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Many Questions

(Due to technical difficulties, there is no audio podcast of this week’s sermon. Instead, you can revisit Pastor Nancy’s sermon on Exodus 32:1-14 in text form here.)

Exodus 32:1-14

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,[a] 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. 10 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.”

11 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? 12 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. 13 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.’” 14 And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.


Before we explore the story known as “The Golden Calf” I want you to think about a question – AND – I want you to tell it to a neighbor.

THE QUESTION- What is beautiful?

TASK: I want you to divide into groups of 3 and will give you each 1 ½ minutes to describe something beautiful.

You only have this much time and I will call for the switch. You have to stop even if you aren’t done so each person gets to describe something beautiful.
90 sec., 90 sec., 90 sec.

Now, hold onto those stories, your own and those you heard while we look closer at the questions in the Exodus telling of the Golden Calf.

You’ve heard the story of Isarel and You’ve even read the confession, written in parts of Ps. 106.
Did the story leave you with any questions?
if so, With What questions are you left?
(or What points strike you?)

As always, we start with setting or context to find answers to what puzzles us and to seek to discern meaning for our lives today.

Context & Questions
ASK: Where are the Israelites?
ASK: Have they received the 10 commandments? (It appears they have.) Exodus can get confusing because separate story lines are told consecutively when it seems they are happening at the same time.

So from chapter 20 – where we find the 10 Commandments, God continues to give instructions to Moses for the people.
What we don’t learn until chapter 32 and today’s story, is what the people have been doing for 40 days while Moses is up on the mountain.
(To make it more confusing, there are some additional stories placed in between these 2 evidently simultaneous happenings.)

So if you haven’t read all of Exodus lately, just imagine a long – very long – conversation between Moses and God.

ASK: Have you ever had to wait a long time for something?
ASK: what was the wait like? Did you ever get frustrated? Did you think about giving up?

In just a couple sentence overview, we can notice:
In the 1st part of today’s story we hear about people’s frustration at waiting. They have waited and waited for Moses and now, they’ve given up hope of his return. They even say, “As for this man Moses who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we don’t have a clue what has happened to him.”

In the 2nd part of the story we overhear a conversation between God (who sees what the people are up to) and Moses. This story sounds like other bargaining stories where God is challenged to change God’s mind about giving up on the people.

Let’s work backwards thru our questions and the story…
At the very end of this (part of the) story,
ASK: What does God do? ….(Is God unchanging, ever the same?)
“Then the LORD changed the LORD’s mind about the terrible things he said he would do to his people.”
ASK: How do you feel about God changing God’s mind?

ASK: What can we learn from this part of the story?
Makes a great case for prayer.. petitioning God makes a difference according to this story.
ASK: What else?
God gets angry, God is ready to start over. (Remind you of any other Bible stories? Noah) God even has to be reminded of the promise to Abraham and Sarah because God is ready to start over and ‘make a great people’ from Moses!
ASK: How does that strike you? (Make you feel?)

Does the question occur to you that just maybe we can actually make God so mad that God gives up on us? Is that a take-away from the story?

…many questions, Reminds me of the Dishwalla song, ‘Counting Blue Cars’… “tell me all your thoughts of God… cos I really want to meet her.”

Scholar Emily Askew says, “We domesticate God when WE cannot tolerate the ambiguity at the heart of [these deep questions – such as why does God allow bad things?]
“In longing to know ‘why’, we jump to glib conclusions that offer US temporary respite from the inherent mystery of God —and [in doing so] we make God in our own image.”

ASK: What image did the Israelites make in the FIRST part of the story?

Perhaps, in their defense since we are humans too, we could say- they wanted a god they could be in relationship with as they were when they felt accompanied on the journey from Egypt. —Yet even then, God was in a Pilar of fire – (ASK: What does fire do if you get too close?)
Or in a CLOUD – ASK: What happens when you drive into a cloud or fog?

“Clouds obscure vision, hiding its secrets, fire defies touch, creating distance between the God within and the people without.”
“With This statue, at last, they can see and touch. They can bring offerings before it, feast and dine with their CHOSEN god, and truly celebrate with THIS god the miracle of their deliverance.”

And after all, Moses didn’t grow up among them, yet claimed to do the work and speak FOR God, “who is their living link to the hidden presence that eludes their senses” is…gone…

Why a calf? I don’t think it matters what the image is. “a young bull, the calf symbolized strength, leadership, and fertility and was a common symbol for deities in the ancient Near East..” We could say they were influenced by the religions around them yet they haven’t made it to Canaan yet. What the golden idol resembles, isn’t as important as their desire to create it and worship it.

NOW: back to your Beautiful Descriptions.

How many of you described or heard described something from NATURE?
How many heard something described that was made?
How close did your descriptions come to the way and— words you use to describe God?

“It is easy to mistake our own creations for our God.” Professor Portier-Young wrote, “It is tempting to shape our plundered riches, our wages, and even the reparations for our losses into an image that pleases our senses, modifies our anxiety, and invites admiration from our neighbors.”

It is easy to make ‘GOD’ into what WE think is beautiful.

Even when the ‘thing’ we make symbolizes strength and power, or personifies our ideas of what a god should be or how a god should act, IT is NOT God.
No matter how close we ‘draw to it’ or celebrate it, or place it at the center of our lives, it did not free us and will not lead us to any promised inheritance. IT will keep us slaves to a worldview that falls short of all that the Divine imagined when humanity was created.

“We may dance with it for a day, but soon find that it has led us to our death.”

We have two stories in this pivotal Exodus passage, whose endings come together into another troubling episode if you continue to read.
ASK: We learn what?
1. God can change the divine mind.
2. We humans find it easy to lose faith in the unseen and make gods of what we like best…

We who call ourselves believers must accept that the God we worship is ultimately mysterious. Unchanging in steadfast love, yet quite capable of changing the Ultimate Mind.
Even capable of getting VERY angry with us.


God chose to come very near to humanity within the human form of Christ. And God comes near to us —- at times.

Other times, God remains at a distance, leaving us to feel empty and challenging us to have enough faith NOT to fill the gap with our own cleverly designed idols.

With this warning and challenge in mind, we take from this story the reminder that we dare not reduce God to a benign deity in order to reduce God to a manageable form that can be seen and touched…for that god is nothing more than a golden calf!







Date Posted Title Listen Download
Oct 15, 2017 Many Questions Listen Download