We see the Israelites do the almost unthinkable in carving themselves an idol to worship whilst Moses had been away in God’s presence at Mount Sinai. Ironically Moses at the mountain had just received a tablet of God’s commandments the first of which was to worship no other God and the second that no graven image of God was to be made.
We know from chapter 24 that Moses was at Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights and It would seem that impatience got the better of the Israelites. How do you manage when God doesn’t appear to deliver answers to prayers or coordinate events according to your timing and expectations? Today we can likewise be tempted to look for other things to put our hope in when we may feel that God isn’t with us. We, of course, must resist this – it offends God and has negative consequences.
Forgetful of God’s kindness
It could be easily mistaken that the Israelites suffered a bout of amnesia in light of their forgetfulness of God’s presence in their worship of an idol. Perhaps it was easy to forget the ten plagues (Exodus 7-11), the splitting of the red sea (Exodus 14), miraculous provision of water (Exodus 15), bread and meat (Exodus 16) in the desert. Yes, indeed this is hard to believe. Notwithstanding, it appeared they had forgotten all of it. Or perhaps they were ungrateful regarding God’s kindness and it was all too easy to be sidetracked by concerns, fears, and self-interest. This is reminiscent of the account where Jesus healed ten lepers as they went on their way but only one came back to thank him (Luke 17:11-19). We like every generation face the reality of forgetting or losing gratitude over God’s kindness toward us. From the feasts and rituals to Moses’ prophetic declarations across their wandering journey, God was facilitating the Israelites to remember Him and his works on their behalf. Their last words to Moses before he left to meet God at Mount Sinai were “all that the Lord has spoken we will do and be obedient” – but they rebelled. As believers, we should purpose to remember his works for us and be grateful. We no longer have to perform old covenant rituals to receive God’s mercy and grace, Jesus has won all this for us. However, we can set routines and disciplines to help us remember and show gratitude for God’s kindness.
God Listens and Answers
We see in Chapter 32 one of the most remarkable prayers in the bible. It comes as God is angered by the idolatry of the Israelites and threatens to destroy them and to make a new nation out of Moses. Moses intercedes for the Israelites and pleads with God not to destroy them on the following grounds 1) They were His people; 2) Slander by the Egyptians would likely ensue; and 3) His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. God answers his prayer and chooses not to destroy Israel. Despite our era being many generations removed from that of Moses’s, there are many today who need a Moses figure interceding for them. Do you notice the waywardness of others around you? Do you intercede for them? We can learn from Moses’s heart of compassion for the people and practice such compassion regularly by praying for people even when they are oblivious to their faults.
Confession and Repentance
Moses turns towards God and climbs back up the mountain, confesses to God the sins of the people and seeks their forgiveness. He goes on to ask God to blot his name out of the book of life in the case that the people were not forgiven – he saw his life as intertwined with theirs. We see a similar cry of Paul concerning the salvation of the Israelites centuries later (Romans 9:3).
Are you quick to turn to God when you know you’ve gone astray? Do you find it hard or straightforward to confess your sins and to seek forgiveness? We like Moses should be continuously ready to turn towards God in repentance and take the necessary steps to make amends. Today, If you feel far away from God, know that he has done everything he could to enable you to be forgiven and to live in the light and freedom of this forgiveness. You can simply confess your sins and choose to accept his forgiveness through Christ’s death on the cross for your sins.