Trashing God for Idols: What Happens When We Can’t Wait for God

Read: Exodus 32

The inciting moment of Israel’s decision to make a golden calf to be their god occurs when they saw that Moses delayed to come down from Mount Sinai. It had been forty long days of staying in one place, and the children of Israel couldn’t sit still and wait any longer. They had no idea what had happened to Moses, and they needed someone to go before them so they urged Aaron to make gods for them. And he did–a molten calf. Then he declared a feast to the LORD. The next day they brought offerings to the “LORD” and had a great celebration, saying of the calf, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.”

I can relate to these people. Waiting for God is one of the hardest things that I do, and every day I am tempted to wriggle out from under God’s sovereign, staying hand on my life and find my own way forward. And, honestly, I have responded to “delays” exactly as these people did: finding other gods to save me—many times.

What did these people see? They saw nothing. And it is hard on a human to not be able to see. We often mistake our inability to see for God’s indifference to our plight. We assume that because nothing is happening on our end, God must be inactive—that He probably doesn’t even care, that He has left us on our own.

But there were things going on that the people could not see–things they didn’t even have the capacity to appreciate or imagine. God was doing something beautiful for them. (It reminds me of 1 Corinthians 2:9, quoting Isaiah 64:4: “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.”)

He was giving instructions for how they should live, not because He was a control freak, but because He was holy yet held a deep desire in His heart to live with the people He had created and chosen.

“I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God,” (Exodus 29:45-6).

When it felt like God was doing nothing, He was giving Moses instructions so that He Himself could come and live among them. And—this is the most beautiful detail to me—God wrote with His own finger on tablets of stone for His people.

Something I’ve observed as a preschool teacher is that children have an innate inclination toward art as an expression of affection. They love to color pictures for their parents. And it’s not just children who express love this way—adults do this all the time. Most people express their care for others through some kind of art, be it cooking, crafting, remodeling, writing. It doesn’t have to be fancy or sophisticated (that’s not really the point); creativity just naturally flows out of people’s affection. And I think this is because our Creator Himself is creative.

God could have simply said, “Let there be tablets with My words on them!” And they would have obediently appeared. That is how He made the world, and He was equally capable of simply speaking things into existence this time, too, but He didn’t. He took the time to carve out His words with His own finger because, I believe, the whole endeavor was incredibly dear to Him.

Sadly, because Israel couldn’t see what God was doing, they didn’t wait for Him. They wanted a savior they could see and understand (but that could ironically do nothing at all, being a statue). And because of their idolatry, many of them died, and God did not go up in their midst as He had planned to, but rather met those who sought Him outside the camp. In choosing their own wisdom, Israel missed out on the wonder of God dwelling right in the midst of them.

So if you are like me (very impatient), here’s the challenge for us: Wait for the LORD! Wait when you’ve already waited a long, long time. Wait when you feel like you can’t wait a second longer. Wait–because He is doing something wonderful beyond the reach of our eyes. And it probably has a lot less to do with whatever we think we are waiting for and a lot more to do with what He really wants to give us–Himself.

Oh LORD, thank you that you have such a heart that You would desire to live among us, the people You have made. You have already given us the most precious gift in giving us Yourself. Forgive us for loving other things more. Forgive us for mistaking lack of apparent movement for Your indifference. You are not absent. You are not cold or distant or deaf. You are not unmoved by our cries. You are the true and only God, bent over our lives, artfully arranging the details, lavishing good. You love us deeply, steadfastly, irrevocably. You long to be with us, and You have always worked toward that end. And because of Jesus’ righteousness imputed to us, You go up in our midst, though we are every bit as obstinate as the children of Israel. Thank you. Your love for us is far more beautiful than all the things we feel we cannot wait for any longer. Calm us, oh LORD, in Your presence. Remind us to treasure You and Your excellence. Keep us from spoiling your good plans by turning to idols in our impatience. And help us to go on faithfully wherever we are, believing that You are at work to the farthest reaches of Your sovereignty—even though we cannot see. You are good and right—always. And we love You for it. Amen.

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