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Lord Have Mercy

When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, "come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him." Aaron answered them, "Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me." So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, "These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt." When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, "Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord." So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward, they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry. Then the Lord said to Moses, "Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed it and have said, 'These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.' "I have seen these people," the Lord said to Moses, "and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation." But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. "Lord," he said, "why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, 'It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth'? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: 'I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.'" Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened. Exodus 32:1-14 (NIV) Read the whole chapter here.

I feel like this is one of the old cartoons that I used to watch. Where they have the narrator interject when last we saw such and such. We're revisiting the people of Israel on this Exodus journey. When last we saw the people of Israel, it was partway through chapter 18. A couple of weeks ago this was where God had said 'I'm going to go ahead of you. Come to the base of Mount Horeb. I'll be waiting for you. There'll be water there people will drink.' If we skim through Exodus, from that point on in chapter 20 is then where the first giving of the Ten Commandments is recorded. Then the chapters following that begin laying out the institution of this ritual, or Temple Worship. In which the people would offer their praises and sacrifices offerings to God.

In the middle of that there's a little bit of an interruption. That's what we find in chapter 32, an interruption to all of these things that were going on. You see when they were at Horeb in chapter 19 of Exodus, it talks about this dark cloud, almost like the smoke that comes out of a furnace or forge, that surrounded the mountain. God had instructed Moses, 'Don't let anybody step foot on the mountain. Any person or animal that steps foot on the mountain is going to drop dead.' So everybody put up the caution tape, 'We're going to stand back. We're going to avoid that place.' After the appropriate time when there was this blast of a trumpet sound, Moses by himself went up on the mountain to talk with God. It was there that God began giving Moses instructions and teaching. It's recorded right before chapter 32 that God gave Moses those two tablets that you see Charlton Heston carrying in the movies. It's God who gave those tablets that were written with God's own finger, or God's own hand, that Moses was to bring down.

But in the midst of all of this, we have at the base of the mountain, the people were getting restless. Moses had been gone for 40 days and 40 nights. People are saying, 'Yeah he's not coming back. God said if anybody goes up on that mountain they're going to die. That surely is what happened to Moses because he would have been back by now.' So the people are getting restless and saying Aaron, 'We need something. We need something to remind us that we have a God that is still with us, watching over us, guiding us, and taking care of us.' And so Aaron in a moment of panic, and a moment of wanting to appease the people, said, 'All right everybody, give me all that gold jewelry.' You know back earlier in Exodus where it said that they looted Egypt, when they left and the Egyptians said, 'Here take our jewelry, take our gold, just go and get out.' Aaron said, 'Give me that gold.' And it says he melted it down, he made a mold, and he cast a golden calf. And he said, 'Here's your God now.'

There are two ways that we could understand what's happening here. One way is that Aaron is offering up a substitute God, 'Yeah that God that did all those signs and wonders in Egypt, that God that led you through the Red Sea, that God that has fed you, provided for you, guided you, and giving you water. Yeah, this is a different God. So worship this one now.' The other possibility, and I think maybe the one that I would lean toward, is that Aaron is offering them something that is a more visible representation of the God that led them out of Egypt. Because by his own words, it says that Aaron told them, 'Here is the god who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. This is what he looks like. Forget the pillar of fire. Forget the smoke. Forget all those things going on up there on the mountain. This is your god.' The people were ready to receive it.