Posted by: Bill Hornbeck | February 12, 2014

Our Golden Calves and How to Avoid them

Today’s devotion comes from Exodus 32:1-6.

“Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Aaron said to them, “Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. He took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool and made it into a molten calf; and they said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” Now 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.” So the next day they rose early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.” Exodus 32:1-6.

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“You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” Exodus 20:4-6.

Question 96. What doth God require in the second commandment?

Answer. That we in no wise represent God by images, nor worship him in any other way than he has commanded in his word. Heidelberg Catechism.

Question 109: What are the sins forbidden in the second commandment?

Answer: The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and anywise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; tolerating a false religion; the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature: Whatsoever; all worshiping of it, or God in it or by it; the making of any representation of feigned deities, and all worship of them, or service belonging to them; all superstitious devices, corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretense: Whatsoever; simony; sacrilege; all neglect, contempt, hindering, and opposing the worship and ordinances which God has appointed. Westminister Larger Catechism.

We may think that we do not violate the second commandment if we just do not build tangible idols (like the golden calf in today’s Scripture) and worship them. But, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Westminster Larger Catechism, and other Reformed Doctrine make it clear that the second commandment covers more than literal idols like the golden calf in today’s Scripture.

Our biggest problem may be a tendency to devise a god in our mind that suits our preference. Oh sure, we may attribute to that god some of the attributes of the true God. In today’s Scripture, Israel did attribute to their golden calf deliverance from Egypt. “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.”

We may want a god who loves everybody, but we don’t want a god who punishes some in hell.

We may want a god who miraculously heals, but, we may not want our god to be the Creator because of our belief in evolution.

We may want a god who saves us if we exercise our alleged “free-will”, but we certainly don’t want a god who predestines only His chosen elect to salvation. We think, and may loudly proclaim. “That is not the God I worship!”

But, all these images of god to which we cling in our head are as much idols as the golden calf was in today’s Scripture.

So, what can we do to avoid these golden calves?

Today’s Scripture provides three lessons.

First, we notice that the people of Israel were impatient. They did not wait for Moses. They said to Aaron: “Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”

We likewise may get impatient and stop reading Scripture and sound doctrine and stop faithfully attending church and listening to preaching. We may secretly think: “I know enough about God.”

But, to avoid those golden calves, we should diligently read Scripture and sound doctrine. We should diligently attend church and listen to preaching. “I love those who love me; And those who diligently seek me will find me.” Proverbs 8:17.

Second, the leader Aaron did not resist the wandering desires of the people. Aaron was the one who “fashioned” the idol of the golden calf.

Our leaders, the preachers, teachers, and parents, may likewise be the ones who fashions the idols according to the desires of their congregation or their family.

But, to avoid these golden calves, our leaders must lead: “holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.” Titus 1:9.

Third, the people feasted rather than fasted.

The people should have humbly prayed to God and waited for Moses, rather than proudly feasted and played.

Their leader Moses later provided the right response when he saw what they had done.  “I fell down before the Lord, as at the first, forty days and nights;  I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all your sin which you had committed in doing what was evil in the sight of the Lord to provoke Him to anger.”  Deuteronomy 9:18.

If they did humble themselves, God would have given them grace to endure.  “But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6.


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