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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Tuesday, October 6, 2020  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  Exodus 32:1–14

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.” Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.” They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.

The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!< The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.” But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “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? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’“ And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people. (NRSV)

Oh, how desperately we grasp for stability in the face of uncertainty! So desperately that in insecurity we can lose sight of our true values and instead turn to quick fixes.

It’s easy to rag on the Israelites in this passage. As we read it in retrospect and with privileged access to the broader biblical narrative, we can perceive God’s people as foolish, fickle, and faithless. Really, you turned to idolatry that quickly?

Yes, they did, and I might have too. Remember that at this point in history the people didn’t have the completed scriptures as we know them as a grounding resource. They may not have had much recorded history at all. If I had only my timely circumstances and some fuzzy oral history to interpret, there’s a good chance I’d be tempted to craft a tangible god when God felt distant.

I don’t say this to excuse the blatant idolatry at hand here but rather to empathize with it and to be vigilant about potential repeat-behavior today. There are plenty of idols that modern Christians are susceptible to worshiping during times of stress. Maybe it’s voracious greed to cope with insecurity or malicious gossip to cope with self-worth. In shaky times in my life, I’ve turned to each of these and more to find some comfort.

Thankfully, this passage closes not with God exacting wrath but with God demonstrating grace. Idolatry big and small creates distance with God, yet the loving Creator sticks with us regardless.

Merciful God, forgive me for the idols I reach for when I feel distant from you. Thank you for your grace, and let’s try a fresh start today. You are the one I truly worship and love. Amen.

Written by Michael Mirza, Director of Worship

Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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