Day 11 – Idolatry and Exodus 32
In the coming movement through the wilderness, God graciously and kindly desires to reveal more and more of our heart to us. While the terrain can be quite harsh on this journey, it is foundational to remember that it is His “kindness that leads us to repentance.” (Romans 2:4) Repentance is that beautiful rhythm of reflect, release, and remember which is invited as we see those parts of our heart that would lead us astray. In the overall journey from expectation to trust, this week we come to the specific movement: from striving to rest.
Striving is an energy which is grounded in the impulse that we have to control whatever is going on around us. In the cherished verse from Psalm 46, God encourages His people to “be still (or, cease striving) and know that I am God.” Why? If you read through the previous verses, you see that war and destruction was all around. The imagination of the people had gone wild, and they really believed that their world was falling apart. And what do we do when we perceive that things are out of control … that we’ve lost all semblance of power? We tend to run to things we believe will help us regain a sense of equilibrium, a sense of control.
In 1 Corinthians 10:7, Paul writes: “Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.’” The issue of the heart we are encouraged to explore this week is idolatry. For most of us, idolatry is not something on our radar. Compared to our observations of the ancient world, idolatry may not be as recognizable in our modern world because objects of false worship are generally regular, familiar parts of our everyday existence. But even for the ancients, what seems odd to us was regular and familiar to them, and the dynamics at the heart level were the same as what we experience today. Idolatry is so dangerous because it can be hard to detect.
The incident to which Paul refers in 1 Corinthians is found in Exodus 32:1-6:
“When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, ‘Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ So Aaron said to them, ‘Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.’ So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, ‘Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.’ And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.”
It’s easy to see what is going on in this passage, and yet harder to see how this might be at work in our own lives. The people had grown impatient. How often are we impatient with the work of God in our lives? How often to do we want we want … now? God may seem slow, but His timing is always perfect. We can trust in the slowness of God because He is our provider and will never leave us or forsake us. Impatience is something we might notice as an issue when idolatry is at work in our lives. And it can also be an invitation to seek God’s heart so that our desires would be furthered shaped by Him. Sit with these questions for a few minutes … where does your mind tend to go when impatience arises? Where do you tend to look when impatient?
An idol is a false god as opposed to the true God of the universe. We were created and designed to live in a dependent relationship with God (consider our reflections from last week) as the one who is everything … the sovereign One, the powerful One, the loving One, the holy One, the omniscient One. When seeking our independence, we gravitate toward things that will give us a personal grasp of those same things … control, power, love, holiness, knowledge, etc. When God isn’t coming through the way we thought He might or when we thought He would or how we thought He should, we look for other sources of the things that only God can provide. Without careful observation and reflection, we might not see that this is what is occurring because we can be on autopilot.
We simply go to what is familiar, what seems tangible, what we believe has come through for us in the past. We see this dynamic at play in Isaiah as God invites them to rest in trusting quiet:
For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” But you were unwilling, and you said, “No! We will flee upon horses”; therefore you shall flee away; and, “We will ride upon swift steeds”; therefore your pursuers shall be swift. (vs. 15-16)
In their response, they chose familiar, tangible strength and power (horses were symbolic of power and strength in the ancient world). The contrast could not be clearer between striving to maintain control, power, and security and resting in God’s strength that comes through trust and quietness. With the words your pursuers shall be swift, God graciously reminds them that “worshiping/trusting” in the gods of this world put us in a vicious cycle. True worship comes from a heart at rest.
Confronting the idols in our lives is not easy work and we often fail, but there is grace. Just a few verses later, Isaiah reminds: “Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.” (Isaiah 30:18) The word wait brings us back again to the concept of patience. For what do you need to wait?
Questions for reflection: do you see the tendency to run to things that might give you a sense of control and power and significance? Ask God to give insight into what this might be for you.
Prayer: Lord, thank You for always pursuing my heart and desiring what connects most clearly with how You’ve made me. This week, please give me courage and wisdom to reflect well on how idolatry is at work in my life, to release what I’ve been trusting that isn’t You, and to remember that I can wait on You because Your timing is always perfect in all things. Amen.