3000 die, one doesn’t
Today’s lesson is hard.
Aaron, who had been left in charge, made the golden calf. Despite what he later tried to claim, it did not just come out of the fire. Melting gold is not easy, you don’t just do it over an open campfire, it requires a bellows or some type of furnace, but first you have to construct the mold, and even then you have to have a way to get the molten gold into the mold without it solidifying. So, there was intent and effort and time put into making this idol. But Aaron appears to suffer no punishment for this sin.
At the same time, Moses calls out to the entire camp “whoever is for the Lord, come to me.” And, at God’s command, the Levites strap on their swords and go back and forth through the camp killing those who are still running wild. 3000 die.
In our judgement this may not seem just.
First, we are not the judge. God is. It is not our place to judge God and we know that He is always just. We could stop there and accept in faith that God is right. But, let’s go farther, while keeping the fact that God is just in mind.
Everyone is going to die. You, me, Moses, Aaron, the Israelites, each of us has a day that this life will end. God is in charge. God knows and ordains the day we are born and the day we will die. To believe otherwise is to believe that God either doesn’t know or doesn’t have control. It isn’t that God wants us to die. He wants us to live with him forever, that was His original plan with Adam and Eve, but we chose and continue to choose sin. This life we have in this body will come to an end. So, with that understanding, would it make us feel any better if some of the 3000 had died the day before in an oxen accident or died the next week in a battle or simply died of old age in the dessert? Why do we bristle from the dying on this day as opposed to any other day?
So why this day, then? They had chosen the golden calf, but they didn’t die that day. They had seen Moses anger when he burned up the calf and ground it up and forced them to drink it, but they didn’t die that day. But in spite of all of that, the tablets being broken, the calf being burned, the ashes being ground up, the forced consumption of the burnt up idol, they still ran wild. Despite all they had seen, and felt, and heard and learned – despite all that they still chose to be wild animals.
The term “stiff-necked” comes from oxen. When an ox is yoked, the person in control steers and controls the direction of the animal by turning its head, either through the use of a bridle and bit or through the use of an ox-goad (a stick with a pointed end). A stiff-necked oxen is one who continuously fights the person in control. It refuses to turn its neck. It goes where it wants to go and does what it wants to do. It is a dangerous creature and it can inflict great damage, injury and death on others if it goes wild. If such a creature, despite the continued efforts and training of its master, continues to disobey, it is put down.
The Levites did not go through the camp maliciously murdering innocent friends and family. They obediently killed those who insisted on being wild animals in the street. They killed those who made the choice to become and live as enemies of God and enemies of the Jewish people. This camp was a battle field and they killed those who elected to terrorize their neighbors, family and friends.
Should we strap on a sword and start killing people in our neighborhoods? Absolutely not. That is not what we are commanded to do. But we, through our military, police and judicial systems, do fight and kill those who have chosen to be enemies both at home and abroad.
But why not Aaron? Why not any of the other thousands of jews who did not die on this day? It was not what God ordained. Our leaders are not perfect. Many of our leaders, including pastors and religious leaders, have committed great sin in their lives and have led others into sin. That does not mean that God is restricted from using them as leaders. God chose Aaron and despite the fact that sacrifices will be made for Aaron’s sin and to ordain him as a priest, he would carry the knowledge of his sin every day. This had to influence the work he would perform in the tabernacle. This had to make a difference in his thinking as he made sacrifice after sacrifice for the sins of the people. When faced with that job, day-in, day-out, it would have been easy for a high priest to think of himself as better than the people. Could Aaron ever do that again?
This is hard and uncomfortable, but so is life. Who do you stand with? Do you yield to the authority of the master, the farmer who cares for you and protects you and wants you to participate in good work, or do you fight and run wild? In Matthew 11, Jesus asks us to take his yoke, his yoke is easy and the burden is light.
They did not receive the 10 commandments crafted by God, they were out of control, laughingstock to their enemies, they were forced to drink the ground up powder of the golden calf
Aaron and the people
I am to be a solid witness not bending at the first temptation
he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, “whoever is for the Lord, come to me”, Levites rallied, strap sword go back and forth from one end of camp to the other, killing brother, friend and neighbor – 3000 died
They broke the first 4 commandments, they broke their covenant with God, even after Moses returned, they continued to be wild
set apart, blessed, disciple of God