“Moses came and told the people all the LORD’s words and all the decisions. All the people answered together, ‘We are willing to do all the words that the LORD has said.'”
“Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear like the sky itself. But he did not lay a hand on the leaders of the Israelites, so they saw God, and they ate and drank.”
“When the people saw that Moses delayed in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said to him, ‘Get up, make us gods that will go before us. As for this fellow Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him!”
So Aaron “accepted the gold from them, fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molten calf. They they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.'”
Forty days. The number forty is a common duration for a time of testing many times in the bible. Forty days of rain on the ark, forty years wandering in the desert, Jesus was tempted fourty days in the desert and Moses was on the mountain forty days, two separate times, hearing the commandments of God, to name a few. Forty days goes by in a flash in our home. Months come and go, years fly by. But I guess to the Israelites, it seemed never-ending. Certainly if one was suffering significantly, time would drag on. But to God’s people at the bottom of the mountain, one would think there was great anticipation. One would think that the meal with God that Aaron witnessed, coupled with thundering on top of the mountain would serve as vivid reminders that Almighty God was very near, indeed.
But somehow in that vacuum, in that moment of dearth, not hearing from God, the people of God longed to fill that void with something. They wanted to worship, but impatiently accepted a counterfeit. I wonder if there was a plethora of rationalizing going on – how did they ever arrive at it being acceptable to worship a golden calf in such a short amount of time? Particularly troubling to me is that Aaron suggested the people donate golden objects and made the calf himself. He had just encountered the living God. How could he so quickly be deceived? Was it peer pressure? The sheep pressing in on him and he feared them more than God at that moment? And the sheep – they had just stated that they were willing to do all the words that God had said.
This hypocrisy and seemingly blatant rebellion seems odd until I contemplate my own walk. Evidence of lukewarmedness and blindness to our own faults can be seen if we are willing to let down our guard of self righteousness and self-protection. I well recall the early days of my salvation, standing and sharing the gospel to a small crowd at the University of Maryland, being persecuted in class for being a Christian. I recall many moments of victory in the past twenty-six years through various trials, where God grew my faith exponentially. Candidly, I also recall being tested severely and beginning to lose my way, save the grace of God. I started strong – though I was crushed, I would run to His word. But in the lengthiness of the trial, I began to get confused and wondered when God was going to deliver me. I began to compromise and look for a counterfeit to relieve my pain. I am no better than the Israelites. My trial was seven years of hardship, pressed on every side, not forty days, but I emphathize with the Israelites. They wanted to follow God, but quickly chose an alternative god to appease their spiritual paucity. In their moment of being deceived, they could not see clearly and needed a leader to guide them. Their leader failed.
Humbling to us leaders, it is terrifying to think that we bear the responsibility of leading someone astray. Shockingly, Aaron lied when confronted with his waywardness. Somehow a golden calf popped out of the fire. Wow, really? As hard as it is to admit that we, too, have gone off the path, it is far better to confess and renounce our shortcomings and move forward in the new humility gained from our failure. The former pride at imperceived righteousness that was our own, has been replaced with the knowledge of our own failure, which reminds us that it has never been our own righteousness, after all.
If you are a leader or a believer who has fallen short, you stand in a great cloud of witnesses who have also gone before us and failed. David, too, a man after God’s own heart, murdered and committed adultery, yet later he would cry out to God in Psalm 51, for God to “restore unto me the joy of my salvation and renew a right spirit within me”. It is easy to get lost in the vacuum or in severe trials and forget our mission and purpose in Christ. But those mistakes, those blemishes we wish could be removed from our record are actually a means of grace to humble us and can make us more useful for the kingdom of God. Thank God for second chances and His grace.
Maybe you have not yet endured a severe time of testing. If not, count yourself blessed, but be ready. Times of dryness, of not hearing from God can be around the next corner – will you cave in to comfort around you, or wait as long as it takes until you encounter the living God? We might not have a warning sign cautioning us that the potential to slip is ahead, but we do have the Holy Spirit guiding us, if we listen.
Lord, I want to be near to You always. I never want to drift away and walk in a manner that displeases you. Please grant us grace to be aware of spiritual dangers that lie ahead and to walk humbly before you. Help us to remember all You have done and to not forget when the heat is turned up or You seem far away.