Exodus 32-33 is one of the most heart-breaking passages in the Old Testament. The context is “while the teachers is away, the children will play.” There are other variations like cat and mice, but with the point – Moses had gone up to talk with the LORD on Mt. Sinai; [Exodus 24] and the people below begin to “play harlotry”. Now remember God enabled the Israelites to “ransack” Egypt as they were leaving – taking all sort of pillage. I find it very interesting that while Moses is getting the instructions for building the Ark of the Covenant and the other items for the Tabernacle in the Wilderness; the people below in the valley were using the same resources to create their own version of God. While Moses is getting the Tablets of Stone with the Law written by the finger of God, below the people are rising up to rebellion; and the leader is Aaron! After reading about all the details given for making the Altar, the incense, the High Priest clothes, Court of the Tabernacle; the Veils, the Bronze Altar, the boards and sockets from gold and sliver – we jump right into the premeditated work of “creating an idol” to worship. Moses couldn’t have been gone long before the “playing” started. I can remember as a child how that as soon as my parents were out of sight, we kids would start doing what we know we couldn’t otherwise do. Moses up on the Mountain being all spiritual and all, but sin and rebellion in the valley. Most of us have had mountain top experiences, even Peter wanted to stay on the Mount of Transfiguration and build tents. But we don’t live on the Mountain; we live in the Valley! Living in the Valley is hard, the trenches of ministry can be very lonely and depressing. I often was reminded after going to a leadership development seminar, that my bosses would remind me, that “the stuff you learned there, won’t work here, so don’t even try it.”
The difficulty with this passage is that God had been faithful to Israel; they had received Manna, Water and Quail. God as Jehovah-Jireh had provided for all their needs. But this isn’t the 1st nor the last time that Israel will replace God with another god. Baalism was the reason for Israel going into Babylonian captivity. Mankind likes a “sensuous visible god.” The fact that Israel forgot God so quickly proves that without leadership – people will cast off restraint. Mankind will worship something; even it is himself. “Make us a god” – so Aaron accommodates their request. “Give me you jewelry and earrings;then he fashions it into a “golden calf.” How much more blasphemous could they get! The Golden Calf was a god of Egypt. In God’s omniscient way He informs Moses what “his people” are doing. Moses destroys the stone Tablets on his way down the mountain. If it were not for the intercession of Moses; God would have killed them all. We know that the Tablets will be replaced and God being merciful spares the people. But did they ever get over their “Hearts of Stone?”
In Exodus 32:9; 33:3, 5 and 34:9 we have a word from God about the people. He tested them to see if they would be obedient. The word used to describe the people of Israel [God’s people] was OBSTINATE. This by definition means they were stubborn, pig-headed, inflexible and unmoved. Might I add – UNGRATEFUL.
One wonders after reading about the Israelites why God even bothered with them – but we quickly would find that the same could be said about us. God is long-suffering and merciful. He doesn’t want anyone to perish. There will be great failures in our walk with the LORD – but He still loves us. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us – the godly for the ungodly. The covenant is renewed between God and His people. But they continued to have a heart of stone. Lamentations 3:23 says that God’s mercies are renewed each morning. We all should be thankful that God is a forgiving and loving God. Praise Him today for His “unconditional Love.”