When the Word of God Crashes the Party

January 13, 2016 at 1:57 pm | Posted in Exodus | 7 Comments
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And Moses turned, and went down from the mount, and the two tables of the testimony were in his hand: the tables were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other were they written.

Exodus 32:15

Moses with the tablets

The two “tables” (tablets) were identical – five “Words” on each side. Written documents in that day were: (1) papyrus (not very durable); (2) leather skins; (3) clay tablets; or (4) chiseled in stone (only the most important documents). These were the only documents in existence actually inscribed by God Himself without any human agency. Imagine the value!

And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables.

Exodus 32:16

The written Word of God is not a violation of Commandment No. 2 (against graven images). God is so associated with His Word that He allows us to have it “engraved.” This refutes the accusation (sometimes made by Roman Catholics and Pentecostals) that Baptists and other fundamental Christians who hold to the Bible as the sole standard of faith and practice are guilty of Bibliolatry.

And when Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said unto Moses, There is a noise of war in the camp.

Exodus 32:17

Joshua was familiar with the sound of war. This sounded like war, even though it wasn’t. It was the first “rock concert” involving God’s people, but this type of loud boisterous worship was common in pagan idolatry – which Moses recognized when he discerned the singing amidst the din of revelry:

And he said, It is not the voice of them that shout for mastery, neither is it the voice of them that cry for being overcome: but the noise of them that sing do I hear.

Exodus 32:18

You can meditate on this passage of Scripture and judge for yourself how loud and boisterous Christian worship music ought to be. I would submit that it ought not to be mistaken – even from afar – for carnal syncretistic worship – a combination of worshiping the performer while ostensibly worshiping God.

There is a certain irony or at least poignancy in Joshua’s mistaken assertion that a battle was going on, because there WAS in fact a battle going on – a battle between Truth and falsehood – between the real and the fake – between God and Satan the counterfeiter. Because of Moses’s anger, you can see that he grasped this:

And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses’ anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount.

Exodus 32:19

Moses had plead with God to turn from His anger, but now he saw with his own eyes, and heard with his own ears, and he too expressed righteous anger, breaking these unique, precious tablets in view of all the people “beneath the mount.” This was the exact same spot where the people verbally agreed to be bound by God’s gracious covenant. They broke the Covenant figuratively; Moses demonstrated it literally. We speak of breaking God’s law – but it is God’s law that will break the sinner – just as jumping upward off a roof temporarily seems to break the law of gravity, but ultimately breaks the jumper.

And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and strawed it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it.

Exodus 32:20

This describes a longer process than just one verse makes it sound like, but Moses wanted to utterly desecrate this false idol.

Corrupt Curving off Course

November 3, 2015 at 11:06 am | Posted in Exodus | 7 Comments
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And the LORD said unto Moses, Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves:

Exodus 32:7

God was not disowning the people, nor putting the blame for their behavior on Moses, but He was distancing Himself from their behavior. He was angry with them, not with Moses. They were acting like the children of men, not the children of God, and God made that clear in His description of them as He spoke to Moses.

Unlike Pharaoh, whose heart, we were told, was specifically hardened by God, these people had corrupted “themselves.” God is no less sovereignly in control here, but He is giving us a glimpse into His feelings about this affair – which will become even more obvious.

They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.

Exodus 32:8

“Turning aside from the way” is a key phrase because it reminds us that Jesus is the Way and He is a way. God led these people in one direction, and here they had “turned” from following Him. They did not view their movement as a “U-turn” – although they had tried to do that before in wanting to go go back to Egypt – but you don’t have to do a complete 180 to displease God. Any direction other than “His Way” is a path that leads to destruction. We need to keep our eyes on Jesus, the way that little kids need to keep their eyes on Dad so they don’t wander off in a dangerous crowd of people.

And the LORD said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people:

Exodus 32:9

“I have seen” is another example of anthropomorphism. “Stiffnecked” is what we would call “hard-headed” or stubborn. In an agrarian society, the neck is a better example of stubbornness than the head because of the way farm animals will balk at turning, or the way people who carried things on their heads or shoulders all day would feel at night. As Christians, we need to be keeping our necks loose – looking up to God in prayer and faith, looking down at the Bible, and looking around at others who might need help.

Syncretism and Sexual Sin

October 7, 2015 at 12:43 pm | Posted in Exodus | 6 Comments
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And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, To morrow is a feast to the Lord.

Exodus 32:5

Aaron, pressured by the people and doubtful concerning the return of Moses, tried to straddle the fence. He built an altar before the golden bull, but he proclaimed that the next day’s worship activity would be a feast “to the Lord.” This is called “syncretism:” attempting to combine the worship of Yahweh with false gods. It is nothing less than idolatry. In God’s eyes it is exactly the same in terms of its sinfulness. It is the spiritual equivalent of adultery. Aaron’s attempt to lessen its offensiveness to God is analagous to a husband defending his adultery by saying, “At least I didn’t dump my wife; I just two-timed her.”

The next verse explains the reason for the altar.

And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.

Exodus 32:6

Sacrifices were necessary to make the false worship seem legitimate. False worship will often have an element of truth in it. But the second half of the verse – “to eat and to drink, and rose up to play” – reveals the real selfishness at work in this show of “sacrifice.” When people make idols or construct false ideas of God, they are not trying to be accurate, and just falling accidentally into error. No, they are fashioning a god to please themselves. What would a young bull care if they wanted to get drunk, gorge themselves at a party, and have an orgy?

“To drink” denotes alcohol and “rose up to play” is probably (although not definitely) a euphemism for sex. Most commentators think the phrase has a sexual connotation not because the Hebrew word always means that. Hebrew language in the Bible tends to be modest, preferring euphemisms when possible (like saying that Adam “knew” Eve), but usually the context clarifies it. Here it doesn’t make it crystal clear. The word translated as “play” could be dancing, fighting, roughhousing, lesser forms of debauchery, or general partying. One of the reasons for the traditional belief that it here connotes sexual partying is that, in other instances when people engaged in this type of pagan worship it did involve drunken sex parties. In fact, that was one of the most prominent features of pagan worship, and, tragically, the people who worshiped the golden bull were almost surely imitating that.

The worship of Yahweh (conveniently just described for us in the details of the Tabernacle in the chapters preceding Chapter 32) was more somber, serious, holy, modest, and chaste. It was focused not on the flesh – although it did involve having an enjoyable meal – but rather on serving the Lord. Christian worship should likewise be spiritual, not carnal. This is one of the early instances in Scripture where this is highlighted for us. Worship of the real God is distinct from the worship of pagan idols, and the distinction should be obvious to a lost world, because our God is real, not an invented excuse to party like it’s 1999 (or in this case 1499 BC).

Why We Can, and Cannot, Have Nice Things

September 21, 2015 at 3:52 pm | Posted in Exodus | 9 Comments
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And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, See, I have called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah: And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, To devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, And in cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of timber, to work in all manner of workmanship.

Exodus 31:1-5

One of the key differences between the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament and the New Testament is that, under the Old Testament, certain people were periodically “anointed” or “filled” with the Holy Spirit. In the New Testament the Holy Spirit permanently indwells born-again believers from the moment of salvation.

Bezalel, who seems to have been in charge of the construction of the Tabernacle, had certain talents – which are gifts from God – but not necessarily the same as the New Testament “gifts of the Spirit,” such as administration or evangelism or preaching and teaching or mercy or giving. Basically, Bezalel got an “upgrade” to his talents for working with gold and silver and bronze and metals and stone and wood, so that the work of the Tabernacle and its furnishings would be excellent, and would have a supernatural level of beauty, durability, and function.

Exodus Chapter 32 features one of the climactic moments of the Book of Exodus, and possibly even the climax of the narrative that runs through the entire “Hexateuch” (Genesis – Joshua). The events recorded here constitute a key moment in redemptive history. The Old Covenant (which was then still a very new covenant) had just been given, confirmed, ratified, accepted, and sealed with blood. Moses had gone back up Mount Sinai to get the specifications for the Tabernacle and for Tabernacle worship. We know he was up there for 40 days, but, during that time, the people did not know how long he would be gone, and they were worried. They still lacked faith, despite everything they had experienced, seen, and heard.

And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.

Exodus 32:1

What if, while Moses was away, they came under attack like they had from the Amalekites? Had Moses abandoned them or died? Had Yahweh left them here? (His presence could not be seen in the pillars of fire and cloud anymore at this point, because He was with Moses on the mountain.) They still had manna and water, but who was going to lead them now?

Exodus 32:1 says that “the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron.” Aaron was supposed to be in charge while Moses was away, and it is possible they did this in order to oppose him or coerce him. It is also possible they simply plead or demanded, but, either way, Aaron still felt the pressure of the crowd. He was older than Moses, but had been with Moses, and was known as a priest, so it was natural that they would seek his leadership or his endorsement upon their desires. Besides, who doesn’t like a “leader” that can be controlled by his people, rather than one who answers only to God?

The people said to Aaron, “Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.” What kind of “gods” have to be “made?” And it wasn’t, strictly speaking, “this Moses” who had brought them out of Egypt. It was really Moses’s God Who had done it. Maybe they wanted some help from the Egyptian gods, or maybe just something that they could see and touch to represent Yahweh for them. This was a definite violation of the 2nd Word, and probably the 1st, too.

And Aaron said unto them, Break off the golden earrings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them unto me. And all the people brake off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them unto Aaron. And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.

Exodus 32:2-4

They asked for a “graving” tool, despite the specific language which warned them and forbade them from making “graven” images! The “calf” was supposed to be the image of a young bull, which was a cultic god in Egypt, but which also would have been representative of their idea of what a powerful god should be like – a god that could drive out their enemies in the promised land. When the people said, “These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt,” this was an instance of either outright lying, self-deceit, or a syncretisitc attempt to remake Yahweh into the images of another religion. What tragic, rebellious, disobedient, shameful, and sinful thinking!

Have Mine Own Way

January 6, 2011 at 9:47 am | Posted in Biblical friendship, Hosea, Uncategorized | 10 Comments
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When King Solomon died his kingdom became divided. Two of the twelve tribes, led by Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, became the southern kingdom of Judah. The other ten tribes, ruled over by Jeroboam, became the northern kingdom of Israel (also known as Ephraim).

Jeroboam did not want his subjects going to the southern kingdom so they could worship in Jerusalem. Therefore, he found a way to entice them to stay. He placed golden calves for the people to worship, and allowed pagan fertility rites and prostitution to be practiced in the northern places of worship. It seems almost unthinkable that a race of people who had almost been rejected by God because of the worship of a golden calf (see Exodus 32), would back-slide into such evil again.

Hosea the prophet was one of only a very few voices crying out against such wickedness.

For Israel slideth back as a backsliding heifer: now the LORD will feed them as a lamb in a large place.

Hosea 4:16

He also warned the southern kingdom not to follow their example.

Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone.

Hosea 4:17

What a sad day it is when the Lord’s people turn back to that from which they have already been delivered. Many of us have been rescued from the idolatry of this world by loving Christian friends. We must not make the mistake of presuming upon God’s grace, however. There may come a time when the Lord says to your friends, “Let him alone.” One of the harshest disciplines that God may give to His children is to let them have their own way.


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