God-Soaked World Bible Guide – Day 6
March 11, 2017
Saturday, March 11 – Exodus 32:1-14
When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 2 Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.” 6 They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.
7 The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; 8 they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” 9 The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. 10 Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.”
11 But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with 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 consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” 14 And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.
Points of Interest:
- Years later, Moses has indeed led the Israelite underclass out of Egypt, and into the desert between there and Canaan. But wouldn’t you know it, change is hard? Exodus and the following books describe the ups and downs of a group of people trying to form a social identity and stay on mission even when distracted and delayed. This passage is one of many moments in that drama.
- Why in the world would people want Aaron to “make gods” for them? One, Moses has been gone for a while, up on a mountaintop praying to God on behalf of the people. The absence of leadership has made people anxious. Also, there’s an impulse to center their lives on something they can see and control, rather than a personal God they can’t control and can’t directly see. The scriptures call this called idolatry – looking for security and protection and identity in things we can control but don’t in the end bring us much security or protection. They argue this habit of people and cultures is a leading factor in human disappointment and misery.
- The particular from these people give to their idol is a young bull. Bulls and calves represented both strength and fertility in the Ancient Near East. They symbolized people’s hopes that the gods would make them strong and give them productive wombs and productive lands – in other words, wealth and security leading to happiness. We have one of these idols in America too – the golden statue of the bull by Wall Street! Perhaps there’s something revealing here. Like the ancients, we experience so much of life as anxious and out of control. As a result, more than the communion and centering that God offers, we long for strength, wealth, and success that we hope will immunize us against threat.
Perhaps this is a common human impulse, but God sees it as perverse – illogical, unhelpful, wrong-headed. Perhaps this is because unhealthy attachments reduce God, attach us to promises that can’t deliver, and thus compromise both God’s and our greatness.
- In Moses’ prayer, there’s what looks to us like a role reversal. God is angry, and Moses plays a calming role, reminding God of God’s promises to this people and of the stakes of this moment. So God lets go of his original thoughts of destruction, literally changing his mind.
We could see two different dynamics at play here. This isn’t the only time the Bible describe God as changing God’s mind in response to human petition. So that’s an indication of the enormous power prayer may have, particularly prayer that asks God to act consistent with the very best we know to be true of God.
On the other hand, this may also be the tradition’s way of describing Moses experiencing a deeper revelation of what God is like. When the Israelites’ faith goes astray, Moses expects God to respond like all the other gods they would have known – lashing out in anger. But Moses discovers the God they are coming to know as deeper, wiser, and more restrained.
Spiritual Exercise: Unhealthy attachments – what the Bible calls idolatry – reduce us and reduce our experience of God. Consider this short examination. Put two columns on a piece of paper. On the left, write down 3-5 things that make you experience greatest vulnerability or anxiety. To the right of each one, write down what you do most to distract yourself or what you trust most to make you secure or strong in the face of this challenge. As you look at the lists, ask if any of these strategies are unhealthy for you. If you like, invite the unseen God to give you faith that God can be your help and security in the face of these challenges.
Prayer: Ask God to help your church become more and more comfortable trusting an unseen God each time people experience vulnerability, uncertainty, and insecurity. Pray that people in your community will not use religion to pretend to be stronger than they are, but will trust in an unseen and strong God to be loving and helpful to them in their weakness.