Idolatry and Intercession (Exodus 32)
Idolatry and Intercession (Exodus 32)
Mob Rule (verses 1-6)
In the first verses of Exodus 32, the scene shifts from the mountain (where Moses was meeting with God) to the foot of the mountain (where the Israelites have been camped, waiting for their fearless leader to return). The Israelites’ impatience as they wait for Moses leads to doubt, complaining, and eventually sinful action. They take things into their own hands and decide to revert back to the way they used to do things, making a god for themselves. In making the golden calf, the Israelites break the first two Commandments: they begin to worship a different god, and they create an idol. It’s surprising that Aaron also would be led into this idolatry, considering that several chapters earlier, he himself “saw God” (Ex 24:10). Though he knows and has seen the true God, he is now attempting to worship that same God using the calf.
Moses Reacts in Prayer (verses 7-14)
Once, again the scene shifts, moving from the foot of the mountain back up to the top where Moses is meeting with God. By saying to Moses that He is going to destroy the people and begin again with Moses, God is not only inviting Moses to intercede on their behalf as their mediator, but he is also testing him: “Moses, are you committed to My revealed will, My plans, My kingdom; or are you more interested only in your own?” Moses chose God’s greater glory over his own personal benefit, humbling himself and entreating the Lord. Through Moses’ prayer, God is moved to pity and compassion, relenting of the destruction He had said He would do.
- Do you believe that the prayers of God’s people are necessary and effective? What are certain situations in the lives of those around you for which you can begin to intercede with the same confidence seen in the prayer of Moses?
Moses Responds (verses 15-20)
Moses’ response to the sin of the people is one of righteous anger. The absence of Moses gave the Israelites an opportunity to openly worship what they had been worshiping in their hearts all along. Seeing the idolatry of the people, Moses proceeds to liquify the idol and force them to consume it. This is a great picture (not as a literal solution) of what it looks like to bid absolute riddance to our idols. From the altar, into the stomach, and then to the sewer.
Fashioning an actual golden calf may not be your great danger, but attempting to re-fashion God to your specifications in order to meet your desires is just as idolatrous: wanting Him to teach our minds but not transform our lives; wanting spiritual life on Sunday, without submission to His commands during the week; longing for Him to change others, but not wanting Him to change us; love without holiness; mercy without justice—it’s all rooted in idolatry!
- Could you be found guilty of absolute riddance of idols? What in your life is a potential idol? What would it look like for you to abolish the idol entirely?
Moses Responds to Aaron (verses 21-24)
Moses knew that Aaron was fully responsible as the leader, but he also knew that the influence from the people must have been tremendous. He doesn’t say to Aaron, “What are you thinking? Have you lost your mind? It’s all your fault!” Instead, he has compassion and understanding. At the same time, he doesn’t give Aaron any wiggle room for shirking the blame. This ideal confrontation, however, did not lead to an ideal response from Aaron. Instead, Aaron turned on Moses, attempted to blame others, and denied the extent of his own involvement. Though in reality Aaron played the starring role in the idolatry of the Israelites, when he re-tells the story he’s barely the supporting cast.
Moses Responds to the People (verses 25ff)
Moses saw that the people were “out of control.” Their loose living was even to the point that their enemies were ridiculing them. There was an obvious disconnect in their lives between what they said about Jehovah and what they did. Moses calls for a clear distinction between those who are “for the Lord” and those who are “against the Lord,” ordering the death of anyone who is not “for” him.
- Do you profess salvation by the God of the Bible? Do your choices support your claim to belong to Him? Are there clear commands of Christ that you habitually ignore? Might the way you live lead others around you to secretly deride or dismiss Christ and Christianity?
- Just as Moses was told to “go down” to the people (v7) in order to put an end to their idolatry, so also Jesus was sent to rescue us from our idolatry. His coming, the cost He paid to rescue us from false worship, assures us that idols are not meant to be tolerated, but annihilated.