Today’s Old Testament reading (Exodus 32:1-20) serves up the story of the Golden Calf, that infamous incident in which the people of Israel fashioned an idol right after entering into a covenant with God that forbade such behavior. Now, it has been a while since I studied this text; and so, I’m reluctant to attempt any bold pronouncements about it (especially verses 9-14, in which God expresses His intentions to destroy the people, and Moses seems to “talk Him out of it”). But what does strike me this morning are the twin temptations that seem to provoke the people’s unfaithful behavior.
First, the people fell prey to the temptation to demand a god who works on their timetable. “When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down the mountain,” the chapter begins. There is within most of us a “perceived schedule” by which God “ought” to act. And when God fails to work on that schedule, it can be awfully easy (too easy?) to start looking around for something that can move things forward.
Second, the people embraced the temptation to demand a god who shows up in tangible ways. The Israelites gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us.” In other words, “We want gods we can see — gods whose visible presence assures us that we’re moving in the right direction.” But when scripture tells us that “faith…is assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1), perhaps we can understand the danger of exchanging the way of moment-to-moment trust for one of manufactured certainty.
Of course, it would be nice to think that we’re too enlightened to give in to such temptations. But perhaps we can acknowledge — that sometimes — we still crave a god who operates on our schedule. And it’s still very tempting to bow down before gods that produce tangible results, rather than trusting in the God who promises that He’s with us, even when we can’t perceive His presence.
What “golden calves” that are hindering our covenant relationship with God today?
May we turn from our idols today and cling to the One God who can lead us into promise.