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Sermon on The Golden Calf – Exodus 32:1-14

Sermon preached at Grace Lutheran Church. October 7, 2012 | Text: Exodus 32:1-14

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A couple weeks ago I was walking down the street and…oh, wait. No, sorry. That wasn’t me.

That was supposed to be a joke.

The funny thing about it is that I actually do that.

Ask my wife.

I’ll be telling a story to somebody about something that we did and I’ll look over at Lona and she’ll be looking at me like, “what are you talking about? That never happened.”

Isn’t funny how we can do that.

I call it disremembering.

As human beings we have a tendency to forget things, or to distort things in our memory.


We run into that in our story today.

Let’s catch up a little from where we left off last week.

Pastor Mark sat us down at the Passover meal and gave us a beautiful look into that meal that forms our identity in the story of God’s redemption.

Right after the meal the death angel came and took the first born of every house that did not have the blood on the doors. Pharoah let the people go, then changed his mind and chased them to the Red Sea. God parted the Red Sea and let the Israelites walk through. Egypts army was drowned.

Then God led the people by using a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. God led them into the wilderness to base of a mountain.


This is where our story takes place.

Here we have Mount Sinai, Moses, and the people.

God shows up on the top of the mountain in a wild cloud full of lightning, thunder, and blasting trumpets. Boom.

God speaks to Moses in the presence of the people.

Listen to what he says, because this is really important:

Exodus 19:4–6 (NRSV)

4 You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, 6 but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.”


God reminds the people about the big picture; the story of God’s redemptive plan.

Remember the promise to Abraham. Blessed to be a blessing. Say it again with me. Blessed to be a blessing.


Let’s jump to Chapter 20. God is about to speak the Ten Commandments to all the people. Notice how he begins.

Exodus 20:2 (NRSV)

2 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery;


We need to remember this, because this is the key to the whole thing, and this is the thing that gets disremembered throughout the story.


How does God identify God’s self?

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of slavery. Who brought the people out of slavery? God, Yaweh. Whose God is Yaweh? The people’s.


Let’s keep going.


So, Moses and God continue to have a conversation and at the end Moses writes it all down in a book. This is called the book of the covenant and it includes the Ten Commandments and all the civil laws.

Exodus 24:7 (NRSV)

7 Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.”


Exodus 24:15–18 (NRSV)

15 Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16 The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. 17 Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18 Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.


The conversation that takes place between God and Moses is recorded in chapters 25-31. God tells Moses how to build the tabernacle, and he writes it all on stone tablets.


While that conversation is happening up in the scary, fiery, cloud, something is brewing at the base of the mountain.


That’s where we come to our story for today.


In Exodus 32:1-14 we see a serious case of disremembering, or distorting the image of God.


Look what the people say Exodus 32:1 (NRSV)

1 When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, 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.”


Did you catch that?

Who did they say brought them out of Egypt?



Here we see the first way that we humans tend to disremember God.

We put our focus on the human leader.

It happens all the time.

You know, I’ve been here at Grace for 2.5 years now. Do you know what is one of the most common things that I hear? People are initially attracted to Grace because Pastor Mark remembered their name the second time they came back.


I know that the reason I was attracted to Grace was because of Pastor Mark’s incredible gifts of empathy and compassion and the way he lets that impact his leadership.


I’ve also been part of a Mega-church and have traveled in the mega-church circles, and I’ll tell you right now, one of the main reasons those churches grow so large, so fast is because of the particular personality of the senior leader.


It is not bad or wrong to be attracted to a leader.

God calls people to be leaders. He called Moses. God needs leaders. But, the danger is when we start giving the credit to the leader.


You know, we are on the beginning edge of a wonderful journey at Grace.

Many of you have attended a focus group already, or plan to attend one this month. We are looking at what God wants to do in the future and how we can resource that vision. The danger that we face in the process is to shift the focus and say, “Look what we have done. Look at what Pastor Mark’s vision has done. And look at where our vision team is going to take us.”


Who delivers us from slavery? Moses? Or God?


Let’s read on.

The people are afraid of what is going to happen now that Moses is gone. Obviously, he’s dead, right? Who could go into a fiery cloud and survive?


They needed a new Moses.

Aaron takes their gold earrings and forms it into the shape of a calf, or a bull.

Look what they say in verse 4:

Exodus 32:4 (NRSV)

“These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”

Who brought them out of Egypt?  A golden calf?

Does this seem really strange to you? What’s going on here?

I don’t think the people were dumb enough to think that Yaweh didn’t exist and that a golden calf led them out of Egypt. Look what Aaron says in verse 5, “tomorrow shall be a festival to the LORD; to Yaweh.”


The people didn’t replace God. What they did was reduce God to a form that they could understand.

You see, it was a common belief in that day that the gods would ride on the back of a bull to move around. If Yaweh is going to lead them, then he needs a bull, right?


This is the second common way that we disremember God.

We reduce God to a God-box that makes sense to us, and forget what God said about God’s self.


What is your god-box?

They come in many shapes and sizes.

Sometimes we reduce God to a theology, or a set of doctrines.

We say, “this is how God operates, and if I see anything outside of this box, then I can’t accept it. This does not correspond to my theological perspective, therefore I must dispose of it.”

Sometimes we reduce God to a religion.

We think that if we go through certain motions and rituals, then God would look favorably on us and be there for us in a pinch. Kind of like an “I scratch your back, you scratch my back deal.”


But I think, honestly, here in the suburbs, there is a different kind of god-box, a different kind of shiny golden calf that we like to worship.

The god question is, “who delivered us from slavery?”

Let’s be honest. Most people in our spheres would probably say,

“I did. I worked my tail off all my life, saved my money, and it is my security that is my deliverer.”


Or maybe it is success that has saved us.

Or at least, we strive for success in the hope that it will save us.


And then there are those of us who might think that there is no real salvation, so what delivers me is my escape—my drug of choice.

Whether it’s sex, or substance, or sports; As long as it eases the pain, I’m saved.


It’s not that we don’t acknowledge that there’s a God way up there on the top of the mountain, but this shiny gold god-box makes much more sense to me, right here.


That’s what was happening on the ground, at the base of the mountain.


Let’s go up into the cloud and see what’s going on up there.

Look at what God says to Moses in verse 7.

“your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely.”


This is such a typical parent conversation, right?

“Do you know what your son just said to me.”?


I hope you’re a little perplexed by what happens next.

God is raging mad at the people.

They just agreed to the Ten Commandments and said they will not craft an image or have any other gods. And now they’re cheating on him.


He says, “get out of the way, Moses. I’m gonna’ nuke em.

And then, Moses, I’m going to start over with you. You will be the new Noah—The new Abraham. I will keep my promise with you.”


What’s God doing here?

What did he say? “your people, Moses, whom you brought out of Egypt.”

I think God is testing Moses.

This is the flip side of the first disremembering. The people gave Moses the credit.


How would you feel if you were Moses?

“Hey, maybe I am good at this leadership thing. Maybe I am amazing. Sweet, God wants to start over with me. I get to have my own denomination named after me!”


But, that’s not what Moses does.

Here we come to the climax of the story. Moses says to God,

Exodus 32:11 (NRSV)

 “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?


There it is. Moses remembers.


I can just imagine God smiling and nodding.

That’s right Moses. Now you’re ready. I won’t wipe them out. I will keep my promise, of course I will.

As we move forward together, let’s make sure we don’t disremember the story.

God has delivered us from sin and bondage, not a man, or an idea.

God is a dynamic, living God that cannot be reduced and fit into our boxes.

The living God goes before us like a cloud and leads us deeper into the promise of redemption and invites us to join in that story.


Let’s enjoy the journey, together.