Exodus 32 Commentary
We all have been busy with Moses up on Mount Sinai receiving instructions and architectural drawings for the Tabernacle. What we don’t know is that down the valley things are happening. This chapter records for us a real downer. The people think we have taken too long on the mountain – the same fiery mountain covered in smoke and fire. So the people have pressured Aaron to make for them a god. A golden calf is made as Israel’s new god. Israel has even started to worship this new god and he is even performing priestly functions for it. Indeed, this is a real downer!
Clearly the people no longer know the God of Abraham. We are off to a very bad start. How will God react to this insolence?
It is easy to guess. Clear out the rot and move on with another more serious team. This sentence is communicated to the people’s leader – Moses. And now Moses must respond and do so quickly. Intersession is made and the people survive. At this moment it appears Moses is more merciful than the LORD. But that isn’t true. The LORD wants Moses to think and act like God’s son. After all man is made in God’s image. So through Moses we see the mercies of the LORD. Moses is a true son of his father – Israel being blessed with forgiveness by the LORD via Moses.
But we should be interested in the ‘clear-out decision’. Here and many other places elsewhere the death sentence seem to be the ready-go punishment by the LORD. The answer is partly found in Genesis chapter 3. Man without God is dead. Man without the Spirit of God is dead. So even here failure to accept the Spirit of God, or a decision to reject the Spirit of God is a decision to remain dead. So the death sentence for Israel here is a confirmation of what has happened already. It’s a confirmation of a decision to reject life.
And Aaron? Yes weak Aaron. Leadership failure. Lack of moral stability. Lack of faith and spine. Everything wrong about a leader is combining in Aaron. How close Aaron was to the God of Abraham remains a big question in this chapter. How dare he thinks of reducing the God of Abraham into a golden calf – and even installs himself as priest for the same! Terrible.
As we reflect on Aaron’s weakness (and wickedness), we need to check ourselves. What do we do when we feel like the LORD has delayed? Do we install plan B and continue to perform priestly functions for a plan that isn’t God’s plan? Do we imagine that by performing and doing ‘church’ the golden calf would become God? Is our experience of God based on the ‘man of God’ rather than God Himself? What happens when the man of God delays, is God still there? Who saved you, Moses or God?
“… As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”
Exodus 32:1 NIV
Who brought you that blessing, man or God? Everything is wrong about this community! They think Moses is their savior even when he clearly told them that the LORD had heard their cry and had come down to help them. Who or what do we think is behind the blessing?
And where is God, up the mountain or even in the valley of sin where you are? The LORD is also present in the valley even as Aaron is working on the golden calf. Saints cannot hide from the face of God. God is omnipresent. But Israel is yet to learn this.
Anyhow, the people are forgiven but the LORD of justice has taken note.
Interestingly Moses is not exactly aware of the gravity and extent of sin down in the valley. It appears the LORD allows him to intercede from a position of ignorance.
Not only has the Community abandoned the LORD, they no longer want to listen to Moses. After all they have another god in form of a golden calf who allows them revelry and a good time! To restore normality Moses does exactly what he had asked the LORD not to do. At his command Levites move in to slaughter the some of the sinners. It is often the case that we don’t understand our own sinfulness and want to think of the LORD’S justice system as been too extreme. Get the full picture and you will begin to appreciate the loving-tenderness of the LORD.
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