If even in the subtlest of ways we replace our devotion to and dependence upon God with doubts about God’s love, with dependencies on the arm of flesh and with doctrines about God that are not squared with the loving, generous, sovereign God of the Bible, we are flirting with worship of the golden calf.
Going Deep // Focus: Exodus 32:1-4
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.” So Aaron said, “Take the gold rings from the ears of your wives and sons and daughters, and bring them to me.” All the people took the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron. 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!”
A golden calf! Really! After all that God had just done for them! Are you kidding me? How could they?
After 400 years of slavery, God delivered His people from the thoroughly idolatrous nation of Egypt. The Egyptians had hundreds of gods, and as slaves, the Israelites had been forced to build temples for many of those idols.
The influence of Egyptian for idolatry surfaced when the Israelites insisted that Aaron build a golden calf as an object of worship while Moses was on the mountain receiving God’s commandments. Keep in mind that God had just delivered them with miracle after miracle that no other god could come close to replicating, not by thousands of miles. The God of Israel had shown himself to be the one, true, covenantly faithful God. Yet Israel abandoned him in a flash.
God was so angry with their abrupt, blatant backsliding that He wanted to wipe out the whole nation and start over with Moses. But in one of the outstanding acts of priestly intercession, Moses stood between God’s judgment and the people’s guilt to save the day. Yet Moses ordered the slaughter of those who had led the way and for those who openly participated in this gross spiritual fornication.
That is when the tribe of Levi rose up and executed 3,000 idolaters that day with the sword. God’s subsequent choice of the Levites to serve as priests may have been rooted in their response to help Moses destroy idolatry among the people. And that became one of the priest’s duties in perpetuity—then and now in the pastoral priesthood: to keep the people out of idolatry while keeping them locked into the exclusive worship of Yahweh.
Tragically, over time, after Israel became a strong nation, they again became infested with idolatry, and at times, even the Levitical priests joined the people in the worship of idols. There came the day when idolatry was even practiced in the very Temple of God.
And the Levites who went far from Me, when Israel went astray, who strayed away from Me after their idols, shall bear their iniquity. Because they ministered to them before their idols and caused the house of Israel to fall into iniquity, therefore I have raised My hand in an oath against them that they shall bear their iniquity. (Ezekiel 44:10, 12)
Now if you are like me, the question I have, in light of all that God had just orchestrated on behalf of his people—miracle after miracle—is “how could they?” Yet don’t we, too, quickly desert the worship of God to rely on other sources for our safety, provision and happiness? Think of false god after false god Israel fell for—and in a less obvious way, we fall for as well. Here are some of the gods back then, and how we subtly worship them today:
There was Dagon, who was viewed as the god of vegetation. The Philistines worshiped him as a god of provision. His help was sought to ensure a bountiful harvest. We must realize that we do not worship God primarily for the purpose of receiving his blessings. If our loyalty to him is mostly so that we can get something from him, then we are in real danger of trading our revelation of God for a concept of Dagon.
Then there was Baal, who was considered to be the son of Dagon. Baal was a chief god of the Philistines and he was considered to be unpredictable and unreliable. Most famously, Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a contest to see who was the true God;, and the sign of the true God would be the one who answered by fire. Elijah taunted the prophets of Baal as they beseeched their reluctant god to answer and prove himself. The prophet mocked Baal’s unpredictability and unreliability for doing only what he wanted to do, when he wanted to do it—which was never. Sometimes we drift into that opinion of God, too, when he doesn’t’ answer when we want and in the way we want. That is flirting with idolatry. God is sovereign and he does as he pleases, but he also mercifully invites us to petition him through expectant, persistent prayer in trust that he is reliable and always acts on the promise of his Word in response to our asking.
There was Ashtoreth, the lone goddess of the four Philistine gods who was considered to be the spouse of Baal. She was the goddess of sex and fertility. She was identified with the Egyptian deity Isis and also with the Greco- Roman sex-deities of Aphrodite and Venus. Need I make application to our cultures infatuation with the goddess of elicit sex. Unlike Israel, we must be careful as believers not to allow our minds to become polluted with a preoccupation with sexual lust and salacious behavior.
Finally, Beelzebub was known, interestingly, as the god who creates and sustains wounds. Jesus called him the prince of demons, clearly identifying him with Satan. Beelzebub means, “the lord of the flies,” an appropriate title for the work of demons. This is a disturbing picture in the natural realm of what the disgusting devil likes to do in the spiritual realm. Just as flies are drawn to open wounds and cuts, so demons are drawn to the open wounds in our hearts. When we allow the hurts of our hearts to fester and go unhealed, we are prime targets for the demonic to work through the idolatrous attitudes of bitterness, un-forgiveness and victimization.
Maybe you think I am stretching the application of Old Testament idolatry a little too far here, but just think about it. Whenever we replace our devotion to and dependence on God, even in the most subtle or self-justifiable ways, with doubts about God’s love, with dependencies on the arm of flesh, with doctrines about God that are not squared with the loving, faithful, sovereign God of the Bible, we are flirting with worship of the golden calf. As Becky Manley Pippert said,
Whatever controls us is our lord. The person who seeks power is controlled by power. The person who seeks acceptance is controlled by acceptance. We do not control ourselves. We are controlled by the lord of our lives.
Who or what is god of your life? Make sure it is the only one and true God!
Going Deeper With God:
Whenever you find yourself in response to your Bible reading saying, “how could they?”, that is a sure sign that you also need to say, “how do I?” The New Testament says, “these things happened to them as warnings to us upon who the ends of the age have fallen.” (1 Corinthians 10:6-11) In what ways might you be flirting with idolatry?