- If you are normally just reading the OT section, I would encourage you to make time to do both chapters today. They fit together very well. -
Key verse: Exodus 32:4
Big verse: It took a night to take Israel out of Egypt, but forty years to take Egypt out of Israel.
Today's text is one of Israel's more famous failures. While Moses was still on Mount Sinai, the Israelites began to grow impatient. They had not seen their leader for weeks, and although God had brought them out of Egypt, they wanted someone they could see and touch. The basic human impulse to idolatry which we first met back in Genesis 3 is in full force here, we trade the eternal and worthy for the temporary and worthless (2 Corinthians 4:18). They went to Aaron, Moses' brother and the one who had been his spokesman because Moses refused to speak to Pharaoh himself. Aaron took their gold and made a golden calf, and said something very interesting: "These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt." "Gods" is the Hebrew word elohim, which can mean either "gods" or "God" (when the plural implies the Trinity). But the ambiguity is removed in the next section, when Aaron built an altar and said "Tomorrow is a feast to the LORD." He built a golden calf, and then declared that they would worship the LORD!
Aaron and the Israelites did not think of themselves as abandoning God. They were just choosing to use this golden calf to worship Him. Theologians call this syncretism, you have probably heard me call it "God-and." They wanted to worship God and the golden calf, like we might want to serve God and money, God and popularity, or God and our own impulses. We want to have God and our sin too, until we blend the two and do not know where one ends and the other begins. God's reaction was swift: He announced that He would destroy the nation, and raise up a new one from Moses alone. But Moses prayed on behalf of the Israelites, asking God to show them mercy for the sake of His glory.
This is a challenging passage for us. Did Moses really need to talk God out of destroying the Israelites? Of course, God knew what Moses was going to pray before he prayed it, indeed, before the world was made! Rather, God was demonstrating that He shows mercy when there is a mediator, making Moses a picture of Jesus. He will do the same thing when we get to Job (although that took place before Exodus), and God tells Job's friends that He will forgive them if Job prays for them. So Moses prays, and God commits to leading them into the promised land. Yet, there was still wrath. Moses ground the calf up and made the idolators drink it (this God they had worshipped would soon be their waste, see also Isaiah 44:9-20). The Levites took up arms and killed three thousand of the idolaters, and God sent a plague. But the nation as a whole was spared.
God had taken the Israelites out of Egypt in a moment, but the long habits of idolatry would take much longer to extinguish. It would not be a day or a week, but as we will see in the coming days 40 long years. The same thing is true of us. Because Jesus is our mediator, we are saved in a moment, but it takes a lifetime of obedience to become the men and women God has called us to be.
Discussion idea: What are some ways you are tempted to worship "God-and"? Why is worship of the tangible so tempting?
Prayer focus: Lord, pull the world out of my heart, as you have redeemed me from the world. Teach me to love what you love, hate what you hate, and find my delight in You.
Key Verse: Hebrews 11:26
Big Idea: The Son of God lets us see the unseen.
Hebrews 11 is one of the most famous chapters in the Bible, often called something like the "Hall of Faith." It begins with the definition of faith - “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Faith lets us hold onto what God has promised, but that has not yet been revealed. The chapter then proceeds to give the stories of major exemplars of faith, from Abel down through the ages. While some of these are quite short, the description of Moses is lengthy, beginning with the faith of his parents, and moving through the Exodus.
This mini-biography is the story of how Moses, who was raised as a prince of Egypt, turned his back on the pleasures that he saw in the moment to throw in his lot with the Israelites instead, confident that they would go to the land God had promised. He saw that his unseen reward was greater than the visible costs. Moses traded the treasures of Egypt for what ended up being 40 years wandering in the desert and never lived to enter the Promised Land. Still, he trusted that it was better to suffer with Jesus than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of this world and he trusted that even death itself could not keep God from fulfilling His promises. Moses knew that one day, Jesus would come again and raise him from the dead to dwell in the land with Him.
Throughout the letter, Hebrews has been explaining to us that Jesus is better. He is better than the Law, better than sacrifices, better than the priesthood, and better than the Temple. But Moses' example shows us that even the pain of the Christian life is better than the pleasure of the world. Sobbing in God’s service is better than swinging a putter in a plush corner office. Faith is our confidence that God's Word is worth more than we can see. When we walk by faith, we realize that we may face suffering and heartache in this life, but trust that when we cannot see what God is doing, we can still trust who He is. In Jesus, we see the unseen.
Discussion Idea: When have you ever traded short term pleasure for the longer term? Many pastors and ministry leaders are discouraged right now and other careers could seem tempting. How do you remember that it is better to suffer with God’s people than to enjoy sin for a season?
Prayer Focus: Pray for the ability to see and trust God with the bigger picture.