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A God We Can See

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A God We Can See

Exodus 32:1-6

Pastor Oesterwind

Review:  We’ve covered much of the second major part of Exodus with the past two messages dealing with tabernacle and the furniture found in it.  The last message presented an overview of the entire second half of Exodus through a PowerPoint presentation.  There are a few passages, however, that we need to address before leaving the book entirely.  One of these is found in Exodus 32.


1.       Israel needed to learn that God could provide for her while she was in the wilderness.  He did this by creating a special food for her called manna.  He also provided water for the nation. 

2.       God delivered Israel from her foreign enemies.  They were able to defeat the Amalekites through the power of God (17.8-16).

3.       At Sinai, God gave Israel a wonderful promise:

Exodus 19:4–6 (NKJV) — 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 will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. 6 And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ …”

4.       Also, a wonderful manifestation of His powerful presence:

Exodus 19:16 (NKJV) — 16 Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled.

5.       Israel responded by saying that she would obey God:

Exodus 24:3 (NKJV) — 3 So Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the judgments. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which the Lord has said we will do.”

6.       It would seem that Israel would go forward for God.  But she faced a difficult test.  Moses went up the mountain to receive instructions to build the tabernacle.  Before he departed, he told the people to wait:

Exodus 24:14 (NKJV) — 14 And he said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we come back to you. Indeed, Aaron and Hur are with you. If any man has a difficulty, let him go to them.”

Waiting should have increased dependency and expectancy, but it is a virtue found in very few.  Impatience is the norm for most.  When we fail to patiently persevere, we end up taking matters into our own hands.  Israel failed to wait on God in Exodus 32 tonight.  Why?  We find the answer in the first verse of our text:

Exodus 32:1 (NKJV) — 1 Now when the people saw that Moses delayed…

Israel knew that Aaron and Hur were in charge.  The manna still faithfully appeared each day.  All they had to do was wait patiently for Moses, but they did not.  Instead they sinned in a treacherous way.  They created “God they could see”.  It was a calf that represented not a different god, but rather “God they could see” …God who brought them out of Egypt (see v. 4).  The result of this compromise led to idolatry, immorality, and death.  It also gave rise to the sin of Jeroboam in the latter part of Israel’s history.  Consider the following found in Merrill’s history of OT Israel:

[Jeroboam] set up golden calves at the two shrines, describing them as the gods who had brought Israel up out of Egypt. He then appointed non-Levitical priests and, in Bethel at least, designated the fifteenth day of the eighth month as a day of special festivity. Scholarship is divided as to the full significance of Jeroboam’s cultic innovations, but one thing is clear: he was identifying Bethel and Dan with the exodus. The two calves, whether idols themselves or merely pedestals upon which the invisible Yahweh was presumed to stand, are reminiscent of the golden calf Aaron made while Moses was absent on Mount Sinai. The words of presentation are exactly the same in both instances: “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt” (Exod. 32:4; cf. 1 Kings 12:8). Both stories also point out that the creation and recognition of the new gods were followed by a time of festival. Further, Aaron had functioned as priest and, in Moses’s absence, as covenant mediator; now Jeroboam, in addition to his royal office, installed himself as head of the cult, as can be seen clearly in his appearance at the Bethel altar to offer sacrifices. That is, he evidently viewed himself as a second Aaron who had the right to establish and oversee a religious system apart from that at Jerusalem. He arrogated (claiming something without the right to claim it) to himself the prerogative of the Davidic monarchy, namely, the right of the king as the elect and adopted son of God to act not only as the political leader of the people but also as the priestly mediator. Jeroboam perceived himself to be Israel’s equivalent of the messianic dynasty of Judah, a kingly priest after the order of Melchizedek.[1]

The irony is that while the people yearned for “God they could see” throughout their history, Moses was receiving instruction to create a tabernacle in which God would dwell:  the tabernacle of His Presence!  They yearned for Moses while God was revealing Himself to them.  When they failed here in Exodus 32, God’s patience would dissolve into a fierce, righteous indignation.  Only Moses stemmed the tidal wave of wrath that these people deserve.  How?  He did so through intercessory prayer.  Otherwise, God would have killed all of them and started over with Moses.

God We Can See (32:1-6)

Exodus 32:1 (NKJV) — 1 Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for 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.”

·         The children of Israel either believed Moses deserted them or that something bad had happened to their leader.  They often rebelled against Moses’ leadership; now, they bemoan his absence.

·         They struggle with the absence of their leader.  They command Aaron to make them gods to lead them …gods that will go before them.  They desire “God We Can See”. 

Exodus 32:2–4 (NKJV) — 2 And Aaron said to them, “Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. 4 And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf. Then they said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!”

·         Aaron’s language may indicate the pressure he was under.  He tells the people to break off the golden earrings and bring them to him.  When they do, he makes the calf. 

·         Verse 4 mirrors the words of Jeroboam as mentioned when we discussed the background of this text.  But the people here state that the calf is the God who brought them out of Egypt.  They wanted “God We Can See”.  They had hoped that God would identify with their crude golden calf. 

Exodus 32:5 (NKJV) — 5 So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord.”

·         Israel and Aaron were attempting to worship God in a way He declared to be sinful.  Aaron declared a feast to the LORD not the calf or some other unknown deity. 

·         The people are not abandoning God; they are approaching Him by casting off Moses and the laws he had just announced to them.  They want the golden calf without laws.  They want “God We Can See” and “God We Can Manipulate”. 

Exodus 32:6 (NKJV) — 6 Then they rose early on the next day, offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.

·         They violated the second commandment.  Remember the first commandment is concerned with Who Israel worshipped; the second command is concerned with How He would be worshipped – no graven images. 

·         God was clear.  Israel fellowshipped with God and acquiesced to His commands given through Moses in chapter 24.  Now, they give into idolatry and immorality.  God did not desert them; they deserted God and their responsibility to obey Him.

Sum:  These verses teach that the delay of Moses led to the people asking for a new approach to God, a new way of worship.  Aaron gives it to them and leads them to abandon prior commitments made in chapter 24.  The calf represents God on Israel’s terms.  But God could only be worshipped on His terms. 


Do Not Become Idolaters

1 Corinthians 10:6–7 (NKJV) — 6 Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. 7 And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.”

1 Corinthians 10:11 (NKJV) — 11 Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.

Israel approached God their own way because they failed to obey.  Moses told them to wait and they would not.  Israel worshipped a golden calf because that’s what was in their hearts.  We sin from the inside-out.  Just as Israel had a problem with idolatry because it was in their hearts, even so we abandon God and crave a golden calf.  Often, our modern golden calves involve money, sex, power, greed, and pride. 

The fulfillment of legitimate desires is sinful when God is absent.  That is, when we fail to wait for God to provide for us in His way and time, we set our own agenda.  We communicate a failure to depend upon Him …to wait on Him. 

Trials test our faith.  They test our patience.  Consider what the Lord Jesus taught about the delay of His own second coming:  He said if a waiting servant say in his heart, “My master is delaying his coming,” and beings to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and be drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him, and at an hour when he is not aware…” (Luke 12:45-46). 

Yet, there are always people around us who mock.  Who say, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3.4) These are people who test are ability to persevere …to wait for the promise to be fulfilled.  The blessing of believing without seeing shouldn’t be lost on us this evening.  Do we worship “God We Can See” or “God Who Sees Us”? 

Aaron represents something in all of us.  Confronted by the mob, he compromised his position of leadership. 

1.       We cannot sacrifice principle.  We cannot look for temporary relief from a problem by sacrificing our eternal commitments. 

2.       Leading for Christ takes courage.  While Aaron may have forfeited his life by refusing to give into the people, he may have also been the instrument God used to stop the foolishness of the people.  We must always determine ahead of time the right course of action.

3.       The compromise of a leader thrusts him into the camp of people driven by wrong motives. 

Idolatry began when Israel failed to do what they promised God they would do back in Exodus 24. 

Exodus 24:3 (NKJV) — 3 So Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the judgments. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which the Lord has said we will do.”

Exodus 24:7 (NKJV) — 7 Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has said we will do, and be obedient.”

Conclusion:  Have you ever told God, “I’ll never do this again!” only to turn around and do it yet again? 

·         People promise God that they will stop overeating and abusing their bodies, but they continue to binge anyway.

·         Others promise that they will never click through the array of pornographic images again only to find themselves fiendishly doing so the next day.

·         Alcoholics swear they will never touch a drop; smokers continue to throw away packs of cigarettes only to purchase them again.  Why?

The reason is not found in the kitchen cupboard, the filthy magazine, or the whiskey bottle.  It’s found in our hearts.  Just as Israel constantly turned back to the ways of Egypt in their hearts (Acts 7.39), even so our lives are simply a product of the wickedness of our hearts. 

You can’t overcome sin by stopping a certain sinful action.  You overcome sin by changing what you are …by keeping yourselves from idols (1 John 5.21).  You replace sinful idolatry by growing in your love and worship of God.  All of us need to know and serve God to replace sinful habits and actions.

Hymn:  Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah (291)


[1] Merrill, E. H. (2008). Kingdom of priests : A history of Old Testament Israel (Second Edition) (343–344). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

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