W.I.S.H. – Weekly Insights for Spiritual Health
Read: Exodus 32
It was supposed to be a solemn time of waiting, and anticipation of God’s covenant law and word for the people delivered through Moses. But Moses was up there on the mountain a long time (40 days) and people began to doubt if he’d ever come down again. The solemn waiting turned anxious. Faith is sometimes a hard thing when you don’t see results, however, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1. Their young faith faltered.
In their anxiety they turned to pagan ways. It wasn’t pretty. Solemn waiting became a drunken orgy and the worship of the “golden calf”, an idol made from the gold God had provided from Egypt as restitution for slavery. Moses was enraged. He felt betrayed by his brother, Aaron, who should have known better. It was a terrible crisis, and it led to a severe judgment (Ex. 32:25-29), about 3,000 people were slain by the sons of Levi for that sin.
Cecil B. DeMille’s “The 10 Commandments” breaks from the Bible here; he has God shoot lightning bolts and cause a landslide, but not much is said of the mass deaths or judgment. A TV miniseries, “Moses” (1995), was panned because the director showed Moses ordering the slaying of the 3,000, rather than handle it like DeMille. We understand God and Moses getting mad at the idolatry of the golden calf, but we recoil at the bloody mass killing of 3,000 for idolatry. That’s understandable.
Is this part of the story historical? Did Moses order 3,000 killed and reward the Levites for doing it? Honestly, Bible scholars disagree (for example, is v.14 at odds with v. 27, 35?). Were they condemned by a law before the law was even given? The judgment happens before the covenant was ratified. But instead of getting stuck on historicity, we should take seriously the emphatic spiritual truth intended here: idolatry is harmful to faith and contrary to God’s plan for the people and was rebuked. Being free from idolatry is important for God’s people.
In our age we are more sophisticated than the ancients. We don’t “worship idols”. But idolatry is subtle, it begins whenever we put something ahead of our allegiance to God. Priorities. Maybe the list of false gods in our day is longer than we realize.
Pastor Rob Nystrom