Idol Worship (Exodus 32)

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–          Why are you here today?

  • Here because your parents brought you.
  • Here bc it’s what you know… what you do… routine/habit
  • Here bc there are people you enjoy being around, friendship, belonging
  • Here bc you are needed – serving as usher/greeter/nursery/etc.
  • Here bc someone invited/asked you to come
  • Here but you do not know why…
  • Here bc God has a plan and purpose beyond every other reason you can imagine.


Today’s message will help us to see the priority of our lives is about the purposes of God rather than the preferences of humanity.


EXAMINE          Exodus 32 Confronting Sacred CowsExodus_logo

The Israelites had been on a journey of redemption. God relieved them from slavery to the Egyptians; God rescued them from the hand of Pharaoh and not to mention seeing God’s power in the plagues and in parting the Red Sea. God led the people with pillars of cloud and fire through the wilderness; provided sweet water to drink with manna & quail to eat in abundance every day. God protected them in battle from the Amalekite invasion. And last week we saw how God provided relationships in Moses’ life to send wisdom and organization for the community life to live in peace.


God leads the Israelites to Mt. Sinai in over 3 months time in the wilderness coming out of Egypt (Exodus 19:1), where He speaks to Moses on the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20). The Lord provides further instruction to Moses concerning the public affairs and community life for the people (Exodus 21-23).

In Exodus 24:3-5, 12-18, Moses communicates God’s instructions with the people and they covenant together under blood to obey. Then he goes up on the mountain to receive the stone tablets of the 10 Commandments. The Israelite’s stay behind under the leadership of Aaron and Hur. Moses was on the mountain forty days.

In Exodus 25 – 31, The Lord instructs Moses on the designs and décor of the Tabernacle for the priests to function in worship.

Exodus 31:18 When the Lord finished speaking he gave Moses 2 stone tablets with the testimony of His commands, written with the finger of God.


We are on a restless pursuit (Exodus 32:1-6)
The Israelites were waiting for Moses to return from the 40 days of being on Mt.Sinai with God. They became restless, impatient and untrusting of God [and Moses]. Under Aaron’s leadership they created idols to worship. They took their gold jewelry and shaped it into a calf. It was less than a month from seeing God’s power and hearing God speak and just over a three months from being delivered from the Egyptians (seeing God’s hand in plagues, Red Sea rescue, miracles of provision & protection) of which they abandoned their focus from the one true God; they forsook the one whom was faithful to them. What was Israel thinking with such blatant idolatry?

Aaron told them, “These are your gods who brought you up out of Egypt…he made a proclamation and said ‘Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord… the people sacrificed…ate and drank and rose up to play [sexually[1]] (32:4-6). Can you see the syncretism; mixing of pluralistic religion, self-indulgent philosophy and ‘Christian’ faith. How similar is this to today!?!

The Israelites sought a god they could control. There is less fear with a god you can touch and control. Idolatry is something we often think we are removed from in today’s society. Yet, we know that our lives consist of a chase. We pursue pleasure and profit. We seek satisfaction, security and/or significance in anyone or anything other than the Lord God.

Idols imitate God though they are not the real thing. Counselor David Powlison says, (“Idols of the Heart and Vanity Fair” in JOBC, Vol 13, No.2.) “Idols counterfeit aspects of God’s identity and character… Judge, savior, source of blessing, sin-bearer, object of trust…”

–          Augustine “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”[2]

–          C.S. Lewis…it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, like an ignorant child who wants to go making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the beach. We are far too easily pleased.

–          Pastor Mark Driscoll in a chapter on Worship in his book Doctrine (pp. 337-338) says,

In ancient cultures social life revolved around sanctuaries, temples, and stadiums. There, various gods and goddesses were worshiped as people gave their time, talent and treasure as sacrifices to the adoration of their deity. Even the buildings themselves were built as acts of worship.

Today, little has changed. The temple of Ra, the sun god, has now been replaced with warm weather resorts and tanning salons where worshipers pay homage to their bronzing god. The temples of Ptah, the god of craftsmen, are today hardware stores and Craftsman tools. The Temples at Nemea, Delphi, and Isthmia included stadiums, which have now been replaced with soccer fields, baseball parks, football stadiums, and basketball arenas where pagan fans dress up—like they always have—as birds and animals to cheer for their gods as they score points. The healing cults of Asklepios, with sanctuaries at Epidaurous and Corinth, have now been replaced with holistic health spas.

The Oracular gods often had sanctuaries near fresh water sources that we refer to as beaches, campsites, golf courses, and fishing holes. At the temple of Apollo, prophetic pronouncements about the future were given; these have now been superseded by speculating newscasts and blogs as a sort of digital divination by which the future can be predicted. The temple of Thoth was where the god of writing and knowledge was worshiped, and he is now housed in local libraries and universities. Monthu, the god of battle, was worshiped at Armant but is now more commonly found at war and veteran monuments along with appearances in violent video games and cage fights.

. . . The temple of Aphrodite in Corinth where sex was part of worship has now gone global with strip clubs and porn. The small shrines that filled ancient homes and required homage and financial sacrifice have long since been upgraded with home entertainment systems and high-speed Internet connections. Finally, Paul once said that our god is our stomach, and that god is worshipped by the gluttonous and obese at all-you-can-eat-buffets.

Indeed, when our culture is considered through the lens of worship and idolatry, primitive ancient paganism seems far less primitive or ancient. This is because everyone everywhere is continually worshiping, and idolatry is, sadly, seen more easily when we examine other cultures rather than our own… we often have too narrow an understanding of worship and do not see that idolatry empowers our sin.”

ð     What brings you satisfaction, security and significance? What is your idol imitating God?

  • When you lose joy or have unanswered prayer, where do you turn?

ð     Syncretism: mixing of pluralistic religion, self-indulgent philosophy and ‘Christian’ faith. Believers must seriously evaluate the beliefs & behaviors that their faith is not fooled. In other words – is your faith solely in the one true God, trusting in the only Savior & Lord; or are you riding the fence (hedging bets) on competing “saviors”??

  • Beware of: “I like to think of God as…” vs “The Bible describes God as…”
  • Worship relevance is not in the eyes of us but God.

ð     Valley living is equally important as Mountain living. Whether you’re living in the valley (fear, frustration, faith-challenged) or living on the mountain (climbing high, conquest, contentment), both are necessary to honor God.

ð     Law & Knowledge does not save. The Israelites knew the law, observed God’s power to save but they forsook a personal relationship with Him. They exchanged intimacy for impersonal.

We are in need of a relentless pursuit (Exodus 32:7-14)
The Lord was not unaware of Israel’s revelry. He told Moses to go down for they had corrupted themselves. They had turned aside quickly from the Lord. God’s wrath was ready to punish Israel for their disobedience to the law. God calls Israel a stiff-necked people, referring to a stubborn animal unwilling to heed its master’s command.

Stubborn people often think they are justified for wrong behaviors.

–          Like the person who asks for advice but then ends up arguing with you.

–          Like the drug addict who says they don’t have a problem but then blames you when you hold them accountable.

–          Like church member who is disgruntled bc the worship leader doesn’t sing his favorite song, they think it’s ok to gossip and gripe.

  • What’s wrong, did you not expect that? Did I hit too close to home?

Israel deserves punishment but Moses intercedes and mediates for the people. Moses prays to God based on two pleas:

1) v.11-12 God’s character. The first relates to the nature of God as One whom is gracious, giving, and saving. God had rescued Israel because of His sovereign love. They did not deserve it but He chose to call Israel, “His people”. God has revealed Himself as “showing steadfast love to thousands of generations who love and keep His commandments… [but also as] a jealous God, punishing iniquity to the third and fourth generation” (20:5-6).

2) v.13 God’s covenant. The second plea was based according to God’s covenant promises. Moses recalled the promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Israel. The intention was again to point toward God’s character of faithfulness.

3) Notice the plea did not minimize man’s culpability. Israel was guilty and they needed saving. As an act of mercy, God sent Moses down the mountain for the very purpose of testing Moses to become an intercessor. If Moses did not intercede the Israelites were doomed to God’s punishment.

God did have relent (have compassion) from punishing the Israelites. God’s wrath was removed because of His mediator.

Like the Israelites, because our life pursuit is restless, we need God to pursue us. We are in desperate need for God to send down a Savior and mediate justice for us.

“we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins” (1John 2:1-2)

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:16, 18)

ð     Stop striving and start surrendering. Turn from self and trust the Savior, Jesus.

ð     As believers, we are to model Jesus’ mediation and intercede for others to experience God’s grace.



Idolatry is quite relevant today. But how do we get rid of it? Moses confronted the Israelites and in these next few verses we can learn at least 2 concluding lessons concerning confronting sacred cows of idolatry in our own lives today.

Holy Discontent (Exodus 32:15-20).
Illus: There was a cartoon show I watched growing up – “Popeye The Sailor Man”. Popeye had a girlfriend Olive Oyl. Popeye usually had a calm personality but if Olive Oyl had a problem or was in danger then Popeye would transform into being highly motivated saying, “That’s all I can stand and I can’t stands no more!” Then he would pop open his can of spinach, eat it and become an unstoppable force for good.

Moses had a God-given holy discontent. He hit a defining turn point in Israel’s redemption history; their complaining, their stubbornness, and disobedience had grown to the max. They needed confronting. God sent Moses, equipped with the Law, to remind the Israelites of God’s supremacy. Moses’ discontent and anger was in sync with God’s (cf. 32:10 & 32:19; and Paul’s statement “Be angry and do not sin” Ephesians 4:26). Moses understood that God’s grace did not escape spiritual growth.

As believers, we must have a holy discontent over our sin. We must realize that sin promises to please but fails to fulfill. The golden calf idol was created and not the Creator. Listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit and God’s word will help us learn to discern against idolatry in our life.

Psalm 115:4-8Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.

Humble Disclosure (Exodus 32:21-26)

Moses confronted the Israelites and called them to repentance. He challenged Aaron but his repentance was to blame-shift. He blamed the people rather than accept responsibility. Moses simply asked, “Who is on the Lord’s side? Come to me” (32:36)

Believers must also accept responsibility for sin. When we lack repentance we lack a reverence for God. It shows we fail to understand who He is and what He has done for us. God has a zero-tolerance policy with sin and our rationalizing or defense of actions does not honor God.

What you revere you will resemble. No reverence, no repentance and no redemption.

For those who failed to reverence God and repent of sin failed to experience God’s redemption. They were put to death

God’s character is love, wishing all to repent (2Peter 3:9).


God’s character is holy justice, punishing those who reject Him (Exodus 20:5).







[1] Douglas Stuart in NAC: Exodus says the Hebrew word suggest a sexual connotation or the like of orgy. cf. Genesis 26:8

[2] Augustine, Confessions

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