Departure and Recovery at Sinai
The wilderness events in Israel’s history have been recorded for our benefit because through them we receive instruction for hope, admonition and heartwarming meditations concerning the Lord Jesus. The circumstances surrounding the incident at Sinai with the golden calf are no exception. While we receive admonition from their failure, we also pick up encouraging notes for learning and comfort as well as glimpses of our Beloved through the lattice work of Moses’ writings.
Prominent in the background of their departure are the events concerning Moses’ communication with Jehovah, and the people themselves meeting with God, hearing His word, and expressing their intention to enter into a covenant of obedience to the law. Yet all of this was leading up to the pivotal moment when Moses would ascend out of their sight for forty days. In Exodus 24:12-18, we see a very relevant illustration of NT truth. Moses is a picture of the Lord Jesus, leaving the people below to go up, with the promise that he will come again to them. He has already shared with them the words of Jehovah and now indicates that Aaron and Hur will be with them as surrogates in his absence. Aaron is a depiction of the Lord Jesus in His high priestly role (albeit an illustration that will lose its application as the people affect Aaron’s judgement). Hur, in conjunction with Aaron, reassumes his position as the aid in intercession that he was in the events surrounding Amalek, and is for us a likeness of the Spirit of God.
So it was with the Lord, who ascended to heaven while leaving us ample resources. In preparing the eleven for His journey to heaven via Calvary, He reminded them that they had the Father’s Word and would have another Comforter to abide with them and lead them into all truth. We also know that the Lord Jesus is for us an unfailing Great High Priest who is touched with the very feelings of our infirmities, functioning toward the throne of grace for us. So having the Word of God, the intercession of the Spirit of God and our Great High Priest, we are well equipped to face the challenges and temptations connected with the absence of our dear Lord Jesus Christ.
The Thessalonians are an example of appropriate behavior in anticipation of their Lord’s return. Turning to God brought them from idols and the expectation of Christ’s return kept them from idols. In contrast, the Israelites, having been delivered from the bondage of Egypt, stepped back toward that from which they had been freed. The golden calf, a slant on Egyptian worship borrowed from the bull god Apis, was a result of a heart longing for their former life. In Acts 7:39 Stephen said in relation to this event, “Their hearts turned back again into Egypt.” The Thessalonians kept waiting for the Son from heaven, while the Israelites lost sight of the man who went up.
We must now face the overarching, aggravating factor of the wilderness journey: it was full of failure because the people refused to live by faith. Faith is the obedient response to the word of God and a conviction of that which is unseen, but the people ceased to recognize that principle in their dealings with Jehovah. In Hebrews 11, the recounting of faith’s heroes and God’s faithfulness, we find a gap in the account of the Israelites’ journey. By faith they crossed the Red Sea (v29), but verse 30 skips ahead forty years to the conquering of Jericho before faith is noted again. Why? Was it not because they chose to live in disobedience, viewing God’s presence and promises as insufficient for the trials and testings? We are told in Scripture that their aimless wandering all those years was a direct result of unbelief.
As their Egypt-aimed hearts of unbelief sought for a tangible object of worship, they cried, “Up, make us gods.” Aaron, the leader responsible to stand against error, stands in contrast to Moses, who would show holy hatred toward this sin. Aaron’s fear of the people led him to fashion a molten calf. Immorality and division in the camp naturally followed, which reminds us that deviating from truth into doctrinal error will always have an effect on behavior. Wrong teaching in all its forms must be confronted if the Lord’s people are to remain pure and unified.
They offered to this idol in rituals supposedly motivated by devotion to Jehovah, but the entire scene was anything but God-honoring. Revelry and indulgence marked the feast that pretended to be worship to God. Much could be said about the application of this apostasy to our modern religious climate that puts forward any and every method of gathering and ritual as worship, rejecting God’s truth in the process. However, we must now look at the discipline required to cleanse the camp in Exodus 32:26-28.
Before separated men can use the sword to rid the congregation of those holding fast to error, a decision must be made: Do we continue in this sensual perversion of worship or abandon it? There could be no fence-sitting. The question “Who is on the Lord’s side?” left no room for compromise.
The sword is a picture of the Word of God used to correct false doctrine and consequent immorality. While it may seem extreme, the future of the entire camp depended upon the use of the sword to address the issue. So it is in a NT assembly, as discipline for doctrinal error and moral departure are both necessary. Thank God that under grace all discipline will be done with the recovery and restoration of the offender in mind, but with the glory of God and the preservation of the Lord’s people being paramount.
Moses is now commanded to lead the people forward. There will be much glory for God in the coming days as the tabernacle is built, praise is offered and His purpose fulfilled. Failure is never meant to be final. Error is to be corrected by truth, offenders are to be addressed as the Scriptures demand, and recovery is to lead to progress. There is yet glory to be gained for the Lord. Notwithstanding that other believers may have gone back to Egypt, let’s encourage one another to remain focused on our Lord who has gone up!
 Joh 14:24
 1Th 1:9-10; 1Jn 3:3
 Heb 3:19