November 14. 2019. Exodus 32:1-6. Part 53: The Golden Calf (the reduction of God)

Exodus 32:1-6. 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.

Exodus is a book all about the presence of God. God’s presence breaks in and rescues his people and dwells (tabernacles) with them in the wilderness. Always present.

But what do you do when it feels like God isn’t there? What if God seems absent? Silent? Hidden?

We are void fillers. When we think God is no longer with us we will immediately begin to fill that empty space with something else. In Exodus 32 it’s a golden calf.

Obviously this is a huge violation of the covenant that God has made with the Hebrews violating the first two commandments (and maybe more). This story seems insane to us. How does a group of people that witnessed the plagues, walked through a sea, drank water from a rock, heard the voice of God from the mountain top, and ate manna off the ground that very morning stoop to this level? Can’t they look up and see his presence on the mountain?

How could they lose their perspective so easily?

How could they trust something they created over the One who created them?

How did they so easily become idolaters?

The answer is we don’t BECOME idolaters, we ARE idolaters. Idolatry is our natural state of being. We are born void fillers. When God seems absent we will replace his presence with something else.

Idolatry is in us because the need to worship is in us – Up, make us gods…And [Aaron] received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool

Idolatry is in us because impatience is in us – when the people saw that Moses delayed…

Idolatry is in us because fear is in us – gods who shall go before us.

Idolatry is in us because distrust is in us – As for this Moses…

Idolatry is in us because hedonism is in us – And the people…rose up to play. 

If Genesis 3 is the fall of humanity before God, then Exodus 32 is the fall of the new humanity before God. God’s new humanity, set apart for him, placed by him in the dwelling place of God, the Tabernacle, the new Garden, have chosen to live by their own knowledge of good and evil. They have decided to have a god that they can control. Manipulate. One that they can worship on their own terms.

Jesus is King (not calf) – “I’m a Christian everything.” Well said. 

But here’s the big plot twist – they want Yahweh to be that god.

Did you read it? When Aaron fashioned the golden calf he declared it to be the Lord, Yahweh. The people even worshiped the calf with burnt offerings and peace offerings. The very offerings Yahweh commanded them to bring to him. Just like Adam and Eve who wanted to be like Yahweh, the Hebrews want Yahweh. They just want a version of him that they can control. A version of God that they’re comfortable with?

Why a calf? Bull worship was huge in Egypt. Bulls represented fertility and strength. But Aaron didn’t make a bull. He made a calf. A lesser version. A controllable god. A reduced god.

What do we Christians do when we feel like God is absent? Silent? Hidden? What do we do when God isn’t producing for us the life we think we deserve? What do we do when we grow impatient? Fearful? When we lose trust? What do we do when we just want what we want? 

We fashion God into something that makes more sense to us. We make Jesus into something that is far more comfortable. A god we can control. A god we can reduce.

Maybe you’re reducing Jesus into a genie that gives you what you want whenever you want it (as long as you’re basically a good person). Maybe you’re reducing Christ into an example to follow, rather than a Savior to wait upon. Maybe you’re reducing sanctification down to a law to obey, rather than a God to love. Maybe you’re reducing transformation down to a “bar of soap” that allows you to be cleansed over and over rather than learning to actually obey your Savior Jesus. Maybe you’re reducing Christ’s forgiveness down to a “get out of jail free” card so that you can do whatever you want.

But none of this is your union with Christ. None of these golden calves is the One who led you out of slavery. None of these reduced Christs will move you forward in holiness and love. Seeking a Jesus that you control, that only says what you want to hear, a Jesus that never violently and yet graciously roots out the slavery of your heart, is to seek no Jesus at all. It is to have no need of a Savior. It is to turn your back on salvation itself.

We are born idolaters. We must be re-born as true worshipers of God our Savior King. That is what the indwelling life of Christ has done and is doing. Melting down your golden calves. Revealing his presence in us even when he seems absent, hidden, and silent. He’s not. His gory is in you. In your trial and suffering. In your joy and pain. He’s not hidden in a cloud on the mountain top, he’s in your heart. Ever present. Ever faithful. Ever guiding by his great holiness and mercy. The holiness and mercy of the cross.

The life of God himself is being fashioned in us.

“To live is Christ” frees us from our need to fill our void with idols by filling our void with the ever present life of God in Jesus Christ. No more fear. No more impatience. No more distrust. No more self-righteousness. Just grace through faith.




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