Exodus 32 (ESV)
1 When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 2 So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.” 6 And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.
7 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.”
11 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.
15 Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets that were written on both sides; on the front and on the back they were written. 16 The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets. 17 When Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a noise of war in the camp.” 18 But he said, “It is not the sound of shouting for victory, or the sound of the cry of defeat, but the sound of singing that I hear.” 19 And as soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. 20 He took the calf that they had made and burned it with fire and ground it to powder and scattered it on the water and made the people of Israel drink it.
21 And Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you have brought such a great sin upon them?” 22 And Aaron said, “Let not the anger of my lord burn hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil. 23 For they said to me, ‘Make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 24 So I said to them, ‘Let any who have gold take it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.”
25 And when Moses saw that the people had broken loose (for Aaron had let them break loose, to the derision of their enemies), 26 then Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said, “Who is on the LORD’S side? Come to me.” And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. 27 And he said to them, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel, ‘Put your sword on your side each of you, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill his brother and his companion and his neighbor.’” 28 And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And that day about three thousand men of the people fell. 29 And Moses said, “Today you have been ordained for the service of the LORD, each one at the cost of his son and of his brother, so that he might bestow a blessing upon you this day.”
30 The next day Moses said to the people, “You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” 31 So Moses returned to the LORD and said, “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. 32 But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.” 33 But the LORD said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book. 34 But now go, lead the people to the place about which I have spoken to you; behold, my angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them.”
35 Then the LORD sent a plague on the people, because they made the calf, the one that Aaron made.
Day 1: Loving God
Read: Exodus 32:1-6
After a quick scan, it might seem like the Israelites were forsaking YHWH altogether to turn to a different god, but if we read the narrative carefully, we can see that they’re actually setting up the golden calf as an image, a representation, of YHWH! The Israelites say of the golden calf, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” The word translated “gods” is actually the same Hebrew word that has been used to refer to the true “God” dozens of times already in the Book of Exodus. That same word is used to refer to the true God over two thousand times throughout the Old Testament. They’re not saying, “this is a new god that you should worship,” they’re saying, “this is the old God, YHWH, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt” (cf. Neh. 9:18). This is why, after Aaron builds an altar before the golden calf, and proclaims “a feast to the LORD,” to YHWH. So the Israelites are not rewriting history by saying that the golden calf, and not YHWH, brought them up out of Egypt, they’re saying that the golden calf represents YHWH and is the image of YHWH. This, then, is a violation of the second commandment, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them.”
The Hebrew word for “God,” elohim, is used in the plural form to refer to God, because it’s what grammarians call the plural of majesty, or the plural of respect. But usually, when speaking of the true God, that plural noun is used with singular verbs, but here, throughout this passage, plural verbs and pronouns are used to highlight the fact that Israel’s idolatry, their image-worship, is tantamount to setting up multiple “gods” for themselves. A false representation of God is nothing less than a false god.
In what ways do we misrepresent God? Instead of shaping our views and our lives to conform to who God is and what He has said, are we shaping God according to our own 21st century, secular, humanistic, Western sensibilities? In what ways have we domesticated God? Made Him less offensive, more manageable, more familiar? If our “god” never contradicts our beliefs and never confronts our sins, then, we’re not worshiping God, we’re worshiping a false representation of God, which is idolatry.
“What is an idol? An idol is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give. A counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living. An idol has such a controlling position in your heart that you can spend most of your passion and energy, your emotional and financial resources, on it without a second thought. It can be family and children, or career and making money, or achievement and critical acclaim, or saving ‘face’ and social standing. It can be a romantic relationship, peer approval, competence and skill, secure and comfortable circumstances, your beauty or your brains, a great political or social cause, your morality and virtue, or even success in the Christian ministry. … An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, ‘If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.’ There are so many ways to describe that kind of relationship to something, but perhaps the best one is worship” (Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters, Penguin Books, 2016, pp. xix-xx).
Recommended Song: “You Are God Alone” by Philips, Craig, and Dean (Find it on our church’s Spotify playlist, “Trinity Hymnal,” at http://bit.do/trinityhymnal)
Spend some time remembering/rehearsing what God is like and what He has done, and praise Him and give thanks.
Renounce the idols of your heart in prayer, and ask Christ to fill your heart so that you are satisfied in Him.
Day 2: Loving One Another
Read: Exodus 32:30-35
Instead of gleefully watching the destruction of the Israelites so that God might make a new nation out of him (v. 10), Moses intercedes on behalf of the people of God and offers himself up as a substitute, to have his name blotted out form the book of life so that the Israelites can be spared. But God doesn’t accept his offer, and some punishment still falls upon the Israelites, because Moses is not worthy to be their substitute. And you can see this in his tentativeness and uncertainty when he speaks to the LORD, “perhaps I can make atonement for your sin,” “if you will forgive their sin—but if not…” Moses’s example points to Jesus Christ, who is the ultimate substitute, who is worthy to take our place. It’s because Jesus died in our place, on the cross, for our sins, that we, though we are idolaters, do not need to have our names blotted out from the book of life.
Before the throne of God at the final judgment, at the gates of heaven, all sinners deserve to hear that their names are not on the guest list, that the may not enter in, because their names have been blotted out from the book. However, because Jesus died on the cross in the place of idolaters, and because we have “conquered … by the blood of the lamb and by the word of [our] testimony” (Rev. 12:11), Christ assures us, “I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.”
Recommended Song: “Covered” by Israel & New Breed (Find it on our church’s Spotify playlist, “Trinity Hymnal,” at http://bit.do/trinityhymnal)
Lament and pray for the sins of your brothers and sisters in the church, for God’s mercy and their repentance and sanctification.
Pray that church members who are weighed down by guilt and shame would conquer by the blood of the lamb and by the word of their testimony, and be assured that their names will never be blotted out from the book of life.
Pray that we could be a compassionate and merciful church that intercedes on behalf of one another.
Day 3: Sharing the Love of Christ with Others
Read: Exodus 32:7-29
Moses and the Levites’ response to Israel’s idolatry might seem over-the-top to us. However, the truth is that we don’t burn hot against sin, because we don’t burn hot for God’s glory. Idolatry is not some abstract sin. Idolatry is personal. It’s when you take something that rightly belongs to someone and give it someone else who has no claim to it whatsoever. Have you ever felt angry when your family member or friend was overlooked for an award or a promotion that s/he rightly deserved? What if your wife or husband takes your marital bed and defiles it with someone else?
In Acts 17:16, when Paul was walking around the city of Athens and saw that “the city was full of idols,” it says that “his spirit was provoked within him.” The word “provoke” here means to cause inward agitation and distress, to provoke to wrath. If we cared about God, if we cared about His glory, if we cared about His reputation, then we would be upset. As it says in the song, “Facing A Task Unfinished”:
Where other lords beside Thee
Hold their unhindered sway
Where forces that defied Thee
Defy Thee still today
With none to heed their crying
For life and love and light
Unnumbered souls are dying
And pass into the night
Are you zealous to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ among them for the glory of God?
Recommended Song: “Facing A Task Unfinished” by Keith & Kristyn Getty (Find it on our church’s Spotify playlist, “Trinity Hymnal,” at http://bit.do/trinityhymnal)
Pray that God would make us zealous for God’s glory.
Pray that the Holy Spirit would give us an accurate sense of the spiritual condition of unbelievers, that their names are not found in the book of life, so that our love compels us to share the gospel.
Pray that God would make us bold and winsome witnesses among our friends and neighbors. Write down the names of unbelieving friends and neighbors that you know and feel called to pray for, and pray for them specifically.
Pray that God would raise up teams of full-time missionaries from our church who would go to the unreached people groups to proclaim the gospel.