Exodus 32:1-14

(watch here: https://youtu.be/-ftcc9O78-c)

sermon note: 10-11 sermon note

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron and said to him, ‘Come, make gods for us, 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.’ Aaron said to them, ‘Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.’ So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a 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 proclamation and said, ‘Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.’ They rose early the next day, and offered burnt-offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.


The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshipped it and sacrificed to it, and said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” ’ The Lord said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.’


But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, ‘O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, “It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth”? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, “I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it for ever.” ’ And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.


Our reading for this morning reminds me of the one about a guy who was completely oblivious to anything religious. So one day he decided to visit a monastery with a tourist group.

Once the tour of the monastery was over, the tourist group browsed the various religious souvenirs the monastery sold in its gift store. The guy laid his eyes on a rosary and sheepishly asked the monk, “How much is this decorative chain?” The monk thought to himself that this guy really must be a most faithless person not to know what a rosary is.  He decided that such a person shouldn’t get a rosary so he answered that it wasn’t for sale. The guy kept wandering around and after a while he eyed a bible and asked, “Is this book for sale and who’s the author?” The monk was really shocked by the man’s ignorance and told him again that the book wasn’t for sale. Disappointed, the guy kept looking and eventually set his eyes on an intricate cross with Jesus on it. He asked, “This cross is really beautiful, could I at least buy it?” The monk was so pleased that the guy appreciated the beauty of the cross that he decided to sell it to him and told him a price. The guy responded, “Great! And does that price include the acrobat on the cross or not?” 

Nothing like a little insider humor to start the morning off on the right foot! “Oh, oh, oh, can you believe there are such clueless people in the world?! I mean, seriously, who doesn’t know that’s Jesus on the cross?!” Oh, oh, oh…it does the ego good to be on the inside of something, to be more aware of something than someone else, doesn’t it? Of course, that’s just the fleeting satisfaction of pride passing through. Pick a different subject you know absolutely nothing about and the joke’s on you. None of us can know everything about all subjects. At best, we can hope to know a lot about only a few subjects. Or a little about a lot of subjects. The span of a lifetime just isn’t enough to learn everything about all things. And just when you think you’ve figured something out totally and completely, something changes and you’re off running after it again. Few things in life are absolutely unchanging and entirely knowable. Even God’s love for us, one of the few unchangeable things in this world, isn’t entirely understandable. Love itself is a great mystery in life, let alone the love of God. Good luck trying to ever fully understand God’s love! Like all good mysteries, it’s best to rely on faith and trust for understanding God’s love. The intricacies and complexity of his love are simply unfathomable. God’s ways are unfathomable… 

Our good friends at the foot of Mt. Sinai are not all that different from that guy in the monastery gift shop. They, too, were somewhat oblivious to who God is and all the accoutrements we use to worship. They didn’t know about rosaries or crucifixes or Bibles. Heck, they didn’t know the God of the Bible, the triune God! All they knew was what Moses told them about him. All they knew was his mighty and powerful deliverance of them from Egyptian slavery. He was a God of vengeance and justice! He was a God not to be angered! He was a God to be feared, and not in the biblical sense of the word. Yes, He was a God who stuck terror in the hearts of the gathered Israelites. They simply didn’t know the God we know, the loving God, the gracious God, the merciful God. It’s no wonder they felt compelled to build an idol to praise and worship God. He was a fearsome, powerful God worthy of their sacrifice of gold! If anything, their sacrifice at least bought them immunity from God’s wrath or so they believed. It’s easy to be critical of their idol worship, especially as we hear how it greatly angers God. Such fools! What a stiff-necked people indeed! Moses leaves them and they resort to familiar idol worship instead of clinging to their new faith in the one, true God who brought them out of slavery! How could they be so unfaithful and disloyal to God after all that He did for them?! 

Well, they simply didn’t know God. They didn’t know God the way we know God. We know God is “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” as we hear in several passages from Scripture. We know the lengths God will go to keep us in relationship with him; send the Son to live and die among us, resurrecting him three days later in a great victory over sin and death. We know the God of Abraham and Isaac and Israel and Moses! Moses knew him, we know him, but the people gathered at the foot of Mt. Sinai, collectively licking their wounds from their mass exodus out of Egypt, didn’t know him. And their hearts were in the right place in building that golden calf! They wanted to honor and praise our God and they did it the only way they knew how: by building and worshipping a false idol.

Just as it is easy to criticize their behavior, it is all too easy to behave similarly. We, too, build false idols in our lives and foolishly worship them: money, careers, family, friends, health, knowledge, security…you name it, we’d worship it. Yes, it’s hard clinging to God in life, especially since his ways and his love are so unfathomable. Yes, it’s hard worshipping God, especially when we struggle to feel his presence in our lives. Yes, it’s hard keeping his commands, especially as the world and the world’s values seem to crumble all around us. Friends, it’s hard being in a committed and genuine relationship with our God! And yet that is exactly what we are called to be in, each and every one of us! Our God only wants our love. Recall the words of Deuteronomy: “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” (6:5) That’s all He wants…our total and complete love…mind, body, and soul! We don’t have to know him…heck, we can’t know him! But we can love him, trust him, honor and obey him. We can serve him and have faith in him. Focus less on knowing God and more on believing in God! Proverbs says, “the faithful will abound with blessings, but one who is in a hurry to be rich will not go unpunished.” (28:20) Friends, we are called to be faithful! We are rewarded for being faithful! Just look at how God rewarded Abraham and Joseph as we heard in the last few weeks. Look at how God rewarded Moses for being faithful. He made him a great leader of his people. God rewards the faithful, the diligent, the honest.

God was angry at the Israelites for building a false idol but He knew their hearts were in the right place. He knew that their faith was true. 1 Samuel tells us, “only fear the Lord, and serve him faithfully with all your heart; for consider what great things he has done for you.” (12:24) The great leaders of old, Abraham and Moses, taught us how to serve faithfully. Let us rejoice in their witnesses and seek to emulate them with our own witnesses. Let us be faithful servants, empowered and strengthened by God’s gracious yet unfathomable love. Thanks be to God!

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.