Text: Exodus 32-34
We are told in Exodus 24:12-18 that the LORD called Moses to come up the mountain to receive on tablets the law and commands He was giving to Israel, since they collectively agreed to do everything that the LORD had said. Moses told Aaron and the elders, “wait here for us until we come back.” Moses takes Joshua with him and the pair ascend the mountain where God’s glory cloud descends on them. To the Israelites, the glory looks like “a consuming fire”. Exodus chapters 25 through 31 are the account of what the LORD told Moses while he was up there for 40 days and 40 nights.
In Chapter 32, we learn what was happening while Aaron remained with the people in the camp down below. The people of Israel soon get impatient waiting for Moses to get back. They approach Aaron and demand he make them gods they can follow into the promised land, since they didn’t have Moses to lead them. Aaron readily agrees and instructs the people to give them their earrings and he makes the gold into an idol shaped like a calf. Aaron announces a festival and then the people make offerings on the altar Aaron also built and then they eat, drink and “indulge in revelry”.
The LORD informs Moses what is happening with the people and tells Moses to leave Him alone so He can be angry and destroy the people. He says He will instead make Moses into a great nation.
Moses intercedes for the people, seeking the favor of the LORD, reminding Him of His reputation, especially to the Egyptians, and asking Him to remember the covenant He made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The LORD relents and does not destroy the people.
Moses descends the mountain and breaks the tablets inscribed by “the finger of God” (Ex 31:18) because of his anger when he sees the golden calf and the people dancing. When he confronts Aaron, Aaron gives an account of what happened, “they gave me this gold, I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!” Moses grinds up the gold from the calf and puts it in the water so the Israelites have to drink it.
The Levites rally to Moses and obey the Lord’s command to kill their brothers, friends and neighbours in the camp and this results in the death of 3000 people. Moses pleads to the LORD that he forgive the sin of the people but God strikes them with a plague and tells them to leave the mountain. He tells them to go to the promised land but says He will not go with them.
Moses sets up the Tent of Meeting outside the camp and speaks with the LORD there “face to face, as a man speaks with his friend”. When the Israelites saw the pillar of cloud resting at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, they would worship God from the entrance of their own tents. Moses’ young aide Joshua does not leave the Tent of Meeting. In the tent, Moses leverages God’s favor with himself for mercy with the Israelites and the LORD relents.
For a second time, Moses ascends Mt Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights and this time Moses writes out the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments by his own hand on tablets he chiseled out himself.
Responding to Moses’ request, “Now show me your glory, the LORD comes down in the glory cloud, describing Himself to Moses as being compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, forgiving of sin, wickedness and rebellion; and also, that he punishes the guilty.
Moses descends the mountain with instructions on how they are to conduct themselves in the promised land and the people of Israel see the radiance of his face and are afraid of him. Moses assures them and wears a veil over his face in their presence, which he removes when he re-enters the presence of God.
Aaron has seen how Moses instructs the people on behalf of the LORD as God’s prophet: how the LORD gives instructions on how and when to worship and Moses relays these commands to the people. Now the opportunity arises for Aaron to be considered the prophet in the eyes of the people. When they give into their impatience, he readily constructs a god of gold at their request, provides the strategy of how sacrifices can be made to it and he gives the people the time of the “festival” for which they have the opportunity to worship it. Things get wild pretty fast.
When Moses comes down the mountain and confronts Aaron, Aaron doesn’t take responsibility for his bad leadership, rather he blames the people saying they are “prone to evil” and distances himself from the construction of the idol by saying he threw the gold the people gave him into the fire and “out came this calf!” We see Aaron’s cowardice in his inability to instruct the people according to what the LORD commanded them, how he is swayed by their demands, and how he refuses to take responsibility for his own role in this debacle.
Moses on the other hand, immediately takes action against the people to get them back in order by using the sword against them. Then he goes back before the Lord to plead for mercy. This was not immediately granted. Moses had to take time in God’s presence in the tent of meeting and as he did this, his friendship with the Lord grew. Moses’ favor with the LORD increases as Moses remains in His presence and refuses to move on toward the promised land without the presence of the LORD accompanying them. Finally, Moses is able to leverage God’s favor with himself to ask for mercy for Israel. While there are consequences for their actions, God does relent and agree to go with them to the promised land.
We see here the stark contrast between the leadership abilities of Aaron and Moses. It is plain as day the reason God called Moses to lead the people, despite his speaking difficulty. Moses without Aaron has a communication problem, but Aaron without Moses is altogether unfit for leadership. Moses won’t do anything apart from the presence of God but Aaron lacks a healthy fear of the LORD and instead fears the people. Moses denies the opportunity for personal gain when God offers to destroy the people and start over with Moses’ family, while Aaron selfishly submits to the people when they want him to act like a prophet on behalf of an idol. Moses intercedes for those he is in leadership over, that God will forgive them and show mercy, Aaron throws the people under the proverbial bus and blames them for his lack of proper leadership. Moses waits patiently in the presence of God, becoming as a friend to God. Aaron, lets the impatience of the people rub off on him and, though he has personally seen God (Ex 24:9-10), he denies his experience and facilitates idolatry with the golden calf.
The key qualities of good leadership displayed in Moses are also reflected in young Joshua, who will, in his later years, lead the people into the promised land after they wander the desert for 40 years. In Ex 33:11, we see that Joshua never left the tent of meeting. This means he was as intent as Moses was on pursuing the presence and glory of God. This is what prepares him for his future role as leader of Israel as we will discover in the book of Joshua. From the words of King David in the Psalms this week, we see his heart also was preoccupied with the presence and glory of God (Ps 27:4). This shows that great leadership comes by way of a heart posture: the priority and hunger of seeking God’s presence and glory above all else.
Think about the ways in which you are a leader to those around you at home, at work, or just as a witness for the Kingdom of God. Does your leadership example look more like Aaron or Moses? How might you prioritize seeking God’s presence in a greater way this week? This year?
Prayer: LORD, I acknowledge the presence of your Holy Spirit right now. Help me to be still and know that you are God. Help me to wait patiently for your presence and leading in my life so that I do nothing apart from your presence with me. Amen.
Kari Jobe - Holy Spirit (Live) ft. Cody Carnes
In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.