Friday, October 19, 2007

When You Lose Sight of Moses, You Turn to Idols

Thus saith the LORD, by the pen of Moses, in the Second Book of the Law, the Book of Exodus, the Thirty-Second Chapter, First Verse:
Exodus 32:1 And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.

"And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount ..."

Note how the people missed Moses. Moses had become for many of the people the mouthpiece of God. They turned to Moses for advice, for counsel, for guidance and encouragement. To them, Moses was a visual reminder of God's presence.

And consider why Moses delayed to come down: God was giving Moses the law, instructing Moses in how to obey. He had explained the moral law to Moses, and described the creation of the earth in six days. God was providing revelation not so much for Moses' benefit but for the benefit of the people.

Yet the people grew impatient - they wanted a leader.

"... the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron ..."

Notice what happened: the crowd gathered, the mob assembled. The mechanism is not stated: did a few riot leaders sound the horns or did murmurs travel from tent to tent throughout the camp? We do not know. All we know is that Aaron did not call the people, yet the people came to Aaron. Aaron was the good speaker: the man who talked for Moses, though the people knew who was behind the scenes.

The people came to him as the sort of ceremonial head: they recognized his role was ritualistic, not substantive. He did not speak of himself, but reported what Moses told him. Nevertheless, the people - the enormous crowd of work-hardened Egyptian slaves came to Aaron.

" ... and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us ..."

Note the way they phrase their statement, not as a request: "would you please make us gods," but a demand "Up! Make!" The people did not come to Aaron with respect and reverence, but with an order: with a pretty clear implication: do something, or else.

It's worth noting that "gods" here is Elohim: a name of God. It is not "Elohims" (plural) but Elohim itself is already a plural noun. The English translators here followed the custom of providing a literal translation "gods" despite the ambiguity.

Note the purpose of these "gods": to go before the people. That is to say, these "gods" were to provide a visible leadership.

" ... for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt ..."

Notice who the "gods" are supposed to replace: Moses. The people, you see, viewed Moses the miracle-worker as their visible leader. With him out of sight, they were weak. Unable to rely on faith, the evidence of the unseen, they sought an idol: something visible and tangible.

" ... we wot not what is become of him."

For those born in the last 20 years, "wot" means "know." In other words, the people claimed that they did not know what happened to Moses. They seem to be suggesting that Moses is dead, or lost. They are afraid to set foot on the mount to go searching, for a fence has been put up, and it is a capital crime for anyone to set foot on Sinai. But the people are impatient - they want a visible leader, and they want one now.

The underlying problem is significant: we are to walk by faith, not sight. Thomas and the other Apostles were blessed with the tangible presence of Christ. We are not. We must walk by faith in the unseen. We must eschew the error of trying to make God after the image of man: for no painting can represent God. Even a true photograph or hologram of Christ would not suffice, for God is a Spirit, and they who worship Him must do so in Spirit and Truth, just as Moses commanded.

Which is what makes this so interesting as a metaphor:

Those who lose sight of Scripture make Icons and Images.

Do you want to see Christ? Look at Genesis! Look at the Psalms! Look at John's Gospel! But don't look at a painted board, or a piece of glazed ceramic, for God is not to be worshiped with the works of men's hands.

Praise be to the Living and True God!

-Turretinfan

8 comments:

orthodox said...

God the Father is spirit, but God the Son has flesh and bones.

John 20:27 Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.”

Albert said...

Well said. I am following your online debate with "orthodox" and his defense of the use of icons for worship captured my attention. His defense is very similar to the arguments of Roman Catholic apologists in defense of the veneration of images. Personally, I find their arguments untenable. They claim that the icons/image they use represent Jesus Christ. Yet NO ONE knows how Jesus EXACTLY looked like. The fact that these icons/images come in various forms and in different shapes and size means that they are just products of human imagination. Some images wouls portray a child Jesus while some would portray him in the state of suffering. An image of Jesus may look like a white person, a black or an Asian. The same goes for images of Mary. Which of these images then represent the God-Man Jesus? None. Can this still be properly called worship? Absolutely not.

orthodox said...

What difference does it make what he EXACTLY looked like? If I took a photo of him with a box brownie would you complain that the lens is poor and has distortions, and the film has limited latitude and granularity, and say that I am idolatrous because of my box brownie, but you, perhaps with your Alpa Swiss are not idolatrous because your image is more exact?

No, the issue is that God was made man. Jesus is a man, and the images we have are of a man. That's the great scandal of Christianity, that God was made man, and we beheld him as a man.

Carrie said...

Amen to your post and amen to Albert's comment!

Turretinfan said...

O: Jesus was both God and man. But Jesus himself said, speaking not of the past but of the present and future:

John 4:23-24
23But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. 24God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.

And to doubting Thomas Christ replied:
John 20:29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

-Turretinfan

Turretinfan said...

O: "What difference does it make what he EXACTLY looked like? If I took a photo of him with a box brownie would you complain that the lens is poor and has distortions, and the film has limited latitude and granularity, and say that I am idolatrous because of my box brownie, but you, perhaps with your Alpa Swiss are not idolatrous because your image is more exact?"

Red herring. A speculative drawing based on the known facts that Jesus was not handsome, was Jewish, and was male is not anything like a photograph.

O: "No, the issue is that God was made man."

No, the issue is: "thou shalt not make any likeness."

O: "Jesus is a man, and the images we have are of a man."

The images are either purely imaginative or of some other man than the God-man Jesus.

O: "That's the great scandal of Christianity, that God was made man, and we beheld him as a man."

No, that's not the great scandal of Christianity. The great scandal is that Christ died.

And John says not that "we beheld him as a man" but:

We beheld his glory the glory, as of the only begotton of the Father, full of grace and truth.

That glory is still visible in the pages of Scripture, but is mocked and obscured in gilt paintings.

As Paul put it:

2 Corinthians 4:3-6

3But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: 4In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. 5For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake. 6For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

So then it is by the preached word that we see Jesus, not by gazing at an idol.

-Turretinfan

Lucian said...

Those who lose sight of Scripture make Icons and Images.

Like Moses, You mean?

Turretinfan said...

Lucian,

Not Moses, Aaron. Moses not only ground the golden calf to dust, but later when the people began to worship the serpent he destroyed that too.

Those that worship God must do so in Spirit and truth.

-Turretinfan