10 February 2012

A Survey of the Old testament Law--Aaron's Golden Calf

Let’s just kinda recap what has happened so far. In Exodus 20, God calls Moses up the mountain, and gives him the Ten Commandments. He takes them down, announces them to the people, and they cry out, “You go talk to God, lest we die!” So Moses goes back up the mountain, and from Exodus 21 through Exodus 23, Moses receives the commandments that the people were to obey, and in Exodus 24 the people cry out “All that the LORD has said we will do and be obedient!” And God establishes His covenant with Israel. God reveals the specifications for the Tabernacle and all its furnishings—the altars and the lampstand and the Ark of the Covenant and the tent itself—basically, He tells Moses, “This is how I am to be worshipped.” He then gives Moses the sign/token/pledge of this covenant, the 7th-day Sabbath. And then in the very last verse in Exodus 31, we see how the covenant was put in writing. I love this verse. Exodus 31:18When He had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God.

And now we now get to one of the most well-known events not only in Exodus, but in all of Scripture. It is an event that really doesn’t require much explanation. But it does contain several applications to our own lives. And this passage gives us a term that is used even today when we talk about people’s ideas of God and who He is and what He is like. I am talking of course about the golden calf. Now, keep in mind, back in Exodus 24, when the covenant was being established, that Moses took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, "All that the LORD has said we will do, and be obedient" (Exodus 24:7). That was now several days ago. One of the commandments which the people swore that they would “do and be obedient” was Exodus 20:4“You shall not make for yourself a graven image.” What is the command? No graven images. Remember that. No graven images.

Exodus 32:1-61 Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, "Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for 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." 2 And Aaron said to them, "Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me." 3 So all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. 4 And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf. Then they said, "This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!" 5 So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, "Tomorrow is a feast to the LORD." 6 Then they rose early on the next day, offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. 

What was the commandment? No graven images. What did the people make? A graven image. That’s how stupid and stubborn we human beings are. Now, in this whole mess, who should have known better? Aaron. Aaron was up on the mountain back in Exodus 24:9-109 Then Moses went up, also Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, 10 and they saw the God of Israel. But, what Aaron did was not too much different from what another fellow did a few hundred years earlier. Another fellow received a command from God to not do something. His wife did what she wasn’t supposed to do, he saw her do it, and he thought it looked OK and said, “Hey, why not?” Any idea who I’m talking about? Genesis 2:16-1716 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." What happened? Genesis 3:6She took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. That’s how stupid and stubborn we human beings are. We hear what we’re supposed to do, and not supposed to do, we go on our merry way and do what we want. 

Exodus 32:7-87 And the LORD said to Moses, “Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. 8 They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them. They have made themselves a molded calf, and worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, 'This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!'” Look at verse 7. When a parent catches their child doing something wrong, and they call the other parent, how do they refer to that child? “Do you know what YOUR son did today?” God tells Moses “These are YOUR people.” And we’re gonna talk more about that later. For now, notice something else. This is a very clear example of the omniscience—or “All-Knowingness” of God. While God was speaking all these words to Moses, what’s going on down at the bottom of the mountain? They’re making the golden calf. They're drinking and carousing and doing all sorts of wickedness. Does God see what the people are doing and even hear what they're saying? He’s speaking to Moses up here—and seeing the idolatry going on down there. And that is one thing we don’t often think about when we think about how God sees everything. We try to turn our eyes away from wickedness don’t we? When we see something filthy on TV, or see some of the magazines at the checkout, we stop and look away, right? We don’t watch pornography. We don’t engage in the sinful things that go on in the world. consider not only the wickedness that goes on in public—let alone the most bizarre stuff that goes in in the places that are hidden away in the darker corners of the world. Those places where the people think no one sees them—God sees it all. Hebrews 4:13And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. He has seen all the wickedness I used to do before I knew him. And believe you me, I don’t even want to think of what He saw. And yet He is not tempted by seeing it, He is not corrupted by seeing it. He is offended by fact that it takes place. He looks on it all and will judge it all one day. Just as He will do here. 

Exodus 32:9-109 And the LORD said to Moses, "I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people! 10 Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation." He presents to Moses a proposition that must have sounded very appealing to his flesh. But it’s not so much that God is tempting him—I really think this is a place where God is testing Moses to show Moses the weight of the office God has called him to. Keil and Delitzsch—
God puts the fate of the nation into the hand of Moses, that he may remember his office as mediator, and show himself worthy of his calling. [By placing] the preservation or destruction of Israel in the hands of Moses, coupled with a promise, which left the fullest freedom to [Moses’] decision…this constituted a great test for Moses, whether he would be willing to give up his own people…as the price of his own exaltation. And Moses stood the test. The preservation of Israel was dearer to him than the honour of becoming the head and founder of a new kingdom of God. True to his calling as mediator, he entered the breach before God, to turn away His wrath, that He might not destroy the sinful nation.” 
Besides, it wasn’t as if the entire nation of Israel was participating in idolatry. And if God had wiped out all the people, He would have taken out the innocent with the guilty. And we see Moses' plea, his mediation, in Exodus 32:1111 Then Moses pleaded with the LORD his God, and said: “LORD, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?” What did God call these people in Exodus 32:7—“Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt.” But here, Moses shows that he understands just who these people belong to, and who really brought them out of the land of Egypt. God said to Moses, “These people belong to you.” Moses says, “No, LORD, they belong to you.” Exodus 32:12-14“12 Why should the Egyptians speak, and say, 'He brought them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth'? Turn from Your fierce wrath, and relent from this harm to Your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, 'I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.'" So the LORD relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people. Moses knew the real reason why God does every single thing He ever does—and that is His glory, His name. That is what prayer is all about. It’s not about getting what WE want. It’s about God. This event is the basis of some of the most long-debated questions in all of theology.

First, “Can we change God’s mind?” Second, “Does God change His mind?” Third, “If God does not change His mind, and if we can't change His mind—then why pray?” Well, we need to understand one basic principle about prayer. And that is: Prayer is not about changing God’s mind—it’s about changing our hearts. And I don’t think it’s as if God was telling Moses, “I am going to wipe these people out,” so much as He was telling Moses, “Give Me a reason why I shouldn’t wipe these people out.” Moses understood the reason for prayer, and he knew that the honor and glory of God’s name was to be upheld even if it meant having to put up with these stubborn, stiff-necked people. Did God know Moses what Moses was going to pray? Does God know what we’re going to pray? Does God know what we need when we pray? Matthew 6:8“Your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.” Yet what do many of our prayers sound like? “God do this for me” or “Lord do that for me” or “Lord I need help with something else.” Who and what is the center of that kind of prayer? ME and my needs. Should ME and my needs be the center of our prayers? Who and what should be the center of our prayers? God and His glory and His name. In the “Model Prayer” (Matthew 6:9-13), what is the first thing we should pray for? Matthew 6:9“Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be Your name.” Right after the commandments against having other gods or making graven images, what is the very next commandment? Exodus 20:7“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.” This, by the way, another commandment the people broke, giving the name of God to the golden calf (Exodus 32:4-5).

Moses understood this. He remembered the promises God made to Abraham, Isaac and Israel. And he knew that if God did indeed wipe the people out, the pagan nations would have great reason to blaspheme His name. When the prophet Nathan rebuked David for his transgression with Bathsheba, the main point of his rebuke was not that he had committed adultery and killed one of his soldiers. Yes, he did rebuke him for those things. But listen to 2nd Samuel 12:13-1413 So David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD." And Nathan said to David, "The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. 14 However, because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also who is born to you shall surely die." The child died because David gave the enemies of God a reason to blaspheme. This sounds very cruel to us, doesn't it? It was David that sinned—why should this child, who had not committed such a sin, bear the penalty for his father’s sin? Keil and Delitzsch— 
“As his sin had given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme or ridicule his religion and that of all other believers, the child that was begotten in adultery and had just been born should die…on the one hand, so that the father should atone for his adultery in the death of the son, and, on the other hand, that the visible occasion for any further blasphemy should be taken away: so that David was not only to feel the pain of punishment in the death of his son, but was also to discern in it a distinct token of the grace of God.” 
We will see the same thing here shortly—that even though God will not destroy them for this sin, they will be punished in a very visible and very memorable manner. 

Exodus 32:15-1915 And Moses turned and went down from the mountain, and the two tablets of the Testimony were in his hand. The tablets were written on both sides; on the one side and on the other they were written. 16 Now the tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God engraved on the tablets. 17 And when Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, "There is a noise of war in the camp." 18 But he said: " It is not the noise of the shout of victory, Nor the noise of the cry of defeat, But the sound of singing I hear." 19 So it was, as soon as he came near the camp, that he saw the calf and the dancing. So Moses' anger became hot, and he cast the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain.

A couple things here. First, think back to the very first verses of the chapter. Where was Aaron? He was right in the middle of the rabble and riff-raff—and in fact HE was the one who fashioned the golden calf! Where is Joshua? He’s up the mountain a ways off. Was he in the middle of the wickedness? No. Was he kind of milling around the scene, checking things out? Was he trying to see how close he could get without crossing the line? And yet there are those who claim to be Christians who will date or even marry those who are not followers of Christ. Some will simply get as close to sin as they can, thinking they won’t cross the line into sin. Can't say I haven’t done that a time or two. But what do you always hear them say? “I can handle it! I'm strong enough!” or you’ll ask them, “Are you sure you should be doing that? There’s gonna be a lot of temptation with that.” And you hear these famous last words—“I would neeeevvvvverrr do that!” When you hear a Christian say something like that, get ready for some bad news. The sin that every Christian will fall into is the one they say “I would neeeevvvvverrr do that!” Because that statement is filled with one thing and one thing only—and what is that? Pride. Pride in their own flesh. Proverbs 16:18Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall. Proverbs 29:23A man's pride will bring him low, but the humble in spirit will retain honor. Mark 7:20-23“20 What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. 21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within and defile a man.” Notice how Jesus lists pride among all these other sins that defile a man. And He says that pride will indeed defile a man. So when you hear a Christian say, “I would never fall into that sin”—get ready, because they're about to. Because they're speaking out of pride, which lives in our flesh, and their flesh will make sure it gets its way.

Now, we’re gonna talk for a minute about the Ten Commandments movie. Of course, the way they depicted this scene was quite a bit tamer than what it actually looked like. And we should be very glad for that. This was a drunken orgy, and not many people—if any—had a shred of clothing on. And the scene was much more depraved than what we see on the screen. But does anybody remember what Charlton Heston does with the stone tablets? He throws them at the golden calf, and they make this huge explosion, and the earth opens up and swallows all the idolaters? Well, it makes for fascinating cinema—but bad theology. Which doesn't really make much sense when you have the script right in front of you. What actually happened was Moses slammed them to the ground and they shattered—a quite literal metaphor for how the people “broke the Law.”

Now, look at how the people were punished. God did not destroy the people, lest He give the pagans a reason to blaspheme His name. But, Exodus 32:20Then [Moses] took the calf which they had made, burned it in the fire, and ground it to powder; and he scattered it on the water and made the children of Israel drink it. In other words, he made them take their sin into themselves, that they may get just a taste (for lack of a better word) of how abominable their sin was to God. Now, keep in mind, this would not have been a swift process. They would have heated up a large fire, cast the idol into it, and would have had to watch it melt and watch it get beaten down, spread on the water before they drank it. And this was a symbolic act on Moses’ part, teaching them that sin is not something that is exclusively external—that sin pollutes the inner person.  Proverbs 19:28A disreputable witness scorns justice, and the mouth of the wicked devours iniquity. Job 15:15-1615 If God puts no trust in His saints, and the heavens are not pure in His sight, 16 how much less is man, who is abominable and filthy, who drinks iniquity like water! But, if we are in Christ, our “inner man” is not dying and decaying—it is being refreshed and renewed every day by God Himself. Romans 7:21-2221 I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. 22 For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 2nd Corinthians 4:16Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 

Lastly, we’re gonna see just how foolish we human beings really are. Exodus 32:21-2421 And Moses said to Aaron, "What did this people do to you that you have brought so great a sin upon them?" 22 So Aaron said, "Do not let the anger of my lord become hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil. 23 For they said to me, 'Make us gods that shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.' 24 And I said to them, 'Whoever has any gold, let them break it off.' So they gave it to me, and I cast it into the fire, and this calf came out."Aaron is saying a couple things here. First, in verse 24 he makes this miraculous declaration--“Moses, it was amazing! You wouldn’t believe it! I took their gold and I randomly threw it in the fire, and—**POOF**—this fully formed golden calf just jumped right out!!” 

Second, but more importantly, what else is he trying to do? look at verses 22-23. Who is he blaming for his actions? “You know the people! They MADE me do it—It’s THEIR fault!” And again, we go back to the Garden of Eden. Genesis 3:11-1311 And [God] said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?" 12 Then the man said, "The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate." 13 And the LORD God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate." Who does Adam blame for his sin? The woman. But also, he blames God, the One who gave him a wife. “The woman YOU gave me…” Who does Eve pin the blame on? The serpent. Remember the Flip Wilson character Geraldine Jones? What was her famous line? “The devil made me do it.” The devil doesn't MAKE us do ANYTHING. Our sin is our own. And by reading Aaron’s foolish reply, don’t we get a glimpse of our own foolishness when we dismissed our own sins for so many years and blamed them on someone else? We see it all around us today. A person commits a horrific crime and they blame society for it. Or they blame the fact that they were raised in the projects by a drug-addicted mother and an abusive father. But there are plenty of people of all races who grow up in such circumstances who don’t give themselves over to a life of crime. Otherwise, this city would be full of serial killers. Notice though, with Adam and Eve, that God holds each one of them accountable for their own sin. “Adam, did eat from that tree? Eve, what did you do?” And even Aaron had to drink the water that was littered with the gold from the calf he made. 

Exodus 32:25-2825 Now when Moses saw that the people were unrestrained (for Aaron had not restrained them, to their shame among their enemies), 26 then Moses stood in the entrance of the camp, and said, "Whoever is on the LORD's side—come to me!" And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together to him. 27 And he said to them, "Thus says the LORD God of Israel: 'Let every man put his sword on his side, and go in and out from entrance to entrance throughout the camp, and let every man kill his brother, every man his companion, and every man his neighbor.'" 28 So the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And about three thousand men of the people fell that day.

Everyone who did not commit himself to the LORD God, but instead sided with the idolaters, was killed. Period, paragraph. No mercy. God said, “If they want they to worship their calf, then let them die.” Ezekiel 18:20The soul who sins shall die. Were the Levites to spare anyone? They could not say, “Well, I know Yitzhak is still on the side of the idolaters, but he’s my cousin and I just can't do it.” What did we say was the most important thing to God? His name and His glory. God tells the sons of Levi, “Let these people be an example of what I will do to those who blaspheme against Me and worship other gods.” And I dare say, if any of the sons of Levi did not carry out these orders, they would have been counted as being among the idolaters, and would have been, more than likely, slain with the sword as well. In fact, listen to these words of our Lord Jesus Christ, Matthew 10:34-37“34 Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. 35 For I have come to 'set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law'; 36 and 'a man's enemies will be those of his own household.' 37 He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” And listen to this one last verse from Exodus, Exodus 32:29Then Moses said, "Consecrate yourselves today to the LORD, that He may bestow on you a blessing this day, for every man has opposed his son and his brother." Sound familiar? Think Jesus’ words might have reminded the Jews of a certain event in their history? Methinks.

More next time.