Today’s reading is one of the more known stories of Exodus. As Moses is meeting with God up the mountain, the people of God disregard the faithfulness of God and decide to go their own way. Earlier in Exodus 24:7 Moses read the book of the Covenant to the people of Israel and they respond with “we will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey” yet here we see the first evidence of their disobedience.
After reading the law to the people (24:13) Moses, together with Joshua, returns up the mountain leaving Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and the seventy elders of Israel who “saw the God of Israel”. With the oversight of Aaron and Hur there should be teams of people looking out for the welfare of the Israelite people; at least 74 by my count.
The opening words of todays reading are eye opening. The people are impatient for Moses return, they no longer acknowledge that God brought them out of Egypt and they are seeking gods (plural) to go before them, They have reshaped their history, perhaps in line with their present experience of the apparent absence of God and Moses.
More than that, as Aaron responds and aids them in creating a physical idol, he seems to be standing alone. Where is Hur, Nadab, Abihu or the other seventy elders who experienced that incredible moment of intimacy with God? We are often quick to condemn Aaron in this story. Yes, Aaron shouldn’t have acquiesced to the people, he shouldn’t have facilitated the worship of an idol. He should have reminded them of their promise to remain faithful, but I imagine that doing so is harder when you stand alone. Moses on the other hand demonstrates what it looks like to lead a community toward faithfulness, even to the point of self-sacrifice (32:32).
Today, our idols are sometimes more hidden than golden statues. This passage reminds us of God’s faithfulness even in the face of our sin and disobedience towards God. When we reshape history in our minds it makes sin easier to excuse. When we stand alone as leaders, sin is harder to stand against. Sometimes those around us might not be encouraging us in the right direction. We are called to be in community, to lead in community, to stand against sin as a community, so that we can support, remind and encourage one another that God is faithful and calls us to be faithful to God.