Sun, Apr 09, 2000
Creating God in Our Own Image
Exodus 32.1-20 by Lee Tankersley

I want you to imagine this morning that you are in a room next to a group of people for whom God has worked miracles. Let’s imagine that these people have been persecuted Christians and that miraculously God has rescued them from torture and persecution in a Muslim nation
and has brought them here to the United States. In fact, He did it in such a miraculous manner
that not only could the Christians not doubt it as a miracle of God, but the Muslims could not
doubt it either. Now let’s imagine as these Christians are in the room next to us, and we cannot see them. However, we hear them as we enter early on a Sunday morning to worship. We can hear them singing. It appears from the sounds that they are dancing and eating. We even hear chants from what would seem to be their worship leader as he shouts, “This is your God who brought us out of the persecution and torture we were in. Praise Him forever.”

If we heard this, I imagine our hearts would be filled with joy. We would think that finally our Lord has found a group of people who are truly thankful for what He has done for them. Then, let’s assume in our excitement that we go over into the other room to join them in worship and, going over we find that they are all listening now to a man preaching. He is saying, “The God who brought us out of that Muslim nation thinks just like we do. He does not know the future. He hates sin and Satan and sinners not because of His holy nature, but because they so often frustrate and thwart His plans. But praise Him because He was able to do something good this time.”

What would our response be then? I hope it would change from happiness and excitement to gloom and sorrow. Why? What’s wrong with the picture now? What’s wrong is that though they are singing, dancing, and worshipping and are even declaring praise to the same God (according to them) that we praise; we would say they are not worshipping the God of the bible at all. What’s wrong is that though they are calling Him the Lord of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, they are not thinking of that God, and it is therefore idolatry. It may sound absurd that such a people blessed by God would do such a thing, but we find the exact situation here in the 32nd chapter of Exodus.

God delivered the Israelites from slavery under the Egyptians. He performed signs and miracles to force Pharoah to let them go, and then when they were pursued He parted the sea in front of them only to let it drown the Egyptian army. He led them day and night by a cloud and by fire. And provided them food and water with unmistakable miracles. However, as Moses goes up to the mountain to receive the ten commandments, these Egyptians take their gold and melt it. Then they fashion a calf and begin to worship it.

What I find interesting about this passage and want to focus on this morning is not the absurdity of man forgetting the miracles of God. We do that all the time. In fact many of us in this room have probably forgotten God’s miracles in our lives. Nor is it the fact that man would worship their gold. Even sincere Christians today battle to keep money and possessions from being lord of their lives. The thing I want to focus on this morning is the statement made by Aaron in verse 4, namely, "This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt." What’s interesting about this is that we do the same thing today, but it is not as obvious.

What were they doing?

Well, they were not trying to worship one of the gods of the Egyptians: a river, the sun, cattle, whatever. Rather they were worshipping the Lord (YHWH). I do not think they doubted that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was the God who had brought them out of Egypt. Their sin, however, was that they were trying to make Him just like them. They were trying to make God something they could shape and control. They tried to make Him on their level. Such is sin.

In the first chapter of his book The Knowledge of The Holy, A.W. Tozer writes, “The most important thing about you is what comes into your mind when you think about God.” I think I would agree with this statement. I believe that the greater God is in the sight of one of His servants, the greater God will work through that servant. Why? Because he or she will naturally believe that God is great and able to do greater things than anything he or she has ever known. And with faith all things are possible. We can actually form a community where God will not (and because of His decision to work through our faith, cannot) work powerfully among His people if we do not view Him as able to do so. Remember Jesus’ experience in His hometown where he “could do no miracle there” except heal a few people because of their unbelief (Mark 6:5-6). We need not make this same mistake today.

Here is a statement we need to remind ourselves of daily: God is not like us.

The Israelites tried to make Him like them by making a calf and calling it Him, and we do the same exact sin when we think in our minds of God as being like us. God says in Psalm 50:21, “These things you have done, and I kept silent; you thought that I was just like you.” That is wrong. It is sin. And we will reap the consequences of not seeing God work in power if we have such a low view of God. It will be the demise of Cornerstone. God is not like us.

We cannot figure every part of Him out. Yes, He has revealed Himself to us in Scripture, but His ways and His thoughts and higher than ours. The secret things belong to Him. That is why some things we discuss in Sunday school, hear preached, or study are impossible to hold in perfect sense in our mind. God’s ideas rise outside of our logic. I will show us one thought that shows that we think of God as being very much like us. It is our thought concerning prayer. How many of us have ever thought prayer is worthless and the matters we pray about are not going to change? We think that because prayer does not make sense to the minds of man, and we cannot figure out how things will change that we see as impossible. Things can change, impossible things can happen because God is great and able to do great things.

Thinking of God as being like us leads to more and more sin in our lives.

Let me call your attention to verse 6 of this passage. It says, So the next day they rose early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings, and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play. (It’s interesting how we have trouble getting up early to read the Scripture but not to do the things our flesh loves.) What I want us to realize is that the phrase, “rose of to play” is a phrase that means they rose up to commit sexual immorality. If you do not realize this, this picture is not as horrid as it should be.

The Israelites were engaging in orgies together. That is sickening isn’t it? But what it shows us is that when one sacrifices a great view of God and begins to see Him as simply being like them, then we have knocked out the platform on which we build our holiness. The reason God has given us to be holy is that He is holy (Leviticus 11:44, 19:2). When He ceases to be in our eyes what He is, we will see our holiness cease as well. If you are finding that you are not thinking that seriously about sin in your life then you can bet two things: 1) you’ve sacrificed a great view of God and 2) your sin will only grow worse. That is a scary thought considering what we looked at Wednesday night from 1 John 2:19. If you are being enslaved to sin then your need is to have restored to yourself a great view of God. Sin always leads to more sin. But our need for such a view goes deeper.

It is necessary to our everyday living that we have a view of God that says He is great and able to do great things.

Things are sin in one sense because they are harmful for us. Why did God make all those eating rules for the Israelites? Well, one reason was for health. He was not simply making them jump through loops but was instructing them in what was the best way to live. He has not changed. Marriage to one person for one’s life is still the best way to do family. Ask the woman who had an abortion about what horrible things she went through afterward. Ask the drunk man living on the street what you are missing out on by not getting addicted to alcohol. Do you see what I am saying?

In the same way, it is sin to have a low view of God because at least for one reason, man needs a great view of God. What happens to the man who has a low view of God when he loses his job, his wife has a miscarriage, and his he finds out he may have cancer? What is going to be his great need then? He will need to have a view of God that says God is great and nothing is impossible with him. Otherwise, can you feel the agony and hopelessness for a man praying to a God he’s regarded in his mind as being like him, while he is reminded of his own helplessness every second?

We need to have a great view of God. It is God’s gift to us.

Finally, let me ask the question we all are probably wondering. What if we’ve realized today that we do not think of God as great as He really is? What if we see that in our worship we are doing no different than the Israelites because we’ve thought of God as being like us as well? Is there any way out? Yes. Is it by determining I will simply think of him as great in my mind? No, I think we need something more.

Let me answer the question how does one develop a great view of God by referring us to verse 11 of chapter 33. It is one that is most likely familiar to us. “Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend.” Now I am aware that the verse goes on and I would like to preach on it someday, but for today this section will suffice. What is it in our story that Moses did differently, even from Aaron? This is an easy one. He did not join in worshipping the golden calf and got very angry about it.

Now let’s ask why. Was there anything different about him in relation to the rest of the Israelites? Yes. It is that Moses spoke with God as a man speaks to his friend. Moses was a friend of God. This is exactly what we need to hold a great view of God. We need to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. There is a reason this is the greatest commandment. Everything else falls within it.

Let me give you an example of this in our lives. Think of a son in relation to his dad. What does he think of him? He thinks he is able to do anything. There is nothing his dad cannot answer and nothing he cannot do. Is this true of every adult the child knows? Oddly, no. Rather it was limited (at least in my mind) to good ol’ Dad. What sets one’s dad apart? It is the child’s love for his dad. A child not only thinks his dad is great and able to do anything, but also longs for others to view his dad in the same way. In fact, this is true to so much of an extent that if one comments to a son about how great his dad is the child beams, and if one insults or speaks poorly of one’s dad then the boy is crushed. Tears and even anger will probably erupt from the boy.

Do you see now why I believe Moses reacted the way he did? Not only did the Israelites commit great sin, but they degraded the nature of one whom he loved and knew as his closest friend. That is why he viewed God great and able to do all things. We need that as well.

Cornerstone, not only is it a sin to view God as less than who he is, but it is our need to view God great. A great view of God is proportional to Him working greatly in us, and a low view of God will manifest in sin which leads to death. May we all therefore seek to be as Moses in this story and as Christ who modeled Christian living for us. May we find ourselves treasuring time with Him in His word, in prayer, and in living a life longing for Him to receive glory (as a son often does with his dad). Let us strive to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.