When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”
Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD.” So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’ “I have seen these people,” the LORD said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”
Exodus 32:1-9 (NIV)
Asaiah stirred restlessly. A night of prayer, meditation, and listening had left his soul troubled. Fighting off the agitation of the people was becoming more and more difficult, and his determination to remain present to Yhwh was flagging. He longed for those first experiences of breathing that name… of inhaling that name…
Inhaling deeply, yaaaahhhhhhhhh
Exhaling fully, wheeeehhhhhhhhhh
Asaiah found he could sit for hours, sinking deeper and deeper into peace. He could miss meals, yet sense strength. He could miss sleep, yet experience energy.
But now the comfort was more fleeting.
He knew when it started. Father Moses trudged up the side of that rugged outcropping, the closest thing to a mountain they’d come across in this barren land. The others had all been a mix of puzzlement and enthusiasm. Father Moses had been summoned by their Great Deliverer. “He might seem a crotchety old coot in the everyday encounters with us,” thought Asaiah, “but who could doubt the strength and resolve he possessed.”
How many days had it been? He’d lost count, but clearly the restlessness was growing. And clearly Brother Aaron understood little of how to work with crowds. Father Moses depended on him, yet had Father Moses over-estimated his skills?
No wonder his prayers were filled with agitation.
He’d been hearing the talk for several days now.
What is he doing up there?
What if he’s not coming back?
Surely he has not abandoned us?
And there were the more brash among them.
Why should he remain the leader?
What if it’s time for a change?
He was confident Father Moses would return, and restore order. He was confident, wasn’t he?
The bright sun made him squint as he slipped out of his tent. As his eyes came in to focus he saw the crowd gathering at the speaking stone. Who was that on top? He smiled. Father Moses is here. But the crowd was clearly agitated. As he moved closer his heart fell. Not Moses, but Aaron was calling the people together. He was in earshot before the speech began,
My dear Children of the One True God. You have been speaking of your fear and your impatience for days now. I have heard you. Father Moses has been away from us for more days now than we can count. We have trusted the One True God to bring us this far, and so we must listen for His guidance.
Father Moses asked me to lead in his stead, and so I have meditated and prayed, seeking such guidance. What came to me is that we can trust the plan of our One True God, but this does not mean that a sinful creation cannot challenge that plan. It has come to me that Father Moses may not be returning. With every day this possibility appears more certain.
If indeed Moses will not be returning, it would surely not be the will of our God that we sit like sheep. It would be right for us seek further guidance. And it would be right for us demonstrate our continued trust in our God. And what greater demonstration of trust than to offer our most precious possessions. We have all clung to trinkets of gold from the land of the cursed Egyptians. What better time than now to sacrifice them to our One True God?
Asaiah was shocked. He could see the fire that had been built a safe distance away, at the base of rock that had been hollowed out. As he moved closer he began to recognize the men tending the fire, and there, off too the side, were Ethan and Tobiah. The two had risen to whatever counted for prominence in Egypt as skilled workers of metal.
And so dear children of the One True God, bring now the cursed gold you have harbored. Let it be used as a sacrifice. Let us demonstrate our faith as we plead for further guidance…
The people turned towards the shout, and saw an old man moving towards the speaking stone with the vigor of a young man.
It hit him like a lightening bolt. Aaron’s hypnotic words. The fire and the craftsman. The request for gold.
I SAY NOOOOOOOOOO
Asaiah was now at the speaking stone. He pointed a crooked finger at the man on top. He shouted,
YOU SPEAK NOT FROM PEACE OR FAITH OR WISDOM. YOU SPEAK FROM FEAR AND FROM PRIDE. YOU MANIPULATE A FRIGHTENED PEOPLE IN ORDER TO GRASP POWER. YOU HAVE BEEN A TRUSTED COMPANION TO FATHER MOSES, BUT YOU POSSESS NEITHER HIS SKILLS TO LEAD, NOR THE BLESSING OF THE ONE TRUE GOD TO TAKE SUCH A ROLE.
Asaiah struggled to climb the speaking stone, but found that gentle hands were lifting him up. He scrambled to his feet and turned to face the people.
I SPENT LAST NIGHT IN TROUBLED PRAYER, TRYING TO LISTEN THROUGH MY AGITATION. I KEPT HEARING A WHISPER, “TRUST ME.” TO WHICH I COULD ONLY OFFER, “I TRUST YOU.” AGAIN, I HEARD, “TRUST ME.” TO WHICH I RESPONDED, “I TRUST YOU.” IMAGINE MY DISTRESS WHEN AGAIN I HEARD THE WHISPER, “TRUST ME.”
I NOW KNOW THAT WAS NOT A MESSAGE ONLY FOR ME, BUT A MESSAGE FOR US ALL. THE ONE TRUE GOD IS PLEADING, “TRUST ME.”
COULD IT BE THAT ANXIETY IS CLOUDING YOUR SOULS? WE HAVE ALL SLOWLY MOVED FROM CONFIDENCE WHEN FATHER MOSES FIRST LEFT, TOWARDS PUZZLEMENT, AND NOW INTO DESPAIR. NONE OF US LISTEN WELL THROUGH THE FOG OF DESPAIR.
THIS IS A TIME TO SIT. THIS IS A TIME TO WAIT.
HOW MANY OF YOU KNOW THE PAIN OF IMPATIENT ACTION? HOW MANY OF YOU HAVE WRESTLED WITH REGRET BECAUSE YOU LEPT TOWARD A FRANTIC PLAN THAT ONLY SERVED TO CREATE GREATER PAIN?
A WISE MAN ONCE SAID, “WHEN YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE NO CHOICE BUT TO TAKE ACTION, DON’T!” DO NOT BE DRIVEN BY FEAR AND IMPATIENCE.
THIS IS A TIME TO SIT. THIS IS A TIME TO WAIT.
Asaiah’s passion blinded him to the shifting mood of the crowd. As he knew the moment for his own silence had arrived, he gazed at the people. He began to see that a few of the older men were now cross-legged on the ground. Their families lowering themselves to sit with them. The younger men began to do likewise. A peace was settling across the gathering as all stooped toward the ground.
Asaiah raised his hands to the heavens, and began to sing the words they all knew.
I will sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea.
The LORD is my strength and my defense, he has become my salvation.
He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
All were singing by the final stanza, and the melody was filled with many harmonies,
You will bring them in and plant them on the mountain of your inheritance—
the place, LORD, you made for your dwelling, the sanctuary, Lord, your hands established.
The LORD reigns for ever and ever.
What if? What if a wise seeker had intuited how anxiety was over-taking the Children of Israel? What if such a seeker had found the words to confront that anxiety? What if?
What if you and I, when feeling anxiety and despair, could hear such a voice?
People unusually find their way to my office after they’ve already been lured by Aaron, the voice of anxiety and desperation. They’ve often made a series of anxious decisions, often lured by idols that promise comfort or deliverance. They’ve not known the wise voice that speaks hard truth: Sit still… wait… listen.
That voice is within you.