Do We Have Golden Calves?

“Do We Have Golden Calves?” – October 11, 2020

Exodus 32:1-14 (32:2-4)

We are living through great uncertainty. Look at the volatile weather during the past few months! Hurricanes, floods, wildfires, extremes in temperature. What about the COVID-19 pandemic? More than 210,000 people have died in the United States in the last six months, as many as died in all four years of the American Civil War. Added to those anxious statistics, we can name the recent racial tensions and the national political upheaval.

 When you or I are fearful or anxious or uncertain, what do we do? Where do we go for stability or comfort? What is all-important to each one, in such a tumultuous time?

As we consider the people of Israel, we might think of all of them being fearful and anxious, too. After all, they had just left Egypt not many weeks before. They were no longer slaves! Yet – they were also wandering in the wilderness of the Sinai peninsula. A foreign land, with strangeness and uncertainty at every turn!

Their trusted leader Moses had gone on top of the mountain to talk to this God that he said was the God of their ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. An invisible God they could not see, touch or understand, unlike the Egyptian gods.

“Get up and make gods,” they shout, because this Moses has obviously left us alone to die, and we cannot last another day, another minute, without some sort of God or gods to lead us. As for that guy Moses, well, “we do not know what it is to him,” which I take to mean that they have completely forgotten that he told them he was going up the mountain to chat with YHWH and would return to bring them the divine news of the day. As far as they know, Moses and YHWH are engaged in a handball tournament or a solo beach volleyball game.” [1]

Could you understand the fear, uncertainty and anxiety of the people of Israel? No wonder they begged Moses’ brother Aaron for some tangible god, a god they could see, touch and understand, like the Egyptian gods they knew from their time of slavery in Egypt.  

Aaron knew just what to do. He gathered all the golden rings, earrings and ornaments, melted them into malleable metal, and formed a golden calf. An idol the Israelites could see, touch and understand. Something to give them comfort and stability.

When you or I are fearful or anxious or uncertain, what do we do? Where do we go for stability or comfort? What is all-important to each of us, in such a tumultuous time?

We might scoff at the people of Israel sacrificing to the golden calf. But –is there anything we would sacrifice our time for? How about our money or our health? Anything that is so important in our lives that we might make it an idol? Our own personal golden calf?

Our golden calves might take many forms. I have an acquaintance who I’ve known for a long time. She considers her house to be so important. Of course, it is beautiful, but she has poured money into that house and the large garden—and the coach house out back—for many, many years. I suspect that house might be a golden calf in her life.

Another acquaintance I have owns seven cars. Seven! He is so proud of them! He washes them, waxes them, and considers them to be very valuable possessions. I think we all know someone who has idolized something – or someone – or some substance so much that it has become a golden calf to them. Perhaps each of us may consider something all-important. Something we sacrifice for. More important than God, even?

When you and I think deeply about it, the idea of an invisible God can be scary! Can we blame the people of Israel for wanting a tangible god, one they could see and touch and understand? Of course they wanted Aaron to construct a physical idol. “It is easy to mistake our own creations for our God. It is tempting to shape our plundered riches, our wages, and even the reparations for our losses into an image that pleases our senses, mollifies our anxiety, and invites admiration from our neighbors. But that thing we have made from Egypt’s gold is not our god.” [2]

We heard what happened between Moses and God at the ruckus with the idol. God got angry at the people of Israel, but Moses convinced God to allow God’s anger to subside.

Golden calves or “idols lure us with powerful illusions and misplaced hopes. They make seductive promises. These false gods come in all sizes and shapes. They promise much but deliver little. We can idolize almost anything — career, race, gender, sex, wealth, age, and especially nation. Our personal gods are so petty and pathetic that they would be laughable if they weren’t so insidious and corrosive.” [3]

We can take this example as a warning to us. We need to ask God to forgive us for constructing idols in our lives, too.

However, we also have promises from the Lord. God is always with us, even though we may not see God. Like the sun behind dark clouds, the sun is always present. Even in times of stress, fear and anxiety – such as right now! Even at times when we cannot see the invisible God, God is right there, by our sides. Surely, it is God who saves all of us. Alleluia, amen.  


[1] https://www.patheos.com/progressive-christian/2014/10/you-cant-have-it-both-ways-john-holbert-10-06-2014 

“You Can’t Have It Both Ways,” John C. Holbert, 2014.

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3442

Commentary, Exodus 32:1-14, Anathea Portier-Young, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2017.

[3] https://www.patheos.com/progressive-christian/2014/10/you-cant-have-it-both-ways-john-holbert-10-06-2014 

“You Can’t Have It Both Ways,” John C. Holbert, 2014.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Gideon: Fearful and Uncertain

“Gideon: Fearful and Uncertain”

Judges 6:1, 7-24 (6:22-23) – June 24, 2018 – from Dave Ivaska’s book Be Not Afraid

Judg 6_19-24-Gideon-Sees-the-Angel-of-the-Lord

Occupied territory. An oppressive military force. Just the very words conjure frightening images in a person’s mind. Thinking of different wars and conflicts, throughout the centuries. It doesn’t have to be a conflict we actually remember. There are—sadly—plenty to draw from, from many centuries in the past.

The tribes of Israel had settled in the land of Canaan after wandering for forty years in the wilderness. But, what happened to the new country of Israel in just a few decades? How did they lose control of their country so quickly? How did Israel become a conquered region so easily?  

For a quick explanation, we need to look at the beginning of Judges chapter 6. “The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years God gave them into the hands of the Midianites.” Throughout the Old Testament book of Judges, that is the way it was. The people of Israel stopped doing the things God told them to do, and stopped worshiping the Lord. Then, God would allow a foreign nation to take over and oppress Israel for a time. When the people couldn’t stand it any longer, they would cry out to the Lord. Then, the Lord would raise up a mighty warrior and judge. The judge would throw out the invading armies and then rule over the people of Israel for a time, and all would be prosperous and happy again.

You would think the people of Israel would learn, but, no. They would keep doing the same flawed thing; they would stop worshiping God, and get conquered by a foreign nation.

At the beginning of Judges chapter 6, we are in one of the parts of the cycle where a foreign nation is occupying the country of Israel. The Midianites are a particularly savage nation. Their armies steal all the flocks and crops from all the farmers, wherever the occupying forces go. This is a particularly fearful and uncertain time for the tribes of Israel, to be sure!

Back to the land of Israel. Occupied territory! As the scene in Judges 6 opens, the narrator lets us know that the Midian army is so greedy and grasping that they will confiscate any animals or produce from any Israelite farmer. How do we know that? Because, Gideon is threshing wheat inside of a winepress, in secret. He’s in hiding from the Midianites, so the occupying army won’t find out and take the wheat by force.

I also get the idea that Gideon is timid. Uncertain. Perhaps even fearful. Do you blame him? With the marauding Midian army prowling around, confiscating any crops from any farmer, wouldn’t you be afraid, too?

Thank God we do not have to deal with occupying armies or marauding bands of thieves today in the United States, unlike Gideon, unlike countless farmers in areas of conflict even now. But, are there big, challenging things in our lives today that cause us to be timid? Uncertain? Perhaps even fearful? Chronic sickness, unemployment, a serious accident, or a fire? Have any of these happened to you, or to your loved ones?

The next thing he knew, Gideon was shocked down to his shoes. (Or, sandals.) Wonder of wonders, an angel appeared to him. The angel spoke, saying, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.”

“Wait a minute! What? The Lord God said that to me? Is there some mistake? Has the angel got the wrong person? Or, made the wrong connection?  Believe me when I say I am not mighty. And, I am certainly not a warrior.”

If we paid attention in Sunday school class and read the Bible carefully, we would be familiar with several people telling God that they were not cut out to do the things God told them to. But, Gideon really means it. His clan is the weakest in the tribe of Manasseh, and he thinks he is the weakest (which probably meant he was the youngest) in his family.

But, the Lord has not made a mistake. God surely wants Gideon, believe it or not. For sure.

Imagine today, with God telling us that we are exactly what God wants, exactly what God expects from others. I wonder what else God is saying that we forget to notice. Or, maybe even outright refuse to hear?

Back to Gideon. Uncertain, fearful Gideon. I suspect he might have been a bit of a cynic and a pessimist, too. What’s the next thing out of Gideon’s mouth, in his conversation with the angel of the Lord? 13 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all God’s wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”

Whoa, Gideon! Did you really mean to say that? It sounds a little like you are scolding the Lord for not helping out Israel, and leaving the nation in this awful situation. Or—did you really mean to say exactly that?

I’ve got to say, I have felt like telling the Lord something like this, when I’ve been in several seemingly hopeless situations. When my former husband and I both pounded the pavement, we fruitlessly looked for work for several years. We both went to several job placement agencies over those years, and we were not able to find anything other than short-term, low-paying, temporary jobs. Between us we had thirteen years of college and graduate school education, and—no solid, permanent job offers. None. For years.

It was infuriating, and unbelievable, and incredibly frustrating. For years, I spent countless hours in prayer, raging at God, begging, pleading. Plus, we had two preschoolers, and neither of us had health insurance coverage. A frightening time, for years. I suspect Gideon might have felt the same way, except his situation was even worse. But, back to Gideon.

The angel of the Lord was patient and understanding with Gideon “when Gideon needed proof that it was an angel of God. The Lord then led Gideon on a series of events that helped Gideon gain courage to do as God had told him.” [1] We see the Lord encouraging Gideon with several statements, such as this:  14 The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

Gideon wants to make sure that this is God talking to him. 22 When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he exclaimed, “Alas, Sovereign Lord! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!” 23 But the Lord said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.” 24 So Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and called it The Lord Is Peace.”

This is not the end of Gideon’s uncertainty and questioning. Not by a long shot! Gideon continues to check and double check with God, just to make sure God is really and truly going to use him to deliver Israel.

Doesn’t the example of Gideon show us how patient and understanding God is, even when we have fears and uncertainty? God patiently answers so many of Gideon’s questions. God was right there with Gideon, just as God was with me and my former husband, through all those years of unemployment and under-employment. Just as God was with Joshua, and Moses, and Abraham before him.

Moreover, Gideon shows us how God looks at our potential, and not just the person we are right now. Instead, God helps us to believe in what we can be, and what God knows we can be, for God’s sake.

Gideon finally got God’s lesson into his head. I’m afraid it takes a great deal to get things into my thick head, too. But, praise God! The Lord had great patience with Gideon. I know God has great patience with so many of us, today, even when we are fearful and uncertain. Let us see what God sees, looking at one another.

Amen, alleluia.

[1] http://childrensermons.com/gideon/ August 4, 2013 Jim Kerlin People in Old Testament Hiding from the Enemy (Gideon)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)