Series: Is the Lord with us or not?
Week 6. When waiting gets too much.
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 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 forever.’” 14 Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.
Waiting on the Lord is an act of trust. The people of old struggled to trust that God was still active, caring, present with them in their journey. So might you and I at times, especially when we are waiting on him for something, unsure of something, unclear on how he wants us to live – when the waiting gets too much.
Moses has been up on that mountain for over a month. The waiting gets too much for the people of God. They act. They answer their own may times asked question: “Is the Lord with us or not? No. He is not”, they reply, as they exchange a relationship with him with another god.
This is Israel’s great Fall.
The issue here is the same issue it is always about in the relationship between the Lord and his people. It is the issue we live with too: Trust. When the waiting gets too much trust in the Lord’s promises and presence can go out the window and people take matters into their own hands. As a result we make some unhealthy exchanges.
They seek to create what God has already provided. God has provided his people with divine promises for name, land, and life and vocation in the world, but they decide to create their own version of these things. They say “Come, let us make a god who will lead us, protect us, bring fertility and blessing to us….”. We often might say the same when the waiting gets too much.
The people take the initiative, rather than God. The relationship between the Lord and his people up to now has been at the Lord’s initiative. With the Lord’s actions and words coming first and then the people responding in thanks and obedient following, hope has been at work and the future has looked bright. Now the people take the initiative. The people place themselves in charge of their life. Things get very dark and hopeless as a result.
Offerings to God are now demanded rather than willingly presented. Aaron is the man left in charge. He demands that the booty from Egypt in the form of earings and bracelets of gold be melted down to form an idol – a fertility symbol – a calf: a representation of God that does more than represent God – it becomes the focus of worship. It becomes God, and this idol demands sacrifice. No grace, no freely given response – just pay up and keep paying up…..
Most surprisingly, Aaron tells the people that tomorrow will be a worship service to the Lord, not the calf. So, Aaron is calling them to still worship the Lord. The fall here is worshipping the Lord in our own self-made way rather than in the way he has given. The sin is not trusting his promises and taking over life and worship. The sin is worshipping ourselves in the idols we trust more than the Word of God and his wonderful gifts already spoken and given to us.
This would be like us worshipping the cross instead of the one who died on that cross and rose from it. Or like us trusting our tradition or our buildings, or our altar, pulpit, pews, pastor, musicians, or anything else more than the one who gives us these things and people as ways of hearing him, praising him, responding in faith and love to his Word, bearing witness to his love and hope to each other and the stranger among us.
There are no careful preparations and respect for people and God and his holiness.
Nothing seems sacred when we give up waiting on the Lord and his promises. We act like the reckless person in the traffic jam. When the waiting gets too much the person just breaks all the road rules to cross over in front of oncoming traffic to duck down a side street to get ahead, save time, win the traffic wars. Forget the boundaries, the community. Forget God’s holiness, his Word, his gifts of grace in Word and sacraments…..Just do what we want when we want how we want… Get what we need no matter the cost.
Everything is done in a rush, rather than at peace and in God’s order of things.
The people still long for the sacred – long for the Lord’s presence and leadership.
There is a rush into this fall to make our own sacred things. It is not considered, careful, or peaceful. It is frenzied and individual and it breaks the community apart.
Everything thing is to be immediate. In the rush to find hope ourselves we want something immediate, something we can feel – now! Instead of trusting in the Lord’s already given gifts – gifts through which he says that he resurrects, forgives, heals, encourages, sustains us: gifts we can see, smell, taste, touch and hear – a timely word from his word, water, bread, wine, blessing, altar, art, sign of the cross, we displace them in in the frenzy to feel good somehow – and quickly.
God is reduced to a thing. The grand and mysterious nature of our God’s presence and promises in his Word and gifts are dumbed down to an image humans can manufacture, understand and immediately see. We are dumbed down – narrowed, limited even more.
The personal and active God who sees and speaks and acts is reduced to an idol who neither see or speak or act.
Oh, the fall is great. What started out as us discovering ourselves, expressing ourselves, getting our needs met in a fun kind of way has ended in deaf, mute, lifeless despair! The calf cannot speak. It has no breath of life. It cannot see us, love us, heal us or act on our behalf. It cannot forgive us, bless us, direct us, teach us.
But, O the love of God as he listens to a very bold Moses who prays for this falling people. Moses prays that the Lord would not carry out his preliminary plan to wipe out the people and start again with Moses.
Moses prays, and it says, ‘God repents”: Not in the sense of sin, but in the sense of changing his mind. God is big enough and loving enough to not condemn us for our falling. No, he continually changes his mind about us. He continues to graciously give what he has already provided for life and love and hope.
Notice that the Lord still gives those 10 commandments as the foundation for community life with him after this great fall. He listens to Moses’ praying. He still listens to his people praying and he still remains present with them long after this dark day.
Friend, the Lord does not give up on us but chooses to love us, teach us, shape us, confirm us in his promises; promises tried and true that have never changed.
The Lord Jesus has repented over you, friend. He is the living sign that God has changed his mind about you. Jesus has not and is not condemning you. He has come to save us from our idol worship and the death it brings.
Jesus is the game changer. In his own body he carries your idolatry and continues to love you and teach you on the journey he has set before you. He calls you to repent of the gods you follow and trust in him and his gifts – everyday.
When the waiting gets too much, trust in Jesus. His Word, his people, his church, are his presence, blessing, life and hope for you and yours, even when the waiting seems to be too much.
Read through the text carefully noting God’s actions and the people actions and how Moses fits in between them. Share you insights on this.
People often think of idols as little or large statues that people worship, like a Buddha or some Eastern goddess and the like. But the biblical understanding of an idol that Luther expressed well was “anything we place our trust in for our well-being above the Lord” (Large Catechism, Intro to the 10 Commandments). That is pretty broad! Anything we trust more than the Lord and his promises for our hope, our direction, our health, our understanding is a thing that we are loading up with far too much expectation. Even your life partner or your greatest mentor or the finest gold or silver or most learned teacher of friend cannot deliver the things that only God can deliver – complete forgiveness, healing of body, mind and spirit, reconciliation, sure hope, everlasting life, impartial and true judgement and etc…. But our old Adam just struggles to believe this and does want to believe this. instead he wants to take control, manufacture his own goodness and hope based on himself.
How does this work in your life?
What idols are the ones you find yourself struggling with the most?
What do you find yourself least willing to give up when asked?
What makes you angry with others the most?
Where do you turn when it has been a rrally hard day?
These are the kind or questions that can help us hear God’s voice on what our idols may be.
Did you notice though that just because God’s people made an idol did not mean that God condemned them? he stuck with them and stayed the course with them, choosing to listen to Moses and not condemn them? Read the last part of th text again to reflect on this.
We have the ultimate sign of God’s amazing grace in Jesus, our new Moses. he makes it very clear that the Lord ha snot given up on us, even though we still try to replace him as Lord of our lives!
Read the last part of the sermon again…. Share you reflections on the grace of God in Jesus. Share your own experience of God’s forgiveness as you close.
Lord Jesus, our Saviour, Lord and Friend, as you have given your life to redeem me, yourself for my example, your word for my rule, your grace for my guide, your body on the cross for my sin: Enter in and take possession of my heart, and live with me forever. Amen