SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON 8 - Ex. 32:1-6, 11-14 - REBELLION
INTRODUCTION: Last week, in Ex. 25:1-9; 31:1-6, we heard God give Moses plans and specifications for what would become the Tabernacle, all of the details of which actually filled seven whole chapters. We learned that the Tabernacle represented a place where God could dwell among His people. All of the specifications and instructions that God gave to Moses were designed to establish a pattern of worship that would allow a sinful people to approach a holy God. The pattern established a holy barrier that separated God from the people. Under the New Covenant, Jesus is the pattern-the Tabernacle-for how we can approach the holy God. By becoming the sacrifice for all sin, Jesus removed forever the barrier between sinful humanity and a Holy God (2 Cor. 5:21). In the examples of the two craftsmen, Bezalel and Oholiab, God used His Spirit to equip them for the work that needed to be done. In a similar manner, the Holy Spirit equips all believing Christians with one or more spiritual gifts to enable us to build God's kingdom on earth.
This week, in Ex. 32:1-6, 11-14, we will hear the story of the Golden calf, which really comes as a shock, when you consider it against the backdrop of the previous five lessons: the Passover, the dividing of the Red Sea and the destruction of the Egyptian Army, God's provision of water and food in the wilderness, and God audibly giving them the Ten Commandments. Added to that, its confusing because it seemed to have occurred right after God gave Moses the specifications for the Tabernacle, but in reality, Moses was still up on the mountain at this point of time receiving all the information reported in Chapters 21-31, so it happened while Moses' dialogue with God was still ongoing.
Read Ex. 32:1 - COME MAKE US A GOD WHO WILL GO BEFORE US
1 Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled around Aaron and said to him, "Come, make us a god who will go before us; for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt-we do not know what happened to him."
v. 1a: "Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain" - Moses has been on the mountain 40 days and 40 nights at this point-a very long time. The people were given no idea when he might return-if ever. They are clearly worried and restless.
v. 1b: "the people assembled around Aaron and said to him" - The people naturally came to Aaron, since Moses is gone and Aaron is his second in command. You should understand that, though Aaron is a gifted speaker, his leadership skills and personal integrity fall very short compared to Moses.
v. 1c: "Come, make us a god who will go before us" - First off, this request is a clear violation of the Second Commandment against idols and images. The word for "god" in small case indicates they weren't asking for an image of the LORD (Yahweh), but wanted an idol similar to the pagan animal gods they had seen in Egypt. They wanted a solid material object they could see "before us".
v. 1d: "Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt-we do not know what happened to him" - The people have heard and seen the thunder and lightning on the mountain and might be wondering if Moses is till alive. We must remember that these people, who were recently slaves, are unsophisticated and very immature in their faith. And the LORD (Yahweh); they've never seen His face. They want Aaron to make them a new god they can see and touch.
Read Ex. 32:2-4 - HE MADE IT INTO A CALF
2 Aaron said to them, "Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me." 3 So all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 Then he took the gold from their hands, and fashioned it with an engraving tool and made it into a cast metal calf; and they said, "This is your god, Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt."
v. 2: "Aaron said to them, "Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me" - Aaron's weak leadership is evident here. Some scholars speculate that Aaron might have been facing a hostile crowd that included tribal and clan leaders. In any event, he has caved-in to their demands. His request for the "gold rings" took place before the offering for the Tabernacle reported last week. Notice that the request does not include the men, who might have been more reluctant to part with them.
v. 3: "So all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron" - The peoples' response-"all the people tore off" is enthusiastic and wholehearted, but it doesn't mean the all the Israelites complied. What it depicts is fickle mob of people who've essentially written Moses off and are ready to move out of this wilderness behind their new 'god.' This is what mass rebellion looks like. It can spread like a disease.
v. 4a: "Then he took the gold from their hands, and fashioned it with an engraving tool and made it into a cast metal calf" - Scholars differ on the form of the "calf." Some propose it was a wooden or plaster form that was coated in gold, and Aaron used a tool to carve-in the details. The word used for "calf" (Heb. egel) suggests that it was finished in the form of a young bull.
v. 4b: "and they said, "This is your god, Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt" - The crowd said this, not Aaron. In yet another direct insult to God, the people are going as far to give this craven, dead idol the credit for their deliverance from slavery in Egypt! Doe this seem unreal...completely ridiculous, yes?
Read Ex. 32:5-6 - AARON BUILT AN ALTAR IN FRONT OF IT
5 Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, "Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD." 6 So the next day they got up early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and got up to engage in lewd behavior.
v. 5a: "Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of it" - Aaron continues his willing participation in the idolatry. The altar he built served two purposes: first, it will give the Israelites a focal point for their worship and second, it give the 'gods' a place where they can receive offerings.
v. 5b: "and Aaron made a proclamation and said, "Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD" - Aaron, apparently having reservations about the idolatry, proclaims a feast to honor Yahweh, the LORD. The idea here is to worship the golden calf and God. This clearly violates the first commandment: "You shall have no other gods before me " (Ex. 20:3). In this effort to hedge, Aaron made a bad job worse.
v. 6a: "So the next day they got up early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings" - That "they got up early" shows their enthusiasm to worship the golden idol. In just two days, the nation of Israel is willing to give up their time, rest, and money (the rings) in the service of a false god. Aaron might have made an inanimate and worthless calf, but the people made it a god by adoring it. A "peace offering" is one where the people are allowed to eat the sacrificed meat afterward.
v. 6b: "and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and got up to engage in lewd behavior" - This is a nice way of saying that they stuffed themselves, got drunk, and engaged in an orgy afterwards. Hearing the voice of God from heaven didn't change their hearts; they wanted a less-demanding God.
CONTEXT vv. 11-14: God, of course, saw everything the Israelites did. He told Moses, "Go down at once...your people have behaved corruptly. So now leave Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make you a great nation" (Ex. 32:7, 10). Therefore, God, at this point, is ready to do two things: (1) exterminate the Israelites from the face of the earth and (2) make a new nation with Moses' as the common ancestor.
Read Ex. 32:11-14 - MOSES PLEADED WITH THE LORD
11 Then Moses pleaded with the LORD his God, and said, "LORD, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians talk, saying, 'With evil motives He brought them out, to kill them on the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth'? Turn from Your burning anger and relent of doing harm to Your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, 'I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.'" 14 So the LORD relented of the harm which He said He would do to His people.
v. 11: "Then Moses pleaded with the LORD his God, and said, "LORD, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? - In v. 7, God referred to the Israelites as "your people"-Moses' people. But Notice that Moses reverses this by calling them "Your people"-God's people. It's his way of saying, "LORD, these people belong to You, not me." While Moses doesn't expressly refuse the honor God made to him in v. 10-to be the father of a new nation-he strongly implies his unwillingness as he begins his defense of the Israelites. With this verse, Moses offers the first of three good reasons why God should show mercy to the Israelites: He reminds God that He brought these people out of Egypt "with great power and with a mighty hand." He reasons that God has a history with these people. He has an investment in their success. Given this, He shouldn't walk away from them so easily.
v. 12: "Why should the Egyptians talk, saying, 'With evil motives He brought them out, to kill them on the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth'? Turn from Your burning anger and relent of doing harm to Your people" - This is the second good reason why God should change His mind and forgive the Israelite people. God, very publically brought Israel out of Egypt. Everyone everywhere, especially the Egyptians, knows what God has done. And in doing it, God made it clear that these are His people and He is their God. But now, if God carries out His plan to destroy the Israelites, the whole world will see Him as cruel, inconsistent, and capricious. Note on"evil motives": First of all, God cannot be evil. God, by His nature, can only be just. The Israelites, by their idolatry, deserved His righteous wrath; on the other hand, flawed humans, like Pharaoh and other rulers, who don't understand God, can wrongly interpret His actions and see Him in a negative light. This is the point that Moses is making in this verse.
v. 13: "Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, 'I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever'" - This is the third good reason why God should not destroy the Israelites. God had sworn an oath (or promise) to the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Israel). Moses reminds God that He had promised to multiply their descendants (which now numbered in millions), and give them the Promised Land. Moses is arguing that God has a duty to do this, not only for the patriarchs, but to Himself as a matter of His uprightness faithfulness, and goodness. He's simply saying, "please God, don't break Your promises."
v. 14: "So the LORD relented of the harm which He said He would do to His people" - The word used here for "relented" (Heb. nacham [naw-kham'] literally means that God's mind and heart toward the Israelites was changed because He was moved by compassion for them. First, we must recognize that God did not destroy Israel because He foreknew He would not destroy them. Though God's anger might wax hot, His purpose in history is to save rather than destroy. Second, we need to see that God very deliberately put Moses into this essential place and role of intercession. And Moses prayed just as God wanted him to pray, as if heaven and earth, salvation or destruction depended on his prayer. As Israel's intercessor, we see in Moses a type of Christ: Jesus, is constantly pleading our case-interceding-before God. We (i.e., humanity), like the ancient Israelites of today's lesson, don't deserve God's mercy or salvation by grace. Yet, Jesus, as our advocate with the Father, is interceding on our behalf even now in heaven.
POSTSCRIPT: You'll recall that Moses had been in the process of receiving instructions about the Tabernacle (see Ex. 25-31), when God abruptly broke it off and ordered him to go down the mountain and deal with the wicked Israelites. Once the Golden Calf debacle is fully resolved and Moses makes new stone tablets (see Ex. 34) to replace the ones that he broke in anger (Ex. 32:19), God resumes the giving of instructions regarding the Tabernacle (Ex. 33-40). Although God "relented" (v. 14) and did not destroy the Israelites as a nation, they didn't get off scot free: Ex. 32:35 states "Then the LORD struck the people with a plague, because of what they did with the calf which Aaron had made." While the nature and extent of this "plague" isn't explained, Num. 14, 16, and 25 later report various plagues during the wilderness wanderings that accounted for the deaths of thousands of Israelites.
APPLICATION-Obeying the Word of God:
PRAYER: Dear God, our Father in heaven, we come before your throne this morning with thankful hearts, praising You for the love, mercy, and grace You constantly show toward us as individual Christian believers and as a Church. We thank You and Praise You for loving us enough to send Your to die on cross for us so we may be forgiven of our sins. We thank You also for this good church that gives us the ability to gather together to study and learn the important truths of Your inerrant Word. The lesson we studied today showed us what can happen when people depart from Your Word. At the same time, it also showed us one of the greatest examples of intercessory prayer. So, Lord, I ask you to give me and every person in the class a burden to intercede in prayer for people who are going to hell unless we pray for them...pray they will come to this church, walk down our aisle, get on their knees, repent of their sin, and ask Jesus to save them. And Father, when they do, we'll give you all the credit and praise. And I ask all of these things in the name of Jesus Christ, the perfector and finisher of our faith, AMEN.