After reading the events of Exodus 32 all I can say is, “Holy cow!” There is no better illustration of what happens when we refuse to be thankful.
After leaving the Wilderness of Sin, the Israelites came to Sinai and set up camp at the foot of the mountain. On the third day, the ground began to tremble. The mountain came alive, billowing smoke like a giant furnace. Lightning illuminated the smoke in streaks of white, as thunder cracked overhead like trees breaking. Pillars of fire tore through the dark clouds striking the mountain. The quaking increased in intensity. The people fell to their knees, clinging to one another. The Lord of all creation, their Redeemer, had descended in holiness and power on the mountain next to their camp. Here was a mountain moving God. Then the Lord called Moses to come up.
For three months they wandered from place to place. To the question, “Where would it all end?” they now knew the answer. God had led them into the wilderness to bring them to the mountain. As Moses heard God’s call atop Mount Horeb at the burning bush and was transformed with new purpose, now they were at a burning mountain. God was working his plan. His wilderness way led to a life-changing encounter.
On the mountain, Moses would receive the Ten Commandments that would establish the boundaries for a special covenant relationship. Before going up, God wanted them to understand the importance of this moment. In Exodus 19:4 he said, “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine.” The responded in concert, “All that the Lord has said we will do!”
More than just the Decalogue, God would give Moses the pattern and plans for a place worship. The same God who shook the mountain would now dwell with them in a tabernacle of meeting. God would join in covenant with a people who had no place to lay their head. It was like a grand wedding in the desert – a wealthy, generous king choosing to faithfully love a homeless bride.
God is never hurried. All of this would take time. How would the people respond while they waited? Notice Exodus 32:1, “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.’”
The Israelites didn’t want to wait for the wedding. They had been at the foot of Sinai long enough. They began to murmur, complain, and grumble, “Why is it taking Moses so long? Who does he think he is making us wait for him? He’s up there having a grand old time, while we’re down here in limbo. He doesn’t even care. We’re moving on without him.”
Stirred up and stiff-necked, they went to his second in command and said, “We don’t know what’s become of your brother. You make for us other gods to lead us out of here.”