Exodus 32:7–20, 25–26comment (0)
November 10, 2011
By Eric Mathis
Related Scripture: Exodus 32:7–20, 25–26
Bible Studies for Life
Instructor of Church Music and Worship Leadership, School of the Arts, Samford University
Stand for the Lord
Exodus 32:7–20, 25–26
This month’s Bible study is Make Your Life Count. Last week, we encountered the story of Moses and the burning bush. Through that narrative, we considered the call that God has placed on our lives. This week’s lesson is centered in the Exodus account of the golden calf. It examines Moses’ response to the Israelites when they committed idolatry and calls us to consider how we might also stand for God in the midst of challenging circumstances in our lives.
Intercede on Behalf of Others (7–14)
Exodus 32 is interesting in that it resumes the story of the Israelites from Exodus 24:14. The narrative between Exodus 24 and Exodus 32 takes place on the mountain between God and Moses (24:15–31:18). For 40 days and nights, Israel has been without Moses and access to God. Frustrated, the people appeal to Aaron, Moses’ brother and aide, to act in his stead and help them access God (1). They follow Aaron’s command to remove their gold and give it to him (2–3). Within a day, Aaron uses the gold to create a calf (4–5) that is used in a festival honoring the graven image (5–6).
In anger, God tells Moses of the Israelites’ behavior and commands him to leave the mountain and return to the people (7–9). The narrative further describes God’s intent to consume the Israelites yet spare Moses (10). Moses (who was timid in last week’s lesson) questions God’s plan and implores Him to spare the Israelites (11–12). He recalls the covenant God has established with His people (13), and in a surprising move, God relents and does not inflict the disaster originally intended (14).
From Genesis to Exodus 32, major themes in the Old Testament are creation, fall and the new covenant inaugurated by God. However, the Exodus 32 passage illustrates a break in this covenant and the world God intended for Israel. In other words, while Moses is on the mountain with God, the Israelites seem to forget that He is their God and they are His people. They break the first and second commandments, displaying they cannot handle the risk of faith in a God who is not seen. They reduce God to a tangible object that can be grasped.
Lest we judge the Israelites, however, let us remember how quick we often are to follow their path and produce a false god when God seems distant or inaccessible. Perhaps our response to sin should be more like that of Moses. Moses responded to the Israelites’ behavior with pleas to God on their behalf. For the first time in the Exodus account, Moses stood up to God and He listened. God chose not to give the Israelites what they might have deserved, beginning a pattern of redemption that continued to draw others into the covenantal relationship established in Genesis. Could it be that God might respond in similar ways if we, too, petition on behalf of others?
Confront the Sin (15–20)
Though God responded favorably to Moses’ request, Moses still obeyed God’s command. He went down the mountain carrying the two tablets of the covenant in his hands (15–16) and confronted the people by breaking the tablets and destroying their graven image (19–20). The broken tablets symbolize that the covenant with God has been broken, and the destroyed graven image symbolizes Moses’ desire to make Israel choke on its perversion of God. Once again, Moses’ actions call us to examine our response to sin: We are to honestly confront sin when necessary. Honest confrontation provides an open pathway for restoring the covenant with God.
Call for a Return to God (25–26)
Moses saw firsthand the Israelites’ disobedience and called all those who would stand with God to join him. The Levites responded and followed their commitment to stand with Moses by slaughtering the idolaters. Notice that Moses called people not to his cause but to God’s cause. Just as Moses petitioned God, Moses also petitioned the people to return to God. His willingness to take a public stand for a just cause is a good example for us. When we are willing to stand for causes that are just, we often motivate others to do the same.