Exodus 32:10 – 33:9. The rubber meets the road, and the Israelites realize how just badly they’ve messed up.
Exodus 32:10 – 33:9. The rubber meets the road, and the Israelites realize how just badly they’ve messed up.
“Papa’s Bible Stories” brings the Bible to life for your kids. For each episode, I pick a Bible story to talk to my very own kids about. The stories are entirely Bible-based, scripture is quoted at every opportunity, and the kids are always pointed to the Bible as the authority. And we’re not afraid of having a little fun too! It is my hope and prayer that your kids will be excited to explore God’s Word for themselves after hearing each and every episode. #bible #stories #kids #children #adventist #sda
Last we left our story, the Israelites had made a pretty big mistake. They had just agreed with God that in exchange for being His people, that they would follow his law. But almost right away, what did the Israelites do? That’s right…they broke God’s law. They made a golden calf, started praying to it…and worshipping it. And then just in case that wasn’t bad enough…they decided to have a party and celebrate. Yikes! All this was happening while Moses was up on the mountain hearing all about how to build the tabernacle. Just as they were wrapping up, God told Moses what the Israelites were doing at the bottom of the mountain. And that God was super disappointed…and angry. And God told Moses that He would punish the Israelites, and instead of the Israelites being His people, He would make Moses’ family into a great nation and work through Moses instead. All Moses had to do was stand aside and let God punish the Israelites. What was Moses going to do?
Well it certainly must have been a tempting offer. Ever since Moses had started helping the Israelites get out of Egypt they’d been nothing but trouble for him. I mean, not that long ago they’d threatened to kill him…just because they’d run out of water. But on the other hand, Moses really just wanted the best for the Israelites. Sure they’d made a mistake, sure they should have known better, sure they deserved to be punished…but ya know maybe it was all the shepherding he’d done for all those years…he was used to taking care of his flock…and it seemed that he wanted to do the same for the Israelites…to take care of them.
So, Moses made his decision. He was going to stick with the Israelites. And while still up on the mountain, Moses plead with God to save the Israelites. And Moses said to God, “LORD, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? (12) Why should the Egyptians speak, and say, 'He brought them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth'? Turn from Your fierce wrath, and relent from this harm to Your people. (13) Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, 'I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.'” (32:11-13)
So basically Moses was saying to God, “God…don’t forget that you rescued the Israelites from Egypt. And speaking about Egypt…the Egyptians have been watching us…and what would they say about You if You were to wipe out the Israelites? Wouldn’t they think it strange that You ‘rescued’ the Israelites from slavery in Egypt…just wipe them out in the desert? And what about the promises that You made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Are You just giving up on that?” Using these arguments, Moses plead for the Israelites. And through this, Moses showed that he was the unselfish leader of the Israelites…and that he really and truthfully had their best interest at heart. You see…many (if not most) of the leaders in the history of this world haven’t been leaders because they wanted the best their people. More often then not, they’re just interested in power and money…they wanted to be leaders because of selfish reasons. But Moses was not like this, and through this test, Moses showed that he was the man for the job…the man to selflessly lead the Israelites to the Promised Land.
Hearing Moses plead for the Israelites, the Bible says that God, “relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people.” (32:14) God had listened to Moses. And then Moses took the 2 tablets with the 10 commandments on them and headed down the mountain to confront the Israelites about the golden calf. But…as Moses made his way down the mountain he began to hear singing and music. Well that’s kind of strange…who would be singing while they were doing bad things? And when Moses got to the bottom of the mountain, he couldn’t believe the scene in front of him. The Bible says that Moses “saw the calf and the dancing” (32:19) Not only were the Israelites worshipping this golden calf…not only were they committing a terrible sin that only by Moses’ pleading had they escaped being wiped out…but they were celebrating it! They were having a party about it! God hadn’t mentioned that up on the mountain. And Moses was completely shocked.
And now, it was Moses’ turn to get angry. Very angry. The first thing he did was take the two tablets in his hand with the 10 commandments on them and he threw them down to the ground and broke them. These tablets symbolized God’s holy covenant with Israel which the Israelites had ignored in spectacular fashion. And just like how the covenant with God was broken, so now were the tablets. And I’d imagine that this is the moment when the dancing and singing came to a screeching halt. Then Moses walked right through the crowd of stunned partyers…right up to the golden calf and the Bible says that Moses, “took the calf which they had made, burned it in the fire, and ground it to powder” (32:20) Moses wanted to absolutely decimate this idol…this thing that the Israelites were worshipping that was so contrary to God’s commandments. So, he threw it in to the fire, and then ground it into little itty-bitty pieces. And then, to show the Israelites just how meaningless and powerless this idol was, the Bible says that Moses scooped up the powder and then “he scattered it on the water and made the children of Israel drink it.” (32:20) Bleh…I can’t imagine gold tastes very good! But Moses’ point was being made…that that’s how great this idol is…it’s so great that you’re drinking it now. If anyone had been confused as to whether what they were doing was wrong…it was certainly clear now.
After Moses was done with the golden calf, he turned his attention to Aaron. Remember Aaron had been put in charge while Moses was gone…and was supposed to be making sure something like this didn’t happen. And Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you have brought so great a sin upon them?” (32:21) Moses probably thought that Aaron had been threatened…or maybe even tortured into letting this happen. And Aaron, thoroughly embarrassed, replied to Moses, “Do not let the anger of my lord become hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil. (23) For they said to me, 'Make us gods that shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.' (24) And I said to them, 'Whoever has any gold, let them break it off.' So they gave it to me, and I cast it into the fire, and this calf came out.” (32:22-23) So…they hadn’t tortured Aaron to let them build the idol…in fact…Aaron had approved…and then helped them build it? And on top of this Aaron seemed to be saying that when he put the gold into the fire that the calf had miraculously come out…almost like God had done it? This was an obvious lie. Aaron’s go-along-to-get-along approach had really come back to bite him. As the leader, and as someone who had been blessed to work so closely with Moses and to directly see all that God had done, Aaron was especially guilty of what had happened with the golden calf. But Moses would deal with Aaron later.
After Moses was done talking to Aaron, he turned his attention to the people. Even though Moses had already plead with God to spare the Israelites, and God had already granted Moses his request…still…in order for the people to understand just how terrible this thing was…unfortunately there needed to be a punishment…and it needed to be done right away. And so, Moses, still shocked and angry at everything that had happened, headed to the entrance of the Israelite camp. And then Moses addressed all the people and said, “Whoever is on the LORD's side—come to me!” (32:26) And then the Bible says that all the tribe of Levi came to Moses. Apparently, not everybody had been worshipping the idol…the Levites…wanting nothing to do with worshipping the idol…had somehow kept themselves out of it. And Moses’ next words were where the rubber really met the road. And he said, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel: 'Let every man put his sword on his side, and go in and out from entrance to entrance throughout the camp, and let every man kill his brother, every man his companion, and every man his neighbor.'” (32:27)
Yikes! Now, this might sound like the Levites were supposed to kill all the rest of the Israelites…but that’s not what God meant. We know that all the other tribes survived for hundreds and thousands of years after this, so God obviously wasn’t telling the Levites to kill all the non-Levites. But what was more than likely happening here is that the Levites were commanded to kill all the instigators and leaders who had pushed the rest of Israelites to build and worship the golden calf…all the people who maybe played on the fears of the Israelites and pressured Aaron…all the people who did not repent or say sorry for what they had done…all the people that, if left unchecked, would constantly lead the Israelites to do bad things. And so, probably very reluctantly, the Bible says that “the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And about three thousand men of the people fell that day.” (32:28) It was a terrible punishment…both for the 3 thousand who had to die…and also for the Levites who had to go around and kill friends and neighbors.
With all of this, if they hadn’t been already, the Israelites were keenly aware of just how bad the situation was. They now fully understood that they had made a terrible mistake in worshipping the golden calf. And as the sun set for the day, probably many of the Israelites were wondering what the next punishment was going to be. The next day, Moses said to the people, “You have committed a great sin. So now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” (32:30) So back up the mountain Moses went, and again he plead with God to not just spare the Israelites from complete destruction (he’d already had that conversation), but to also forgive them of their sin and to restore them back to where they’d been before the whole Golden Calf thing…back to being in a covenant…back to being God’s specials people.
But the punishments weren’t quite over yet. God caused a plague to come on the people. And then God told Moses, “I will not go up in your midst, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” (33:3) That is to say, that the pillar of cloud that had followed them since Egypt…the one that had protected them from the sun and then provided them light by night…would not be going with them to the Promised Land. God was in the cloud, and if God stayed so close to them for the rest of the way, they might risk another incident like this one.
And…surprisingly…the Israelites were very upset about this. The tablets had been broken, three thousand people had died, and then a plague had come…none of which seemed to bother the Israelites as much as the pillar of cloud leaving. When they heard the news about the pillar of cloud, the Bible says that the Israelites, “mourned” (33:4) …that is to say they cried. And then the Bible says that Moses, “took his tent and pitched it outside the camp, far from the camp, and called it the tabernacle of meeting.” (33:7) It was like God couldn’t meet with Moses while Moses was too close to the Israelites. Which meant that Moses had to separate himself from the Israelites too. Things were not looking good…the covenant was broken, God continued to say that He had better not be too close to the Israelites, the pillar of cloud was going to leave them, and now even Moses (their fearless leader) could not stay in the camp with them. Things were looking pretty grim for the Israelites.
But…not all hope was lost yet. Moses was still pleading with God for them. God hadn’t actually left them yet. So there was at least something going for them. But how were they going to get out of this mess? How could they possibly get back to being God’s people again after messing up so bad? Was it even possible after what they had done? Well, we’re going to find out…next time.