How many of us have had the thought that if we had this one particular thing, then our life would be better than it is now? I can remember as a kid I thought that having a license and being able to drive would make my life better. I would have made it, and people would acknowledge me and respect me.
This is something human beings struggle with. The mindset of the grass is greener or that one difference will save us from the lives we live now. In other words, we have idols of success and glory. We give things power that they should not have and believe they are worthy of our worship and praise. This is not a new problem that we face today, but one we can see as early as the beginning of Israel’s covenant with God.
God Wants Our Faith
Exodus 32 continues the narrative from Exodus 24:18. Israel has been liberated from Egypt. The law has been given to them. The covenant has been ratified, and the plans for the tabernacle have just been revealed to Moses. Meanwhile our story picks up with Aaron and the rest of Israel, and this appearance deliberately contrasts everything that has happened so far. It is like night and day, fire and ice, or even Baylor and TCU. You can hardly think of greater opposites.
God seems to be distant, and this period of waiting has gotten old. The Israelites decide to take matters into their own hands. Confronting Aaron, they demand gods to be made for them to represent them and for them to worship. They have quickly turned away from the true God who delivered them from Egypt because he seemed to be far off or was not meeting their expectations. It was not that they did not know God. In fact, they knew about God and who God truly is, they knew what God did (Red Sea, plagues, pillar of cloud, and fire) but the problem was they attributed God’s acts to someone else. So, when Moses left, so did God. “Moses brought us out, but he is gone now let’s give these acts of salvation and liberation to something else.”
This is a prime example of poor faith; it is a faith rooted in what is physical, created, and controllable. It is not the faith that God calls of us. God calls for a true faith, he wants us to believe in him, and to trust in him even when things get hard and inconvenient. The minute things got inconvenient for Israel, they chose to take control and to make gods they could see.
In many ways we are like Israel. We forget the blessings God has given us and done for us. We forget our liberation from sin, the new life given to us, a ratified covenant in Jesus, and the plans for the future with God. We seek to fill that void with anything we can lay our hands on—money, fame, institutions, politics, and people. We place our faith in things other than God, and we in turn have made idols. It is as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1, “For even though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and creatures.”
This is not what God calls for us. God calls for our faith, God wants our faith, yet at times we give our faith to things that are lessor. However, as we move through our story in Exodus 32 this is not the only form of idolatry, because we can put our faith in things other than God, but we can also worship God in a way that is unfitting to him.
God Wants Honest Worship
God does not only want our faith, but he wants respectful and true worship. Israel has demanded gods to worship and you would think Aaron, the brother of Moses, the very man who was God’s instrument and mediator, would have sense to stand his ground in his faith. He should know better, but instead he accepts the people’s idolatry, seeing it for what it is, but he tries to direct it to the Lord. He thinks maybe I can solve this by directing this calf to the Lord. The ends justify the means. He excuses this abomination and disobedience, because he is fearful of the people, and then what’s more is he tries to make it as a way to worship God.
We can’t help but think, Why Aaron? We can speculate, and I wonder if it was that Aaron was fearful of the response they would give if he said no. So, he tries to please Israel and God, to have his cake and eat it too. We remember Paul’s words in Galatians that it is impossible to please both men and God. We are not here, as Christians, to please people but to give witness to the glory of God. When we focus more on people, we tend to lose sight of God. So, Aaron’s problem is he is trying to please both sides, he wants the approval of Israel even though it goes against God’s will and covenant. He believes that the ends will justify the means.
There is a memorable line in the movie A Few Good Men. Colonel Jessup, played by Jack Nicholson says, “You can’t handle the truth.” He then goes on to talk about the dark deeds he commits to keep the country safe and everyone’s ability to sleep at night. In other words, the ends justified the means. Perhaps Aaron thought the same, even though this goes against God’s will, if God can still be honored then the end will justify the means. It is contrary to the gospel; it is like saying you can murder someone in a way that glorifies God. It just does not make sense.
This is not just a struggle some people have, but it is one that all of us have. We try to accommodate to others, so we won’t be seen as the bad guy. We can still give our tithes and offerings and try to be relevant in our other circles. We are afraid to be ousted, or worse, if we don’t listen to society.
Sure, we can easily point fingers to others who accommodate to things blatantly wrong. We can easily judge Aaron for his mistake, but what areas are we struggling in? Where have we cut corners to try and be successful in the church? What have we given up? What is the cost of our golden calf? What are we letting dictate us? The clock? Sports? People with money? Or do we trust in God and worship God fully with no compromise?
God Wants Obedient Following
Because God does not only ask for our faith and our full worship, but God asks for obedience. Obedience to God is not conditional for when God seems close or life is going swell. It is in the highs and in the lows. It is in green pastures and the dark valleys which hold the shadow of death.
Moses and Joshua come down to a mess and when Moses sees this, he calls those who are faithful to God, he gives an invitation to step out. He intercedes, and when he does this the divine instruction to purify happens. The cost is heavy. 3,000 people die that day. Friends, family, neighbors they know and love. There is grace, but it cost a lot.
Thankfully today we don’t have to have 3,000 die for grace because we had one die, and that was Christ. When we choose to follow Jesus, we give up many things that we hold dear. We might give up our comfort, we might give up certain relationships or practices. For certain we definitely give up our lives to follow Christ.
Some of us may have lost family members because of our decision to follow God. Some of us may have lost jobs or security, but we have faith and trust that following God with all our heart, soul, and mind is worth more than the world could ever offer. God offers obedience and grace and in turn we put all of our faith and trust into God. God calls for us to trust in him, to have faith in him, and worship him in a way that honors him, because he is worthy of worship.
Where do you place your faith? Is it in institutions? Is it in people? Or is it in the one true God? Is the way that you worship a way of honoring God? Or do you find ways to try and worship how you want even if dishonors God? Are you obedient to the call God has given you? Jesus like Moses intercedes for us but he gives us the chance every day to either worship something of the world or worship the One who God revealed to us, who is truly worthy of worship.
Benjamin Fountain is currently the pastor of Lakeview Baptist Church in Lacy Lakeview, TX, where he has served in a multitude of roles since 2016.