What if You Falter?

Explore the Bible Series

May 2, 2010


Background Passage: Exodus 32:1-34:35

Lesson Passage: Exodus 32:1-4, 30-34; 34:6b-9




The modern liberal establishment, with its naÔve assessment of human nature, has no way of understanding the events recorded in Exodus Thirty-Two.For these intellectuals, human moral failures often result from social injustice and poverty, external forces that coerce immoral actions aimed at alleviating suffering and privation.I share their concern about social justice, but even a cursory reading of history undercuts their understanding of human nature and ethics.


The Israelites, enriched by the donations of their former oppressors, nonetheless submerged themselves in thankless idolatry, as Moses tarried on Mount Sinai.Indeed, the people used some of their riches to model a golden calf, reminiscent of the Egyptian fertility god Apis.Several Middle Eastern cultures view the bull as a symbol of virility, sexual prowess, and fertility.The Hebrews, gathered at the skirts of Sinai, fashioned a golden image to comfort them during the lengthy absence of Moses.


Two aspects of this idolatry seem noteworthy.


  1. Aaronís compliance with the idolatry: The High Priest, soon after his ordination to this holy position, yielded to the pressures of leadership, and he conformed to the demands of the crowds.Clearly, Aaron knew better, but the shifting demands of the people constrained him to submit to ďmarketĒ demands.After all, it seems the satisfaction of the popular whims trumped faithfulness to the constraints of his conscience.
  2. The peopleís perception of their idolatry: The ancient Hebrews rationalized that the golden calf represented Jehovah. Perhaps the adjustments to worshiping an invisible God (in contrast to the strident and tangible idol worship of Egypt) proved overwhelming to the Jews.They believed, in seems, that the golden calf imagery flattered Jehovah, and they bowed before this hand-made construct with joyous enthusiasm.The Lord demands both the proper object of adoration and proper conduct of worship.


The text makes no mention of Godís mercy until Exodus 34:6-9.Instead, the narrative of the golden calf records Godís swift, austere judgment.Jehovah told Moses he intended to consume the people, and Moses frantically pleaded for the Lord to stay his hand of justice.Moses forced the people to drink the powdered remains of calf and ordered the execution of many of the revelers.Furthermore, God sent a plague to settle accounts for the sins of Israel.


Lesson Outline:


I.                   The Golden Calf (32:1-35)

A.    Israelís idolatry (vv. 1-6): Mosesí sojourn on Mount Sinai disquieted the people, and they turned to Aaron for consolation.Submitting to the demands for an idol, Aaron crafted the golden calf, proclaimed a celebrative feast, and offered sacrifices to the idol. The revelry of the feasting quickly degenerated into an unseemly orgy of degradation.

B.     Mosesí intercession (vv. 7-14): God informed Moses of the intent to destroy all of Israel and to raise up a new people from Mosesí posterity.The term ďstiff-neckedĒ is an agrarian image that denotes an ox, donkey, or horse that would not yield to the will of its master.Israel, like senseless beasts, refused to comply with Godís will, and Jehovah, in his incendiary wrath, pledged to consume the rebels. Note, at the outset of the paragraph, that God disassociated himself from the people.He referred to them as Mosesí people and attributed the deliverance from Egypt to Mosesí power (perhaps a note of divine sarcasm). Moses implored God to stay the hand of judgment, and he made his plea on three grounds.

1.      The Hebrews were Godís people: He had redeemed them from Egyptian tyranny.

2.      Godís glory was at stake: If the Lord destroyed Israel, the Egyptians would take delight in the failure of the Exodus.

3.      Godís promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: The constraints of the Abrahamic Covenant moved God to defer judgment. Mosesí intercession proved effectual, and God relented from his pronouncement of judgment.

C.     The anger of Moses (vv. 15-29): Moses descended the mount Joshua accompanied him on part of this journey), and, as he approached the revelry, the great Hebrew statesman shattered the stone tablets.He reduced the golden calf to a fine powder and forced the Israelites to drink a potion of made from their former ďgod.ĒThen, Moses turned his anger on his hapless brother, Aaron.Of course, Aaron blamed the people, and, in doing so, claimed that the golden calf miraculously sprung from the fire where Aaron had thrown the jewelry of Israel! After scolding Aaron, Moses instructed some of the Levites to kill about three thousand people, those presumably most responsible for the worship of the golden calf.

D.    Mosesí second intercession (vv. 30-35): Moses offered to have his name blotted from Godís book (the imagery of Godís book appears elsewhere in the Bible: Malachi:3:16; Psalm 69:28; Luke 10:20; Philippians 4:3; and several texts in Revelation). The Lord refused Mosesí offer, and God promised that he would send a plague on Israel because of her idolatry.


II.                Godís Command to Leave Sinai (33:1-23)

A.    Godís presence withdrawn (vv. 1-6): As a result of Israelís idolatry, God refused to manifest his presence with his people; rather, they would move toward Canaan under the leadership of an angel.This prospect troubled the Hebrews; so, the people mourned and removed their festive ornaments.Some scholars believe these adornments reflected the idolatry the Hebrews inherited from the Egyptians.

B.     The tent of meeting (vv. 7-11): Some Old Testament scholars identify the tent of meeting with the tabernacle.Others believe this was a temporary meeting place that sufficed for worship until the completion of the tabernacle.Whatever the case, Moses pitched the tent outside the camp as a symbol of Godís displeasure with Israel. Exodus claims that God met Moses in the tent of meeting.

C.     Mosesí bold request (vv. 12-23): Moses longed for a deeper understanding of the character and will of God; so, the Hebrew leader asked God to reveal the divine glory.The Lord, according to the text, refused Mosesí request, but he did allow his servant to see the hinder part of his glory. It appears that there are limitations to the amount of divine revelation a person can receive.The limitation does not rest with Godís ability to communicate; rather, man has limited capacity to absorb the glorious things of God.


III.             The Renewal of the Covenant (34:1-35)

A.    The Lordís conversation with Moses (vv. 1-9): Our entire lesson passage reveals God in anthropomorphic terms; that is, the author wrote as if God possessed human qualities.In this paragraph the writer described a conversation between Jehovah and Moses, just as if two friends sat down for a visit (See 33:11).Of course, we must interpret this claim carefully.Another portion of the lesson reveals that Moses could not look on the face of God.As I see it, this reference to a face to face conversation denotes the intimacy of Godís relationship with Moses.

B.     A restatement of Godís covenant with Israel (vv. 10-28): The stipulations of the covenant remained constant; thus, this section largely recounts materials from previous lessons.

C.     The changing of Mosesí countenance (vv. 29-35): When Moses returned from the mountain, his face shown with the glory of the Lord.The people recoiled from Mosesí appearance; so, the Lordsí servant wore a veil over his face to conceal the Lordís glory.