I’ve always been fascinated by the Exodus story. As a kid I loved watching Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 epic, “The Ten Commandments.” It set a new standard in movie making with its massive crowd scenes and special effects. But with all the splendor of such an incredible saga, I remember becoming so dismayed as I watched Charlton “Moses” Heston come down from Mt. Sinai with his stone tablets, only to find the Israelites dancing around a golden statue of a calf. I was dismayed because I thought, “Why in the world, after all they’ve been through and after all YHWH did for them, would they resort to skipping around a golden bovine statue?”
Apparently, the Israelites decided it would be preferable to be able to see the god they worshiped, instead of worshiping some invisible, mysterious God. Sure, this invisible God had freed them from captivity and had miraculously provided them with food and water when they took a wrong turn in the desert, and who can forget the incredible display of power in parting the Red Sea? But I guess it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough to have a pillar of fire displayed by night and a massive cloud hovering by day, they wanted something more earthy and solid. Something they could hold on to and control. Something they could form themselves.
As I was reading through Exodus the other day, I noticed something. The story of the Golden Calf is in Exodus 32, but just three chapters before that in Exodus 29, I read about the consecration of the priests. This was a process commanded by God as a way to prepare and set apart Moses’ brother, Aaron, along with his sons, to perform the sacrificial worship. In verse one of chapter 29 is says, “Take a young bull and two rams without defect.” It goes on to tell them how and what to sacrifice, where to put the blood and guts and such, and does so in great detail; very thorough and explicit instructions from the Lord Himself.
So this is what caught my attention and got me thinking; Israel was instructed about how to worship using a young bull and two rams, etc. and then three chapters later, while Moses was on the mountain, apparently taking his own sweet time up there, the Israelites got antsy and decided to take it upon themselves to fashion their own idol to worship, a golden calf. I wonder if they were thinking, “You know, YHWH told us to take a young bull without defect to sacrifice for Him, so wouldn’t it be even cooler if we made one out of our most precious jewelry and have our artists cast a GOLD statue of a calf without any defects?! All in favor, say ‘aye’!”
So is it possible the church today is capable of doing the same thing? We’ve been instructed in how and what to worship using music and art, the Bible and Communion; using it all for the worship and glory of God. But isn’t it possible that we have taken these resources for worship and formed them in to our own idols? Instead of focusing on God, we focus on excellence in performing arts, or we start actually worshiping the Bible, focusing on it to the exclusion of the Triune God. Some in the church get more joy in arguing over biblical interpretation than they do in humbling themselves in worship before God. Some in the church has turned Communion into a superstition and ritual that has become their object of worship, instead of using the Table to proclaim the hope of the Gospel. I suppose it’s just human nature, not unlike the Israelites thousands of years earlier who got stuck in “idle” worship turning the elements of worship into the object of worship. Sacrifices are meant to be sacrificed, not worshiped.
What’s your golden calf?