It’s a story I’ve read or heard a thousand times. Something subtle yet amazingly significant stood out to me this week as I was reading Exodus 32 & 33. Here’s the context:
There’s Moses on Mt Sinai, hearing the new post-Eden boundaries for God’s people. Then there’s Aaron, back with Israel, hearing the post-Egypt grumblings and demands of God’s people.
God finishes his time with Moses by saying, “Go down to your people, whom you brought up out of the Land of Egypt, for they have corrupted themselves.” Not a great way to end a conversation. When Moses comes down from the mountain he sees that in his short time away the whole nation began to worship idols they made with gold. Moses says to Aaron,”What did these people do to you that you have brought such a great sin upon them?”
Jumping back earlier in the story we see that when the people started to grumble and complain, it really didn’t take much to convince Aaron.
“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.”So Aaron said to them,’Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me…And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf.”
Well, that didn’t take much really. Honestly, I don’t blame Aaron. He’d been Moses’ second hand man ever since the burning bush and had seen how these people continually questioned Moses’ motives, calling, and position ever since they had left Egypt. These are a people with little patience and a short memory. Even still, Aaron is accountable to Moses, so how did Aaron respond to Moses’ question?
Moses says to Aaron,”What did these people do to you that you have brought such a great sin upon them?” And Aaron said, “Let not the anger of my lord burn hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil.”
Ever felt like you’ve been thrown under the bus? Aaron quickly separated himself from the people he had lead to this place. But Aaron’s not the only one that is held accountable for the actions of the people. Moses still chooses to go before God to try to make things right. Moses has a bit of a different view of his association with Israel.
So Moses went back to the Lord and said, “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin-but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.”
Do you see what Moses is saying here? He is saying, “If this sin is too great for you [God] to forgive please bring the punishment upon me.” Moses is of the understanding that the consequence of this sin is to be completely removed from the presence and history of God! Moses is willing to be the receiver of this punishment even though when the sin took place Moses was where he was suppose to be, in the presence of God!
What is curious about this story to me is that it is Moses, not Aaron, who has compassion and intercedes for Israel. I would have thought that since Aaron had spent so much time with Israel that he would have cultivated a deep love and sympathy for them. I would have also thought that since Moses had been separated from Israel for so long that he would have thrown his hands up, packed up his things, and looked for another church, I mean, nation to lead. What I see here is the complete opposite.
Aaron had become consumed with the voices of the people he was leading and forgotten the depth and weight of the calling God had originally spoken over him. This left him as fickle as the people he was leading. Moses on the other hand relished the presence of God. He spent so much time in the presence of God, concerning the direction, boundaries, and welfare of his people, that his heart broke for them in the same way God’s had and does.
Aaron cultivated a heart that reflected that of the people by allowing the people’s voices to shape him. Thus his very human response to conflict. Moses had cultivated a heart of God by allowing God’s voice to shape him. Thus his Christ-like (dare I say Christian) response to depravity. (Read Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John to see parallels between Moses’ response to punishment and that of Jesus’ response to our punishment)
I want to admit that over the past few years I have cultivated a heart more like that of Aaron. When something happens bad, negative, or opposite my preference in my church I generally try to separate myself from them by saying, “You know the people, that they are set on evil.” This happened as recently as this past Sunday. I tend to keep myself emotionally or spiritually separated from them because I’m afraid to be associated with their (our) corporate short comings.
The sad thing is that I know a lot of pastors who do this and to a greater extent, we all do this when we talk about American Christianity. We separate ourselves from other Christians, churches, or denominations because we only want to be held accountable for our individual actions and beliefs.
I’m committing to begin to always speak of the good and the bad of my church community in the terms of “we”. I am going to do this by intentionally and specifically spending a significant more time residing in God’s presence on behalf of my community and the Body of Christ. I believe if I can get to a place where I can simply say, “I’m sorry for how we _________,” this will get me farther in my conversations with non-Christians and Christians alike. As opposed to trying to rationalize and argue our points as to why we should not be associated with the rest of our community, church, or Body of Christ. Lastly, I believe that it will get me much deeper in my relationship with God because I will find myself continually coming before him in repentance and humility which will remind me that even God chose to associate himself with us.