This is a low moment in Israel’s history.
Moses has been up on Mount Sinai with God for forty days (24:18). To Israel’s credit, that is kind of a sizable sabbatical. If I were gone from my church for a month and a half I would assume that my congregation would make some big decisions in my absence.
But I’d also hope they’d make some good big decisions.
Israel does not. They lose patience with Moses’ delay. They come up with a big idea on their own. They go to Aaron, Moses’ brother and second-in-command, with this big idea:
“This ‘Moses’ – we don’t know if he’s ever coming back. So let’s stop wasting time and make gods for ourselves. Then let’s throw a festival for those gods – let’s have a big party!”
This is a huge mistake, and if you studied the Ten Commandments with us last week you know why. If not, you can flip back to Exodus 20 and see:
Rule #1: No other gods.
Rule #2: No idols.
I mean, it’s not just that theses two are covered in the Ten Commandments… they’re the top two. Israel comes to Aaron with the idea (bad enough), and then Aaron’s response is along the lines of, “Sure, why not?”
These are the moments of disobedience that will push a parent to the snapping point, like: I JUST TOLD YOU NOT TO DO THAT FIVE MINUTES AGO AND NOW YOU’RE DOING THE EXACT THING I SAID NOT TO DO!
God is our Father, the perfect parent. So does God feel that flash of human rage like we do?
It sure looks like it.
God tells Moses to go down and deal this. “YOUR people,” God says (not God’s people anymore, it seems), “YOUR people have already broken the commandments I JUST GAVE THEM. So leave me, and my anger will burn hot… and it will destroy them.”
God is angry enough to revert to the wipe-them-all-out-and-start-over plan from Genesis 7. With no rainbows in sight Moses stands in to change God’s mind. “You did this great thing in saving Israel,” Moses says. “If you kill them now, the Egyptians will think you’re evil. And what about the promise to Abraham? What about that?”
So God holds back.
But God was so angry, do-something-crazy angry. Why does God get so angry? What’s the big deal here?
I think it has to do with the most important person in the room. Or, better said: who we think is the most important person in the room.
Imagine a meeting at a big company. The CEO is there, along with a few other top-level employees. They walk into the large boardroom and sit down in expensive chairs around a mahogany table.
They start to size each other up. Who is the most important person in the room?
The easy answer is that it’s the CEO. It should be the CEO. That’s the person who’s leading the company, whose vision for the future is supposed to bring all the parts together.
But the VP of marketing thinks she’s pretty important. Her new social media campaign is going to shoot sales through the roof. Where would the company be without her?
And the COO has quite the academic pedigree. He’s got a degree from Harvard. As he listens to the others talk, he thinks of the non-ivy-league schools they attended. Humph.
The CFO is worried about the downward trend in their expense reports. They’re hovering far too close to the red for her comfort. She doesn’t care much about the CEO’s plan for five years out. She wants to do everything the VP of marketing is saying.
For things to run well in that business, the CEO needs to be the most important person in the room. That’s how the structure is designed. Yes, everyone has an opinion to share and their expertise to contribute… but when each person thinks they are the most important person – or some other agenda is more important – things start to run off-course.
The first two commandments tell us, in short: God is the most important person in any room. Anyone or anything else that we put before God will start to take our lives off-course.
Sometimes we think someone other than God is most important. A lover, a child, a boss. Those relationships can be very good, but those people are no God. Our spouses don’t know what’s best like God does. Our children – well, if they run the show, we’ll spend most of our time eating ice cream and watching Descendants. Our bosses have the potential to drain all usefulness out of us without thinking about the rest of our lives.
Other times, we think *we* are most important. Look out for #1, right? But look – I know me. And I’m selfish, and often confused, and sometimes lazy. If my ego is the most important person in the room, it’s going to take things on a very dangerous path.
Then there are times when we’re like Israel – the most important “person” isn’t a person at all. It might not be a golden calf, but there’s some thing or group that captures our attention. An -ism or a political party. An institution or a hobby. Some of those things are good, but look: they aren’t the end-all-be-all. They aren’t the Creator of the Universe who also personally created each of us. If we give them the status of “most important,” things will fall apart.
God is the most important person in the room. If we don’t believe that in our hearts, minds, and souls, we will allow our lives to be driven by less-important fakes.
Is this why God got crazy-person angry over the golden calf?
The I-just-told-you-not-do disobedience makes a parent angry, sure. But then there’s the you-could-have-really-hurt yourselves incident – that’s a whole ‘nother level. Like when your kid almost runs out into the street in front of an ongoing car – even though you, the responsible parent, has instructed them to stop and look both ways – and after you jerk him out of harm’s way you give your son a serious talking to and for real punishment because SON-YOU-COULD-HAVE-REALLY-HURT-YOURSELF! Because I would lose my mind if anything ever happened to you, so listen to me!
That kind of anger scares us when we’re on the receiving end, as children… as adults, we realize our parents were only so upset because they loved us so crazy much.
God wants the best for us – and the best for us is a life that’s directed by God.
So here’s the question: Who (or what) is the most important person in your room?
Do you think it’s you? Or some other person? Or some job, organization, or hobby?
You need to drop that in importance. If you let it run your life, not only did God already tell us to-not-to, but you’re in serious danger of letting it misdirect your life.
Do you want to move it aside and make God your most important person?
Then pray with me.
Start by putting your hands in front of you, open like they’re holding something small but heavy.
Something like… a golden calf.
Let that golden calf represent your most important person or thing.
Maybe it’s something or someone good – something that should be important. If it is, it might make you tremble just to think of making it less than most important.
If that’s the case, say this little prayer: “God, you gave me this good thing, this precious person. I love it; I love them. But you are the source of all good gifts. YOU are most important.”
Now imagine yourself gently putting that good thing or precious person a little lower. Maybe even move your hands down a little. Let them be the first thing in your life… after God. Your #2.
For others of you, you’re holding a golden calf you know is bad. It’s a harmful habit, a toxic relationship – something you’d be better without.
If you want to start letting that thing go, take a deep breath…
…and open your hands to let it drop.
Then pray this little prayer: “God, I know I need to set this aside. You want the best for me; this isn’t the best. This is hurting me, hurting the people I love. I want to make you most important… but it’s hard. Help me start today.”
Whichever prayer was right for you today, know that changing our mindset on what’s most important is hard. If you really want to change, know that every day you’ll need to start by reminding yourself that God is your most important. And you might need to talk to someone else and get help. If need someone to pray for you this week email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll pray for you every day.
Making God #1 in our lives is a hard but most important thing.