When reading the stories of the Old Testament, do you ever find yourself surprised by how quickly the Israelites mess up…? If I’m honest, I’ve had this “oh come on, Israelites, you could’ve done better” thought many times before.
Recently, when reading the account of the golden calf in Exodus 32, I found myself thinking that idolatry was a “them” problem, not a “me” problem. Clearly, they should’ve done better. At least I don’t worship statues.
Then the Lord reminded me that the idols of our culture come in different forms—and often they’re invisible. We worship beauty, success, lust, money, independence, relationships, the list goes on.
As I studied further, I found that I have more in common with these people than I thought. Like the Israelites, when I’m frustrated that God feels distant or I’m confused by His answers to my prayers, I often don’t rule Him out of my life altogether. I simply add something or someone to fill the gap I feel has been left by Him.
Maybe this is a “me” problem after all.
In Exodus 32, Moses goes up to Mt. Sinai to meet with God where he stays for 40 days. During this time, God gives him stone tablets engraved with the law and the commandments (Exodus 25:12), provides regulations for the Israelites’ place of worship (Exodus 26-31:11), and reinstates the Sabbath (Exodus 31:12-18).
The Israelites find themselves waiting for Moses to come down from the mountain, waiting to see what their Lord has to say. But one week passes, then many more, and they become impatient.
So they get creative, and this is where the idolatry comes into play. The people ask their other leader, Aaron, to build them a god. And rather than leading the people back toward the one true God, Aaron complies. He collects the peoples’ gold jewelry and fashions an idol to appease them. Aaron proclaims, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” (Exodus 32:4b).
It’s interesting to look carefully at Aaron’s choice of words. He doesn’t say, “This is your god.” He uses the plural: “These are your gods.” Why?
Because in their fall toward idolatry, the Israelites didn’t forget about Yahweh altogether…they simply decided he wasn’t enough. They wanted Yahweh plus a tangible god they could see and control.
In their eyes, God was asking too much when he began the 10 commandments with: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). They wanted to worship the Lord, but on their terms. So, they settled for an idol that was fashioned before their very eyes.
The Israelites knew Moses was meeting with God. They could see His glory descended upon Mt. Sinai. Yet they were so quick to grow impatient when He didn’t work in their timeframe–so quick to direct their worship to something else.
I swallowed my pride as I read through this passage and asked myself the question: What is my golden calf? When God seems distant & I grow impatient (i.e. unanswered prayers), what do I worship in His place? What tangible ‘god’ have I created out of my desire for control?
It didn’t take long to determine my answer: I worship other people’s approval.
I care way too much what other people think of me—I search for their approval in my writing, my career path, my sense of humor. I want them to approve of my local church, the way I spend my money, the way I look and dress. While this is grossly unrealistic, I worship others’ approval thinking that I can “control” their perception of me.
I can’t stop thinking about the fact that the Israelites literally brought the materials for the calf to Aaron and then watched as he assembled it. While Yahweh held the title “Creator of Heaven and Earth,” they chose to worship that which they had created instead.
They knew they were worshipping something small, and yet they worshipped it nonetheless.
How often do we do the same thing?
Fear of man isn’t something I “assemble” like the golden calf. But deep down, I know that receiving other’s approval is ultimately worthless. I know that the only One deserving of my worship is the God who created all things, the God who sent His Son to die for our sins, the God who doesn’t just tolerate us—He loves us.
My time spent in Exodus 32 reminded me to be mindful of where I’m directing my worship. I hope it’s been a helpful reminder for you, too.
What is your golden calf? Are you kneeling before gods you can see or control?
I’m praying that you and I would become increasingly aware of who or what we’re worshiping—that we’ll recognize our golden calves and do everything in our power to tear them down while knowing that we can’t do it all on our own. We’ve got to rely on His help as we divert our gaze from our idols and back toward Him—the one true God who is worthy of our praise.