WILDERNESS: Why Idolatry Is Just Another Name for Control

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May 13, 2020

Exodus 32:1-6 (NIV)

When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”

2 Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”

5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.” 6 So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.

CONSIDER THIS

You likely noticed we did a bit of time travel between yesterday’s reading and today’s (from Exodus 20 to 32). The intervening material, of great magnitude and consequence, centered around the particulars of the statutes and regulations flowing out of the Ten Words and also the detailed instructions on the construction of the Tabernacle and all its furnishings. 

This explains the context of today’s text, which opens with the reference to what had become an intolerable period of waiting for the Israelites. Were I to write the caption over this section of Scripture, rather than calling it “The Golden Calf,” I might call it, “The People Take Control.” 

When people take control we get something that looks, smells, and quacks like the real thing but it couldn’t be further from it. The first tell of control is the controlling impatience. Tell #2 is the distancing from the leader: “As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” Tell #3 is the shift from an offering of funds to an assessment of fees. Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me. When people take control we see pressure-filled conscription rather than heart-felt giving. Tell #4 is the blatant disregard for the Word of God. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Not only did God forbid the making of idols in the form of anything, but he forbade the use of any tool—even on the altars he authorized the Israelites to make for worshipping him. 

Everything is wrong here, especially this: Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” In their minds, they weren’t making an alternate God at all. They were simply making a visible representation of the God of Israel. So why does God so strictly forbid this practice? Because the hands of the ones who make the representations of gods soon become the self-appointed hands of the gods themselves. Idolatry is just another name for control. 

When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.”

This must have looked, smelled, and felt exactly like “church” to these worshippers. So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. 

They thought they were worshipping God only to later realize they had only magnified themselves. Look where their worship led them:

Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.

True worship leads to self sacrificial living. False worship leads to self indulgence. True worship leads to heart-felt repentance. False worship leads to sinful revelry. 

Remember how all of this began? The unwillingness of the people to wait patiently on the Lord. They needed to be in control. Control is the Achilles heel of so many leaders—at least we could say of many people in positions of leadership—for a leader who must be in control is actually no leader at all—they lead us only into lostness. 

Are you a controlling person? Do you tend to excuse it in the name of some desired end or outcome? I want to say to you gently yet boldly, it is not OK to be a controlling person. This is unhealed brokenness and it does great damage to everyone around you. Whether it be a home or a business or a church, though outward appearances seem intact, the inside reality is as empty as that golden calf. Consider this a merciful intervention. Repent while there is still time. Remember, control is just another name for idolatry. 

THE PRAYER

Father, we think left golden calves in ancient times. Wake us up to see they are all around us all the time. Help us realize what is built by control and conscription is just another form of an idol; something that looks like the real thing but is far from it. Forgive us for excusing our controlling nature as just who we are. Reveal the broken and fearful hearts within us. Give us the grace to repent, releasing our need to control people and things and outcomes, trusting you with all things. In Jesus name, Amen. 

THE QUESTION

So what is your appetite for control? Do you need to be in control of people, organizations, situations, outcomes, image, etc.? What brokenness in you underlies this need? What are you afraid of? 

For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt
Sower-in-Chief
seedbed.com

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