The Making of an Idol

Reflecting a little further from the sermon last Sunday by Pst. Fidel from Exodus 32, I noticed a few pointers in the most public act of idolatry described in the Bible. Here’s what happened.

  1. Moses was delayed. We are told in verse 1 that the people saw that Moses was delayed to come down from the mountain.
  2. They found an alternative leader. The people gathered themselves around Aaron and surprisingly told him what to do. He then instructs them to get their jewelry from their wives and children and bring them to him. He smelts the same and fashions it into a calf.
  3. The people were ready to worship. They diligently gave towards the project. They openly welcomed deception. They devoted themselves to the idol (rose up early and sacrificed burnt offerings). They delighted in their new-found worship.

Think with me around these three points.

Impatience. The people thought that Moses was delayed in coming down from the Mountain. We know from Chapter 24 verse 18 that he was gone for 40 days. Just ten days over a month really. The people had been in slavery for more than 400 years and now they have a stop-over in Sinai to hear from the Lord who has just rescued them from slavery a short six months ago. But they won’t take the delay. Forty days seems unacceptable for these people. They are having daily rations of manna and quail but no, they won’t wait for Moses.

I don’t think I have ever met a truly patient person. Even the most patient among us has a breaking point. Some of us are more naturally inclined to patience than others. But most of us really struggle to trust the process of our sanctification yet that was the point of their delay in the wilderness. Like the Israelites, we grow impatient when there is a delay, when direction does not seem clear, when the next step is vague or when we are in that space of ‘waiting upon God’. I think the biggest reason for this is often our desired result. We often have a pre-mediated outcome of time and events and try to map that with God’s timeline. When there is a mismatch, we get frustrated and then we are on a path to making an idol. By this time, the heart has shifted.

  1. An alternative. It is interesting that the people gathered themselves around Aaron and told him what to do. It seems to me when the heart has shifted, the mind will find a way to justify an alternative. Aaron comes across as a weak leader who follows the people’s wishes even when they are clearly wrong. He tells them to bring jewelry from their homes and actually makes a golden calf for them. He will then raise an altar and have the people gather to worship just the following day – offering burnt offerings and peace offerings to the golden calf Aaron had just made.

Our minds are very crafty (pun intended) brothers and sisters. We can easily rally around a cause that seems to fill the void of our unmet desires. Like the Israelites we prefer a god we can see, touch and one we can contribute to making – one who needs our gold and silver to exist, one we have sponsored and whose history we can tell. We fashion those gods daily in stuff like phones, cars, buildings, spouses or children, even our own selves. They might not look like a calf but the essence is the same.

3. Devotion. It is interesting how easily the people were ready to follow Aaron’s instructions. He tells them to get jewelry from their wives and children and they do exactly that. I can imagine the conversations in the tents when the men went to get the stuff from their families – trying to convince their wives to take off their earrings and bracelets. But they were committed to the cause. Aaron works on the furnace quite quickly and sets up an idol and bang! They are ready to worship.

Once the heart had shifted from the true God and the mind was persuaded to justify the action, the hands were ready to move. The path is now easy – it is a downward spiral and they are ready to go all the way down. They have no problem contributing money and time, they have no problem listening to and welcoming deception (verse 4 and 5) and they greatly enjoyed their new found saviour in food, drink and revelry. (verse 6).

If we are anything like these people and I think in many ways we are, the path towards idolatry is clear. The heart shifts from trusting God, the mind creates and justifies an alternative and the hands move into action to implement the same. From an impatient heart to a consulting mind, we see hands and knees bowing to a golden calf they have just made. It seems as if the escalation is quick but such is the nature of our impatient hearts when it comes to idolatry. There is always a ‘good’ reason for it – Moses is delayed. An alternative is almost always there: ‘Aaron, make us gods who shall go before us’ and there are always resources for executing our idolatry, even if that means family jewelry. We do it, if only for a momentary session of ‘eating, drinking and playing’

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

Proverbs 4:23

Mungai Macharia

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