Exodus 32:15-29 Moses turned and went down the mountain with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. 16 The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets. 17 When Joshua heard the noise of the people shouting, he said to Moses, "There is the sound of war in the camp." 18 Moses replied: "It is not the sound of victory, it is not the sound of defeat; it is the sound of singing that I hear." 19 When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. 20 And he took the calf they had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it. 21 He said to Aaron, "What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?" 22 "Do not be angry, my lord," Aaron answered. "You know how prone these people are to evil. 23 They said to me, '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.' 24 So I told them, 'Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off.' Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!" 25 Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies. 26 So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, "Whoever is for the LORD, come to me." And all the Levites rallied to him. 27 Then he said to them, "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.'" 28 The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died. 29 Then Moses said, "You have been set apart to the LORD today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day."
“I don’t know, Dad. It must have been the woodland fairies.”
That was the explanation of a friend’s five-year-old-daughter for how the whipped cream got out of the fridge and all over her and her brother’s face. The fairies. And the look on her face didn’t betray a single doubt or worry that her story wouldn’t hold up. There were only two questions: Did she really think her would believe her? And, was he able to able to discipline her without laughing?
What kind of excuses have your kids given you over the years?
No doubt every parent’s heard even more ridiculous excuses. But being a parent is a serious matter! Even underneath laughable lies and unbelievable excuses, there’s a dear child of God who needs to be corrected, rebuked, forgiven, and always led back to her Savior’s love.
So also in our Christian lives.
God had rescued the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. He engineered an ingenious escape plan that only He could arrange. He used plagues of water turning to blood, frogs, gnats, flies, livestock dieing, boils, hail, locusts, darkness and the firstborn dieing. Then Pharaoh kicked the Israelites, their leader – and their God out of Egypt. He had enough of all of them!
God then used His appointed leader, Moses to lead the people to an out-of-the-way mountain range called Sinai. This is where God intended to lay out the special arrangement He wanted to have with this chosen nation until the Savior was born.
Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving the Lord’s Book of the Covenant for forty days. This was way too long for the Israelites (Exodus 32:1). At least that was the word floating from tent to tent, and the people got scared: “Maybe Moses got too close to the fire and lightning we see up there.” “Maybe we’re stranded out here in the middle of nowhere. Who will lead us?” “How can we have any hope and help to get out of this situation?”
So, they convinced Aaron, Moses’ brother, to fashion something that would represent a higher power, not a hidden God, but something they could see. “How about an image like the nature-god we knew in Egypt?” Aaron got them to cough up their jewelry and fashioned a golden calf.
How ridiculous! These people had experienced the ten plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, water flowing from a rock, manna falling from heaven, and quail landing in the camp. Every day they were witnessing the glory of the Lord at the edge of camp in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and pillar of cloud by night. For forty days they observed thunder and lightening all day long on Mt. Sinai. … And still the Israelites forgot the one true God who had brought them out of Egypt. They were the negative fulfillment of St. John’s words in our Epistle lesson: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15).
Aware of what was going on, God interrupted his chat with Moses, and told him, “You better go down and get them back on track, or I’ll wipe them out and start over.”
When Moses reached the camp, it must have been like an episode of “Israelites Gone Wild.” Joshua thought it sounded like a battle. Moses rightly heard that a party was going on. And what a party it was! The NIV says that the people were “running wild.” But, the King James Version says that they were “naked.” This was quite a party!
Listen to Aaron’s excuse for the party. He told his younger brother, “Do not be angry, my lord. You know how prone these people are to evil. They said to me, ‘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.’ So I told them, ‘Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off.’ Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!”
It’s easy to read Aaron’s excuse and laugh. Did he really think Moses would believe that a golden calf leapt out of the fire? Or that Moses’ time on the mountain was really an excuse for their apostasy from God? How ridiculous!
Aaron’s feeble excuses remind us of our own shallow rationalizations for failing to love God above all things. Our excuses are just as laughable. Our explanations for our sin are just as ridiculous.
The young couple excuses living together because of the financial burdens of getting married – as though what they did with their money was more important than what they did with their bodies which are a temple of the Holy Spirit.
The husband looks at pornography and blames it on his wife’s coldness; the wife gripes about her husband to her friends and excuses it as just blowing off steam.
We don’t have time for home devotions (but plenty of time for the internet).
We don’t pray for missionaries (but we text our friends).
We don’t have money for increased offerings to support God’s ministries (but we have just enough to go out to eat or get a cappuccino).
We can’t find a chance to tell that heartbroken friend about the boundless love of their Savior (but we’ve pinned plenty of our favorite recipes to our Pinterest page).
Our excuses would be laughable, if they weren’t so sad! We are every bit as ridiculous as our children or the children of Israel!
We dance around the calf, just like they did.
When we spit God’s name out like chewed gum and stick “OMG” onto the start of every other sentence, we are dancing around the calf.
When we put in our time at church out of habit and fail to take to heart and put into practice during the week the truths we hear, we’re dancing around the calf.
When we use our gold and silver to fashion gods of our own making instead of using our money to worship the one true God, we are dancing around the calf.
When we let our tongue flap around loose with gossiping or griping, we’re dancing around the calf.
When we let our sexual desires run wild, we might as well be dancing around the calf naked.
Make as many excuses as you like – they are all ridiculous in God’s eyes!
We have seen the Savior’s love in His forgiveness; we have experienced dining with our Lord at His banquet feast of the Lord’s Supper; we have enjoyed God’s blessings of family, home, work, church and nation. God is every bit as present around us as He was for the Israelites. Yet, how ridiculous that we forget Him!
How often don’t we negatively fulfill St. John’s words: “For everything in the world-- the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does-- comes not from the Father but from the world” (1 John 2:16).
Moses called out to the people, “Whoever is for the LORD, come to me.” Only the Levites rallied to Moses’ call and showed that they loved the LORD even more than they loved their brothers.
Moses’ actions seem unbelievably harsh. 3,000 people died at the hands of the Levites. Please understand that God was ready to wipe out the entire nation of 2 million over these sins. They had become a laughingstock to the heathen people in the area. They had made the one true God a laughingstock to all these unbelievers.
Israelite mothers, fathers and children were killed by their own countrymen. Yet none of this was done in hatred. Moses would rather have people die than have the people die an eternal death in hell.
This is a picture of Jesus’ love. God takes our sin so seriously that He warns us of the fires of hell. Moses pleaded with God not to give His people the punishment they deserved. Then Moses put people to death to show them the seriousness of their sins. Jesus not only warns us about hell, He actually suffered the punishment we deserved in our place. He endured the eternity of hell during His hours on the cross.
The account of the golden calf allows no space for a lackadaisical Christianity or a half-hearted approach to our faith lives.
Our spiritual lives are serious matters!
We see in this account the seriousness of our sins. The anger of the Lord, the people having to drink the gold melted into their water, the culling of the most egregious of the partiers. But we also see in this account the seriousness of our Savior.
As sadly ridiculous as we are, God is serious about His forgiveness found in Jesus. Because we have danced around the golden calf, Jesus worshiped the one true God in our place. We have tossed God’s name around carelessly, but Jesus used His Father’s name to pray for us. We have waffled under the pressure from gay marriage groups, but Jesus upheld the sanctity of marriage by attending the wedding in Cana and providing for the reception. He worshiped regularly, respected His parents, and taught people to respect a government that was oppressive and corrupt. He remained generous with His time toward those who were reaching out for help. His desires were always pure as the driven snow.
Jesus is not just our model of what we should have been doing and should do in the future. He is our perfect substitute. Everything He has done perfectly He has given to us in order to cover over our imperfections. When the final tally comes on the Last Day and we have to stand before God to give an account, we won’t have to feel like the Israelites who were dancing naked and caught with their pants down. We’ll be covered by the robes of the perfect life of Jesus.
Kids may say that Bigfoot ate all the marshmallows or that aliens broke the garage door. We forgive them for their ridiculous excuses. How much more grateful are we that God forgives our ridiculous excuses. Our sex outside of marriage because we are lonely or our spiteful tongue because we’re just getting even or our lack of worship because it’s the summer. If we’re being honest, we have to admit that our excuses for sinning are just as lame and ineffective and ridiculous to our heavenly parent.
God doesn’t want to hear our excuses. He wants to hear the confession of our repentant hearts. He doesn’t want to be told why we did something. He wants us to admit our need for a Savior who would cover us with His righteousness and grant us the forgiveness He alone can offer.
So that we might be forgiven was why Jesus was born, lived His life, suffered, died and was buried. So we might be assured His work was completed and all who believe are saved, Jesus rose from the dead. Now to those who believe in Him and live their lives in heartfelt contrition, there is God's promise of forgiveness and eternal life.
Jesus said in our Gospel lesson, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).
Every day, dear Christian, take the sword to your sinful nature. Don’t just rebuke it (or tolerate it!). Kill it!
Every day, dear Christian, soak in the love of what Jesus has done. God loves you so much he actually suffered hell in our place, to pay for sins that are beyond excuse.
Every day, dear Christian, speak honestly, strongly, frankly and lovingly to those in your life. When they offer excuses for their sin, use the sword of God’s Word. Too much is at stake to do any less. And point them back to their gracious Lord.
Remind yourself so you can remind others, God forgives even the ridiculous. Amen.