Moses was on the top of Mount Sinai for about 40 days during which he received the Ten Commandments inscribed on stone tablets, as well as the blueprint of the Tabernacle and the details pertaining to its construction. The passage is found in the book of Exodus, chapter 32. In the valley, Aaron, under the prompting of the people, builds a golden calf, and the people started to worship it. I would encourage people to slow down and read the chapter carefully; it is rather difficult to understand their intention for building the calf. Was it a distraction? Was that its purpose, to keep the people occupied and away from thinking of their current condition? Were they just generally bored? What exactly were they worshipping? What did they think they were worshipping?
Aaron saw that the people were happy with his handiwork, so he built an altar before the calf, and announced that there was going “to be a feast to the Lord.” Several hundred years later, a king named Jeroboam, the first king of the northern kingdom of Israel (after the nation split into northern and southern halves), did the same thing but added a few more details. Nonetheless the intent was the same: a distraction from Truth. Escapism?
The Bible says that Aaron had made the people a disgrace before the eyes of the world, and yet, when Moses called him to account for his actions, he had an excuse. In essence, he said, “It is the people’s fault.” There was even an element of the “miraculous” in it: “I told them to give me their ornaments; I threw it in the fire and out came the calf!” He gave the people what they wanted, and in the process, tried to bring the involvement of God into it. But the God of Israel had no part in such a system.
How in the world did the idea of a golden calf come into the mind of Aaron when the people told him to make them a god? Why would the desire for a god that could be made be the first thought in their minds at this moment? Why would Aaron make it out of gold anyway? It is true that the Egyptians worshipped the Apis bull as well as the Hathor cow. In the Egyptian pantheon, there were a couple of cults that worshipped the bull. The most significant was the Apis. The Egyptians venerated the animal for its “courage and strength and fighting spirit.”, thus becoming a respected deity. It was one of the symbols of the Pharaoh as well. I could understand if this was the thought that went through Aaron’s head, but he created a golden calf, not a bull or a cow. Why would he do that?
It is a detail that can escape without notice, but I believe it is something to which everyone must pay attention. It was a little version of the spirit of Egypt. Joshua would call it the “reproach of Egypt” some 40 years later after the Israelites finally crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land. It is what the Apostle Paul called the “power of the flesh” in Romans 7. Aaron and the rest of the people of Israel at the foot of the mountain did what many do when facing moments of doubt and fear, and that is to somehow blend the desires of the sin nature with worshipping God. Hence, a “golden calf”!
What if Moses never came down from that mountain? How long would the people of Israel have continued dancing around the golden calf? How long? Probably until they killed themselves. Or considering the ingenuity and craftiness of such people as Aaron, Miriam, Korah, Dathan and Abriram, they could have formed a new type of nation of Israel, one that would be a source of shame to the whole world.
In the King James Version, Exodus 32:4 reads that as Aaron fashioned the golden calf, the people said, “These be the gods O Israel that brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.” Interesting. It was after that acclamation that Aaron decided to “sanctify” the calf with a “feast to the Lord.” The first three commandments of the Ten Commandments were broken, and in subsequent decades, as it says in the book of Judges, the people of Israel would devolve into a state of anarchy against one another. That anarchy was what Moses saw when he came down from the mountain.
Both Moses and Joshua understood the significance. Trouble would plague the people of Israel. And what was the constant inclination, the constant refrain? “Let’s go back to Egypt.” I doubt that they could even fathom what would happen if they had indeed done that; I doubt their former slave masters would have rolled out the red carpet and said, “Welcome back!” Freedom, development, and promotion for the people of Israel would never happen in Egypt. Instead, most would have been killed, and the rest would have found out that their misery would be much worse than before.
One of the most difficult parts of the Christian life has to do with the doctrine and practices of Sanctification and Separation. Theoretically, in the United States where there is Christian television blaring 24 hours a day, there would be a gigantic number of people who would have “prayed the prayer of salvation” at least once (in certain programs, it only takes 30 seconds without even a sermon on Sin or Salvation!). But Sanctification and Separation is a matter that has much to do with church attendance (and this point is only relevant depending on the type of church a new believer attends), where said person can be a part of the fellowship in the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit. If he or she ends up in a place where the Bible is not believed, preached, taught, followed with 100% conviction of the inerrancy and infallibility of the Word of God, and where the members do not surrender to its ultimate authority in faith and practice; if they end up in a place without the movement of the Holy Ghost, then that new believer’s church attendance and adherence to instruction is completely in vain to the point of eternal damnation.
What do I (as a new believer) do now? Where do I go from here? How do I read the Bible and relate its powerful message into my life? How will I know what to change in regards to my life, and why? How do I find the purpose of God in my life? These are questions that every believer should ask themselves, and pastors need to be certain that their respective churches and ministries will be the place where the answers will be provided, and where Spirit-filled, Spirit-led fellowship will be experienced. Each new believer must come to know that faith is not merely an intellectual exercise, but a powerful reality capable of transforming their lives if they will allow it.
Just as God was in the business of turning a group of dependent slaves into a nation that would conquer the land of Canaan for the purpose of God, all of us in the New Testament Church have a proverbial “Egypt” that we come out of on the day we accepted Jesus Christ as our personal Savior. For the child of God in the New Testament Church, the old sinful life will always be in the past tense, and (according to the Apostle Paul) must be kept in the past tense. However, there are a few differences between us today and the Israelites in the wilderness. Our destination is eternal, not temporal or temporary. Our journey is filled with many points of blessing, but also many points of difficulty. In the process of this journey, the Holy Spirit prepares us to face the Lord Jesus Christ through the process of Sanctification. He makes us holy and continues to make us holy until we are glorified with the Resurrected Lord. THE CHOICE THEN, BEFORE EACH BELIEVER, IS A CHOICE BETWEEN THE CROSS OF CHRIST OR THE GOLDEN CALF.
Jesus said of anyone who wanted to follow Him that they must “deny themselves and take up their cross.” The implication is fairly simple and yet profound. We follow His example. It was on that Cross that the judgment and curse that should have fallen on mankind forever was instead nailed and paid for by the Blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, the Lord Jesus. The Cross of Christ: it is the doorway as well as the path to eternal life. By the sacrifice of our Lord on that Cross, we have purpose as well as a connection to the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. And whenever we feel lost, it is that Cross that serves as our lighthouse and point of reference. We remember that Jesus Christ is our Savior and our Lord and our future. We learn that God is in the process of making us Holy each day as we (in the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15) “die daily”. We understand His purpose in our lives. We learn that this world is fleeting, the next world is forever, and we gain the perspective that Jim Elliot (the missionary who was martyred with four other missionaries trying to minister to the Auca Indians in 1956) had as he declared those immortal words: “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
The “Preaching of Christ and Him Crucified” is the only message of the Church. It must never be demoted to the sidelines or used as nothing more than a prop; but this exactly what has happened in many a church and ministry all over the world. The Golden Calf has replaced the Cross; after all, its message is easier. Its focus is only on the first-person, “I,” and who would not want that? There is just one problem: it is a lie, and eventually every lie will have an unfortunate confrontation with the Truth.
The Cathedral of the Golden Calf is popular today because it seems to absolve people from responsibility for their actions by placing the blame on others. It offers a spiritual “high” or intoxication without worship. It has sound and fury but no power. What’s worse, the claims of its preachers and adherents are soon revealed to be nothing but hollow platitudes that have enriched the lives of the “Aarons” and others who build the “calf” but cause the destruction of all else because the Golden Calf cannot change people to righteousness and holiness. Rather, it offers absolution: “I (not God) pardon you.” In essence, Sin is written off to psychosis, or some other factor, and ignored.
This year of our Lord, 2020 AD, has offered the biggest dose of reality within the last 100 years of the Church, since the time of the advent of the modern Pentecostal Movement. The Church is being put through a sifting process and only God knows how it will turn out. Over the course of the last several years, the Church has seen the growth of many ideas: the “Prosperity Gospel”, “Name It And Claim It”, “Prophesy your blessing”, “Woman, thou are loosed!”, “Your best life now”, “the New Church movement”, “Social Gospel”, “God loves everybody and He’s not angry at anybody”. I do not have to decry or deny anything today; the seven months of 2020 have already proven whether there was any substance to any of these ideas or not.
Megachurches lie empty or dormant. Many churches (of all sizes) are filing for bankruptcy because they cannot pay their bills. Many famous ministries have gone strangely silent. What is worse is that the settings and circumstances of the times have caused a more severe problem which has affected the Church more than its pocketbook, though many preachers and leaders are oblivious to this fact.
For far too long, the focus has been on self-satisfaction and not on the Cross. Success was the name of the game and the focus of life. Making money and seeing the kids go to college was all we lived for. We went to church not to worship God as much as for personal entertainment. The pastor’s message was critiqued or ignored. Prayer meetings were hardly attended, intercessory prayers and tarry meetings were announced for the “those who wanted that sort of thing;” 99% of the church had better things to do. Socializing replaced Spirituality. Worship became an entertaining experience that had no movement in the heart. Many a church administration thought nothing of the spiritual life of the church as long as the tithes and offerings were coming in, and this notion has trickled down to the “believers.” “Some money will get the preacher off our back and secure our good standing in the church!” There was nothing to worry about: the kids were doing great in school and everyone had great paying jobs. Life was good. And then the “dose of reality” came: COVID-19.
The true state of every church is being revealed at present. Fear has gripped the hearts of people so strongly that they are afraid to step out of the door of their house. Almost all the churches (in the United States) stopped having services in March and have yet to open, even after permission was given by many of the states. People are finding out about the difficult world of internet ministry. According to the Barna Research Group in a recent statistic, church attendance via the internet has dropped 40%. In theory, it is possible to have gatherings on social media via various platforms, but it is not working well with regards to worship. Small groups are possible; the only problem is that people within said church are afraid to gather for fear of the coronavirus. People who work in hospitals are afraid to go to work. Their family members are afraid when they come home. Families are completely discombobulated with fears about schools reopening and lockdowns happening again; in short, a state of confusion leading to madness. And we haven’t even begun talking about the spiritual condition of the church yet!
I am not fatalistic; I believe that God does have a plan. The only difficulty in said plan is that there must be some people who have the courage to believe and follow Him. Moses destroyed the calf after he got down from the mountain, and forced the people to drink bitter water from the grindings of the calf. The process of coming back to the living God and His power took several months. Moses set up the Tent of Meeting some distance away from the main camp, a place where he alone entered to spend time with God in the Pillar of the Cloud. That fellowship and experience reached out to the millions who were watching and prepared the nation for a revival.
It may have taken months, but God turned back the hearts of the people of Israel through that period of the Tent of Meeting. Perhaps God can do the same thing during this period of instability caused by COVID-19. We can at least hope for that as we pray for a movement of the Holy Spirit as we kneel at the foot of the Cross. May God hear from heaven and heal the land.