Summary: We today fool ourselves. There is sin in our lives and we may stop the sin, we may see to it that the sin is eliminated from our lives – but that is not the same as being repentant and turning away from our sin.
Mark Twain was a man who became quite hostel towards the Bible and towards the Christian faith. He was so persistent in his attacks upon Christianity, that his wife, who was a devote Christian, became so discouraged, she eventually turned her back on Jesus Christ – something Mark Twain regretted later on in life. Although Mark Twain grew up in a Christian household and had a kind, loving and faithful mother, he saw many in the church who did not live truly repentant lives. Mark Twain witnessed elders and deacons who owned slaves and abused them. He saw men who were dishonest during the week, yet, pious and righteous on Sunday morning. He saw men and women, who claimed to be worshiping the one true God, but their lives bore no evidence of this claim. Mark Twain saw through their lie and he couldn’t stomach the hypocrisy; He turned away from the one thing that would have calmed the turmoil in his life based on the actions of some who claimed to follow Jesus Christ.
This is what we see in our Scripture passage this morning in chapter 32 of the book of Exodus. We see that the Hebrews continue to live the lie – even after they are stopped from worshiping the golden calf, even after the ten commandments are smashed, even after they are forced to drink water with the ground up golden calf in it. They are a people who are unrepentant, they don’t honestly see their sin for what it is, and they are determined to continue to live just as they always have lived. This is a disaster that will lead the whole community down the road to death – Moses knows that it must be stopped.
What the Hebrews do as the base of Mount Sinai is nothing new and it is something that we can fall into this very day; We can create an image in our minds of who God is, that has nothing to do with who He really is. The Hebrews created a golden image of a golden calf and then called it the real God, it is the god of their imagination and has no relation to the true God – but this is of no matter to them, they will ignore the revelation of the ten commandments and serve what they imagine who God is. They are more interested in who God is for them, than in who God is. They are more interesting in believing in a God that fits into their culture, than finding out who the real God is. The most insane thing about this whole story we have read today, is that even when the Hebrews are confronted with the facts, even when they are shown their fallacy….they continue to live out their fallacy.
Last week, we saw that Moses had been gone for several weeks, and the Hebrews, fearing that Moses would never come back, take matters into their own hands. They create a god out of gold, similar to what they would have experienced in Egypt, and they worshiped the god as the true God, Yahweh. Afterwards, they had a festival were they proceed to break the Ten Commandments just given to them. Needless to say this does not please God, and He sends Moses back down the mountain to stop the people in their sin.
We pick up here in verse 17. Joshua had gone with Moses part way up the mountain, and so he is not aware of what is going on in the Hebrew’s encampment. Joshua, who could never imagine the drastic turn of events, innocently thinks he hears the sound of war, perhaps the Amalekites are back. But Moses, he knows better. Ex. 32:18 Moses replied: “It is not the sound of victory, it is not the sound of defeat; it is the sound of singing that I hear.”
Looking at the Hebrew, a better translation that gives us a better sense of what Moses is saying is:
Not the sound of heroes exulting
Not the sound of losers lamenting
The sound of random singing is what I hear
Moses is literally speaking of the different kinds of singing. The first two lines speak of a call and responsive type singing, in contrast to people singing different songs, and different tunes. It is literally the singing of the strong, the singing of the weak, and singing that is random, wild, disorganized, haphazard – suggesting that the reveler’s wine is starting to work…if you know what I mean.
Moses arrives at the camp and sees the golden calf and the people dancing. The type of dancing the Hebrews were doing is connected to pagan cultic festivals and particularly to fertility contexts and was often sensual in nature….the type of dancing preformed at the adult men’s clubs here in town – certainly not something one would find in a church service dedicated to God. In Hebrew – this type of dancing means that they were running naked. Get the picture? This is the farthest thing possible from the worship of the Lord God – and so Moses explodes.