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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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Idolatry | Wilderness Wanderings

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.” […] Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’
Exodus 32:1, 7-8

‘In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.’ David Foster Wallace could well have referenced the Israelites as an example here.

Moses had gone up the mountain weeks and weeks ago. As we read the story, it’s only eight chapters. For the Israelites, however, it’s 40 days and 40 nights. This is the equivalent of someone disappearing on 31stJanuary and making no contact until today.

And this wasn’t the 21stCentury. Moses couldn’t send quick WhatsApp updates or ‘drop a pin’ to let the Israelites know his exact location. For all they knew, Moses could have been injured or killed up the cloud-covered mountain. He could have abandoned them. And, with Moses gone, their access to Yahweh, the Lord their God, was seriously limited.

They are lost, alone, and feel abandoned in the wilderness. So, they do a remarkably human thing, and ask for something to worship: ‘make us gods who will go before us…’.

I wonder what you turn to when you feel cut off from or abandoned by God? You may not melt down your jewellery to create a Canaanite religious symbol of strength and fertility, but you may well look to something else to satisfy and to guide. I know I do. TV, sport, affirmation, academic achievement, beauty, recognition… our idols, our God-substitutes, are everywhere.

We, like the Israelites, are quick to turn away from what God has commanded us and worship something in his place. In fact, in our culture of instant gratification and immediate results, I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re even quicker than the Israelites. It took them over a month. Sometimes it takes me less than a day.

Although we may not physically bow down to our God-substitutes today, it is all too easy to exchange the invisible God who leads by his Word for a visible ‘thing’, a model derived from the created order, that cannot speak.

When we are content and secure in God himself – his presence, his provision, and his promises – less room is left for feelings of abandonment to creep in, dragging with them idols to allay our fears and satisfy our need for guidance and security.

Today, and this week, may you know the promise, provision, and presence of God, the one who alone is worthy of our worship.


Nell Goddard