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For the past few days, I’ve been thinking about an obscure passage of Scripture from Exodus. I’ve never really looked at it before. But that’s the way it is with God’s Word. What slips past you in one reading, will grab your attention and wrestle you to the ground in another. God draws our attention where He wants it in His time.
Here’s the passage:
“Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.” –Exodus 24:9-11
God has just led His people out of Egypt, given them the Ten Commandments and other assorted instructions, and is in the process of confirming His covenant with them, establishing the Israelites as the people of God. Just before He invites Moses to meet with Him up in the clouds on Mount Sinai, He allows Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders to see Him and to share a meal in His Presence. Wow! They saw God—and He let them live to tell about it.
Four chapters later we find them worshiping a golden calf.
I didn’t understand this—at first.
Now it’s easy to understand how those who haven’t seen God in person (so to speak) may struggle to believe He exists and be tempted to worship other things. But these men saw God! They ate with Him! I had to wonder, “After that experience, how could they even think about worshiping a golden calf?”
Then I took a step back realizing that maybe I was being a bit judgmental. What they did was absolutely wrong, no excuses. But I wanted to look more deeply, to try to understand. (If we stop with a quick judgment, we risk falling into their trap. Understanding their actions, however, can help us avoid making their mistakes.) I asked myself what might have prompted them to do this and if anything in our world might tempt us to do the same. I focused in on the thought of that meal.
God provides food. Cows are food.
Is it possible we’re tempted to worship that which feeds us—whether physically, socially, spiritually, or emotionally?
God (and Moses) had disappeared on the mountain. The people began to wonder who would care for them if God and His representative didn’t come back. Thinking of their stomachs, they worshiped a calf.
Some women worship their husbands, the great breadwinners. Instead of trusting God to provide for all their needs, sometimes through their husbands, they put their husbands in God’s place.
Workaholics worship their jobs counting on them for money and esteem.
Some parents worship their children, seeing them as a failsafe to care for them in their old age. Others worship their bank accounts for the same reason.
Spouses, jobs, children, and bank accounts are all good things, but we must see them as part of God’s provision and thank Him for them. He is the great Provider; He is the only one.
When God is silent, however, we may be tempted to worship whatever we think might be able to take His place, to meet our needs. Instead we must cling to the firm belief that God is with us, He loves us, He sees, He cares.
I wonder if this is why Jesus left us with the imagery and practice of the Last Supper:
“The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” –1 Corinthians 11:23b-26
God established the first covenant, then went away for a time to set things up with Moses. While the people were waiting, they forgot all God had done and promised to do. They lost their faith, yielded to temptation, and turned to a golden calf.
When Jesus established the new covenant, He knew He was going away as well. So He gave us something to do to help us remember what He has done and what He promises to do. When our stomachs start to rumble, rather than panic, we remember and we worship Him.
All my hope is in You, Lord. You are the great Provider–even when you work silently. Thank You for helping me to remember this—all You have done and all You promise to do. You alone are God in my life. I worship only You. Amen.