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Are there any golden calves in your life?

Torah Portion for week 21: Exodus 30:11 – 34:35 – Ki Tisa (When you elevate)

Moses has been up on Mount Sinai receiving the Law. This week’s portion begins with the commandments about the tabernacle. But while Moses is receiving God’s law, the children of Israel are down below violating it. Specifically, they are breaking the first commandment. We read in Exodus 32:1, “When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, ‘Up, make us gods 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.’”

Unfortunately, Aaron was all too willing to comply. Exodus 32:4 continues, “And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’”

Although God threatened to wipe out the people right then and there, Moses interceded for them. He reminded God of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and his promise to bring their descendants into “the land.” Of course, God did not need to be reminded. It was Moses, and the children of Israel, who needed to understand God’s character. In the next few verses, God relented from his decision to pour out his wrath, and then Moses went down the mountain with the two tablets in his hand. But when he saw the golden calf for himself, he was outraged. Moses threw the tablets to the ground and broke them, and indeed there were severe consequences in the camp.

Again Moses went up the mountain and pleaded with God. In Exodus 32:32 he said, “But now, if you will forgive their sin – but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.” This is similar to what the Apostle Paul wrote many years later in Romans 9:3, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Messiah[1] for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”

The children of Israel were still in the early part of their journey, and there were many lessons to be learned. Most of these revolved around the fact that God alone is worthy to be worshipped, and that we cannot rely on our own abilities. After the incident with the golden calf, the narrative returns to the building of the tabernacle. This, too, is ironic. The tabernacle would be the place to atone for sin. And right in the middle of the detailed instructions, the children of Israel committed one of their biggest sins ever. Actually, this sin was later doubled by Jeroboam, who created two golden calves and said that they brought the people out of Egypt. This event, found in 1 Kings 12, was a key factor in the division of Israel into the northern and southern kingdoms.

The children of Israel in the days of Moses had already seen God do amazing things. But now they wanted him to do things their way and on their timetable. When Moses went back up the mountain he was the first to learn about God’s character: “The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness’” (Exodus 34:6).

Are there any golden calves in your life? Do you want God to do things your way? Waiting on the Lord can be difficult; but the more we understand about his character, the more we learn that he is worth the wait.

[1] ESV reads “Christ.”

This article originally appeared on One for Israel and is reposted with permission.

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