Exodus 32:1-33:23; Matthew 26:69-27:14; Psalm 33:1-11; Proverbs 8:33-36
Doesn’t today’s reading just make your blood boil? That’s my first response when I read both the actions of the Israelites and those of Peter. How can these people desert God/Jesus so quickly? The Israelites have seen God demonstrate incredible power, not just in the plagues that caused Pharaoh to drive them out of Egypt, but in the days since with manna from the sky (Ex. 16:14) and water from a rock (Ex. 17:6) and the PARTING OF THE RED SEA (Ex. 14:21), for goodness sake!! I mean, talk about miracles! And all that’s happened in just about 3 months; yet at the end of those 3 months, when Moses is gone for a few days, they forsake everything they know about God and build a ridiculous golden calf (Ex. 32:4). And what about Peter? Just hours before his betrayal, Peter swears to Jesus that he will never fall away, that he would even die with Jesus (Mt. 26:33) rather than desert him and yet a mere servant girl (vs. 69) is enough to scare Peter into turning his back on the man whom he has walked beside for the past three years. What is wrong with these people? Surely if I were in the same position I would do better than that! But before I start playing too much of the blame game, let’s take a look.
The OT reading for today opens on a people who are bored. Moses, the normal cause for excitement and direction, has been up on Mount Sinai for several weeks and the people are growing restless. This causes them, and Aaron, to begin making a slew of bad decisions. They demand an idol, and Aaron acquiesced, though it does seem like he tried to minimize the damage by proclaiming a feast for Yahweh (Ex. 32:5). But this feast is nothing more than pagan revelry. God is very angry, and rightfully so. (As a side note, I find it very interesting that Moses implores the LORD on behalf of the people, that God might spare them [vs. 11] only to have his own anger burn so hot that he smashes the original 10 Commandments tablets [vs. 19]. Can you imagine how mad he had to be to smash solid stone?) How can these peoples so quickly turn – and not just a little rebellion but a total breaking of the first and second commandments? But I wonder if there isn’t more here.
Perhaps these people thought Moses wasn’t coming back at all. Perhaps they were afraid that without him, they would lose sight of God all together and so they ask Aaron not for a replacement to God, but rather for a visible, tangible object to follow (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, pg. 155). Can I really blame them for doubting their own steadfastness and turning to idols? There have been many times in my own life when fear has caused me to make poor decisions, caused me even to mistrust God’s faithfulness and goodness. I’ve often wished he would give me a tangible sign that he’s with me, rather than trusting his past actions. The Israelites wanted something tangible, which I can’t blame them for. True, their idol making was foolish and sinful, but so is mine. My idols may not look like golden calves, but I have them – fear, self-importance, self-reliance, believing money will solve my problems – you name it. How like the Israelites I am, after all!
And what about Peter? He was Jesus’ most intimate follower – he has seen him heal hundreds, feed thousands, walk on water and more – and yet at the first sign of testing he falls away. Even though Jesus specifically told him he would deny him three times before the rooster crows, Peter is still not able to avoid disaster. Three times he completely denies even knowing Jesus. He completely turns his back on his best friend. He, like the Israelites, couldn’t hold onto the truth of who Jesus was when tempted and scared. But this isn’t the end of Peter’s story, thankfully, and it isn’t the end of mine. It isn’t the end of yours either. We will all fail; we will all run away when facing danger or temptation or even when we are scared or restless. But the good news is that God is always waiting, always forgiving. Thank you, Jesus!
- Esther McCurry
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