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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

No room for Moses: the presence of God, missing leadership and golden calves

[I've spent the entire weekend shifting gears. I've not been able to write at all, but have certainly made an effort to read and think. I can't get away from Exodus 32. I should be on Exodus 40 by now. I will try to make my thoughts concise.]

People + left to themselves = disaster.

It's been just over a month. God promised His presence among the people and they way the people saw it, as long as Moses was around, God was there too. After all, it was through him God made manifest his great work. But Moses was gone. Just over a month without a leader. The people were insecure and left to their own devices.

Moses had taken Joshua and the elders part way up the mountain and they fellowshipped there before the LORD. Moses and Joshua had not returned. Some claimed they could see Joshua from time to time overlooking the camp, but Moses had disappeared in the fire. All the people could see and hear was the fireworks of rumble-mountain, a silhouette of Joshua and Aaron sitting on his front porch.

Aaron and his sons were selected by God to serve before the LORD on behalf of the people in the tabernacle, only they did not know that yet. Nobody came down the mountain to tell them this. Interestingly, the people tapped Aaron as their newly appointed leader. Aaron knew he was Moses' mouthpiece, but this . . .

The people knew the presence of the LORD was to be with them, and based on what they understood about God, somebody had to be in place. They asked Aaron to make them the God the delivered them from Egypt. The people were not trying to abandon the worship of the LORD, they merely tried to make sense of what they understood about Him-and it was the wrong understanding because they broke the very first commandment. They did not know this yet, but God would still hold them responsible.

But why did Aaron do it? Intimidation? Shame? Hoping to entertain the people until the situation solved itself? I think he was going for the latter, for he tries to explain the idol virtually leaping from the flames. This would mean that Aaron would not be the symbol of God's presence, but the golden young bull. "Albright has insisted, on the basis of archaeological evidence, that the bull was the throne of Yahweh and that he was conceived of as standing or sitting on it. So to be able to control the bull showed his strength and power. It has often been suggested that the choice of a bull was due to the people's familiarity with bull worship in Egypt, but it is hardly credible that they would have attributed their deliverance from Egypt to an Egyptian god. Far rather it will have been a hangover from the distant past, for among the Canaanites the bull was a regular symbol of divine power."[i]

Aaron presented a representation of God. The people of God who once stood at the foot of the mountain in fear and anxiety disintegrated into debauchery and lewdness that became excused as an expression of worship. Aaron seemed powerless.

What followed was dynamic. God broke the news to Moses about the people and Moses broke God's news to the people. Moses appeared in the camp, called for all who were on God's side and once again the camp fell into terror. "The God who had delivered them from Egypt's armies and from death by thirst and hunger now had delivered them to death at the hands of their own brethren. Had God spared them just to slay them? Had Moses, their mediator, actually become their murderer?"[ii]

God is displeased with the rejection of the people. They rejected His person, His Word, His works and sought to avert their eyes from the terrible mountain to whatever was close at hand. I wonder what happened to those elders who ate under the feet of God on that mountain? What did they go down and tell the people?

A few things stand out to me:

  1. Syncretism is the lack of ethics and discernment, wreaking havoc on true worship of the living God with a huge trickle-down effect.
  2. Effective Ministry occurs in golden-calf country. The man saturated in God's presence, the one who holds the glow of God's presence on his face is not the one who makes golden calves for the people. Our work is not to build them, but grind them up.
  3. Golden calves are molded in the shape of ones sins, carved by the rejection of the true and living God. People who claim to know God but are not committed to living according to His word will construct an image of their own.
  4. Golden calves are threatening to leadership: it overwhelmed Aaron and caused Moses to second-guess. The people do not tell the leadership what to do.

Perseverance is key: Moses was with the LORD 40 days. He had it. The people were without leadership for 40 days. They did not have it. Aaron was with the people for 40 days. He lost it.

Fast Forward to the end of the book:

The people had the wrong idea about God were now getting the right ideas about God. Where formerly they had identified the presence of God with Moses, that was corrected with the reality of God’s presence among them.

It is in the last chapter we read of all the LORD commanded Moses to do. As the commands were fulfilled in the construction of the tabernacle, the glory of the LORD descended and filled the tabernacle until there was no room for Moses.

A.B. Simpson wrote in teaching about the Christian, “Even so we have a been building as the LORD Himself commanded, and now the temple is to be handed over to Him, to be possessed and filled. He will so fill us, if we let Him, that self and everything else will be taken out of the way. The glory of the LORD will fill the temple, encompassing, lifting, guiding, keeping; and from this time our moon shall not withdraw its light, nor our sun go down.”


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[i] Ellison, H.L. Exodus. The Daily study Bible series. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001, c1982.
[ii] Cornwall, Judson. Let Us Draw Near. Plainfield: Logos, 1977

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