Friday, March 24, 2023

2023.03.24 Hopewell @Home ▫ Exodus 32:15–24

Read Exodus 32:15–24

Questions from the Scripture text: Where does Moses go after interceding (Exodus 32:15)? What were in his hand? On which side were they written? Who had written them (Exodus 32:16)? Who heard what in Exodus 32:17? What did he think it was? But what did Moses say it was (Exodus 32:18)? Where did Moses come in Exodus 32:19? What two things did he see? How did this make him feel? What did he do in his anger? What else did he destroy (Exodus 32:20)? How? What did he do with it? To whom did Moses speak in Exodus 32:21? What does he ask him? What does Aaron request in Exodus 32:22? Whom does he blame? What does he recount in Exodus 32:23? What does he downplay in his account of the instructions (Exodus 32:24a, cf. Exodus 32:2)? What does he say about how the calf came about (Exodus 32:24b, cf. Exodus 32:4a)? 

How bad is it to worship in the way that pleases us instead of in the way that the Lord has prescribed? Exodus 32:15–24 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 idolatry makes war on God, makes war on reason, and even makes war on ourselves. 

Idolatry: making war on GodExodus 32:15-19. The horror of Israel’s sin in Exodus 32:1-14 is highlighted by Exodus 32:15-16 returning us to where we were in Exodus 31:18. God Himself has produced the tablets of stone. 

Just as God Himself spoke the ten commandments, but uses Moses’s voice to speak the case law, so also God Himself writes the tablets but uses Moses to write the case law. The ten commandments are written in stone, but the Israel-specific law is written on paper. 

While God has set aside the Israel-specific ceremonial law with the ceasing of that people to be a church, and the Israel-specific civil law with the ceasing of that people to be a state, He clearly has made a distinction about the Ten Commandments. They are an extension of His own character, Himself, and so are obligatory on all men in all ages—something that the New Testament also teaches. By breaking the first, second, third, and fourth commandments, Israel has assaulted God Himself.

So, there is an irony in the conversation between Joshua and Moses in Exodus 32:17-18. As a mere function of auditory analysis, it is indeed the sound of singing (as Moses thought) rather than the sound of war (as Joshua thought). Perhaps Moses is informed by the Lord’s own revelation to him in Exodus 32:8

But even knowing what they were doing did not prepare Moses for how horrific it actually was. When he sees the calf and the dancing, Moses’s own response in Exodus 32:19 precisely mirrors the Lord’s response in Exodus 32:10. In the spiritual analysis, the people think that it is the sound of celebration. But truly, spiritually, it is the sound of war upon God. Idolaters that we are, when we come up with our ways of worshiping God, we think it sounds like celebration. It does not occur to us how offensively and hostilely it is received in heaven.

The tablets’ function as a testimony of the covenant bond between Israel and God can be seen in what Moses does. Breaking them is not a rash response, just as it would not have been a rash response if God had destroyed them. Moses has functioned as the people’s representative to God in pleading for mercy in Exodus 32:11-14. Now, he function’s as God’s representative to the people in smashing the tablets in Exodus 32:19; it is a solemn testimony against them as having violated the covenantal bond.

Idolatry: making war on reason and on oneselfExodus 32:20-24. Moses’s actions in Exodus 32:20 remind us of just how irrational idolatry is. What is the use of a “god” that can be burned? What is the use of a “god” that can be ground up? What is the use of a “god” that can be scattered? We might remember the faceplant of headless and handless Dagon (cf. 1 Samuel 5:3–4), the heat and cooking fuel usefulness of useless idols (cf. Isaiah 44:9–20, or Bel and Nebo being so heavy that they bring themselves and their worshipers into captivity together (cf. Isaiah 46:1–2). 

Most humiliatingly, the image that the Israelites used to worship “Yahweh” (purportedly) will end up passing through their digestive systems. It will be eliminated by their bowels. In the act of drinking in their wickedness, Moses makes them play out the self-harm that irrational idolatry causes (cf. Job 15:16; Proverbs 19:28; Isaiah 44:20).

We can also see the irrational self-harm of sin in Exodus 32:21-24

Moses implies it in his question. The sin is so harmful that he implies that it could only make sense as some form of sick revenge (Exodus 32:21). Let leaders of churches who order the worship according the desires of the people take this to heart: it harms the people so much that if its spiritual character is properly understood, such worship as might have them dancing is actually a vile assault upon their souls. 

But it is also a vile assault upon Aaron’s own soul. Behold how low he has been brought spiritually—blaming the people whom he was supposed to protect like his first father Adam did upon falling (Exodus 32:22-23, cf. Genesis 3:12), and then lying like the devil about how the calf was made (Exodus 32:24, cf. Exodus 32:4, John 8:44). 

O, dear reader, what a dreadful thing it is to worship according to our pleasures instead of according to the Lord’s prescriptions! Such worship attacks God; such worship attacks those with whom we worship; such worship attacks our own souls.

What are some ways that you are tempted to worship in way that pleases yourself instead of the way in which God has prescribed?

Sample prayer:  Lord, how great is our idolatry! When we come to You in our own way, it is not actually to You that we come, but to a caricature that we have fabricated in our hearts. Such worship, crafted by ourselves, is a preference for You as we would wish You to be over You as You are. When we do this, Your Ten Commandments are right to call us “them that hate Me.” Even worse, in such worship we are prone to express ourselves without restraint, breaking the third commandment. And we are prone even to invent our own “holy time,” as if any time could be made holy by us. So, our idolatry very quickly violates the entire first table of Your law. Truly, such worship is the sound of war against You—hating the Lord our God with heart, soul, mind, and strength that were gifts from Him to begin with. How marvelous, then, that it was with our wretched sin that You made Christ, Who knew no sin, to become sin upon His cross—so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him! For His sake, and for the love in which You have done this, forgive our sins, we pray. And cleanse us from all unrighteousness. For, we ask it in His holy Name, AMEN!

ARP51A “God, Be Merciful to Me” or TPH51C “God, Be Merciful to Me”

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