“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.’But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, “It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth”? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: “I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.”’”—Exodus 32:7–13 (NIV)
I used to read the account of the golden calf and focus solely on Israel’s sin and failure.After all God had done for them, how could they so brazenly sin against Him by breaking the first two commandments? After all the miracles, rescuing and provision, how could they so quickly forget His love and care? It made me angry. I wanted to jump right through the pages of my Bible and into their story to tell them how ungrateful they were being.
I’ve matured a little in my faith since then, and I now realize I’m no different from them. I waver when God seems distant and His plans are unclear. I put my trust in worldly things because I crave what is tangible and immediate. I’m quick to forget His faithfulness and to feel abandoned in my situation. Knowing this has led me to focus on a different aspect of the story now when I read it: God’s mercy. Without it, the Israelites would have been consumed by God’s wrath—and without it, so would I.
God looks down from the mountain and sees the Israelites worshiping and sacrificing to a false god. His anger burns hot within Him and He tells Moses His plan: “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you” (Exodus 32:9–10 ESV).
In His holiness, God had every right to destroy the Israelites. They had sinned against Him and their rightly-deserved punishment was death, but in His mercy He relents. He listens to the pleas of Moses on their behalf and withholds His wrath from being poured out. Instead, He pours out mercy. Once I realized just how similar I am to the Israelites, God’s mercy toward them became that much more beautiful to me. Why? Because I saw my own need for it and my humility and appreciation grew. I turned from the pride of judging their actions to the posture of judging my own.
God is merciful. It’s a truth that over the years has made the trek from my head to my heart. The more I understand the weight of my sin, the more I cherish the gift of mercy.The more I experience mercy in my life, the more I love the Lord and put my hope in him. Lamentations 3:22–23 (NKJV) says, “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
The Israelites quickly forgot all that God had done for them because their focus was on what they could see. They became hopeless and took matters into their own hands.Let’s spend today remembering all He’s done for us. May these memories of His faithfulness infuse us with hope and keep us from making our own golden calf.
Pause: How have you seen God’s mercy poured out in your life over the last year?
Practice: Write a few of the mercies God’s poured out in your life in a journal or on a piece of paper and spend the day thanking God for them.
Pray: Lord, thank You that Your mercies are new every morning! May this truth humble me and fill me with hope. The God of the universe pours out His mercy upon me and because of that I am not consumed. Great is your faithfulness, O God! You are greatly to be praised! Amen.