When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.” They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.
The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!< The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.” But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’“ And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.
This is such an interesting story. There are so many feelings right from the beginning: the people’s impatience as they wait for Moses, their desperation for something, anything, to serve as their god, the crowd mentality that made it so easy to switch from worshiping God to worshiping a golden calf. But the feelings I find most interesting belong to God. God is…angry. Real angry.
God basically turns from “those stiff-necked people” and declares the need for some alone time so, as God says, “my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them.” Uff da.
Moses is put in the awkward position of talking God down and reminding God of God’s own character. And then comes what I find to be one of the most interesting lines in the whole Bible. And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people. Does that make you catch your breath like I do when I read that? The Lord changed his mind. Changing your mind, especially when it is set on red hot wrath, takes an open heart, an open mind, flexibility, humility, and compassion.
Have you ever had to change your mind? Have you ever had a Moses confront you and your point of view or actions? Have you ever had to be reminded of your better self to save you from your impulsive self? I hope so. May we all remember that even God was able to change God’s mind and live into more grace-filled and compassionate ways of being.
In Peace, Pastor Ruth
Faithful God of an unfaithful people,
The people of Israel doubted your power and turned to other gods to fulfill their needs. We too, turn to other gods, seeking acceptance, power, and independence. Show us how to live humbly in you, and walk-in your ways, in the name of the one who offered true power to all humanity, Jesus Christ. Amen.