When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered round 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. Afterwards 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 favour 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 for ever.”’ 14 Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.
“Is the Lord with us or not?”. Been asking that lately?
It is a question everyone asks at some level sometimes. Maybe you have been asking it this year?
What is going on in these strange COVID times and is God with us it or not?
God’s people asked this question in their tough moments. They usually got it very wrong before they heard it truly right.
This moment at the foot of Mount Sinai is one of their questioning moments. It is known as their great fall.
The Lord has heard them in Egyptian slavery. He has given them himself, his leader, Moses, and everything they will ever need to live long and prosper.
He has made his vows to stick with them and give them what everybody wants in life – a home, a place, a name, a family, a future with him.
And they have just said, “Yes”. “Yes, to you, Yahweh. You be our God and we will be your treasured people in your world.
But Moses has been gone a long time. The people are getting restless. God might be pulling out on us. Moses might have been pulled out! We might be left here alone, isolated, unsure, hung out to dry by God and Moses. Is the Lord still with us or not?
Aaron, Moses’ brother and 2IC, is in a bind. The people come to him:
‘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.’
They are not waiting to find out if the Lord is with them or not. They will return to what they know – the worship of many gods. After all, life was clearer, more settled; better in Egypt….. There was less risk, less change, less need to trust the unseen. You could just go along and be comfortable in your slavery….. You were used to it.
Aaron says, ‘Yes” but also “No”.
2 ……. ‘Take off the gold earrings …. and bring them to me.’…. 4 Aaron took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf….
The golden calf; a widely accepted symbol of fertility, blessing and life for any ancient person.
But let’s make a statue but to the Lord. Let’s still make it about the Lord.
“Phew! At least we are still worshipping the Lord and not ‘gods”. Think Aaron?
But no! The people say to each other,
‘These are your gods,[b] Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’
Oh dear! Aaron acts.
5 ……Aaron …. built an altar in front of the calf and announced, ‘Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.’
Ahh. So, we are still worshipping the Lord….. we think; we hope!
6 Next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings.
Starts off civil. But then things get rather ‘festive”!
6 …….. Afterwards they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.
This is pure feeding the out of control human heart searching for pleasure and avoiding the pain and fear.
See how once we take matters into our own hands with worship apart from the Lord’s promises on his terms, the gods other than him to which our wayward heart tends to cling win us over?
The Fall is complete. Everyone is implicated. Aaron has failed in leadership. People have failed the Lord.
What breaks this fall? What heals this cavernous rift between God and these broken people?
Moses. We all need a Moses.
Where is he? He is up on that mountain meeting with the smoky, fiery awesome God. He is up close, speaking with a red-hot, holy God who is about ready to give up on his promises to these people.
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.
Stiff-necked, stubborn, unaware, totally focussed–on–self people: Locked into a slavery to which we have gotten used to again. We trudge on looking for a morsel of pleasure where we can…..
God’s says, ‘Moses. It is just you and me then. I will start again with you, like I did with Noah. I will make another nation with you”.
Not too hopeful for the current people! But here comes the beginning of hope.
Moses could have said, ‘Yes please, God. Get me out of here! Anything is better than being with this mob!”
But he didn’t. Instead, he sticks his own neck out and goes into bat for these people.
11 But Moses sought the favour of the Lord his God.
“Don’t wipe them out, Lord”, he says. Why? Three reasons:
- You have done good. This is a good thing; making them a people and giving them freedom and promise.
- The world will dismiss you if you destroy what you have promised to sustain.
- You have made promises to all those who have gone before us. You have not broken your promises so far. Don’t start now. Your faithfulness to your promises is our only hope!
And amazingly we hear: God ‘relented’, or, God ‘repented’. God turned back to his promises. He keeps them and his people.
Everyone needs a Moses. You have one. Jesus is your new Moses +. You are one. In Jesus, God did the unthinkable. He entered this out of control party as one of us. Jesus sees it all, knows it all, understand me in it all but amazingly, does not fall at all.
He took this wondering, self-focussed pleasure–seeking heart that falls so far so often into his own heart; his own body where it was lanced, run through, nail, judged, condemned, dead.
For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, …. – now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. (Hebrews 9:15)
So, now he speaks with his loving Father for us all the time in a new covenant relationship that he promises to never end.
Jesus is our mediator and his faithfulness is our only hope.
Friends, you have a Moses+. You have Jesus.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you[a] free from the law of sin and death….. God did this by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.[c] …….. 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4)
You have the Holy Spirit representing you in emotion and knowing, beyond words – in groans and sighs before the Father.
15 ….. the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[f] And by him we cry, ‘Abba,[g] Father.’ 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:15-16)
So, God’s restored, loved child adopted in Spirit-filled Baptism, you still need a Moses and so does everyone you know. Guess who that is You! Us!
Turn away from the calf. Turn to your new Moses and his Father. Relent and repent of trusting yourself above his word and put that word of promises back on the altar of your life.
Then be a Moses to them all. Praying, pleading, working; representing your friends and enemies before a holy God, and sharing him and his words of forgiveness and promises you know.
Everyone needs a Moses. It is why we care, why we pray, why we be a church, why we change and listen and bring people before the Lord and showing them his promise.
Is the Lord with us? Yes. But who is with everyone else? You.
Everyone needs a Moses.