Behold Your God, Who Brought You Out of Egypt
January 5, 2020 Speaker: Robert Jackson
Passage: Exodus 32:1–32:35
You probably remember from our series through exodus a few months ago that at this point in the story, the Israelites have been led and fed by God for months now and have watched His miracles daily.
Now, they come to the foot of this mountain, they hear the voice of the Lord giving them His law, they see the lighting flashing around the mountaintop, they feel the earth shaking underneath them, they make a promise to God to do everything that He says, and they are told to wait at the foot of the mountain while Moses goes up to receive a copy of the Law. So Moses goes up to the mountain alone and he’s up there for over a month. The Israelites went from speaking directly to God to having Moses be separated from them to speak with God by himself for 40 days. The people clearly feel at least two things: they feel impatient, and they feel neglected by God. So rather than follow the worship that God prescribed to them, and to be patient like they were told, they attempt to bring God down from the mountain-top into their midst and fill the gap in their experience of God.
It’s the opposite of the tower of babel in one sense. Rather than using human effort to ascend to where God is, they use human effort to bring God down to their level. They remake Him into an image of something they can understand and relate to, they adopt forms of egyptian worship that are culturally familiar to them, and they rewrite the commands of God to align with their own desires. They remake Him into something they can control. This brings us to the primary observation from our text today: that if your worship does not reshape your life then your life will reshape your worship. We will use one 3 part question to examine that further. The question is, are you being remade in the image of your world, the image of your desires, or the image of God?
Notice that this question assumes the reality that you are already being remade in the image of something. You’re not just staying neutral. Romans 1 speaks of how all have a knowledge of the truth of God and we are in the process of either embracing it or suppressing it. Those that embrace it are granted more, those that suppress it are given over to their desires. Nobody starts neutral, and nobody stays where they start. Everybody begins with the suppression of truth and moves further in that direction apart from the grace of God. But we must realize the suppression isn’t an issue of whether we worship or not, but of how and what we worship. We aren’t given the choice to suppress worship with non-worship, only to exchange one form of worship for another. Worship is an inescapable reality of humanity and I’d spend time proving it to you if you didn’t already know it deep down. As we will see from Exodus 32, either your life will define your worship of God or worship of God will define your life. It all depends on whether you are being remade in the image of your world, remade in the image of your desires, or remade in the image of God. Let’s take it one point at a time….
Point 1: Remade in the image of your world
If so, your God will look like the gods of your neighbor.
It is Ironic that the God who brought them out of Egypt would be made to look like and be worshipped like the gods of Egypt. The golden calf was not a foreign god to Israel. They believed it was YHWH, they were just following the pattern of Egyptian worship. This was Aaron doing his best, trying to fill in the gaps of his knowledge of God with what felt familiar to him. He even says it explicitly, he says, “Behold your god who brought you out of Egypt!” He isn’t saying Yahweh didn’t do that, he’s saying “This is Yahweh!” And why would he do something so absurd when God had literally just commanded him not to? Because that’s what Egyptians do. They exchange the glory of the creator for the creation. Just look at any depictions of Egyption gods, all weird looking animal/human hybrids.
See, when the people abandoned God they didn't just go directly to pleasure seeking. They do get there, but that’s not the first stop. Look at verse 2, rather than simply revelling in their riches and possessions like good heathens, they melt down all their valuable gold to make this calf idol. They reverted to the familiarity of Egyption idolatry even though it was costly to them. And it’s important that we see that sacrificial idolatry is not unique to Egypt, which is why it is still familiar to us today and why it felt so comfortable to them. It is because the opposite of godliness in any culture is not materialism or even atheism, it's idolatry. Sacrificial idolatry, even. They melted down some really valuable things to make this calf! But God has not left men the option of not worshiping, and the evidence of this universal phenomenon can be seen in the sacrifice. All people worship, and all worship involves sacrifice. Before the Israelites can worship their god who justifies their desire-fulfillment they still feel compelled to sacrifice their gold to him because sacrifice is always a part of worship. So if you want to know what you worship, look for the things in your life that you’re willing to sacrifice for.
Now, outside of Christianity, this notion of sacrifice and idolatry might seem a little primitive for us enlightened 21st century Americans, and paganism feels like a foreign word. But people still do the same thing. Only today we have exchanged our golden calves for giant golden images of ourselves. The belief that you are perfect as you are and deserve to have everything you want is the new national religion. It’s still exchanging the glory of God for His creation, even if it is a creature made in His image. We are still created beings and as such owe our worship to God alone. But our desires are too attractive to resist apart from His grace, so our modern culture has developed a religion to reinforce this.
The gospel of “self love” is preached as openly as the worship of any pagan gods ever was. And failure to worship at the culturally approved idol of self is met with rebuke and encouragement to ignore anyone who says you aren’t worthy of worship. They do this, of course, not because they think you are worthy of honor; If they did they would be bowing down beside you at your image instead of their own. They do it because they want to be justified in thinking themselves worthy of honor. It is a sort of socially symbiotic religion. If you affirm my worship of myself I will affirm your worship of yours. But if you don’t worship yourself, or if you inhibit another person’s worship of themselves, then you can’t be trusted and you must be openly opposed. And this is where the sacrifice comes in. For us, it is human sacrifice, and it comes in the form of those “sinners” being exposed to open ridicule on twitter until they are fired by their job, disowned by their family, and made a public example of. It’s called “Cancel culture” when a person is socially boycotted into personal and professional ruin. You can tell that a deity has been offended when the punishment does not fit the crime according to human standards.
In American culture today, rather than going through the extra steps of making up a false God to justify our desire, we cut straight to the chase. We just make our desires, our self image our god and serve them with human sacrifice. So, as Christians living in this culture it is more crucial than ever to ask the second part of the question, are we being remade in the image of our desires?
Point 2: Remade in the image of your desires
If so, your god will command worship in accordance with your desires rather than his.
First off, Notice the presence of circumstances outside their control. Look at the latter part of verse 1, "let us make… gods who will go before us.” They knew they faced more enemy nations and other hardships ahead, and they knew they depended on God daily for supernatural provision of food, water, protection, and guidance. All this was somehow not enough to earn their patience when He did not act in line with their expectations. That’s because it feels unsafe to depend on a God who does not operate according to your preferred timetable. Too often, if God is not controlling our circumstances the way we like, we remake Him into a god who will. If God is not making us wealthy the way we want, in order to preserve our belief and justify our frustration, we make God out to be a deity who primarily desires our physical prosperity even if we have to make him incapable of giving us that when we don’t have enough faith. God becomes shaped by our felt needs rather than reshaping our feelings about what is and is not a need. That’s why the Christian best sellers list is consistency full of books teaching the very dangerous prosperity gospel and its impotent god who wants our prosperity to happen but needs our permission to make it happen.
Now look a little earlier in verse 1, in addition to the circumstances outside of their control, notice their perception of an absence of Revelation from God. They see that "Moses is delayed.” God had finished speaking to them in chapter 24, then Moses went to be alone with God for 40 days and the people apparently felt jealous and neglected. If God is not speaking to us on our timetable in our preferred mode of communication, if we feel distant from Him, we tend to make up revelation to suit our felt needs. Is this not familiar? How many people today say they feel like God is being silent towards them for a season and then turn to resources like Jesus Calling and the Shack that claim to speak for and about God in ways that Scripture does not?
And see too the way they worship. (in Verse 5-6) Even though they sacrifice their riches to the calf, the worship is in the form of feasts and peace offerings only. There is no atonement for sin, no repentance. Only celebration. Idolatry is the only way to have both sinful desires and a comforted conscience. Remember the identity of the false god they are worshipping. "This is your God who brought you out of Egypt." This is where the clean conscience comes in. They do not believe they are making an idol. They are comforting themselves with the thought that maybe YHWH is not as scary as Moses had said. Maybe YHWH is only a God of love who cares nothing for sin. Maybe love wins, and maybe love is what they want it to be.
I want to take a moment and examine the similarity between each of the first two points. Both of them are examples of people doing what comes naturally in worship. The problem is that our natural inclinations are fundamentally marred by sin. In our brokenness, we have become very much unlike God. So that what is familiar and natural to us is foreign to Him.
Today, we have no lack of revelation from God. We have the complete Scriptures and easier access to them than anyone in history. Our ignorance today is even more our fault but it is no less prevalent. If anything it's more so. And we still fill in our gaps in our knowledge of God with what seems familiar to us. And it's still idolatry. And it still hurts us.
But difficult circumstances, rather than turning to God who is holier than us, we often tend to default to worshipping the familiar because it is comfortable to us. The familiar is something we can use to self-sooth in the middle of great pain. Sunday morning is a time designed for all Christians to bring their pain to Christ, but some of us are taking it to Church instead of taking it to Jesus. You can tell which one is happening by how easy it is for someone else to mess it up for you. If your relief and comfort is ruined by the band playing a new version of your favorite song that is nowhere near as good as the original one then you are only fellowshipping with what is familiar to you and it may not involve much interaction with the actual person of Christ. You’re taking your pain to church instead of to Jesus who is at church to meet with you regardless of how the band sounds.
Another illuminating principle is that whatever you are most afraid of offending is most likely the object of your worship. We need a culture where the chief concern is how God feels about something and the last concern is how I feel about it. Put how others feel about it somewhere in the middle. We desperately need to readjust our framework through which we evaluate worship. What sounds or feels right to us or meets our personal preference is not trustworthy and is in fact the root of our deepest problem. We perpetually worship either the wrong things or the right things in the wrong ways. Our greatest problem is idolatry so it makes sense that the greatest solution for us is right worship, not just worship that feels right. As Jeremiah says, “The heart is deceitful above all else and desperately wicked, who can understand it?”
Now I’m not saying you can’t have personal preferences. For example, purely from the standpoint of personal preference, I’m not a big fan of the super popular Chris Tomlin songs. Feel free to call Kirk Cameron and have him revoke my evangelical membership if you like. But I tell you what, that preference aside, all of his extra choruses added to perfectly good hymns should in no way be a barrier to my interaction with Jesus on a Sunday morning. Even if it’s played in the key he sings them in and I can’t hit half the notes in the song, I am still invited and, very crucially, I am still able to taste and see that the Lord is good. And you know what, God is still be pleased in my participation in spite of my preferences. Probably even more so, because I’m valuing him and my brothers and sisters above myself.
On a practical level, if we have a congregation as diverse as heaven will be and we want to serve our brothers and sisters from different backgrounds than us , we should expect to frequently experience and participate in music that doesn’t meet our natural preferences. We do that to bless others. None of what I’ve said today is meant to suggest that music is irrelevant. It is useful for evoking emotions appropriate to worship. And to a degree, personal desires and culture dictate how that works. But you might rightly ask, aren’t we trying to keep culture and desires out of worship? how is that different from the Israelites worshipping the golden calf? Because in Biblical worship the Law of God is the standard by which we shape culture into something worshipful, and worship is not ridding ourselves of desires but focusing them at Christ.
Rather than culture becoming an idol, culturally appropriate music can be used like a prescription lens to bring the true image of God into focus. Worship becomes more clear for a person when culture is cut and shaped like prescription glasses very carefully according to the Word of God. Too much emphasis on culture and the lense will distort the image. Too little and the image may stay vague and hard to relate to. But just the right fine tuning can produce a crisp and clear view of the image of God that has an experiential component which can truly be a blessing to the body. The golden calf was like trying to make eye-glass lenses out of solid gold coins. The lenses became the focus rather than the tool the moment they abandoned God’s law as the standard.
But this issue of distorting or reshaping God is not for church-attenders only. As we’ve seen, this reshaping of god by our desires and experiences is not exclusive to Christians. The same principle of idolatry is as much behind the rejection of Christ as it is the distorted worship of Him. To avoid submitting to God, we fill in the gaps in our understanding of Him in one of two ways; to make God more naturally similar to us, or to make him less so. We make him more so to make him more palatable to us, or make him less so to push him away. Either way we use the familiar. We make him into the image of comfortable or painful familiarity. If we make God more comfortably familiar we make him more like us, so that less and less is required of us to be with him. We ease our conscience by making him as understanding of us as we are so that he would not expect more of us than we expect of ourselves.
On the other hand, if we make him more familiar to our pain, perhaps remaking him into the image of an abusive parent, making him out to be something detestable and alien to us, then we ease our conscience by making ourselves out to be more righteous than him. This way, he becomes a monster unworthy of our service. Then we don't have to change at all. In this scenario we are better than God, or truly, we have become God. You either make a golden calf or you make yourself the golden calf. Either way, your desires are your god. Now this might seem to make our conscience feels somewhat eased, but according to Romans 1 it’s actually seared them.
Have you ever been burned so bad it didn’t hurt any more? If you didn’t know any better you’d almost think it was less serious than a burn that was painful. In reality it just burned off all the nerve endings so the pain can’t be felt. But the infection is still going to happen because you have no skin. That’s what it means to have a seared conscience. It doesn’t feel pain, but not because it is at ease. If you’re hearing these words, you do not serve Jesus, and it doesn’t hurt, I pray God reopens that wound for your own sake and for His glory in your life. I pray it hurts so that you will seek healing. That you would ask yourself what you are worshipping and why.
Which leads back to our question. We already looked at being remade in the image of your world and of your desires. Now I invite you to consider an alternative with me, our third main point. Rather than being remade in the image of our world or our desires, what does it mean to be remade into the image of the God of the Bible? It means at least three more things.
Point 3: Remade in the image of your God
First, It means you will die to your idols.
It might be objected that all of this pickiness about worship is no longer relevant in light of the Gospel. Doesn’t grace cover over bad worship? Well, yes. But also no. . Christ came to die because we perpetually worshipped the wrong things in the wrong ways. What Jesus did for us was perfectly worship God on our behalf, but not so we didn’t have to. What He bought for us is the ability to rightly worship God. You might say "He bought us relationship with God" but that's the same thing. We don't have relationship with God outside worship of Him. If we aren’t worshipping we are sinning and if we are sinning we are not engaging in that relationship so the venn diagram of worship and relationship is just one circle.
And the Gospel only makes worship more important because the Jesus that died for you is the same one that gave Moses the 10 commandments. Jesus is the gate to the Father not to our false idols. As Paul puts it, “should we continue sinning that grace may about? By no means! How can we who are dead to sin still live in it?” It’s not that the grace is conditional upon dying to the idols, but that receiving the grace always means dying to the idols. The gospel is poison to the idolatrous “old man.” If a dude walks in and says, “hey I just drank a gallon of hemlock juice” and then walks around fine for an hour I’m going to be highly suspicious. Not because death is a requirement for drinking poison, but because drinking lethal amounts of poison is, to no surprise, lethal. Grace still means death to the old man! This is better than the alternative in our story where thousands of people are killed, but it is not less. Either way, the idolaters must die. What has changed is that God has brought to life a part of you that can survive the destruction of your idolatrous flesh. So, based on our treatment of our former idols, are we being remade in the image of God?
If we are, then our God will come into conflict with our desires and with our world.
Notice the repentance of the sons of Levi at the end of the story. This is what we call, “Reformation.” Throughout Scripture and history Reformation is always marked by the destruction of idols and restoration of right worship. Notice that all great revivals of the Church have been precipitated by some form of Reformation of worship. Not by political revolution, though that has sometimes also happened as a result, but always by Reformation. In her book, The First Salute, Barbara Tuchman wrote "Revolutions produce other men, not new men." But Reformations do produce new men. If you want the world around you to change then even more important than how you vote is how and who you worship. The way you worship God will determine the way you interact with the world.
The most necessary thing for the health of your relationships is that you worship God. To the degree that your friendships, your parenting, and your marriage are shaped by the worship of God they will be a blessing to those involved. Inversely, to the degree they are shaped by your idolatry they will harm the ones you love. Parents, the most important thing we can do for our children is worship God rightly. Husbands, the most important thing we can do for our wives is worship God rightly. Friends, you guessed it, the most important thing we can do to strengthen our relationships is to worship God rightly. And, the way you worship will influence the way others worship.
If you want an example of the effect of prioritizing right worship of God, let’s talk about how to better love your neighbors of a different ethnicity than yourself. Wanna know a very helpful tool for that? We all need to be better at it. The tool is to become enthralled with the image of God until you can recognize it in anyone regardless of how dissimilar they are to you. The image of God is in every person on the planet in equal measure. You wanna know how to love people who struggle with homosexuality? Become infatuated with the image of God so that when you see it in them it elicits love from you. Sin can mar but it can never fully obscure the image of God. Love Gods true image so much that even the faintest hint of it is attractive to you. Shortly after our passage in Exodus, Moses saw the glory of the Lord and he began to shine like God did in a way that was extremely disconcerting to those around him. People who see the image of God in the light of Christ see a Father who's looking back at them with love and they come away shining with the same love towards others as they recognize the image of God in those around them
The most influential thing in your life is what and how you worship. Become conformed to the image of Christ who is the exact imprint of the Father. Be the fragrance of Christ spread everywhere so that those who love Him are drawn to you because you remind them of Him. And it’s very important that in being conformed to that image, we have a correct view of it.
Have you noticed how in pictures Jesus tends to have the ethnicity of whatever church context he’s displayed in? While I think it’s easy to see the problem there, I’m not suggesting that the solution is to just make him appropriately semetic in our depictions. According to our church’s confession of faith, the vast majority of Reformed Church history, and most importantly the second commandment in Scripture, all images of God are sinful. Truthfully there is more similarity between any humanly created picture of Jesus and the golden calf than there is between any of those pictures and the infinitely glorious Jesus. Now please hear me, you do not have to agree with me on that to get what I’m saying here, but I do think it is relevant. And here’s one reason why.
When my wife and I first started dating I was 17. And 17 year old boys categorically have abysmal room cleaning skills. So one day as we were getting ready to leave my house, I walked into my room to grab something and she walked in to see what she was getting herself into. And she would say that’s probably the closest she ever came to breaking up with me. And no, the messiness, incredible as it was, wasn’t why. About a year earlier I had gotten dumped by a girl, and there was a picture of the two of us still on my desk. And I can tell you with all honesty it was not left there intentionally, I really and truly just hadn’t cleaned off my desk in over a year. But that hurt my new girlfriend. Why do you think it did, though? I mean, they were fairly similar physically. Both around the same height, both very fair skinned, at the time my wife even had red hair just like my ex did. So if the two women were basically the same physically, what’s the big deal about having a picture of my ex work as a stand in for my new girlfriend?
My wife was hurt for one very simple and legitimate reason. She was hurt because the girl in the picture wasn’t her. Married men, if I couldn’t get away with it with a girlfriend, how would it go over with you wife to have a picture of any woman in your wallet in place of her? What if the girl in the picture was really similar, in fact what if it was your wife's sister? Is it better yet? Of course not. Because we don’t get married to generic people, we get married to a specific person. And we don’t worship a generic God who came as a generic middle eastern man, we worship The God who came as a specific man. And right now we don’t know what he looked like but that’s ok, we were told to wait at the foot of the mountain until we will see him one day. In the meantime, why would we compromise our intimacy with approximate placeholders? Especially when our interaction with others is directly effected by how we understand the true image of God?
The Golden calf and our images of God all fail in the same three ways, 1) They aren’t God. 2) They therefore obscure our ability to see God in the ways He is rightly imaged, which is through people. 3) They fail to meet our needs and our desires. And this is the final implication for today. If you are being remade in the image of God, you will be dying to your idols, God will be coming into conflict with your sin and your world, but most importantly,
And third on our list, If you are being remade in the image of God you will be satisfied.
Here’s the difficulty with all this talk of Reformation and right worship of God, it has never been accomplished by obligation, rather it has only permanently come about by infatuation. This is why I make it a point to address images from the standpoint of relationship. Listen to this promise about the New Covenant from Hosea 2: ““Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.” You see the difference between the old and new covenant? He doesn’t speak through thunder and flashes of lightning or even Moses anymore. He allures us now. He calls lovingly and earnestly and personally to you through Jesus Christ.
At his right hand are pleasures everlasting. The desires that the Israelites invented a god to fulfill would actually have been met and exceeded had they maintained devotion to the true God. Look at verse 10, at what God offers Moses when Israel sins. He’s saying “I’ll give you every good thing that I promised to Israel because you have worshipped me rightly.” But look what Moses does! One of the most beautifully Christlike actions of his entire life. He doesn’t use his right worship before God as a basis to claim the blessing of God only for himself, he uses it to be in proximity to God and to plead for all of his brothers to be forgiven of their idolatry! But in a right understanding of his own human fallibility, he does not use his own works as the basis for Israel’s pardon, he uses God’s character and faithfulness for that. Moses’ right worship kept him in close fellowship with God so that he could be there to make the argument for God to relent based on the character of God.
I want to highlight here is that the very characteristic that Moses highlights to save the people of God from the wrath they deserve is the same characteristic that you and I are banking on to find satisfaction in Him; it is His faithfulness. As surely as Christ died, if you are in Him, you will have eternal pleasure in God. In light of that surpassing pleasure and satisfaction of desires, of what account are all our petty preferences about the way the music on Sunday sounds?
The “fuzzy feeling” so many of us are chasing with our individual ideas of what worship music should sound like will be eclipsed by an even greater joy in Jesus. We gotta stop worshipping our worship. The goal is not the fuzzy feeling worship gives you, and it's not the goosebumps you get when the music is on point. But that’s actually good news because it's not hindered by the lack of those goosebumps when the music is a little rough or not your favorite. Worship is not something you do because of the feeling it gives you, worship is secondarily something you do because of the feelings you have about God and primarily something you do because God is worthy of it. We have to put the pursuit of personal feelings aside for the greater pursuit of a greater God who also happens to offer greater pleasures,
And not only that, but Jesus is the only God in the entire universe that can satisfy both your desires and your conscience. Christ offers unending fulfillment of your greatest desires in such a way that will not only ease your conscience but satisfy it. Joy, pleasure, satisfaction like you’ve never known, and there’s not a single part of your mind body or soul saying anything other than “Yes! This is right.”
The gospel is, at its core, a message that God cares about bad worship enough to die to make it right. That is a message of forgiveness for wrong worship that is done in ignorance or repented of, but it is not a message that endorses anything less than striving for excellence in worship. The fact that people no longer drop dead over wrong worship like they did in the Bible is not an indication that God no longer cares, but rather proof that a perfect man already died to extend grace to anyone who will have it.
Of course, it is still a message of hope. The gospel isn't a threat of execution over wrong worship, it is the pardon for that very thing, but the hope takes the form of receiving an invitation to participate in eternal right worship. Most importantly, what I hope you hear today is not mainly threatening to deter from wrong worship, but rather enticement to enjoy right worship. Right worship is the greatest joy you could ever pursue.
I will conclude here with what I hope is helpful clarification. It’s possible you may have heard what I’ve said today as meaning we should primarily pursue the feeling that right worship gives us. That the primary problem with wrong worship is that it doesn’t feel as good as right worship. And I want to be super clear that is a secondary issue. The primary reason to worship God above other things is that He is worthy. He is worthy and other things are not. Whether the feeling is there for you today or not, He is every bit as worthy of your worship. He is worthy because of who He is and what He has done. He is, after all, the God who brought our fathers out of Egypt and brought us out of Idolatry.
In a few moments here, we are going to have one of the best possible opportunities to look to Jesus and His worth as we participate in the Lord’s Supper. Far from the efforts of the Israelites to bring God down to their level by remaking him into the image of creation and feasting to glorify their own desires, we are invited to partake of Christ on His terms by the means He established. We get to recognize and remember the permanent intimacy that was purchased for us when, instead of Moses coming down from Sinai to bring God’s wrath on idolatry, God Himself came down from Heaven to bring grace and reconciliation. In a moment, rather than a sinful priest holding up a false idol declaring it to be God, Mike will hold up the bread and the wine and rightly say, “This is the body of Christ broken for you” and together we will recall the finished work of the faithful priest. So Church, please join me in prayer as we prepare our hearts to behold our God who brought us out of Egypt.