Exodus 31-34
(Rebellion in the Desert)
January 25th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

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.”

- Exodus 32:1 (NIV)

Summary of Chapters

In chapters 31-34 we learn that the Israelite people rebelled by returning to false idols while Moses was spending forty days in God’s presence. Back in chapter 24, Moses and Joshua had gone to God’s mountain and left Aaron and Hur in charge of the people. During this visit, God had given Moses instructions for building the tabernacle and preparing the priests, as we read in chapters 25-30.

As of chapter 31, God is still giving detailed instructions. At this point, he is designating specific craftsmen for particular roles. He also reminds Moses of the day of the Sabbath and hands over the stone tablets on which the ten commandments had been inscribed.

    When God had finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two stone tablets on which God himself had written the commandments.

    - Exodus 31:18 (GNB)

      Meanwhile, at the base of the mountain, the people waiting around in the hot desert got impatient waiting for Moses to return with the latest word from God. Chapter 32 records that Aaron gave in to their impetuousness and helped them craft a golden calf for worship. This was an obvious transgression of the commandment to “not worship false idols,” which carried a punishment of death. Therefore, God was prepared to destroy the whole lot, but Moses appeared to talk him out of it, similar to the event when Abraham petitioned to God to spare any righteous people in Sodom and Gomorrah:

        Moses tried to calm his God down. He said, "Why, God, would you lose your temper with your people? Why, you brought them out of Egypt in a tremendous demonstration of power and strength. Why let the Egyptians say, 'He had it in for them—he brought them out so he could kill them in the mountains, wipe them right off the face of the Earth.' Stop your anger. Think twice about bringing evil against your people! Think of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants to whom you gave your word, telling them 'I will give you many children, as many as the stars in the sky, and I'll give this land to your children as their land forever.' "

        And God did think twice. He decided not to do the evil he had threatened against his people.

        - Exodus 32:11-14 (MSG)

      When Moses saw the scene of idol worship he became so angry that he broke the sacred tablets that God had just given him (symbolizing the breaking of the covenant by the Israelites). He organized a party of people loyal to the LORD (all members of his Levite tribe) and instructed them to go through the camp killing the offenders. Moses then atoned to God for all the sins of the people.

      In chapters 33 and 34, the LORD told the people it was time to move on again and re-iterated his promise to return them to the land of milk and honey. He met with Moses again and instructed him to chisel out two new tablets on which the LORD will re-inscribe the ten instructions. The LORD also reviewed some of the rules and annual festivals that had been described earlier. This time, when Moses returned from speaking with God his face was so radiant that the people could not look at him uncovered.

      Reflection and Application

      We might be quietly chuckling at those silly Israelites. They could not wait patiently for a few days and so quickly turned against God. And Aaron! He was supposed to be the High Priest, but he was putty in the hands of these rebels!

      Clearly, we would never fall into that trap. Right?

      Maybe, once or twice we have done something similar. If we have ever mistakenly tried to define God to meet our own needs rather than trying to understand and worship him as he is, then we are equally guilty. We may have been more subtle than those rebels in the desert, but have been equally at fault when we try to shape God into what we want him to be and attempt to create a relationship that suits our needs not his. We may also have acted in less subtle ways, perhaps by building idols of precious materials. We may be clever enough to not refer to them as “gods” but the time and attention that we focus on our gods reveal our true intentions.

      We may also be guilty of confusing excitement with spiritual awakening and consequently chase after the wrong things. Archibald Hart addressed this topic in a book titled Adrenalin and Stress, which includes the following quote:

        Many confuse adrenalin arousal with spiritual growth. If their bodies are stimulated, they feel they were growing spiritually.

        The saddest thing about this type of confusion is that it actually works against spiritual growth. Why? Because when we confuse adrenalin arousal with spirituality we start to worship our own bodies instead of God!(1)

      This is the mistake those Israelites made when they got impatient, and it may be a mistake we share with them. But there is good news for those of us who have convicted ourselves as guilty on any of the above charges. Someone else has already received the punishment. Forgiveness is available for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. All we have to do is accept that mercy. If we have accepted it, then we also need to show the same forgiveness for others.

      The theologian C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) once said, "If God forgives us we must forgive ourselves otherwise it’s like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than Him." This quote was tweeted by @CSLewisDaily on January 24th, 2011, and was so popular that it was re-tweeted by hundreds of others, launching it into the prestigous category of “Top Tweets” for a couple of days.

      Imagine how the scene might have looked when Moses returned from the mountain to see for himself that the people had been worshiping a golden calf. One artist's depiction of this scene can be found in a painting by Nicolas Poussin (1593 – 1665), titled "The Adoration of the Golden Calf." You can see the original of this painting at the National Gallery in London, or see an image on the Art and The Bible website by clicking the following link: "The Adoration of the Golden Calf"

      For another artistic impression, and a little bit of levity, take a look at Mel Brook's ( June 28, 1926 - current) version of Moses returning from his time on the mountain:

      The 10 Commandmants, excerpt from History of the World

      Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

        Related Questions
        1. What is your favorite mountain?
        2. What are the special skills that God has given you to serve him?
        3. Who can you forgive today?
        Recommended Prayer
        Father, please help me to identify the special skills you have given me and then help me to use those skills as you intended, to glorify you, the Creator of these skills.

        Suggested Prayer Concerns
        Skilled craftsman who persist in making products by hand


        (1) Men’s Devotional Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI, 1993, p. 189

        Looking Ahead

        Tomorrow's reading: Exodus 35-37 (Moses Explains the Tabernacle Design)

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