November 8, 2015: No Bull. I am not God.

Posted on : Nov 5th, 2015 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

This week we encounter more than a little bit of rebellion going on among the people of God! As Talitha Arnold writes in one of our Still Speaking Devotionals, this was a Pain Tolerance Test. “The Israelites were feeling some pain. They were anxious. Moses was gone, off on the top of some mountain with God. So the people came to Aaron and said, ‘Do something!’ Take away our anxiety. Take away our pain. Make us a golden God.”

So Aaron collected some of the gold they had stolen from the Egyptians as they were fleeing Egypt, melted it down, cast it in a mold, and made a calf, a young bull. Then the people said: “Israel, here is your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt”…In the morning the people rose early, sacrificing burnt offerings and bringing communion offerings, and they sat down to eat and drink and lost themselves in debauchery. (Exodus 32:4-6)

Aaron and friends violated the first two commandments. #1 – God said, “I am Your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Do not worship any gods except me! And #2 – Do not make for yourselves any carved image or likeness of me.

The result of these actions? God goes ballistic.

Now one must stop and ask, “How could Aaron be so stupid?” Or to quote Jay Leno’s now famous line to Hugh Grant after he was arrested for having sex with a prostitute, “What the hell were you thinking?” Clearly, this was not the smartest move! However, it does appear to be one of the most human moves in sacred history. So, before we come down too hard on Aaron, we better look at ourselves and our lives.

Last week in worship I explained that two things had happened to this people of God during this long journey. The first was, they were a new generation. They had been in the desert a LONG time, and Moses was no longer preaching to and leading the folks who left Egypt with him. Meet Gen D. These are the folks who were born in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt. Like our Gen X (those born after the Baby Boomers), Gen Y (also known as “Millennials – those born just before the millennial change [roughly from the 1980-2000] and the next generation, Gen Z (also known as the i-generation [internet generation, wired generation or post-millennial generation] each generation has a different view of the world and a different personal history. Gen D knew nothing of life as slaves, short of what their parents told them. Gen D had little experience with the God who rescued them from slavery and set them free from the bondage of oppression except what others told them. Gen D knew only that they were on a journey and it wasn’t going anywhere fast. They were “stuck” in the desert. Gen D grew impatient and wanted to move on, which is the second change among this group.

Last Sunday I showed you a detailed diagram of the Tabernacle – the “tent” that was erected as the place where God would dwell among the people of Israel. It was intended to be a temporary structure, but as you could see, it was built with the intent of staying put for a long time. This Tabernacle didn’t move easily or quickly. What is clear from the structure of the Tabernacle is that the people weren’t going any place quickly or fast. This younger generation grew tired and impatient. They wanted to move on. They wanted to get to the Promised Land. Enough of this “old school religion!”

And since neither God nor Moses seemed to be moving very quickly they decided it was time to get a God that would better meet their needs. The golden bull was it!

Does this sound familiar? How many times in our lives do we become impatient or grow tired of waiting for God? How often do we lose the relevance of the story and/or our connection with God and move on to other more “useful” gods in our lives? Idolatry, the worship of our own idols, is certainly not something that happened only in the desert. Idolatry is still very present in our lives today. And, I would venture to say, it hasn’t “saved us” one bit, nor made us any better as a people.

But lest you get too depressed, there is a useful lesson in this story and we will discover it this Sunday.

Blessings,

Dan

 ~ This Sunday’s Scripture ~

Exodus 31:18 – 32:24

When God finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, Moses received the two tablets of the Covenant, stone tablets written by the finger of God.

Moses was an extremely long time in returning from the mountain, and when the people saw this, they turned to Aaron and said, “Come and make a God for us, someone who will lead us. We don’t know what has happened to that Moses, who brought us up from the land of Egypt.

Aaron replied, “Remove the gold earrings you are wearing [part of the bounty they took when they left Egypt] – wives and husbands, sons and daughters alike – and bring them all to me.” All the people brought their gold earrings to Aaron. Aaron took the gold, melted it down and cast it in a mold, and made it into a calf, a young bull.

Then the people said, “Israel, here is your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!”

When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before the idol, proclaiming, “Tomorrow we will have a feast in honor of the Most High, Our God.”*

In the morning the people rose early, sacrificing burnt offerings and bringing communion offerings, and then they sat down to eat and drink, and lost themselves in debauchery.

God said to Moses, “Go down, now! These people whom you led out of Egypt have corrupted themselves! In such a short time, they have turned from the way that I have given them, and made themselves a molten calf. Then they worshipped it and scarified to it saying, Israel, here is your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!”

God then said to Moses, “I look at these people – how stubborn they are! Now leave me to myself so that my anger may pour out on them, and destroy them! But you I’ll make into a great nation.”

Then Moses soothed the face of the Most High, his God. “But why, my God, should you let your wrath pour out on these people whom you delivered from Egypt with great might, with a strong hand? Why should the Egyptians say, “Their God intended to destroy them all along, to kill them in the mountains, to erase them from the earth?” Turn your back on your rage; reconsider the disaster you intended for your people. Do not forget Sarah and Abraham, Rebecca and Isaac, and Leah and Rachel and Jacob, your chosen ones, to whom you promised, “I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky; I will give to you all this land which I have promised – I will give it to your descendants, and they will enjoy its inheritance forever.”

So God relented, and the disaster that threatened the Israelites was forestalled.

Then Moses made his way down from the mountain, bearing in his hands the two tablets of the Covenant, inscribed on both the front and back. These tablets were the work of God’s hand, and the writing that was engraved on them was God’s writing.

When Joshua heard the noise of the people celebrating, he said to Moses, “It sounds like a battle in the camp.

But Moses replied,

            “Those are not the shouts of victory, nor the cries of defeat.

            The sounds that I hear are sounds of debauchery.”

As Moses and Joshua drew near the camp, they saw the calf and the dancing. Moses’ anger raged, and he threw the tablets down and smashed them at the base of the mountain. Seizing the calf that they had made, he threw it into the fire and melted it. What came out of the fires he ground to a powder, and this he sprinkled on the water, and made the Israelites drink it.

Moses then asked Aaron, “What did these people do to you, for you to bring such terrible sin on them?”

Aaron replied, “Please, my sovereign, do not let your anger rage. You yourself know these people and how they are inclined to wickedness. They came to me saying, “make us a God to lead us! We don’t know has happened to this fellow Moses who led us out Egypt.” So I said to them “Who has gold? Then they removed their jewelry and give it to me. I threw it into the fire – and out came this calf!”

_________

*As opposed to a feast in honor of the idol. Aaron seems to view the calf not as a rival God, but as a symbol of the divine. Here the bull particularly represents fertility, an idea born out in the following verse.

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