Originally written 10/16/2015
I’ve been pondering this week’s lesson all week. Wondering what all it can bring to us today.
In order to understand more fully what all went down at the mountain, you really have to start back in Exodus 19, where God calls Moses to come up on the mountain in the first place. God clearly tells Moses that only he can see God. He asks Moses to warn the people that they must not come on the mountain, and the people all agree.
Then, God speaks to the people, which is very scary. Immediately after the 10 commandments, the people all ask Moses to tell them what God is saying so that they do not have to listen. They are terrified (Ex 20:18-21) But this is just what God wants them to be, to have the fear of the Lord in them, so that they will remember and keep the laws he is giving them. Remember, the first commandment is “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me.”
Then, after Moses deals with the people, and tells them why they need to listen to God directly, God commands Moses to make it clearer to the people, do not make any idols. Verse 22- Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.”
So God has told the people twice not to make idols. He spends the next few chapters reiterating and making the commandments clearer to Moses. He then sends Moses back to the people, and has him talk to the people, explaining everything God had said. The people do have the fear of God in them at this point, and they agree to the commandments. They recognize God as who he is, and want to do what is right. Moses goes ahead and writes everything down so they remember.
Then God calls Aaron and the other leaders up the mountain. This is interesting to me. I know that very few people in the Bible are allowed to even look at God. And these people did. They ate and drank in the presence of God. Then God calls Moses and Joshua (this also was new to me! 24:13) to the top of the mountain. Moses tells the leaders to go and wait with the people, to help them while he is gone. He tells the leaders he will be with God and will be gone for a bit.
So the leaders go down to be with the Israelites, and Moses and Joshua go up. I think one interesting is: “To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. 18 Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.” In this verse, I wonder, were the Israelites afraid that God had killed Moses?
Moses spent 40 days and 40 nights up on the mountain talking with God. During this time, God is giving Moses more clarity into how He wants his people to live.
But 40 days is a long time to the people. Especially when they believe they saw Moses be killed. They were terrified of God already, and then saw fire consume the area where they last saw their leader.
Did they think that he was gone? Did they think they were alone and needed something to protect them? Everything they knew before (Egyptian gods) had maybe worked. They started forgetting the instructions God had clearly said. They didn’t understand that God is on a different time schedule then we are.
So they ask Aaron to make an idol. He agrees. I don’t know if he really wanted to do this also, or if maybe he rationalized it in his mind. I don’t really understand it.
But I do know this. Many other times in the Bible there are examples of when God gives his people a promise, but the promise is long in coming about. Look at Abraham and Sarah… They were promised a son, but it took many many years for Isaac to come. God isn’t on our time schedule. We have 2 Peter 3:8-9- “But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”
The people jumped ahead and thought Moses was not coming back. They wanted to save themselves. They tried to solve the problem with the things they knew. So they did the one thing that God clearly, many times, had told them not to do. Made an idol.
Of course God knows all this, he knew they would do it even before. Probably the reason why he told them so many times. God threatens to kill them all. He tells Moses that he will destroy all the other people, and still carry out his promise through Moses. But Moses begs God to not do that. And God listens to Moses. (This reminds me of when Abraham begged God not to destroy Lot’s people). God listened to Moses and agreed. The mercy of God comes clear here.
Moses and Joshua come down the mountain and are furious. They call Aaron and the people into question about what they did. Moses brings about his own punishment on the people (has the Levites kill three thousand) and God brings a plague that kills more.
And even then, God will not allow Moses to look at him anymore. Moses begs God to be with him, but God will only allow his “Presence” to be with him. (His Holy Spirit). He will only allow Moses to look at his back. What changed? Why was it that God allowed the people to look at him, and eat in his presence, but now even Moses must only look on his back? They had sinned.
They did not trust God, Didn’t trust in his timing, didn’t trust in his Presence.
Whew. With all this and even more interesting details, we can pull out a lot of good stuff for us to know today. I really think trusting in God’s timing is clear. Even when it looks like God isn’t going to keep his promises. Even when it looks like Moses isn’t coming back at all. Even when God seems far away. When we are no longer able to look on his face. He is going to keep his promises. God promised to bring the people to the land and he did. He promised to bring them back to him, and he did. It took many many years of wandering and hurting, and questioning.
Has God given you a promise? Has he asked you to wait on him? It is hard, but let’s learn what not to do in this situation!
We also clearly learn that God is a jealous God, and won’t tolerate anything taking his place in our lives. Is there anything that is causing us to not trust in him? Is there something that is taking our worship or thoughts?
It’s a hard lesson. Pretty straightforward, but not quite easy to listen to. We like to hear that God is love. God is merciful, and we learn that in this lesson, too. But sometimes need to be reminded that we need to have a healthy fear of the Lord, and follow his commands. Like keeping him first in our lives.