When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. “Come on,” they said, “make us some gods who can lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.” Exodus 32:1
I’ll just be brutally honest and say that when I read these words from Exodus 32 my first thought is, “How could those people be so selfish and so stupid?” They have seen it all—all the miracles. They have bread from heaven and water from rocks. God has spoken to them and they have heard his voice. He shows them his presence daily by a pillar of cloud and fire. And this is their response? Moses takes a little time getting the Ten Commandments from God and so they just turn make an idol? Are they that easily swayed? That desperate for any god—even a fake one? Their sin is deplorable and shocking.
It’s easy to get very judgmental very fast. And then I read a couple of verses later and feel the full weight of my own sinfulness.
Then Aaron took the gold, melted it down, and molded it into the shape of a calf. When the people saw it, they exclaimed, “O Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of the land of Egypt!” Exodus 32:4
“These are the gods who brought you out of the land of Egypt.”
How many times in life do I do this? Not give credit to a golden calf, but give God’s credit away to other things and other people? How often do I see God’s gifts as my accomplishments? How many times do I thank the well laid plan or the fortunate timing of something and forget that it was God? Not plans not organization, not my abilities, not another person’s generosity—it was God. And I have this propensity for assigning to others.
Idols don’t just come in the form of golden calves. If only they were that easy to spot! Idols capture our hearts when we are tired of waiting for God and confused about where we’ve been led. Idols satisfy our desire for the immediate and the tangible. They draw our attention away from God and become our excuse for giving God’s glory away to others—as if it were a commodity to be bought and sold. They give us easy answers and safe ways of thinking. Idols are the things we worship, the things we give ourselves to. They are the people we rely on more than God, the people we run to instead of God. Idols are the things we want and the things we love when those things are prioritized above and in place of God. Idols are anything that we invite in to divert our attention from Jesus.
The problem with this is that we usually have trouble seeing it for ourselves. Moses is up on the mountain with God and God lets him know what these people are doing and Moses sees it from the outside in. Aaron—God’s priest—is in it and of it and promoting it. He doesn’t see it. If ever there was a clear cry for the need to be in community, to be in relationship with others, this is it. We need people in our lives who will look and see and call us on it when we give God’s glory away; when we value stuff or people more than our Father; when we follow after our agendas more than we follow after Jesus, and when we listen to the winds of teaching from the world more than the wisdom that comes from the Spirit. We need people.
Sometimes we are weak and we are distracted. Sometimes we are tired of waiting and our faith falters. Sometimes we are just selfish and self-absorbed. It’s in these times that we fall into the trap of idolatry. And our idols are as varied as we are. Some of us worship our jobs. Some of us worship the value others place on what we accomplish. Some of us worship security and being prepared for tomorrow. Maybe it’s money, or relationships, or a sense of belonging. For some of us we even worship our religion, our church, or sense of being “better” than unbelievers. Anything that gets valued above God and credited for his grace and goodness to us is idolatry. Anything.
Ultimately an idol is anything that steals God’s honor; anything that takes his credit, anything that claims responsibility for his moving and working and being. It’s easy to do, easy to miss. And devastating for our lives. Idolatry may be the most pervasive killer of spiritual health in the life of believers. Nothing destroys relationship with our Father like failing to see that he alone is worthy of worship and he alone is responsible for all grace given us.