The golden calf, part two

In my last post I spoke about the golden calf situation and how it relates to us as modern believers. Today I want to look at God’s reaction to that situation and what Moses did about it. In case you missed it and aren’t familiar with the story, Moses has been up on the mountain for forty days talking with the Lord. In that time, the people of Israel grow restless and show a true weakness of faith and ask Aaron to craft a new god for them which they then worship. As he always does, God knows about what’s happening as it happens. Here’s what the Lord says to Moses up on the mountain as this is going on.

Exodus 32:7-10 And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. 8 They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’”9 And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. 10 Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.”

So yeah, God’s mad. The word that really jumped out at me here is “stiff-necked”. That has a lot of great visuals that come along with it. Stubborn people, rebellious people, but one thing really occurred to me as I read it again just now. One thing a stiff-necked person isn’t going to be able to do is bow down. If you’re not bowing down to the Lord, then you’ve got a problem. And as we just read, God’s going to deal with these people in a major way.

Here’s the thing. These people deserved what they were going to get. They had clear commandments, constant leadership, God’s presence was leading them, they had miracle food falling from the heavens to feed them, these were a people who had every reason to worship and praise the Lord. For them to so quickly fall into idol worship and turn away from God, yes, they deserved punishment. I just wanted to make that clear, God’s not overstepping here, He’s got every right to not only be mad but to do something about it. They turned away from God and broke His commandments, making them totally deserving of punishment.

But Moses steps in on their behalf.

Exodus 32:11-14 But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” 14 And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.

I find it pretty awesome of Moses to do this. He’s been dragging this bunch around the wilderness for some time now, and just like God I’m sure he’s sick of dealing with their constant weakness and flaws. And I’m certain he’s very angry to hear about what they’re doing in his absence. But Moses puts that aside for now and pleads with the Lord on the people’s behalf. He had to agree that those people deserved the calamity God wanted to visit upon them, but he loved them enough to plead for mercy for them.

And really, there was only one thing I could see and hear when I studied this. This situation that played out here flashes forward to Jesus and the way He stands before God on our behalf. We too, are a stiff-necked people. And we too, are deserving of punishment. Just as Moses did on that mountaintop, Jesus does for us today. But He took it one step further. Jesus didn’t just argue on our behalf, He didn’t just convince God not to punish us, He took our punishment for us. We deserve death for our sins. We deserve hell. But Jesus paid the debt, He took the fall, because He loves us that much. He stood in front of the Father for me and for you and for everyone. He hung on that cross and was humiliated and murdered for me and for you and for everyone.

Sometimes I can’t help but ask a hard question. Why did Jesus do that for me? I try hard to be a good person, but I fall short. Jesus is perfect, He prevailed where I have consistently failed, and yet I get heaven and Jesus got crucified? It’s not fair, and I don’t feel deserving of it. And thus we arrive at grace. I think my favorite description of grace I’ve ever heard is “undeserved favor”. Even that feels woefully inadequate as a definition of the grace Jesus extends to us. I don’t even know if the concept is fully understandable by human minds. We can be selfless sure, and forgiving and kind, but the kind of grace displayed by Jesus towards us feels so far beyond what we’re even capable of understanding.

As I wrap up this look at the golden calf, I just want us all to keep the concept of grace alive in our hearts and our minds. It is the greatest gift ever given, one totally undeserved. A day shouldn’t pass when we don’t thank the Lord for His grace. A steep price was paid to buy our freedom from death.

I think it’s awesome that Moses’ intercession on behalf of his people played out the way it did. It’s cool to see his love and leadership on full display here, and it’s also so cool to see this hint towards a coming savior and what He’ll do for all of mankind. It’s the gift of grace, and it’s freely given and it’s still there to this day for the taking. What a God, who loves us that deeply to offer us such undeserved freedom from our fates!

PRAYER AND CLOSING

Father God, today I come before you just overwhelmed by the grace you extend to us.  Undeserved favor doesn’t even come close to describing it.  Jesus, you paid the highest price for crimes you never would’ve committed.  You had to die my death so that I may have eternal life.  King Jesus, I thank you for that gift, for that display of your love.  But I also want to honor your sacrifice by living as a changed man.  I want it to always be the cry of my heart, that I don’t waste the gift you’ve given me by staying a slave to sin.  Lord, I know I’ll never be perfect, I’ll never be you, but Jesus, I want to get as close as I can.  As I’ve displayed, I can’t do it alone.  So I’m asking you today, please continue to grow me.  Continue to teach and to lead, to give me wisdom.  I want to be like you, Jesus, I want to be quick to love and to always be about the work of God, to be someone who makes an impact for the kingdom of God.  Strengthen me, Lord, grant me great faith and courage.  Help me stay on your path and be a shining light that can reflect your great love to the world around me.  And I know I say it all the time, but thank you for loving me.  Thank you for what you did on that cross.  I deserved it, and you did not, and yet you took the punishment.  That sort of love can’t be described by words, but Lord, I feel it in my heart, the unending love you have for me and for your people.  Work through me to show that love to others, to allow them to feel the peace and comfort of living with a knowledge that the God of all things loves you dearly.  Thank you for all that you are and all that you do.  I ask that your will be done on this day.  In Jesus’ precious name I pray, amen.

I love all of you guys, thanks for spending a little time with me today focusing on this great part of the Bible.  There are a few more weeks worth of entries in my Moses Moments series and then I think I might make a return to Psalms shortly after that.  I’m very excited about all of that, and just excited about the things of God in general.  It’s such a beautiful time to be after the work of our Lord, I feel so strongly that He’s got great things in store for us right now.

 

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