The Seventh Sunday After Pentecost July 19, 2009
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
5, 541, 399, 293
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Moses turned and went down from the mountain, and the two tablets of the Testimony were in his hand. The tablets were written on both sides; on the one side and on the other they were written. Now the tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God engraved on the tablets. And when Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a noise of war in the camp.” But he said: “It is not the noise of the shout of victory, nor the noise of the cry of defeat, but the sound of singing I hear.” So it was, as soon as he came near the camp, that he saw the calf and the dancing. So Moses’ anger became hot, and he cast the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. Then he took the calf which they had made, burned it in the fire, and ground it to powder; and he scattered it on the water and made the children of Israel drink it.
Dear fellow-worshippers of the one true God:
How quickly people break their promises to God! How many young men and women have stood up on their Confirmation Day saying, “I do so intend…,” only to lose sight of the Lord shortly afterward? How many adults, being thankful for God’s help and showering Him with praise and worship will in the next moment turn and have nothing to do with Him?
It reminds us of how the people of Israel behaved when they gathered in the desert at Mount Sinai. First, they had heard the voice of God speak to them from the mountain. Then the elders of the nation had gone along with Moses and Aaron sharing a meal in the presence of the Lord God Himself. The people had further made a covenant saying “All that the Lord has spoken we will do” (Exodus 19:8). They watched Moses go up the mountain to receive further instruction from God and to obtain the stone tables containing the Ten Commandments. But as soon as Moses was away on the mountain what were the people doing down below? Immediately they were pleading with Aaron to make them a god to worship! As Aaron explained later “I said to them, ‘Whoever has any gold, let them break it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I cast it into the fire, and this calf came out.’” (Exodus 32:24).
How quickly the people substituted an idol for the true God, the Maker of heaven and earth! How soon they forgot the pillar of fire and cloud, the manna and quail, the water from the rock, and the grand dinner on the slopes of Mount Sinai. In one quick afternoon they were ready to trade it all in for a bunch of melted jewelry. “What can God have that this calf doesn’t?” they wondered.
Moses knew the answer to their question. So it’s no surprise that he flew into a rage when he came down the mountain and saw the people dancing and singing around the idol. He took the tablets of stone in his hands and hurled them to the ground. The people had broken their agreement with God in the most open, obvious way. God had said “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3), and there they were, bowing down to a golden calf, with Mount Sinai and the mighty cloud in the background!
The people had given up everything to get nothing! The golden figurine that came out of the oven was not like the true God in any way at all! For GOD IS NO GOLDEN CALF! I. He can save, II. He can give lasting happiness, and III. He remains forever
God is no golden calf because a golden calf cannot save those who dance around it. For all their singing and shouting around the lifeless golden statue what had the people gained from it? Had the calf brought them up out of Egypt with a mighty hand? Had the calf been the one who had caused plagues to come upon Pharaoh so that he would let the people go? Had the calf brought water from the rock when the people were thirsty? Had the calf called to them from Mount Sinai and appeared with smoke, thunder and lightning, and the sound of trumpets? Had the calf inscribed two stone tablets with its holy will? Why, the calf hadn’t even existed before Aaron had dumped all those earrings together.
The golden calf couldn’t lift one hoof to save, help, or defend the people who sang to it. It did not start walking in front of the people to show them the way through the desert. It did not and it could not. It was not a living being. It was not God. When the true God brought judgment on those who had worshiped the calf by sending the Levites through the camp to kill the idolaters with the sword, where was the calf then? Did it raise up its head to save its people?
A good number of Israelites that day thought the image would lead them and be their god. Yet the calf could not save those who relied on it. Those who put their faith in the gold instead of in the Lord ended up being put to death that day.
God, on the other hand, can save. He had already proved it to Israel time and time again. He had shown how much greater He was than the idol.
What about the golden calves of this age? How do they compare to the true God? Can they save? Think about your own personal “golden calves.” We all have them. Anything that takes a more important place in our hearts that God—even if just for a moment—is an idol for us. Anything that we put our confidence in more than the Lord is our golden calf
When a disaster or tragedy strikes the television news typically shows interviews with people who have lost homes, family, or other possessions. After hurricanes and tornadoes I have seen people sob into the microphone stating that they had no more hope and all was lost because a building had been demolished. These are great and sorrowful tragedies in this life to be sure, but if losing your home is the “end of the world” for you then maybe you’re trusting in your home a little too much.
Think about the things you have. Could they become idols to you? Is God more important to you than your wife, husband, or children, your job or reputation, your health or retirement benefits? Sometimes we start to act like the earthly things are what really support us and without them we are simply lost for good. That’s just not true. These things are not our “safety nets.” They do not support us in life and in death.
Anything can turn into a “golden calf” for us if we are not careful. Any time we put too much confidence in someone or something (including ourselves) we run the risk of making that thing into an idol.
Idols cannot save, but God can. See how He sent His very Son, Jesus, to the cross in order to save the whole world—to save it not just from wars and frustrations in this present age, but to save it for a resurrection from the dead at the Last Day! Christ said to Martha at the tomb of her brother Lazarus “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, thought he die, he shall live” (John 11:25).
The Lord Jesus suffered the death which the world deserved for its evil against God. He suffered death so that humans could be raised again to life that will never end. That’s what your God does for you. God is no golden calf—He can save His people! Sing and dance around Him. Then we can say with Martin Luther “goods, fame, child, and wife, let these all be gone…the kingdom ours remains! [TLH 262:4]
Oh, that calf, what quick and fleeting happiness it provided to the people of Israel! When Moses and Joshua came down from Sinai and heard joyful singing in the camp, that singing sure didn’t last very long! The people thought that without their leader, Moses, this golden figure would bring them lasting joy, but it did not. The excitement and the fervor the people showed toward their new “god” lasted only until Moses returned. The fun was over as soon as the Ten Commandments went crashing to the ground.
That’s the way it is with idols. They do not provide lasting happiness. Whether it is a statue like the golden calf, or a love of money, or desire for possessions that has taken over someone’s love for God, these things cannot give peace and joy for all time.
It’s easy to think that certain things will bring us lasting happiness. Some suppose, “If I just had plenty of money then I could be happy all the time.” But it doesn’t take much looking around to see that the rich can be very sad and troubled too.
Joy that comes from earthly things like money and possessions, the perfect spouse, or good health, is just fleeting. It comes and goes. If we think these things can give us the fullness of joy that we seek, we will be sadly disappointed. We dare not think they can give joy that will last and last because they can’t. If it is things that make us truly glad and not the knowledge of what our God has done for us in Christ Jesus, then our joy is shallow and we have not really found the true happiness our Creator wants us to have.
But God gives a joy to the heart that cannot be taken away. He is no golden calf that brings about singing and dancing for just a few moments. God gives us reason to sing and dance to His glory for the rest of our lives! He gives us joy in His Son Jesus that does not fade away. Peter writes that you can look forward to “the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice…” (1 Peter 1:5f NIV). Isn’t it a blessing that we can be glad about Jesus and what He has done for us, that we can be glad in the fact that He forgives us our sins and will take us to be with Him, and that nothing can steal that joy away from us? God is no golden calf—He can give lasting happiness.
What happened after Moses came down the mountain and broke the stone tablets? The Bible says He “Then he took the calf which they had made, burned it in the fire, and ground it to powder; and he scattered it on the water and made the children of Israel drink it.” [v.20] Calf? What calf? An hour in the hands of Moses and it was no more. Ground up. Gone. What a stunning contrast between the idol and the true God. God remained, but the statue was reduced to dust and the people drank it.
The world and all its idols will eventually perish. They will not last forever. The nations, the buildings, the economies, the people will all be gone. God gives you something much more certain. He will remain with you always, even when in your weakness you allow other things to come before Him.
God, in His great mercy, did not destroy the whole nation of Israel for the incident at the golden calf, even though He could have turned His back on them immediately for breaking His covenant. He chose to remain their God, guiding them to the Promised Land. We pray that this same mercy is shown to us and we know that it will be for your God is no golden calf! He is the Almighty, slow to anger and abounding in love. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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