By Ben W. Curtis
Pastor, First Baptist Church, Tracy City
Focal Passage: Exodus 32:1-6, 11-14
What are you living for? To put it another way: When people are at your funeral, what will they say? I don’t know if they had a funeral or not, but when 3,000 people die on the same day that’s not a happy event. Maybe those still living had a celebration of life for the deceased, but everyone knew the truth: They worshiped the golden calf and were struck down by God. Anytime worship is given to something or someone other than God idolatry and death are always the result. You might not be struck down with a sword, but at the very least your desire for the things of God will die a slow, silent death while your hunger for things of the world continues to increase.
Idolatry begins with a shift from the invisible to the visible (Exodus 32:1). When “Moses delayed” in coming down from the mountain, they turned from the God they couldn’t see to a visible god. Ironically, God is doing one of the most precious things for His people. He is giving Moses the plans for the tabernacle so that He could dwell among them. But their interpretation is that God is not working at all. Are you tempted to assume that God is not at work because He has not done what you think He should’ve done? Craving a religion they can control, Israel turns from the “living oracles” of God to a golden calf, demanding Aaron to make them “gods who shall go before us” (Acts 7:36-40).
Idolatry is a move from true religion to counterfeit religion (Exodus 32:2-6). The rebellious Israelites craft a golden calf and proclaim, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” (v. 4). They had to completely revise history to make sense of the Exodus event! First, they turned from the Creator of heaven and earth to a grass-feeding animal (Psalm 106:19-22). Second, they create an entire system of salvation, giving burnt offerings and peace offerings to the golden calf (Exodus 32:6). Burnt offerings deal with sin and impurity, while peace offerings reestablish fellowship with God. When humans invent a religion, it must be one they can achieve. And what are the results? There are no songs of redemption like we find in other parts of the Bible (Psalm 51; Psalm 103). Instead, the people have a party (Exodus 32:6). Their idolatry was fun for a season, but the laughter does not last for long.
Moses’ intercession prevents God from consuming the entire nation, but a partial judgment still follows (Exodus 32:11-14, 25-28). God loves Israel so much that He is willing to lose 3,000 Israelites to turn the hearts of the nation back to Him. What has God taken away or brought into your life lately? Could it be that He is reclaiming your heart from idolatry? He will battle for our hearts until we are with Him in eternity. And praise God that He is like that! Apart from the mercy of God, our judgment would be instantaneous. Aren’t you thankful that He is a God who is “merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6)? We all hunger and thirst for life, but the key is to remind ourselves that true life is not found in a golden calf, but in the Lord Jesus Christ.