And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him. — Exodus 32:1
You have just come from the best revival meetings ever. The Spirit of God was upon the sermons, the testimonies, and the music. More than once you felt God’s presence as you knelt in fervent prayer. But now you are back home and the cares of life have intruded on that glowing feeling. Possibly you face sickness, job difficulties, financial woes, or problems with the children. Those wonderful times of spiritual closeness to God seem so far away. Now what do you do?
Perhaps the Children of Israel were feeling some of the same emotions at the point of today’s text. During the preceding months, they had witnessed amazing miracles. They had seen God’s judgment poured out through the plagues on godless Egypt. They had experienced a mighty deliverance when God opened up the Red Sea so that they could cross over on dry ground. God had provided them with manna for their daily food and with water from a rock. With this array of miracles in their recent past, you would think that the Israelites would never doubt or feel downcast again. Yet they did, and very soon.
They were camped near Mount Sinai, where Moses had gone to receive the Law from God. Moses was their direct connection to God, and when he did not come down off the mountain as quickly as they had expected, they became discouraged. In fact, they felt so disheartened that they were ready to throw away their relationship with God and strike out in a new and sinful direction.
It is easy to condemn the Israelites for their folly and yet be guilty of similar behavior. Our relationship with God is a very personal and often an emotional connection. When we come to Him in true repentance for salvation, we experience a great miracle in our new birth. Whether we were deep in sin, or well-behaved Sunday school children when we came to God, there was great joy in knowing we were right with Him. No doubt we have also experienced other wonderful encounters with the Lord during our walk with Him.
However, we must not base our relationship with God on our feelings. Emotions can be fickle! Some days we may wake up feeling sad or discouraged and not even know why. By faith we must hold on to what God has given us, whether we feel emotionally up or down.
The well-known evangelist Billy Graham put it this way: “A lot of people believe they are saved only if they have some powerful emotion or overwhelming feeling. However, every Christian has times when feelings are not strong, no matter what our experiences may have been in the past. But it is not our feelings that save us — it is Christ.”(1) He was saying that the way we feel must not affect our assurance of salvation. If we know that God has saved us from sin and that we have not willfully turned away from Him, we must remain secure in our relationship, regardless of how we feel emotionally.
When feelings of gloom overshadow us, we may be tempted to think the Lord’s presence is not with us. Then we have a choice. We can do as the Israelites did and go the wrong direction, or we can choose to cling to faith. Recognizing that our salvation is not based on emotion, we can tell Satan to get behind us, and ask the Lord to refresh our spirits. With this attitude we will have victory every step of the way. The next thing we know, we will sense the joy of the Lord bubbling up in our souls once again!
This chapter records how Israel turned to idolatry while Moses was on the mountain receiving the Law, and describes God’s resultant wrath and Moses’ intercession for the people.
Verses 1-6 relate the people’s restlessness at Moses’ continued absence, and their appeal to Aaron to “make us gods.” Aaron instructed the women to bring him their earrings, and then fashioned their offerings into a calf. The word calf means “young bull in his first strength” in the Hebrew language. This animal was commonly used by the Egyptians to embody fertility and strength. Aaron’s golden calf may have been made of wood overlaid with gold, as that is how most idols used in Near Eastern religions of that era were constructed. When presented with this symbol, the people ate and drank, offered sacrifices, and engaged in carnal reveling.
In verses 7-14, God revealed to Moses that the people had sinned. God’s pronouncement that “thy people . . . have corrupted themselves” [italics added] seems to indicate that He was disowning the people. God declared that Israel would be eliminated and in its place He would make a great nation of Moses, but Israel’s leader responded by pleading with God to restrain His wrath and remember His promises to the patriarchs. As a result, God had mercy and chose not to utterly destroy the people.
Verses 15-29 describe Moses’ confrontation of the sinful Israelites. When Moses came down from the mount and observed the people’s wicked behavior, he cast down the Commandments which had been graven by God on tables of stone, smashing them to pieces — a dramatic sign that God’s covenant with the people had been broken by Israel’s disobedience. He burned the calf, then ground the gold to powder, sprinkled it upon the water, and made the people drink it. Moses then demanded of the people, “Who is on the Lord’s side?” The sons of Levi responded, proving their devotion to God. (This tribe was later designated as the priestly family.) The Levites were commanded to go among the people and to slay. It may be assumed that it was those who would not submit themselves to Moses and to God who were slain; the number was three thousand men.
In the final verses of this chapter, Moses once again interceded before God for the people. At his earlier intercession, he had prayed that God would not immediately destroy Israel. Now, with a penitent nation awaiting God’s judgment, Moses went before God again. This time he pled with Him to forgive the people, or else to blot his own name from God’s book. To “blot out” meant to wipe out or remove the record of his relationship with God, so this phrase conveys the great love Moses had for the people. In response, God instructed Moses to lead the people on to the Promised Land, promising that His angel would go before them.
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
V. The construction of the Tabernacle
C. The delay in the building
1. The breaking of the covenant (32:1-35)
a. The sin of the people (32:1-6)
b. The intercession of Moses (32:7-15)
c. The action of Moses (32:16-35)
(1) The destruction of the calf (32:16-20)
(2) The rebuke of Aaron (32:21-24)
(3) The wrath of Moses (32:25-29)
(4) The further intercession of Moses (32:30-35)
If our hearts are right with God, we can choose to hold on to our faith, regardless of how we feel emotionally at any particular moment.
1. Billy Graham, “Looking For Answers: I don’t always feel saved. How can I be sure I am?”, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, billygraham.org, accessed Feb 5, 2013.