The people of Israel have escaped their 400 years of slavery in Egypt and are cruising through the desert on their way to the land that has been promised them. Their escape from Egypt, their exodus, is captured, oddly enough, in the Book of Exodus as a number of stories about their adventures as they spend 40 years getting from point A to point B, from Egypt to the Promised Land.
In many ways I think it is hard to describe this road trip that all the people are on in ways that make sense to today’s culture. It isn’t that people don’t travel in cars today but packing up the family into an airplane for long distance trips is a lot more common than it was not so long ago. Back in the day, you packed the entire family into the Family Truckster and drove cross country for days on end. It looked something like this
(From about 3:28-3:42)
It isn’t that airline travel is any simpler than travelling by car, it’s just that it doesn’t usually last as long. If you’re flying to Disneyworld with the family you can usually accomplish that in 5 or 6 hours, door to door. Driving there? A couple days of pretty hard driving. With the entire family. In the family truckster.
Which kind of sets the stage for us as we think about the people of Israel as they trek across the desert to the promised land in their carts and wagons, the early versions of the family truckster. To the promised land which they don’t actually know where it is located. That’s a bit of a concern so Moses takes it upon himself to go up to the mountain and see what’s up. Moses led them out Egypt but now he’s not sure where to go so he goes up on the mountain to ask directions. AAA didn’t exist, Google maps was a few years off from being ready and Waze hadn’t even been thought of.
Here’s where things go badly for the people. They don’t really know how long Moses is planning on being gone, they only know that he’s been gone a while. This is the time of about 5000BCP, that is 5,000 years before cell phones so they have no way of getting in touch with Moses and even if they had cell phones he’s up on the mountain and you never get reception there.
Anyways, quoting verse 32 “When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, 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.” Come, makes Gods for us. We don’t know where Moses is nor the God that brought us out of Egypt so come, make Gods for us. As if God is an interchangeable part. This isn’t going to end well, is it?
This is one of those stories that is easy to interpret as a bunch of naughty children doing naughty things when mommy or daddy leaves them to their own devices. Bereft of direction and tired of their time in the family truckster they become as 4 year olds, doing what they want even when they know they’re not supposed to. That sounds like I’m picking on 4 years olds but the truth is we know we all have those times when we are at least the tempted to do what we want instead of what we’re supposed to.
It may be that the people really are naughty children doing naughty things but another way of looking at the people clamoring for Aaron to build a golden calf delves a little deeper and is a little more nuanced as it exposes a tendency most of us have. A tendency toward being impatient and leaning toward losing hope when we don’t get what we wanted on the timeframe we expected. Moses isn’t yet gone 40 days and their hope waivers and so the people go negative. Their expectations of God haven’t been met so they choose another path.
A path of their choosing. A path that has them turning in their gold and jewelry to create a… a… a baby bovine that they can substitute in for their worship. They give their treasures up to create a false idol that they try to depend on but fail. They spend their time creating a false idol that they try to depend on but fail. What exactly did you expect, o foolish people of God?
The thing is, it is easy to look with a sideways glance of disapproval at the people who chose to worship a false idol and then lost their way in the world… except for the fact that most of us have done similar things at one time or another. Worship of false idols has been a human thing for a very long time and continues to this day. We give our treasures up to create a false idol that we try to depend on but fail. We spend our time creating a false idol that we try to depend on but fail. What exactly do WE expect, o foolish people of God?
If you’re wondering if you have any idols, try this experiment when you have a second. Open up your financial institution app or your bank statement and see what, or who, you give your treasures up to as you look through the line items in the register. Right after that open up your calendar and see what, or who, you spend your time with. Where we spend our treasures and our time is going to point us to our idols. My idol is apparently very closely related to subscriptions connected to Amazon Prime as well as trips to Home Depot and Menards.
It’s easy to think about not having any idols in the abstract but when we actually do some research we then learn where we spend our treasure and our time and the picture starts to become a little clearer. Annoyingly so.
Here’s the thing about false idols. These false idols are simply big distractions that won’t be there when we need them. False idols are all sweetness and light until darkness descends upon us and then they fade away into nothing. That golden calf might have scratched a temporary itch for the people headed to the promised land but it certainly isn’t going to lead them there. Our false idols might scratch a temporary itch for us but they’re not going to be there when we really need them.
No false idol is extending forgiveness to us when we least deserve it. Christ does. No false idol has a real presence when we come to the communion table. Christ does. No false idol gives us the sure and certain hope of life after death. Christ does.
Give some thought this week to your calendar and your checkbook and see where you spend your time and treasure. Do they tell a story of Bringing Christ’s Love to Life as you make a difference in the community that surrounds you or do they tell a story of chasing false idols? Is Christ the central focus of your life, or is it something else? When it comes right down to it, something else won’t be there when you need. Christ will be there. That’s a truth on which you can depend.