Saturday, September 10, 2016

Descent into idolatry

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Exodus 32: 1-18

TO CHEW ON: "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." Exodus 32:1

The Israelites' descent into idolatry is frighteningly swift. As we read the story closely, we can detect some of the catalysts:

  • Impatience: "...the people saw that Moses delayed..."
  • Alienation from God/Moses and the new order that had begun. It's as if the people had never really bought into or identified with Moses and the lifestyle reforms and religious observances he had instituted under God's direction: They referred to him as if he were a stranger: "...this Moses, the man who brought us up out of Egypt..."
  • Feeling abandoned: "...this Moses...we do not know what has become of him."

Aaron's reaction is surprising too. He doesn't offer any argument or resistance to their request. It's almost as if the same thing has been on his mind and he's all too eager to comply.

So despite the miracles of the journey—the Red Sea crossing, their GPS cloud, the bitter water of Mara turned sweet, the daily manna and more—they're back to the idol worshiping ways of Egypt. The ease with which they slip into their idolatrous celebration gives us reason to think such a practice may have been part of their Egypt experience.

I see several lesson from this story for me—for us.

1. Beware of impatience. Again and again in the Bible it sabotaged people, causing them to stray from God's best outcome (e.g. Abraham having a son by Hagar, Saul refusing to wait for Samuel to sacrifice and by this act forfeiting the monarchy of Israel to David's line).

2. Our quickness to fall back on our own devices may be evidence we aren't totally committed to doing life God's way. A knowledge of God's word and memorized Bible words can come to our rescue here. Also, have we cleaned out all the bits and pieces of our old lives so that it's hard to go back (thrown out the tarot cards, the astrology charts, the lucky charms, the books, CDs and DVDs that lure us to old ways of thinking, acting, being)?

3. When God feels absent, we can remind ourselves that no matter how it feels, God is never absent from any situation (Psalm 139:7-12).

PRAYER: Dear God, how easily I too slip into living by my own devices, doing things the old way, impatient with how slowly things are going, try to introduce action myself. Help me to learn from this sobering experience of the Israelites and the golden calf. Amen.

MORE: Our heart idols

"Idolatry is still a danger to the people of God, though it isn’t always so open or obvious. Idols are usually more subtle and hard to detect, for they set up their home in the hidden places of our heart.

If we want to know our idols, we need to consider our predominant thoughts, for what we think about most of the time may be an idol. Our last thought before we sleep, our first thought when we awake, our reveries throughout the day, are spent on the items and issues we treasure and trust. Any possession or person we put our hope in to bring us fulfillment, any goal or aspiration that becomes more important to us than God—these are the “gods” that attract our allegiance and subtly control our lives" - David H. Roper, Our Daily Bread Devotional for February 26, 2004.
Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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