Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Bitter Taste

Every one of us is, even from his mother's womb, a master craftsman of idols.

The interactions between Moses and the Israelite people really captivated my attention this week in my Bible reading.   In my study, there was this one verse I must have missed in the past and it fascinated me in all manner of ways.   

If you are unfamiliar with Exodus 32, let me give you a synopsis of what has conspired.  In Exodus 24:12 Moses received a command from God…a most magnificent, terrifying, awe-inspiring order:

“Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and commands I have written for their instruction.”

Moses did just that, and the decrees he received from the LORD filled the next seven chapters.  At the end of His holy instruction to Moses on all kinds of topics, He took His very own finger and wrote the 10 Commandments on tablets of stone.  

Let your mind wrap around that for a second. 

The same finger that could spin the whole earth better than the likes of any Harlem Globetrotter carved these laws into a stone with just His mere touch….just for all of His children to get a smidge of an idea regarding how powerful He really is. 
What an incredible thing for Moses, former palace darling, murderer, and sheep-herder turned reluctant emancipator, to witness.  The eyes that had gazed upon the plagues, the miracles, and the provision of a Holy God now viewed another display of His power and experienced another level of closeness with the Almighty Himself.

As always, the plot tends to thicken when we read about the Israelites.  Just when you think that they have to have LEARNED THEIR LESSON OR SOMETHING, you are reminded that they haven’t. 

Reminds me of someone else I know.

While Moses was up there having a Holy Tent Revival with Yahweh, down below the people were waiting for over a month to see their fearless leader.  Frankly, we all know just how awesome the Israelites were at waiting. J
Time ticked by and their frustration was palpable.  Aaron felt that frustration as they cornered him.  They were of waiting.

So, the Hebrew people turned to Aaron and recruited him to help them build another god.  Probably because they thought that the One they already had was not enough for them.  He was also too blessed slow, and so was his main man Moses. 

So Aaron took all the gold in the camp and melted it down into a golden calf for God’s people to worship.  Talk about fools’ gold, huh?

I hope I have set the context for the verse I really want to write about. 
When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain.  And he took the calf they had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it.

He made them drink the gold-water.  He went to a lot of trouble to do it, too.  He threw the idol into the fire, then he had to grind it up.  Finally, he had to spread it all over their water source. 

Why make them drink it?  

 Wouldn’t it have been enough to just trash the idol and melt it in the heat?  He could have smashed it like Tina Fey on Letterman, but he made them drink it instead.

Now I have not been known to drink water with gold flecks (I live in Bicknell so you can find a few flecks alright, but they are never golden).  But if I had to guess what it tasted like, I bet I could.

I believe that water tasted bitter.

Moses wanted them to drink of the cup of bitterness, because he knew that idolatry for the Hebrew people was only going to produce unpleasant results. Idolatry always leaves a bad taste – in the mouth of God and of the idolater. 
Building another god to worship always leads to confusion, frustration and disappointment.  Maybe not right away…but it always does.  The Israelites tried to construct a god they could control – a god they could always see – a god who had no mystery.  Those qualities make for a pretty poor god, don’t you think?  If I could understand everything my God does, why would I follow Him?  I am looking for someone smarter than me!

They kept at it though; the Hebrews kept bringing their riches and their treasures, hoping it would make something suitable to worship.  It reminds me of some song lyrics.  “Many men will pour their gold and serve a thing that shines.” Created ones worshiped created things which were formed by the Creator.  Something is very, very wrong with this picture.

The truth about idols is that they were not just used several thousand years ago.  They exist today.  Maybe you don’t have a golden calf collecting dust in your laundry room, but there are things or people or both competing for first place in your life.  When you give first place to something other than Yahweh, that person or thing will eventually let you down and it won’t be long before you taste the bitterness of that disappointment.  Trust me, I know.

God knows He is God, and He desires for us to put Him in His rightful place.  However, when He reveals to us the other gods sitting upon the thrones of our hearts, He does that for us

He is trying to make us holy, but He is also trying to help us avoid descent into the pit called bitterness where dashed expectations and broken hearts litter the ground.  We build idols to serve and quickly they become our obsession.  Kelly Minter wrote, “Any idol in our lives becomes our master.”  He knows that any other master is not worthy of our attentions and affections and He also knows that they cannot fulfill us like He can and wants to.  He knows that at least, those other gods will leave us battered and bruised spiritually and much worse off than before we built them.  Our past reminds us of the times we looked to another to quench our thirst for God and tasted of a bitter gold-water instead.

But there is One who also tasted bitterness. 
He drank it for all the times we have sought to make our own gods and bowed down in worship to them. 

He drank it for all the times we looked for love and acceptance from someone or something that could never give it. 

It was here that we were freed from the bitter taste of idolatry once and for all, no longer to live under the slavery of a different master.

Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.  When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.”