There is an Exodus 32 a pretty frightening story. It is a story of idolatry; a story of perversion. Yet, for our contemporary audience it seems a bit silly.
Here is the backstory: God delivered his people (Israel) from slavery in Egypt and provided for them as they began their journey into the promised land (Exodus chapters 1-23). In Exodus 24, God called Moses up on Mt. Sinai for a 40 day and 40 night discussion. He laid before Moses how He would be worshipped by the nation of Israel and what was expected of them. This discussion carried on from chapter 25 through chapter 31.
In chapter 32, the people of Israel grew restless. Moses had been gone too long and they decided to take matters into their own hands. As Moses was meeting with God, learning what He expected of His people, the Israelites decided to craft for themselves another “god” in the form of a golden calf. They even went so far as declaring that this “god” (made with their own hands) had delivered them from the oppression of the Egyptians. Aaron (the priest) made an altar before the golden calf and the people brought sacrifices. They worshipped and celebrated at the altar of the golden calf.
I know what you are thinking – “how could they be so stupid”? How could they have seen God’s hand at work, witnessed him meeting with Moses on Mt. Sinai, and devolved into worshipping a golden calf?
These were the same questions I had when I read the text. However, I quickly realized that we worship “golden calves” as well. They are just a bit more sophisticated and subtle.
God desires to commune with us (like he did with Moses) but all too often we are content with the golden calf. As I reflected on this reality I came up with a couple of personal and corporate “golden calves” that rob us of true communion with God.
Personal “Golden Calves”
1. We believe that the primary place where we commune with God is in church. Many believers have this perspective. Have you ever heard this said: “I attend church on Sundays to get my tank filled up before I head into a new week?” Being a part of the body of Christ weekly is vital to our growth as believers but it is impossible to “fill up our tank” on Sunday and expect it to last all week. The reality is that we should come to our weekly gathering having communed with God for the previous 6 days. I firmly believe one of the reasons God does not do more in our weekly gatherings is that we have not communed with him through the previous week. Just imagine what our services would be like if every believer had communed with God during the course of the previous week and showed up ready to worship and serve out of the overflow of what God had been doing in their lives during the previous 6 days!
2. We equate knowing about God with knowing God. This is subtle but so easy. I know having spent years in school studying Scripture and theology that it is very easy to equate knowing about God with knowing God. It is easy to be consumers of information about God without transformation. Communing with God is less about what you know about Him than it is having an intimate relationship with Him. Many people in history who have experienced deep communion with God were not learned scholars. They were ordinary people who had a passion to live in communion with their Heavenly Father. We should desire to know all we can about God but knowledge means nothing apart from a deep and abiding relationship!
Corporate “Golden Calves”
1. We equate singing songs and listening to preaching as communing with God. It is entirely possible to participate in a weekly worship gathering and never commune with God. We have the guarantee that “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20) but is it possible for God to be present in our services and we not truly commune with Him? Consider this – do we really mean the words of the songs that we sing to and about God? When we have the invitation and sing “I Surrender All” do we really mean it? When we hear a sermon do we become “doers” of the Word. David said in Psalm 51 that he would not offer sacrifices to the Lord because that is not what God desired – God desired from David a pure and contrite heart. Are we just going through the motions in our services or are we communing with God?
2. We believe busyness for God equals communion with God. Is it possible that we have become so busy doing things for God (programs, ministries, etc.) that we have no time to meet with God? The cold, hard truth is we can have a church calendar that is filled with activity after activity, program after program and completely miss communing with God. I’m always convicted when I consider that Jesus consistently stepped away from the busyness of ministry to commune with his Heavenly Father.
God desires to commune with us and I honestly believe that most believers want to commune with Him. Yet, we can fall into the trap of worshipping the “golden calf” just like the Israelites did and completely miss communing with God. The good news is God’s grace is free flowing even in our idolatry. Instead of wiping out the entire nation of Israel and starting over he disciplined them in love and agreed to go with them into the promised land (Exodus 33:14). That same grace is extended to us by our Heavenly Father who loves to commune with his children. Will you commune with Him today or remain content worshipping the “golden calf”?