Have you ever had one of those moments where someone said something that you simply cannot believe came out of their mouth? You know what I mean. A person lets fall from their lips a nasty, unthinking, brutal insult all the while acting as if they are perfectly fine in their behavior. It’s the kind of thing that brings out of you the response, “O no you didn’t!”
I had one of those moments in this year’s read through Exodus 32. It’s a story that is moderately familiar. While Moses is up on the mountain, the people of Israel grow confused and restless. So, Moses’ brother Aaron fashions for the people a golden calf to worship instead of worshipping the God who led them out of Egypt and who commanded them, quite clearly in their hearing, never to fashion an idol to worship.
Exodus 32:4-6 – 4 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!” 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” 6 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.
The disobedience to God is one thing, stunning in itself. But the words that come out of the people’s mouths is something altogether more amazing. Israel’s leaders said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” Do you feel the insult? They shaped a cow from their melted down jewelry, and they say that this cow is who led them out of the land of Egypt.
Now, remember, this is a generation that is not even a half of a year removed from seeing the Red Sea parted as they walked through and then seeing it crash down on the Egyptian army. This is the people only a few months removed from painting blood on their door frames to tell the angel of God to pass over their homes and spare their firstborn. This is a people that, over the past year, saw God perform ten plagues that devastated a powerful nation and brought about their deliverance. And, this is a people who, only a month before, heard the voice of God tell them that they were never to fashion an idol and bow down to it.
Those people looked at a golden calf, nodded, and said, “Yep, that’s our god alright. That’s the one that led us up out of Egypt.” How should the Lord respond? Do you not hear in your soul the divine, “O no you didn’t!”
Then, Aaron actually adds to the mess. He builds an altar, proclaims a celebration, and says to the people in reference to the calf he just had fashioned out of melted jewelry, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” Do you see that last phrase? He said “to the Lord.” Aaron is taking a thing that God has strictly forbidden. This is something made #2 on his all-time top ten don’t do this list, a list God just spoke in the people’s hearing. Aaron is deciding that he can ignore and change the rules to worship in whatever fashion and by whatever definition he wants. He says this is a celebration to the Lord, the very Lord he is defying. And, again, I hear, “O no you didn’t!”
As you might imagine, this incident displeased the Lord, and it leads to the judgment of God on the people. It most certainly should have. How dare a people give something credit for doing what the Lord has done? How dare the people hear the requirements of God, shake them off, do the opposite, and then pretend that such must be acceptable to God? How dare they dance around a golden statue that they knew was forbidden to them and act as though they were performing an act of service to God?
And it is at this point that I have to ask myself where I do the same things. No, I don’t fashion statues and dance around them. But, are there times in my life where I hear the commands of God, know his standards, and flat turn against them to do things in my own way? Are there places where I know what God has done, and somehow I give credit for those things to myself or to someone or something else? How dare I ever give credit to a creation that only belongs to the Creator? How dare I value anything, any object, any possession, or any person above the One who made me and sent his Son to rescue me? How dare I sin to get something I want or sin if I do not have things the way that I want? I’m so easily tempted to act just like the people of Israel, just without the gold and the party.
May we examine ourselves closely today. May we remember that the Lord is our Creator, and he has every right to own our lives and our souls. May we obey his word for his glory. May we not think even for a minute that anything is as valuable as he is. May we not ever do the opposite of his commands and pretend we are honoring him in the process. May we not ever deserve a divine “O no you didn’t!”