Friday, March 10, 2023

2023.03.10 Hopewell @Home ▫ Exodus 32:1–9

Read Exodus 32:1–9

Questions from the Scripture text: What do the people say in Exodus 32:1? To whom do they gather? What do they ask him to make them? Whom do they say brought them up out of Egypt? What do they say about him? What does Aaron tell them to do in Exodus 32:2? What do they do (Exodus 32:3)? What does he make in what way (Exodus 32:4)? What do they say about the calf? What did Aaron build before it (Exodus 32:5)? Unto Whom did he proclaim a feast? When did the people rise the next day (Exodus 32:6)? What did they do in the morning? What did they sit down to do? What did they arise to do? Who sees this (Exodus 32:7)? To whom does He speak? Where does He tell Moses to go? Whose does He now call the people? What does He say they have done to themselves? What else does He say that they have done (Exodus 32:8a)? What did they make (verse 8b)? What did they say that this was to celebrate (verse 8c)? What does Yahweh say that He has now seen about this people (Exodus 32:9)? 

How does the famous incident of the golden calf connect to our lives today? Exodus 32:1–10 looks forward to the evening sermon on the coming Lord’s Day. In these ten verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that worship that is according to the desires, designs, or delights of men provokes the hot wrath of God.

Faith vs. Sight, perception vs reality, Exodus 32:1. We must live by faith (taking God at His Word), not by sight, since it is by God’s Word that we are aware of the Lord Jesus in glory, Whom we cannot see (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:6–7).  That’s the problem in v1. They already have the ten commandments, in addition to all the other instruction. And Moses is literally on the mountain getting the words of God for them. 

But they don’t see him, and so they come up with a plan to have a visible way of worshiping the invisible God. This constantly threatens Christian churches today. Biblical worship in the New Testament has lost much of the visible. No designated physical structure, no consecrated furniture, no divine decorations, no sacrifices, no anointings, no candles/candle lighting, no incense burning, no designated liturgy, no annual feasts or days, no priestly choirs or musicians. Even the sacraments require just a loaf of bread, a flask of wine, and a flask of water… a meal with a bit of bread and sip of wine, and pouring of a little bit of water. There’s much less visible/outward glory in biblical worship, this side of the cross.

Having to worship by faith is a great challenge in Christian worship. Even those who are genuinely regenerated only know Christ by the Spirit’s blessing and sustaining their faith; we are led in worship from heaven by Him Whom we believe, though we do not see Him (cf. Hebrews 2:11–13; Hebrews 12:22–25; John 20:29). And those who are not regenerated by the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit cannot know Christ at all. So, there’s a perpetual temptation to add that which is visible, that which feels meaningful—to become impatient like Israel at the bottom of the mountain.

Man’s wisdom is follyExodus 32:2-5. Aaron’s plan is to involve the entire community in sacrificial giving. Husbands and fathers are going to lead their families in it. They are going to give gold, which is their best. They are going to give earrings, which are symbolic of devotion and dedication (cf. Exodus 21:6). Isn’t this wise? Isn’t this wonderful? 

Isn’t this wicked! When man comes up with his own way of worship, however wise and meaningful it seems, what it ends up is producing clever, sincere offense to God.

You might think that the problem is that they are worshiping someone other than Yahweh. You would be wrong. Aaron’s declaration at the end of Exodus 32:5 is, “Tomorrow is a feast to Yahweh.” They were celebrating a great moment of redemption (Exodus 32:4b) in the name of Yahweh. Analogous practices continue today in the church of our Lord Jesus Christ. Celebration days of His works of salvation are invented in His Name, with visible traditions that grow up around them. What the high priest of Israel started here would plague them for centuries and ultimately destroyed them (cf. 1 Kings 12:28, 2 Kings 17:20–23). Even the best-seeming worship traditions that were initiated by the highest clergy of church history are idolatry.

Self-directed worship leads to self-indulgent worshipExodus 32:6. With their manmade religiosities out of the way in the morning (verse 6a), they proceeded to their favorite part of their new holiday: the holiday meal and the holiday amusements (verse 6b). Sometimes, self-indulgence is not so overt as gluttony, drunkenness, and frivolity. Sometimes, it’s the manufacturing of spiritual/emotional euphoria or sentimental traditions. But it is this temptation to find our pleasure in ourselves rather than in God Himself that the apostle zeroes in upon, when warning about the idolatry of this event. 1 Corinthians 10:7 chooses not the fabrication of the bull but the self-indulgence of the day as the hallmark of the idolatry: “the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.”

God hates man-made worshipExodus 32:7-9. The wording of Yahweh’s response in Exodus 32:7 is shocking. Suddenly, He’s cutting Himself out of the descriptions of Israel’s identity and Israel’s deliverance. “Your people,” He says to Moses. “Whom you brought out of the land of Egypt,” He says to Moses. 

How to worship is a divine prerogative. If we come up with our own way to worship, we put ourselves in the place of God. We may still be using His Name about it (“tomorrow is a feast to Yahweh”), when in reality God has quit using His own Name about us (“your people whom you brought”). If we will not have Him as the only inventor of worship, then we will not have Him as our identity or our Redeemer. The reality will be that we are our own people, not His—despite all our feelings and words and claims to the contrary.

The Lord summarizes what they have done in Exodus 32:8 and gives a sobering assessment in Exodus 32:9: “I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people.” In other words, this is not an “honest mistake,” but an indicator that despite all that God has done, this desire to have their religion be all about themselves is actually indicative of their core nature, which is their perpetual problem. When we discover that something we thought was ok is actually idolatrous, we would like to think that it is an anomaly. But let us learn to accuse ourselves properly and to recognize that it is a symptom of hardness at the heart of who we are. When we come to the Lord’s fury in Exodus 32:10, we will discover just how seriously we ought to take this.

Mercifully, New Testament worship is led by Christ from heaven. It consists almost entirely of the Word, as it is read, sung, prayed, preached, heard. And even the simplicity of the sacraments is designed to turn our attention away from ourselves to Christ. May His Spirit use that reality and this Scripture to direct our worship by Him, depend our worship upon Him, and delight our worship in Him. 

Who must determine how we worship? How should we think and feel about the worship that He has commanded? What (WHO!) should be our desire in that worship? How do we know that we have Him (hint: same place we get our instructions)? What habit do you have of preparing for public worship, and reflecting upon public worship, with this in mind?

Sample prayer:  Lord, we thank You that You have saved us for Yourself and given us the right way of worshiping You. We thank You that You Yourself are the identity of Your people, You Yourself are the Savior of Your people, and You Yourself are the reward of Your people. Forgive us our sins and deliver us from all manmade worship we ask, through Christ, AMEN!

 Suggested songs: ARP81A “To God Our Strength” or TPH81A “Sing Aloud to God Our Savior”

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