Sunday’s Sermon — Exodus 32:1-6, “The Golden Calf or the Grace of Christ?”

13 Oct

Turn with me to Exodus 32, we’ll be looking at verses 1-6. Now remember last time we were in Exodus three weeks ago we looked at the instructions God gave Moses for the Tabernacle. Moses was having this glorious 40 day mountaintop experience with God. But down at the base of the mountain, something very different was going on . . .

32 When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods 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.” So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.

This is one of the saddest events in the Bible. But Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10 that this event and several others like it in Israel’s history, were written down for our instruction, so that we may not desire evil as the Israelites did. So we are going to be looking this morning at the ways in which Israel fell into sin in this passage. And hopefully understanding these ways will serve as a warning for us and cause us to lean more fully on our only hope for deliverance from sin.

 We Fall into Idolatry When We Become IMPATIENT with God’s Plan (32:1).

The first step in Israel’s downward spiral to sin was IMPATIENCE. They saw Moses was delayed on the mountain. They had received the commandments and they were ready to get on their journey to the Promised Land. They were tired of being at the base of Mt. Sinai. They didn’t know what Moses was doing up on the mountain. I tell you, I have seen this so many times, in my life and in the lives of others. Impatience with God’s timing is at the heart of so many of our struggles with sin. We are a people who want it now. Everything in our culture pushes us toward instant gratification, from fast food to text messages to 24 hour breaking news. Everything is about instant access. Get what you want when you want it. And God simply does not work that way. And the reason He doesn’t work that way is that He is wise. He knows that working out His plan over the course of our lives and working it in deep is better than a quick fix that would do nothing to change our souls. Our hearts are shaped in a good direction through waiting and delayed gratification and yes, even disappointment. But we are rarely willing to put up with such things. So, like the Israelites, we grow impatient with God’s ways and devise our own ways.

In the case of Israel, their impatience was not only impatience with God, but also with their leaders. When the text says “they gathered themselves together to Aaron” it is in the Hebrew text indicating a hostility in their action. They want something done and they want it done now. It’s like a tense school board meeting with outraged parents. They’re gathered together to make demands. You can see it in their words to Aaron, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us.” We want to get to the Promised Land and we know we need the protection of gods. So make us gods to lead us to the Promised Land. We want it and we want it now because after all, this Moses who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him. They were impatient with Moses too, calling him “this Moses,” a derisive phrase. And they know very well what has happened to him. He is on the mountain with God. The problem isn’t that Moses is lost, the problem is that the people of Israel are impatient, unwilling to wait for God’s plan to unfold. God promised to take them to the Promised Land, but when He didn’t do it quickly enough for them, they quickly turned to themselves. I believe in this passage we can also see that the Israelites were a little too dependent on their leaders. Their  impatience stemmed not only from God’s inactivity but also from Moses’ absence. When Moses was delayed, they got jumpy. And notice they say that Moses was the one who led them out of Egypt. It is true that Moses was their leader, but in Exodus it is almost always said that it was God who led Israel out of Egypt. In a typical way when impatience comes in, the Israelites both loved and loathed their leader. They longed for Moses but were ticked off at him for his slowness in coming down from the mountain. They view him as the one who brought them out of Egypt but also speak of him disrespectfully. And all along, Moses is on the mountain getting instructions for the right worship of God. This is what makes this event one of the saddest in the Bible. At the same time the golden calf is being fashioned for false worship of God, God is unfolding His good plan for Israel to Moses on the mountain. God is going to give Israel a place of worship. He is going to go before them. He is going to lead them to their land. But rather than waiting on God and his appointed leader, they take matters into their own hands.

And that is how a pattern of sin normally starts in our lives. We become impatient with God’s plan and insist on our own. We have desires and God has a plan wherein those desires can be met but we are unwilling to wait. The most obvious example is sexual activity outside of marriage. God gives us the boundary of marriage for our good but we in our impatience violate that boundary. But there are other examples too. Impatience with God’s plan is often the gateway to terrible sin.

We Fall into Idolatry when We Do What is POPULAR Rather Than What is Right (32:2-3).

          Moses did not fail the Israelites by being with God up on the mountain, but Aaron definitely failed the Israelites by failing to resist their pleas to make them gods. Aaron doesn’t raise a single word of opposition to them and actually gives them instructions and carries out the whole terrible deed of making an idol. As their leader, Aaron should have stood for what was right but probably out of fear and maybe out of a desire to take leadership from Moses, Aaron went right along with the Israelites in fashioning the golden calf. Aaron, when faced by this crowd could have drawn aside to pray, he could have called on Israel’s elders for advice, he could have led the people in true teaching from what he had already received from God. But he did none of these things. He just followed the crowd. Aaron did what was popular rather than what was right. He cared more about the opinion of people than the glory of God.

And aren’t we often just like him? We fail to stand up for biblical truth because we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. We don’t want to lose our job so we go along with dishonest practices at work. We fail to stop our friend on the other end of the phone when they start to slip into gossip. We compromise the gospel so people won’t be offended. We shy away from biblical truths that are not popular in our culture. And when we go for the popular way rather than the biblical way, we are sitting ducks for sin.

We Fall into Idolatry when We INVENT Our Own Image of God        (32:4-6).

The people of Israel turned away from God through impatience and turned to themselves, crafting their own image of God to worship. They ended up with a mix of God’s principles for worship (bringing offerings, having a feast day to the Lord) and Egyptian worship. They made their image of God to look like the false gods of the Egyptians, who often worshiped cattle. As has often been said, “The Lord took Israel out of Egypt but a lot of Egypt was still in Israel.” Israel had been influenced by hundreds of years of living in Egyptian culture and now a few months out of Egypt serving a mysterious God in a time of uncertainty, the Israelites turn back to what they know, to what is comfortable, and they construct the golden calf. They don’t worship the true God but they worship a god of their own inventing, even as they mix it with worshiping the true God. In the end, the Israelites sit down to eat and rise up to play. That word “play” in Hebrew is most likely a nice way of saying that they got up after the feast to engage in sexual immorality. The Israelites were not taking their cue from what God had told them to do but were doing whatever was right in their own eyes. They ignored God’s Word, which they had heard and had agreed to follow. They broke His commandments. Why did they do this? Why did they construct this golden calf and worship it? Stephen tells us in Acts 7 in his sermon there. He says, “Moses was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us. Our fathers refused to obey him, but thrust him aside and in their hearts they turned to Egypt.” So the people of Israel were so quick to turn to idolatry because there was still much idolatry in their hearts. Their hearts did not belong wholly to the Lord.

And so Aaron fashions the calf out of gold. The people worship according to their own desires rather than the instructions of God. RC Sproul shares several ways in which the Israelites doing their own thing They seek to create what God was providing Moses on the mountain. They take the initiative to worship rather than waiting on God to direct their worship. Offerings are demanded rather than offered willingly. The elaborate preparations of the tabernacle are replaced by a cheap and empty ceremony. The lengthy building of the tabernacle is replaced by a rushed forming of a golden calf. Instead of the ark covered inside the Holy of Holies as the place where God’s glory would rest the Israelites put out a false god image in open air and bring the curse of God rather than His blessing. The invisible God is falsely made into a visible image and the personal God becomes an impersonal object that cannot speak, see or act. The people hoped to get the blessing of God by making the golden calf but they forfeit the blessing of God by their very act.

So many people today believe in designer religion. We see it with people who say they are spiritual but not religious. We see it with people who take this and that from one religion or the other. We see it even among professing Christians who say things like, “My God would never say homosexual behavior is a sin.” Any time we take that kind of approach to God we are just making a little golden calf in our hearts. “Let God be true and every man a liar.” Many years ago Rich Mullins wrote a song called Creed. The chorus goes, “I believe what I believe, it’s what makes me what I am. I did not make it, no it is making me, it is the very truth of God not the invention of any man.” Our heart should always be geared toward obeying the Word of God, not inventing our own ideas of God. “How firm a foundation ye saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in His excellent Word. What more can He say than to you He has said, to you who for refuge to Jesus hath fled?”

Finally, we see this morning that . . .

  1. We Fall into Idolatry When We Fail to REMEMBER God’s Past Faithfulness.

I don’t get this idea directly from the text but from Psalm 106, which refers to the golden calf incident. This psalm says, “they made a calf, and worshiped an idol cast from metal. They exchanged their Glory for an image of a bull, which eats grass. They forgot the God who saved them, who had done great things in Egypt, miracles in the land of Ham and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.” “They forgot the God who saved them.” What a tragedy. When they forgot God, they ran to idolatry. We are made to worship and we will all worship something, whether money or sex or success or power of the true and living God. Israel failed here not only because of their impatience and their willingness to choose their own way but also because they forgot all God had done for them. They forgot His good gifts. They forgot His past deliverance and the way He had provided for them day by day. He forgot how even as they made the calf God was on the mountain sharing His heart with Moses, giving His good plan for the people of Israel.

When we sin we forget God and all His gifts. We push Him to the edges of our hearts. We put Him out of our mind. Even though He has given us life. Even though He has given us eternal life through His Son Jesus. Even though He has adopted us into His family. Even though He has called us His beloved. Even though He has given us His Spirit and is changing us to be like Jesus. Even though He has promised us an eternity of joy in His presence. When we sin we forget all these things and more.

There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. And then there is the way of Jesus, who tasted death for us so that we could have life, eternal and abundant. Jesus went to the cross and died in our place and rose from the dead to deliver us from our idolatries. To give us a patient spirit that trusts in our sovereign God and His plan. To give us an iron will that is not swayed by public opinion but is willing to stand for what is right. To give us a humble heart which seeks to align our lives to God’s Word rather than our culture or our conceptions of how we should live. To give us a mind which is quick to bless the Lord and forget not all His benefits and to let that remembrance serve us by drawing us to the living God and away from fashioning a golden calf to self.

Is your heart a place of self-worship or the worship of God’s gifts, or are you leaning wholeheartedly on the grace of Jesus for your standing with God and for all your strength for living? “Jesus, I am resting, resting, in the joy of what Thou art, I am finding out the greatness of your loving heart.” May we today make a decisive break with the golden calf and walk in the grace of Christ.

2 Responses to “Sunday’s Sermon — Exodus 32:1-6, “The Golden Calf or the Grace of Christ?””

  1. Bonnie Combs April 2, 2017 at 8:05 pm #

    Who is preaching this great sermon?

    • jsf08 April 3, 2017 at 9:40 am #

      The sermon is by Scott Frady, West Hickory Baptist Church

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