7 The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; 8they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshipped it and sacrificed to it, and said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” --Exodus 32:7-8
When you examine the story of the golden calf, the intentions of the people of Israel are not diabolical.
Moses was the person who had always told them how to relate to God. He had gone up on Mount Sinai to speak with the Lord and had not returned for six weeks. If someone disappears in the wilderness for six weeks, it is safe to assume that something is amiss. The people of Israel likely thought that Moses had been eaten by a mountain lion or fallen down a crevasse. He did not seem likely to return.
The people of Israel assumed they needed a new way to relate to God. They took a little of what Moses had given them, a bit of what they had learned in Egypt, a bit of what they wanted things to be like, and came up with a golden baby cow statue. Likely they didn’t believe the statue was God. But they needed something to rally around, a place to sacrifice, a central point to worship, and something to follow. So, they cried out, “Here he is! The God who saved us from Egypt!”
Of course, anyone with a children’s bible knows that this is the wrong way to relate to God. You can’t just make up what you want things to be like and expect God to be flattered. In our story, God wasn’t. God became angry. God was insulted. They had chosen to be in relationship with what they wanted God to be. God had been offering an opportunity for them to be in actual relationship with God.
Though the intentions of the people of Israel were not diabolical, the outcome of their actions was pretty close.
Now, I know that few of us are likely to worship a golden baby cow statue. But it takes a bit more introspection to wonder if we are truly pursuing relationship with God. Are we doing the hard work of seeking? Are we doing the work of being in relationship? Sometimes that goes against what we see in Egypt (the world we grew up in and know). More often than not it challenges us in the way we want things to be. At times, it even requires us to wait upon God’s answer to come down from the mountain. But the result of this is being people who relate to the Living God.
The formula is as old as Moses. We must make space in our time, our thoughts, and our hearts for God. Pray. Read the Bible. Journal. Allow the Holy Spirit to speak into our worlds… even to challenge what we see and what we assume. Obey. Live from that relationship. If we do these things, we will begin to know and be shaped by the God who is… not the God of our own creation.
Dear Jesus, teach us to seek you. In the midst of this busy day, we ask that you would give us the ability to recognize where we mistake You. We ask for pockets of space to pause and pray. We ask that in Jesus’ name, Amen.