Moses had been gone a long time.
It had been over a month since the leader of the newly freed Israelites had gone up the mountain, disappearing behind the cloud that appeared as a consuming fire. The Israelites had said, in unison, that they would do everything that the Lord said to do. And why not? Hadn't God promised to go before them? But now, God wasn't leading them anywhere. Moses was up in that fiery cloud, and they were waiting. Right now, the command was to wait. The command was to wait for Moses to come back down.
But when the Israelites saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come and make us a god to go before us. As for this Moses fellow, who brought us up out of Egypt, we do not know what has happened to him.”
Moses had been gone a long time. Something might have happened to him. He might have even died. They might be waiting in vain for him to return and tell them what to do.
Forty days. Forty nights. That was too long for the Israelites to wait. They decided it was time for them to take matters into their own hands. If Moses wasn’t coming back with instructions from the God who was supposed to go before them, they would have Aaron make them another god to lead them.
So Aaron took their jewelry, melted it, and made it into the image of a golden calf. The Israelites forgot their promise to follow the Lord’s commands. They bowed down to an image that was not God. They worshipped something made out of their discarded jewelry, something made from human hands, something that didn’t ask them to wait.
Their god was something they could understand. Their god was something they could control. Their god was an easy god to follow.
The Israelites didn’t know all of the things the Lord had to tell Moses, about the precise details involved in the building of His temple, about the instructions in making all the various items that went inside His temple, about the rituals involved when a sinful people approach a holy God. Had they known, they might have been more willing to wait. God had much to say to Moses, and that took time. Forty days and nights, that was a more than reasonable amount of time. But their understanding of the situation wasn’t important; God wanted their trust.
And waiting always involves trust.
And trust is hard, just as waiting is hard. Even after God had parted the seas and led His people out of captivity, even after He had fed them manna and quail in the wilderness, the Israelites found it hard to trust. They found it hard to wait. And they succumbed to their fears--the fears of not being in control, the fears of not knowing and understanding, the fears that following God just wasn't supposed to be easy.
And the Israelites sinned.
And when Moses did come down from that mountain, he burned the golden calf. He crushed the ashes into powder. He sprinkled the powder on the water. He made the Israelites drink it. They had to drink their sin.
Now, I’ve never made an idol out of gold. I’ve never taken off my jewelry, melted it down, and made a cow out of it. I’ve never worshipped a piece of wood or a statue. I’ve never been foolish enough to believe that a figurine could be worthy of my worship.
But there have been many times when I’ve grown tired of waiting for the Lord to move in my life. There have been times when I’ve grown tired of trusting when He has said to trust, waiting when He’s said to wait. There have been times when I’ve decided to take matters into my own hands and try to do things myself. There have been times when I’ve tried to make myself into a god, tricking myself into believing that I have control.
There have been times when I’ve made gods out of my friends, unreasonably expecting them to understand me or be able to help me in ways that only God can. And I frustrate those friendships.
There have been times when I’ve tried to use my own efforts to force a situation to work in the way I want it to, instead of waiting for God to move in His way and time. And I frustrate the situation.
There have been times when I’ve tried to manipulate God by throwing a tantrum, instead of trusting, obeying, waiting…and ultimately resting in Him. And I’m just grateful I can’t really frustrate God, just myself.
But, oh, there have been times when I’ve had to drink up those ashes of my sin.
Waiting isn’t easy. Trust isn't easy.
Following a God whose ways are not our ways--that's also not easy.
But Moses is going to come down from that mountain.
God is going to come through.
We don’t need to fashion gods for ourselves. We don’t need to try to gain control.
Because the Lord is the God who goes before us.
Sometimes we just have to wait a little while for Him to move…
…and sometimes we have to trust.