Exodus 32. The Golden calf.
Linked to this is the is Exodus 12:35-36 where God worked in such a way as to have the Egyptians give to the Israelite all they needed to establish in the promised land community, Law, markets and rule. This Gold was a deposit from God for the future wellbeing of God’s nation then and forward.
Exodus 20:1-7. The giving of the two tablets of the Law. Emphasis on the “towards God”.
Matthew 6:9-10. The Lord’s prayer.
As the Israelites took the good things of God and used them to create an idol of the Lord, we too can do this by putting other “?” before Christ.
The precious metals were a gift to them for the future wellbeing of Israel, but became the focus of their worship and therefore created God in their own image.
The cure within the church is captured in the first tablet of the Law, and in the first, second and third statements of the Lord’s prayer. God honoured as God, God our primary towards in worship and loyalty, and final God’s will be being done in the church not our selfish agendas or idols of God made in our image.
Throughout history people have constantly shown a desire to make God into their own image, or to make God fit their own agendas. Instead of honouring God as He ought to be honoured we demand that he buckles His knees to our definitions, our needs and our demands.
Recently this issue impacted on me through my sister and the fellowship she attends. There was a man there who had a strong sense of his Maori culture, and the belief that latent in Maori culture are belief in their traditions and religion that fit the Christian faith well. So strongly was he of this conviction that he boldly declared “I am a Maori Christian first”, now it seemed innocent until you understood what he was really saying “I am a Maori before of I am Christian…”
He expressed this in many ways, but the way that concerned me the most was the day he placed on their Facebook page the image of the “Maori Jesus” as a symbol that Jesus stands next too and with his Maori cultural identity. The concern I had about this is as follows:
They use this image to show Jesus sympathising with their Maori identity.
By doing this they remove His Jewish identity and culture.
By removing His culture to fit their culture are they not acting as conquerors, forcing an indigenous man to look and act as them.
By removing His culture from him and marking his face do they not offend the religion he held dear.
Finally, in doping this are they not giving permission to the Europeans to do the very same to them they oppose today?
In their effort to fit Jesus into their identity they remove the messiahship from him, his faith from his, his place as the one promised through the line of Abraham and his place as a Rabbi amongst his people? Are they not creating an idol by removing the special place Jesus has in history, in culture and in his return as the Messiah again for the people of Israel?
There is a tendency to take our cultural view, theological bias and our own broken state and personal opinions and then forcing God into the “image” of a calf that we worship in a way comfortable to ourselves, but offensive to God. To take all the good things God has given us to use in the service of Him, others, family and society and to place them above Him as another god – as if they would be a god who had affection and concern for our wellbeing.
There is no salvation in education, no love from money, no care while dying from your new car, no words of comfort from your doctrine or dogmas before the throne of God – all these things are silent, they are like the hands of an idol, open and full of promise, yet cold and unable to bend down and lift us up.
For this reason, we must challenge ourselves as to what idols we have constructed to place before our loyalty and worship of God. We so easily go running from the true God to our fabrications when we feel abandoned or demand that God acts for us now in our way to make us feel as we demand.
My lesson today is expressed in a simple equation that goes like this:
“? + Christ = Idolatry”
This equation is the basis of how the church creates idols and how we can move so easily towards a watered-down Christianity when we add as our primary focus other things before our Lord. Put in words we could say the equation goes like this “Anything else placed before our Lord and mixed into our faith in him equals evil and false gods not worthy of our worship.” This issue is seen in Israel’s history when they were delivered from Egypt.
Point 1: The golden calf – using the good things of God to create a new image of God.
Before we look at the main scripture I need to give an idea worth considering as to why a golden calf was built.
The early name of God – “EL”.
The image of the oxen head was the concept of Gods power and might.
The calf may be like the Egyptian god, but it is also likely the calf was a symbol of the God they were getting to know.
This is evidenced by Aaron saying in Exodus 32:5 where Aaron said “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.”
It is likely that they had forced the worship of the Lord into an Egyptian form – and by doing it had made a new image of the Lord in a way that made them comfortable to worship them. As it has been said “God took Israel out of Egypt, but the Israelites took Egypt with them into desert.”
With this idea in mind:
Reading Exodus 32:1-6.
(NIV) 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.” 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, 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.”
There is a thought process in this encounter I need us to understand so we can appreciate how this event challenges us regarding this tendency to make gods in an image that we can demand from. So, allow me to give a little gap filler here on how the Israelites got this precious metal they built this idol from.
While waiting for their deliverance from being slaves to the Egyptian nation God caused a number of judgements to come and weaken the kings grip from the “throats” of his Israelite slaves. The final judgement had the effect and the Egyptian king and all the people were keen to kick the Israelites out – so keen were they that God worked in their hearts and according to Exodus 12:35 – 36 they gave their gold and silver to their released slaves as a compensation for lost earnings. God is the cause by which they inherited all the wealth they would need to set up their new nation.
Now, back to the Golden Calf incident – the very good things God gave them to build their nation, the economy they would need to establish towns, markets, law, government and places of worship were now being forced into the act of becoming an idol. The good things lost their purpose by being used for evil self-serving purposes. Such acts take the good things God gives us and forces them into the shape of our sinful and rebellious hearts – and before we know it we have a new god created in the image that pleases ourselves.
For the Israelites, they justified their behaviour by saying “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.”
With this in mind lets go through some questions to help clarify the issue before we advance:
What was the image they created as their idol? (The Calf)
What did they make it from? (Gold and silver)
Where did they get the gold and silver from? (Egyptians on release)
Who is it that arranged the gifts they received? (God move their captive’s hearts)
What was the original purpose for the gold and silver? (To establish their new nation)
So, the good things from God given for their benefit became their focus of worship and their new loyalty – their new god. And there is the heart of humanity in every age, to take the good things God has given for our benefit and bowing our knees to them instead of the one who gave the gifts.
Point 2: The cure to our foolishness.
Remember their issue started when they lost patience waiting for their leader, the one who had delivered them by the Lord’s power, from their enslavement. What makes this encounter so sad and disappointing to me is that Moses and God were in the business together at that moment involved in establishing the Law that would make them into this special nation set aside for God’s purpose.
Here the Israelites were consumed with their own interests, their own sense of abandonment and their own needs to feel comforted. They had become so small minded, so much like our own age where we demand everything ‘now’ and always believing our need is the only real need that matters. And this small thinking would cause them to go about the business of rejecting God in favour of their own agendas.
Moses would be bringing them the cure for this very issue, the Law that they could and would establish with the coming together of the Gold and silver into a nation holy before God and plump with resources ready to move forward.
In theological terms, we talk about the two tablets of Moses. The first tablet concerned their obligations towards God and the second their obligations towards society. Our focus is on the first tablet. Let’s quickly remind ourselves of these:
Exodus 20: (NIV)
And God spoke all these words: 2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. 7 “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”
We can easily summarise each one like this:
I am God, I have proven my power and right to call myself your God by powerfully destroying the false gods of Egypt, therefore:
Abandon all other things you worship apart from me.
Do not bow your knee and worship anything you make, do, value or treasure.
Everything that is attached to me is holy, my name and honor is upon them all, so do not insult me by taking my name and my honor for granted.
Weirdly enough the Lord’s prayer in the New Testament also gives the remedy for worshipping false gods and misusing the good things of God in his first 2 statements:
Matthew 6: (NIV) “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
We can place these two-statement side by side to get the cure to the fatal disease we humans have had throughout human history like this:
I am the Lord your God Our Father
You shall have no other gods before me in heaven
You shall not make for yourself hallowed be your
an image name
You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven
So, God is our only eternal Father and no one is like Him. He alone dwells in eternity, all other gods are shadows of our own creation, and so we must resist making idols in any image as He alone is set aside for our worship. All that is God's, His kingdom and our obligations to Him muist be deeply respected as He is always worthy of our respect for it is His kingdom and His rule that calls us to service and worship.
If our original equation was:
“? + Christ = Idolatry”
Then the above gives us a new equation:
“Christ > ? = worship and adoration”
This equation teaches us that we are always moving from idolatry and false gods towards the worship and service of the one true God, for we would subdue all other competing loyalties and place them at the feet of the one true God.
For in this above syncretism of the first tablet of the Law and The Lord’s Prayer we see the following statement coming together:
The God expressed through the Bible and in Jesus Christ, is the only God we have, no other thing or belief or person can take His place in our lives without it being offensive to Him and idolatrous. His name is holy, He is the creator, He alone is our primary concern in this life – that is why all the good things He gives us are for the building up of His kingdom and our maturity in Him. His rule and His will - here and now - in this life we live is fulfilled by taking the good things and placing them under our loyalty and worship of God.
Jesus lived such an example of life where his Father was his primary loyalty and worship. Through his example we learn we must never add anything in equal value to our faith in Jesus Christ. If we do we are rejecting God as God, and stating in our idolatrous action that we are not really concerned with the fact that He is holy and deserves our primary loyalty.
An important lesson exists here regarding the gifts and abilities the Holy Spirit gives us through the example of Jesus. He never elevated the power and wonders he achieved above his teaching and his focus. His focus always remains the doing the will of God, not the “Look at me and what I can do” mentality of many a famous “miracle maker” of our day – where the stage, the lights and the music lull people into a false sense of confidence for sham and trickery to cloud their minds and worship the so-called miracle maker.
So, how does this look for our “today”, in the time and space we live in right now?
We must ask ourselves this simple, but deeply disturbing question if we are honest:
“What do we mix with our faith and place above Jesus Christ, what are our real idols?”
Remember that the idol of Israel was made from the good things God had provided. With this in mind I have created a list that you can add to if you want in your own time:
The gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Our own doctrines can be placed above our Lord.
Our skills and abilities.
All these things are good, all are things that God gives us or makes available for our usage, and all of them can become so important to us that they compete with our loyalty and affection for God. In their right place, all of them add to our service of God, the quality of life we have and our service to the fellowship and society we live in. But, when placed as our primary focus above Christ all become our gold calf that will fail us, offend God and pollute our lives with idolatry.
The first tablet of the Law and the first statements of the Lord’s prayer call us, or more accurately challenge us brutally, to never allow anything to take the primary place God is to have in our lives. That everything else has its proper place below our first loyalty and love towards God, there is no PLUS in our faiths equation.
All these good things add value – but none of them can claim “I am the Lord your God who has delivered you from sin and eternal separation from God in hell.” None of the above things promises to walk through the curtain of death and greet you on the other side. None of the above things got up on the cross and paid for your sins, none of the above things deserve your eternal loyalty and worship – they all have varying value, but none as significant as your God and your loyalty to your Lord Jesus Christ.
Our aim and desire must be to live in such a way that our focus is always God first in worship and loyalty, and “His will be done here in our ‘now’ as it is in heaven” is our task in the daily doing that we are involved in.
This will smash our false gods, our foolish worship and our wrong loyalties into their proper place so we can know God and enjoy Him forever. This will keep us from building ‘Babel’ and enable us to live out ‘Pentecost’ in our lives here in our doing and being.