So I turned and went down from the mountain while it was ablaze with fire. And the two tablets of the covenant were in my hands. When I looked, I saw that you had sinned against the Lord your God; you had made for yourselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. You had turned aside quickly from the way that the Lord had commanded you. So I took the two tablets and threw them out of my hands, breaking them to pieces before your eyes. Then once again I fell prostrate before the Lord for forty days and forty nights; I ate no bread and drank no water, because of all the sin you had committed, doing what was evil in the Lord ’s sight and so arousing his anger. I feared the anger and wrath of the Lord , for he was angry enough with you to destroy you. But again the Lord listened to me. And the Lord was angry enough with Aaron to destroy him, but at that time I prayed for Aaron too. Also I took that sinful thing of yours, the calf you had made, and burned it in the fire. Then I crushed it and ground it to powder as fine as dust and threw the dust into a stream that flowed down the mountain. – Deuteronomy 9:15-21
Moses returns from the Mountain of God, which is ablaze with fire to find that the Isrealites have turned away from God…again. Moses breaks the tablets with the commandment on them, symbolic of the covenant that the Isrealites have broken. Moses forsakes bread and water, and God is rightfully mad at the Israelites. Moses takes the idol in the form of a calf and burns it to charcoal, crushes it into dust and throws it into a stream which flows down the mountain….dust to dust…ashes to ashes.
The fate of the Israelite’s calf idol is interesting, confusing, and a bit scary. It was converted back to dust and added to a stream flowing down the mountain…the Mountain of God. I always thought that the Israelites were worshiping a golden calf, but it would hardly be possible to burn a golden calf and put the dust in a stream. This fate for the idol is the fate of all the things we place before God and all the items we use on this earth to replace God…they become dust and are added to the river of God.
How often do we, dust that we are, fashion things to take the place of God. The list of possible forms is long: movies, possessions, appearance, television, wealth, security, etc. Even family and religion can be shaped into something to replace God if we are not careful. Why did the Israelites feel the need to replace God? Why do we feel the need to replace Him?
For the Israelites it seems they needed something more tangible than what God was providing. Sometimes a cloud or fire is just not as real as a chunk of wood or metal in the shape of a calf. Sometimes tangible things and traditions in our lives take the place of our relationship with God. I am sometimes guilty of replacing a dynamic relationship with God with regular traditions and the comfortable conventions that often populate Sunday morning gatherings. A fiery God who is unpredictable and scary is much harder to follow. Sometimes he calls us to rappel to church or carry His love to the lost. It is almost always harder than cuddling with a calf in a comfortable pew.
Prayer: God help me to keep you first in my life amid all the tempting replacements.