Exodus 32-34. “They gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!” Moses went up Mt. Sinai to receive the carved stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. But meanwhile back at the camp… We know the dilemma. We bake a batch of cookies and before they cool some disappear. No evil intent but the cookies just jumped off the plate into a mouth and the ones on the plate got rearranged. It sounds a bit like Adam telling God, “It wasn’t me. It was that wife YOU gave me.” And Eve saying, “It wasn’t me. The snake deceived me.” It just happened. I didn’t see the speed sign, officer. My odometer is broken. I didn’t know the gun was loaded. Excuses.
Aaron, left in charge of the Israelites, buckles under the wave of doubt that sweeps through the camp when Moses doesn’t return from the mountain quickly. When events don’t unfold as quickly as we think they ought, anxiety begins to mount. We are swamped by “what-if’s and we begin imagining what has happened and how we will cope. For the Israelites who are still in the very baby stages of becoming a nation and who barely know their God, fear drives them to relapse.
It is so easy to convince ourselves that we have mastered “the habit” and that one drink, one peek, one candy bar won’t hurt but it does. That old potato chip commercial that says, “I bet you can’t eat just one!” is so true. The Israelites have not just gone back two steps, though. They have relapsed into idolatry. Worshipping a cow and crediting the cow with deliverance from Egypt was crossing the line and God becomes angry. We like to say that God is love but this scene as much as any reminds us that God is a real multi-dimensional being that has real feelings and real personality. He is not a loving force field that makes my life work and is there no matter what.
Besides Aaron’s silly explanation for his poor leadership, besides God’s justified anger at being replaced by an idolatrous cow, is the amazing response of Moses. Moses goes to bat for his people. Moses reasons with God!! In these chapters we do not see God-boss and slave-Moses, we see a God who cares what his creation is thinking and is impacted by their prayers and pleas. God and Moses discuss that perhaps Moses is to just lead the people as God might get angry at their stubbornness. Moses counters with this plea, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send me up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us?”
God’s presence with God’s people is a distinguishing characteristic of the new nation. Other nations have similar principles. Other nations have stubborn people. Moses accurately identifies God’s presence as a distinguishing characteristic of his people.
God does not tolerate idolatry. God reasons with his people. God’s presence active in our lives distinguishes us. We work with an epic hero, a God who is willing to get his hands dirty in relationship with fragile people like us. I find that very encouraging. I pray you do too. Blessings.