Raise your hand if high school was an awkward and uncomfortable time for you. Sometimes I think all of my current fears about awkward situations stem from my high school years. I tried so hard to fit in with the people I thought were cool in the best way I knew how – by pretending to be cool myself. I remember standing awkwardly in circles with the girls I wanted to accept me, not knowing where to look or what to do with my hands, hoping my nonchalant act was covering up the uncertainty crawling around inside of me. Thank God we’ve all grown out of those anxious poser phases, right? Right?
Speaking of standing around awkwardly, that’s kind of what the Israelites had been doing at the base of Mount Sinai, waiting for Moses to come back from his extremely long visit with God. Moses had been gone for so long that a bunch of the Israelites got together and decided he had died. They needed a new leader and a new Being to trust in. So naturally, they decided to bestow those honors on a calf…made out of gold…the gold they took from Egypt. The brilliant group of rebels that came up with this plan take it to Aaron, who inexplicably tells them to go for it. With the calf made, the hugest ‘No More Rules’ party that had ever been thrown this side of the New Testament began.
It was all fun and games until Moses and Joshua (who was so innocent he mistook partying for fighting [verse 17]) caught the Israelites red-handed. Very much alive, Moses hit the roof. He was livid. He destroyed the Ten Commandments God had just written with His own finger, ground the pure gold calf into powder, and forced the Israelites to drink water mixed with the now powdered gold. His righteous anger over the blatant and thoughtless way the Israelites forsook God led to the death of 3,000 of the wrongdoers. God, no less displeased, struck the Israelites with a plague and promised more punishment in the future. The whirlwind of horror finally begins to settle – now what?
The Treasures Within:
Four words: How. Did. This. Happen? The shift is jarring – we went from sitting with Moses at God’s feet, hearing His beautiful dreams for His new home with His children; to barreling back down the mountain to a camp of Israelites filled with corruption, evil, and death. How did things go so wrong? How did the Israelites just flip like that? Last we saw them, they were cowering before God’s presence, trusting Moses to bring His message back to them!
Here’s what I think – no one flipped. The Israelites didn’t suddenly change. Their true colors came out. Think about it. How – I mean how – does anyone go from believing in a God who rescued them from slavery to believing in a dumb, silent, DIY golden calf?! Yet that’s what the Israelites did! In verse 4 they literally said “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt”. What?! That pivot was too sudden and too wild to be real. Instead, what happened was that the seeds of disbelief that had been growing in these Israelites for so long finally grew to full strength. The people who created the calf and worshipped it were the same people who stood against God when Moses asked the Israelites where their faith lay (verse 26). They were the same people who were killed by the Levites (verse 28). They were the same people who had spent all this time pretending, playing a part, acting like they believed in God when deep down, they never did.
Shocking, right? Scary? It’s not unusual. People exactly like those impostor Israelites are around us all the time. They are reading these words right now. They are typing these words right now. The thing is, we all reveal ourselves to be fakes, liars, pretend-Christians, and false-believers whenever we sin against God. When we sin, we deny God and His laws. When we sin, we are proclaiming to ourselves and anyone watching that the God who said in Exodus chapter whatever to do this, this, and this? He ain’t nobody. He’s not real. We don’t even need to worry about Him, because none of His words are true. What Christian would say that? What child of God would express that? Literally none of them. So the ones that do – you and me – we’re big fat fakers. Actors. Impostors. The same people who will stand against God in the final judgment. The same people who will eventually be killed.
A Second Chance
But you and me, we’re still here. That’s got to count for something. God could have killed us, just like He could have killed every last one of the Israelites (verse 10) – but He didn’t. So what does that mean? The 3,000 liars and fakes that died after the golden calf incident had run out of time. God had given them chances to obey Him, to believe Him, to give their all to Him, but they didn’t take them. They denied Him for the last time and so He destroyed them. But the hundreds of thousands of Israelites who remained? They had time. We can read to the end of their story, see how much time they had and what choice they made in the time they had left. But no one knows the end of your story, or mine. No one knows how much time they have left. What we do know is that we have a heart beat. Air is still coming into our lungs. God’s angel is still before us (verse 34). God is still calling to us, asking us to love Him and believe Him and choose Him. We have a second chance. And another. And another. For now, they’re still coming. And with each breath, we choose. Are we faking Christianity? Or have we given our Savior all?
God’s Message To Us:
“You do not have time to run away from Me.” To some of us, the “fake Christian” label stings. “I’m not faking”, we say to ourselves. “I’m just taking my time. I’ll enjoy myself for just a little bit longer and then I’ll get my life right with God.” No, man, no. God, through the Bible and through His prophets and through a million different things He does in a million different lives, is practically screaming at us – “You. Do. Not. Have. Time!” Jesus’ return is getting closer and closer. Even if it wasn’t, we could die at any moment. Even if we didn’t, every time we choose to stand against God we make it that much harder to ever stand with Him. The bottom line is – right now is the moment we need to choose Jesus. Right. Now.
What do you think? Why do you think the rebellious Israelites made the decision they did? What message is God giving you through this chapter?
There Are Always Questions:
- I’m a little confused by the exchange between Moses and God in verses 9-14. God saw what the Israelites were doing and decided to destroy the Israelites (telling Moses to “leave me alone” so He could do so). Moses begged God not to kill them, and God listened to him. The Bible says “the Lord relented”. What really happened here? Did Moses change God’s mind? Was God truly going to destroy all of the Israelites? Did any of the Israelites who didn’t lose their life repent after God decided not to destroy them? Why would God have ever planned to kill them if they might have repented later down the line?
- I’m sorry, how hilarious is Aaron’s excuse for making the golden calf in verse 24? “I threw [the gold] into the fire, and out came this calf!” I mean, come on, why did he think that would fly with anyone, let alone Moses?