What is the lesson today for us from the story of the Israelites' worship of a golden calf statue?
Commentary on Exodus 25
25 1 The Lord said to Moses, 2 "Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give. 3 These are the offerings you are to receive from them: gold, silver and bronze; 4 blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair; 5 ram skins dyed red and another type of durable leather; acacia wood; 6 olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; 7 and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece.
8 "Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. 9 Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you." . . .
. . . 32 1 When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, "Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him."
2 Aaron answered them, "Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me." 3 So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool.
Then they said, "These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt."
5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, "Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord." 6 So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings.
The determined attempt to plant a thriving Nazarene congregation in the heart of New York City was told in the book Shepherd of Times Square.
Led by Rev. Paul Moore, a small band of Nazarenes opened an evangelistic ministry in the middle of a city which, for many, epitomizes evil and decay. They aimed to revitalize the lives of New York City's spiritually needy people -- from creative artists to teenage prostitutes.
However, at one point in his ministry at the Lamb's Club, Paul Moore was brought up short by the fact that several of the new Christians in the congregation had not made a clean break with their sinful past.
The problem was not unique. Most pastors have had to deal with new converts who sporadically give in to temptations to return to old sinful practices.
It even happened to the Israelites in the Sinai desert. "We will do everything the Lord has said,"1 they had shouted. But scarcely had the echoes of that promise died away, when they they were dancing in idolatrous worship around a golden calf, an idol reminiscent of one of the pagan gods of Egypt.
It must have been a pathetic -- if not disgusting -- sight: God's chosen people indulging in revelry around a golden calf, saying, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt." 2
It was only Moses' intercession with the Lord that saved the Israelites from complete destruction as a consequence of their sin.
For a tiny congregation in Times Square, it was the intercession of their pastor during a midnight walk along the East River.
The next Sunday morning, a powerful, Holy-Spirit-inspired message by Paul Moore in the Lamb's Club included this statement: "No matter what the sin to which you cling is, you may be sure that true deliverance will not come unless you hate it."
What every new Christian has to learn is that making a start with the Lord is not, by itself, sufficient. The kind of spiritual shallowness that led the Israelites to stray can also send us dancing around a golden calf which recalls our past.
Think about it for a minute. What is it that causes you to rejoice? Do you find yourself reading your bank statement with more interest than you do your Bible? Do you prepare your income tax forms with more diligence than you do your Sunday School lesson? Or is your golden calf more likely to be in some other area of your life?
What Paul Moore -- who is now with CitiHope International -- had to say in New York City is true: You'll never get true deliverance from the temptation to worship your golden calf until you come to hate it. Beginning and continuing a relationship with the Lord means facing up to God's call to holiness and that means an abhorrence of sin.
Let's firmly resist the temptation to go against the will of God. Let's leave our golden calf behind and walk in the way of holiness! [ Nine audio sermons on holiness ]
1 Exodus 24:7, New International Version
2 Exodus 32:8, New International Version
-- Howard Culbertson,
I wrote this devotional article while serving as a missionary in Italy. It originally appeared in Standard, a weekly Faith Connections take-home curriculum piece for adult Sunday school classes published by The Foundry.
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