broken trust February 12 Chronological Bible Study

Timeline. Map. Go to today's Bible reading (NIV) or alternate versions (use your browser arrow to return): Exodus 32:1–33:17

Restoring Broken Trust

Leaders rely on the faith of their followers, but sometimes if plans appear to go awry, or they do not seem to be moving forward, their people get impatient. There is discontent. They lose confidence in their leadership and trust is broken. Rebels arise and begin to lead people astray. This is what happened to God and Moses. Maybe this has happened to us, or we broke someone's trust. What do we do about it?

Moses had gone up on Mt. Sinai to receive God’s written law to govern the moral and social behavior of the Israelites. While he was there, he also received instructions for building the tabernacle (a portable worship center) and all its furnishings. In addition, he received designs for the clothing the priests were to wear to set them apart as holy ministers before the LORD.

While Moses is away, the Israelites lose faith.

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.” (Exodus 32:1, NIV)

So, under pressure, Aaron listens to them.

Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. 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, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” (Exodus 32:2-4, NIV)

How ironic—while Moses is receiving the ten commandments written on stone tablets by the finger of God, and is given instructions on the building of a tabernacle to worship him—the Israelites turn from following the LORD to worship idols!

How does God react to this? He is angry with the Israelites (Exodus 32:7-9). He immediately cuts off the dialogue with Moses, regarding plans for worship, which would have brought them into intimacy with him, and he disowns the wayward Israelites. God is angry enough to destroy them; and except for Moses’ intercession, the LORD would have done it. This is not to say that God is dependent on the intercession of Moses or anyone else—God acts with mercy when and upon whom he desires—yet, he is often pleased to answer our prayers (Romans 9:18; Luke 11:9-10; James 4:2).

Moses is a friend of God. He is not just concerned for the welfare of his people, he is also concerned about the LORD's reputation with other nations. How will it look to other nations if God destroys his people in the wilderness? Won't other nations conclude that Israel's God is not able to bring them into the Promised Land? How much do we care about God's glory? Do we pray in relation to his glory or do our prayers concern only ourselves? Prayers for God's glory are answered (John 14:13).

When Moses discovers how the Israelites have turned to idolatry, he is furious! Such ingratitude! How could they break their covenant so quickly by worshipping idols and committing adultery? How could they jeopardize their relationship with God and their inheritance?

When Moses saw what they were doing

his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain [symbolizing their broken covenant]. 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 (Exodus 32:19b-20, NIV).

Then Moses grills his brother Aaron, who was left in charge while he was on the mount. Backed into a corner, Aaron lies to him, saying he put the gold earrings of the people into a fire and (magically) up came this calf which they are worshipping. He does not mention the altar he also built for this calf idol.

Even after all this, the people are still wild and do not comprehend the severity of what they are doing. What’s wrong with a little partying? In the right context, nothing is wrong; however, the Israelites are to be a holy people set apart to God. Instead, they are performing shameless orgies! Only the Levite tribe remains faithful to the LORD. At the bidding of Moses, the Levites are sent throughout the camp to exercise capital punishment upon the faithless Israelites. Three thousand are killed. “The next day Moses said to the people, ‘You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.’” (Exodus 32:30, NIV)

The people mourn their losses and their sin, and they strip off their ornaments. Day by day they watch Moses meet with God outside the camp and await their fate.

The LORD forgives the people, but as a consequence he sends a plague to punish them for worshipping the golden calf, and then he tells them he will not go with them. We might ask at this point, why would he not go with them—he forgives them doesn't he? Here is the explanation from God himself:

For the LORD had said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites, ‘You are a stiff-necked people. If I were to go with you even for a moment, I might destroy you.’” [God is Holy] (Exodus 33:5, NIV)

The Israelites feel alone, abandoned and vulnerable. Who will help them on their way? Who will protect them? Who will lead them to the Promised Land? They messed up big time. Someone rightly said, “Don't bite the hand which feeds you,” but this is exactly what they did. Have we done that? Have we lost patience with God and angered him by going our own way? Do we now feel deserted? Was there any hope that God would change his mind in regard to the Israelites?

To restore trust and to demonstrate their change of heart and mind, they strip off the ornaments they are using to worship the golden calf and humble themselves (Exodus 33:5-6). The same is true of us when we have offended God—if we want his favor restored to us, we must show true repentance.

Moses intercedes for the Israelites and God relents. The LORD told Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked [go with the Israelites], because I am pleased with you [Moses] and I know you by name” (Exodus 33:17, NIV).

Lessons to Live By

  • Prayers for God's glory get answered.
  • God can restore a broken trust. If we truly humble ourselves and repent, we will find mercy with him (more...). Once again we will be able to sense the presence of God going with us.
  • If someone has broken our trust, God knows how we feel. Like God, we need to show mercy and forgive if there is genuine repentance.

Focus Verse

Luke 1:50 (NIV) “His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.”

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A Look Ahead: When our broken relationship is healed, how do we keep A Restored Relationship? Find out in our Next Lesson.

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