual pleasures rise to the top in a show of brazen rejection of God’s mercy and plan for how we are to live with him and each other. It shows the ability we have to do our worst even in the midst of God’s best!


2. While the Lord is giving everything he has to his people, his people are doing whatever they want with his gifts; quite literally – the gold and silver given to them by the Lord’s hand when they came out of Egypt are now used to totally reject all that he has done and all that he is for them.


3. Leadership Note: Something cannot be compromised – even under great pressure to cave in to people’s demands. Knowing what to allow to happen and what to never let happen is so difficult for anyone in any kind of leadership, and doubly so for matters to do with idolatry and sexual morality (the two often go together). Aaron made a wrong call. He allowed something to happen that was always a direct rejection of all that the people were meant to be on about as they lived in this new covenant relationship with a holy God of love.


4. Once the thing has been allowed by the leader, it is very difficult to turn it back around for good. The damage is done and the evil grows and gets worse. I guess the message for leaders here is to be clear on one’s “baselines” when dealing with subordinates and never compromise on these baseline expectations, even if it means putting your own role on the line – lest you let sin and evil run their destructive course in the community you are called to lead……


5. Amazing how Moses can call God to “repent” or change his mind on things. How is your relationship with the Lord? Is there this kind of honesty and openness in your prayer life with him?


6. Moses is the great mediator and intercessor for his people. Once he is assured by the Lord that the future of the people is assured and God is still God for him and the people, he acts with firm clarity on what is happening and quickly stops it with a show of decisive leadership. He knows his baselines and he acts like a gatekeeper in not letting this moment have lasting affects of further destruction among the people. (see v19-20, 26-29). The punishment is done but is quite small in extent. About 3000 men are put to the sword out of a possible 600,000.


7. Then Moses seeks to make atonement in some way for the people’s great sin against the Lord. (see v30). He even offers his own life in place of the people! (v31) Now that is a Jesus’ like thing to do! The Lord does not take up Moses’ offer but withholds his judgement of this sin for a future time. That is the cost of this sin. There is judgement to be done at some stage in the people’s future.


8. Here we see God’s justice and grace at work. He is not fickle, but slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and yet he is holy and just and sin is sin. Sin cannot be left to its own devices and must be names and dealt with I some way so that it is limited and so “removed” in a community.


9. The New Testament makes it clear that this account of the people’s sin, God’s judgement on their sin and his grace to continue in his covenant relationship with the people is relevant to us. St Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian church, as he speaks to their assembled Jewish leaders in Jerusalem after the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 7) makes the point that just as Israel cast Moses’ aside, rejecting the word of God he spoke, and turned to idols, so also Israel now will cast aside God’s promised Messiah (Jesus Christ) and those who proclaim him.


10. St Paul in 1Corinthains 10, arguing that Israel was the people of God, experiencing in a spiritual sense, baptism in the Red Sea and Eucharist and even the Messiah in the bread from heaven, and yet, they sinned (1Cor 10:1-5). Their rebellion against the Lord (and the Christ – Jesus), is to be an example to all followers of the Christ “not to desire evil as they did” (10:6). Paul warns anyone who thinks they are above or beyond these things of immorality, idolatry and grumbling against the Lord, to be very careful, lest they too fall into these things (10:12). The rebellious spirit of the human heart can “break out” even among those who have the Christ and the sure signs of his presence and mercy in baptism and Lord’s Supper.


11. God’s mercy and judgement sit side by side in this event and indeed, throughout the life of God’s people. He is just. He has to judge ad limit human sin. And yet, he made some promises and bound himself to this sinful people out of love for them. God will call sin, sin and offer forgiveness fro sin and restore people. The new covenant of Jesus is now based on the forgiveness of sins, not the keeping of the law, and yet, the 10 Commandments still stand as his will and way for human being to live together with the Lord and each other.


12. God’s mercy edges out his judgment here and in may other places in the bible. Surely our calling is to be the same and follow Moses, and the greater mediator, Jesus, who appeared once and for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself (Hebrews 9:26).