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Exodus 32:1-14 1

1 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.” 2 Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. 4 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.” 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.” 6 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. 7 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. 8 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.’ 9 “I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 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.” 11 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? 12 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. 13 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.’” 14 Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

Background 2

The Golden Calf is a familiar story to us in the Old Testament.  Let’s do a quick review. The Jewish nation fled Egypt in chapter 13 and crossed the Red Sea in chapter 14. God led them in the wilderness by making visible as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (13:17-22). God had provisioned them with water (15:22-27; 17:1-7) and food (chapter 16). In chapter 19 the Israelites reached Sinai, where thunder, lightning, a thick cloud on the mountain, a trumpet blast, fire, and smoke signaled the presence of God. At God’s direction, Moses and Aaron went up the mountain to receive the law, (19:16:-25).

Chapters 20-31 tell of the giving of the law on the mountain. There is a transition at chapter 24 where God tells Moses to come up the mountain with Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy elders of Israel, but only Moses was to come into God’s immediate presence (24:2). The mountain was cloaked with a cloud, out of which God spoke to Moses. “Moses entered into the midst of the cloud, and went up on the mountain; and Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights” (24:18).

God gave Moses the law regarding the Tabernacle (chapters 25-27 and chapter 30) and the priesthood (chapters 28-29). God told Moses of particular artisans whom God had chosen to make the Tabernacle tent and its furnishings (chapter 31). God also emphasized keeping the Sabbath and gave Moses the two tablets of the covenant which we now call the Ten Commandments written on them (chapter 31). At this point in history, the Jewish people had a great deal of exposure to God’s presence and providence. They have ample reason to believe that the God who has helped them in recent days will provide for them in the future. 

In our study, Chapter 32, we need this background because we find that in chapters 32-34 comes the story of the Golden Calf, Moses’ intercession in behalf of the people, and the giving of two tablets to replace the ones that Moses had broken when he discovered the people reveling around their golden calf. So what could have caused such a quick turnaround in faith?

Moses has been on the mountain for forty days and forty nights (34:28), a very long time. The people were given no idea when to expect his return, and are clearly upset that he has been gone for so long. In Egypt, the people had been exposed to Egyptian gods, many of which were represented by the image of an animal or a human with an animal-head. They had seen Egyptians worship these gods, and it could be that some Israelites worshiped them as well. Now impatient, they gathered around Aaron, telling him to make gods for them, gods who will assume the leadership role that, because Moses is not with them. While Aaron is Moses’ second-in-command, he had never been a strong leader.

The people want gods (elohim) “who shall go before us”, who will lead them out of the wilderness to a better place. “Elohim” is a generic word for gods that is sometimes used in Hebrew Scripture  but when referring to the one and only God, they typically referred  to God as Yahweh. However, in this case, the people are not asking for Aaron to make Yahweh. They are asking Aaron to make a god like the ones that they had seen in Egypt. This request violates the second commandment. While these people have not yet seen the commandments in written form, Moses had given them the commandments orally, and they had promised to obey them (24:3). Of course, the people already had a great deal of evidence that Yahweh is their real leader and that Yahweh would protect them. 

The people have not seen Yahweh’s face and they want a leader whom they can see with their eyes and feel with their hands. Aaron tells the people to take off the gold earrings from their wives, sons, and daughters but not from the men. He apparently assumes that he can obtain an adequate supply of gold without asking the men to donate their earrings. The artisans cast an “egel“,  a young bull calf, not yet as strong as a mature bull, but strong nevertheless. Aron intends to portray strength rather than weakness. Aaron apparently is feeling uncomfortable with the idolatry in which he is participating and declares a festival dedicated, not to the calf, but to Yahweh., to God Aaron is trying to turn the people from the idolatry of the Golden Calf to the worship of Yahweh. The problem here is that Aron is trying to reconcile idol worship and the worship of God. It is not possible to worship God alongside graven images, because Yahweh, God, has specifically forbidden graven images in the second commandment (20:4).

This is the beginning of Gods pronouncement of judgment on the Israelites. God commands Moses not to interfere with His plans. God says He will destroy the Israelites and start over using Moses, like he promised Abraham. In verse 7, God calls the people “your people”, Moses’ people. Now Moses reverses that by calling them “your people”, God’s, Yahweh’s people. Moses doesn’t tell God that he declines the honor that made in verse 10c, building a kingdom from the heirs of Moses. Instead, he begins this defense of the Israelites. Moses offers the first of three good reasons why God should show mercy to the Israelites. He reminds God that He brought these people out of Egypt “with great power and with a mighty hand.” God has a history with these people. He has an investment in their success. He shouldn’t walk away from them so easily. 

The second good reason why God should change his mind and forgive the people is that God very publicly brought Israel out of Egypt. Everyone, especially the Egyptians, Now know what Yahweh has done. God made it clear that these are His people and He is their God. If God now carries out His plan to destroy the Israelites, the whole world will regard Him as false and fickle. For the third reason (v. 13), Moses brings up Abraham. God had sworn an oath to the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Israel (Jacob). He has promised to multiply their descendants and to give them the Promised Land. God now has a duty, not only to the patriarchs, but to Himself. He must maintain his integrity by fulfilling the promises made earlier to the patriarchs.

God’s anger may be great in this instance, but His purpose is to save rather than to destroy. If the people will repent of their sins, God will reconsider His judgment. This time, God reverses His intent to destroy the people, but nevertheless brings a plague on the Israelites (32:34-35), a lesser but nevertheless serious judgment. Repentance is always the purpose God seeks for sinful actions and it is repentance that ultimately brings salvation.

Items for Discussion

  • Why do you think that people need to physically see their leaders? 
  • Can you think of examples where leaders who were not very visible caused a lack of faith for their people?
  • Why do you think that people, in general, are impatient?
  • Do you think we have “golden calves” today? What might they be?
  • Why is serving two gods or even serving two masters something that never works out well in the end?

 

Philippians 4:1-9

1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends! 2 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. 4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Background

The Greek word adelphoi appears several times in this letter (1:14; 3:1, 17). The word is masculine, so a strict translation would be “brothers.” Our NIV translates it as “brothers and sisters.” When Paul first arrived in Philippi, his first congregation was a group of women, and his first convert was Lydia (Acts 16:13-15). In 4:2 he speaks directly to Euodia and Syntyche, two women. Women were an important part of the Philippian church, just as they remain an important part of the Christian church today. These verses are the only place where Euodia and Syntyche are mentioned in the New Testament. Verse 2 tells us that there is a problem, that Euodia and Syntyche are not “of the same mind in the Lord.” Verse three tells us that they have worked closely with Paul (and Clement and others) in the past. That is all we know about them.

First, we must have a definition. What does it mean to “stand firm in the Lord”? In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Everyone therefore who hears these words of mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man, who built his house on a rock. The rain came down, the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house; and it didn’t fall, for it was founded on the rock”(Matthew 7:24-25). In that instance, standing fast required hearing Jesus’ words and acting on them. For the Philippian Christians, listening to Paul’s words and acting on them could be expected to have much the same effect. 

Paul is careful not to take sides in the disagreement. He pleads with these women individually to move past their conflict so that they might see things the same way and work together in harmony. But there was conflict in the first-century church and that Paul wanted to resolve the conflict so that the Philippian Christians could focus their full energies on promoting the Gospel. That is important for Christians today to understand. Most churches experience conflict of one kind or another. There are at least two reasons for this conflict we are looking at in Scripture:

  • First, people tend to form different opinions—and it is easy for us to believe that we are right and everyone else is wrong.
  • Second, the church is at war with the kosmos, the secular world. The world that is opposed to God. The kosmos world is always trying to subvert the Gospel by persuading Christians to adopt the world’s standards. We are all sinners (Romans 3:23), so sometimes we succumb to worldly values.

This is the fourth time in his letter to the Philippians that Paul has used the “same mind” or “think this way” terminology. He called the Philippian Christians to be “like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind” (2:2). Then he called them to “Have this in your mind, which was also in Christ Jesus” (2:5), who humbled Himself to come down from heaven and be born in earthly form and to die on a cross.

Paul suggests that Euodia and Syntyche are NOT of the same mind at present. They need to deal with their conflict in a positive way so that they can be single-minded in their Christian work. But it isn’t sufficient to resolve conflict by insisting that one or the other person “give in.” Nor is it sufficient to take a vote so that one person wins and the other loses. Paul calls Euodia and Syntyche to “think the same way in the Lord.” If the Lord is at the forefront of each of their minds, they will find themselves facing in the same direction. There work will lead to advocating for the same thing. If the Lord rules their hearts, they will find it much easier to deal gracefully with the differing ideas that surface when they get together to conduct church business. The fact that Paul doesn’t intervene directly suggests that the problems between Euodia and Syntyche are not doctrinal in nature. If they were, Paul would surely give them the correct doctrinal solution. His word as an apostle would carry great authority.

Joy is a common theme in both Old and New Testaments. God’s people give thanks because they have experienced salvation at God’s hands (Isaiah 25:9)—or rejoice in God’s steadfast love (Psalm 90:14) or God’s presence (Psalm 16:9-11). The birth of the Savior was an occasion for joy (Luke 2:10-11). Just as an ordinary person might rejoice at the recovery of a lost sheep or coin or son, so also “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7).  Paul models the kind of joy to which he is calling these Philippian Christians. He writes this letter from a prison cell, but he says that he rejoices in the proclamation of the Gospel (1:18). He tells the Philippians that he rejoices with them, and he calls them to rejoice with him (2:17-18).

Paul’s call to the Philippian Christians to rejoice in the Lord always is also his call to the Thessalonian Christians to “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus toward you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). It is significant that Paul doesn’t say “Give thanks FOR all circumstances,” as if we should be thankful for our adversities. Instead, he says, “Give thanks IN all circumstances” knowing that God loves us and is present with us. Paul is suggesting that these two women become like-minded in Christ first so the other problems will not become the central focus of their lives.

Items for Discussion

  • How do you keep your mind and life separated from the kosmos?
  • Where do you see the divisions, the disagreements, the conflicts in the church today? Lets make a short list of the most obvious?
  • How many of these are doctrinal?
  • Now take that list and lets discuss how Christ would handle each?
  • Where is the risk of solving doctrinal issues by vote?
  • Paul is not looking at the “church” as a democracy, a place where we vote and settle disagreements — Yet that is what we do. How would you suggest we all keep our church decisions focused on Christ?

Discussion Challenge

  • Since the very first churches there have been conflicts. It is part of the kosmos, the world. Two people can, given time and not much time, disagree with each other and become enemies. How then can the Church keep itself focused on Christ as Paul suggests?
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