Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
When we read the story of the golden calf in Exodus (or see it in the movie “The Ten Commandments”) it’s easy to say, “Pfft, that was a stupid move.” After all, didn’t the Israelites see a ton of miracles in Egypt, get bread from heaven, and even hear the thundering of God’s voice? Yes, the Israelites experienced all of this and still made a golden god to worship. Was it stupid? Yes. Is it exclusive to the Israelites? No.
After pronouncing the Ten Commandments to the people as they gathered near Mt. Sinai, God called Moses up to the top. Being told directly by God to go, Moses ascended the mountain of God. History records,
When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called Moses from within the cloud. To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights (Exodus 24:15-18).
And so Moses spent more than a month up in the scary, cloudy, mountain. While he was up there, the people rebelled. We read,
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).
What happened to the people? Well, Moses was their communication line with God (a job they thrust upon him because hearing God thunder was too scary for them). He had been gone for over a month, how was he eating or getting water up there on the mountain? Maybe he was dead? Since there was no Moses, there was no way to hear from God. Without direction from God (through Moses), the people started sinning. Likewise, when we feel like God is being quiet; it becomes easier to sin and to fall into old habits. Sure, we might not build a golden calf and start worshiping it, but we may get wrapped up in worldly ways and ignore what we know is right or do something as simple as compromise our values. I’m talking to you as saved Christians here. You’ve been saved by Jesus, delivered from your past bondages, and maybe have experienced some miracles yourself. Is it stupid then to go off and sin? Yes (and you know it). Is it exclusive to you? No.
We’ve all been there, God’s going a little quiet and we start to get off track. There’s a problem though. As soon as you cross the line and sin, God suddenly shows up again. This happened to the Israelites too. Scripture tells us,
Moses turned and went down the mountain with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.
When Joshua heard the noise of the people shouting, he said to Moses, “There is the sound of war in the camp.”
“It is not the sound of victory,
It is not the sound of defeat;
It is the sound of singing that I hear.”
When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain (Exodus 32:15-19).
Have you ever experienced this? Temptation comes or you feel compelled to go in a direction you know is probably not right, and as soon as you cross the line…BAM a load of guilt, some sort of awesome blessing, or finally clarity in your mind hits you- God finally showed up. “Are you kidding me Lord? Where were you an hour ago when the devil was beating down my defenses?” Had Moses come down from the mountain a few days earlier, the whole golden calf debacle would have never happened. So what’s going on? The Bible tells us in Proverbs 29:18, “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law.” When we lose communication with the Lord, it’s really easy to fall off the wagon and go into old habits or new sins. But let’s face facts, we’re not always gonna hear from God, sometimes our hearts won’t let us, other times the Lord chooses to be silent for his own reasons.
What do we do when we’re not receiving some sort of awesome, positively-motivating revelations from God? …Honestly, I don’t know. I’m still going through the rounds with the Holy Spirit on this topic- maybe I’ll write a new article when he helps me to find a lasting cure for Golden Calf Syndrome. Until then though, let me share with you some things the Spirit showed me that have helped me and will hopefully help you:
First of all, read your Bible, a lot. I try to read about four chapters a day- but I recommend you find out what works for you by trying to read whatever you can from the Word of God. One of my foundational Scriptures is 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Basically, Paul says you can’t go wrong reading the Bible. It’s all true, and it’s all useful. So if you’re opening your copy with an open heart and an open mind, you’re bound to get something out of it. But the Bible is more than just a teacher; it is also our primary weapon against evil. Paul tells us to “Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). The Bible can be an active weapon against evil thoughts if wielded correctly. Find verses that deal with your issues and try to burn them into your brain so that whenever the devil shows up with a bad idea, you’ve got an answer for him. Even Jesus used this method (check out chapter 4 in both Matthew and Luke if you want to see it in action). Don’t get worried about how old the Bible is (even the newest parts are like 2000 years old); because it is written,
For the word of God is living an active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).
In all of its thousands of years (and we’re counting the really old stuff too), the Bible has yet to become antiquated. As they continue to keep the language updated to something readable (sorry King James fans), the Bible continues to be useful in life’s problems because it’s alive and ever-growing with us. So first and foremost I recommend that you check out the Bible daily.
Second, always pray. Paul wrote to us in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” It sounds ludicrous to be always praying, but I recommend you give it a try. You’ve got nothing better to think about sometimes, so why no direct your thoughts to God, ask him about what he thinks, tell him how you feel, or just check in. Pastors these days call this sort of style of prayer “text message praying” it doesn’t have to be some long-drawn out thing, just shoot God a quick message about what’s on your mind. It really does help to bring more peace and joy into your life, because it helps you establish a more steady connection to the Lord. This isn’t just coming from me though, Paul tells us to pray about everything. Check it out, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18). You don’t have to be some fancy or experienced prayer warrior to do this, God is your heavenly Father, and Jesus used to be a normal dude, so just pray as you would talk to anyone else, and be real and honest- because God already knows your heart.
Third, keep your life scheduled; it adds structure to your life that keeps you out of troublesome areas. Moses actually asked God, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalms 90:12). He knew that by properly planning our days and understanding our time better, we can gain wisdom and keep our noses clean.
Fourth, be busy doing good. If you are blessed with gobs of free time, don’t waste it chasing after your desires, as they’ll eventually lead you to places you don’t want to go (or maybe you do, but God doesn’t want you going there). Instead, find something to do that helps others, or that builds up your relationship to God, or at least keeps you from a weak area in your life. That way, when the devil comes knocking; you can tell him you’ve got better things to do. Check this out in action. Nehemiah was rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem and his enemies wanted to take him away from his work. He writes,
When word came to Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall and not a gap was left in it- though up to that time I had not set the doors in the gates- Sanballat and Geshem send me this message: “Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.”
But they were scheming to harm me; so I sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer (Nehemiah 6:1-4).
Because he was doing something he knew was good, it was easy for Nehemiah to resist being called in bad directions. He simply brushed his enemies off with, “I’m busy on a good work.” If you’re doing what God calls you to do, you’ll find a lot of strength in telling our shared enemy to back off because you’ve got something more important to do. Be careful though; don’t confuse being busy with something good and productive with just being busy. Many Christians in the early church (and today too) have struggled with this. Paul writes, “We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies” (2 Thessalonians 3:11). Just doing anything to keep busy isn’t really the answer, find a productive or creative hobby or go volunteer or something.
Fifth, love everyone. One of Satan’s favorite ways to mess up Christians is through hate. You can always see him acting in Christian protests with signs like “God hates ____” or threats that whoever the people are angry at will go to hell. That’s not cool. God doesn’t hate anyone, he hates sin. In fact, the Lord loves everyone. Everyone knows John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” If Jesus died because God loves everyone, what’s your excuse for hating someone? You have none. So go out there, forgive, and love everyone with the kindness and warmness that comes only from the Lord. In fact, if you’re looking for something good to do, find the person you hate the most and be as kind and as loving as you can to them; make it a mission in your life to make them feel loved and respected- and pray for them too. You’ll find that not only may they change how they act, but you’ll see them differently in your heart. And even if they don’t change, oh well. The Bible says, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). And who doesn’t like that?
Most importantly, remember these things:
–You’re not alone– The Israelites, David, Solomon, and Peter (among others) all messed up along the path of righteousness. But they were always held in high regard by the Lord, even in their scummiest days.
–Jesus has already paid your sin debt– Once you’ve accepted Christ as your savior, you’re already forgiven of all the terrible things you’ve done or will do. So a mess up here and there isn’t gonna get you kicked out of heaven or totally destroy your relationship with God, he’ll be waiting for you when you get your head straight. The Bible puts it this way,
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross (Colossians 2:13-14).
As a believer, the devil doesn’t have any dirt on you that wasn’t taken care of at the cross. Jesus died to save you from your sins, each and every one that you have or will commit. So when you sin, get your head back in the game, thank Christ for his sacrifice, and don’t let it hang on you and bring you down.
–When you mess up, you have an advocate in heaven– Not only did Christ die on your behalf, but he’s constantly praying for you in heaven. That means that even if you’re into some deep problems, the Lord will help fish you out and get you back on the right path if you ask him. Scripture tells us, “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (Hebrews 7:25).
–God will give you another chance– You wanna talk Golden Calf Syndrome? Then look no further than Aaron, the brother of Moses. Aaron was called by God to be the first priest of the Lord- the very first. God told Moses,
Have Aaron your brother brought to you from among the Israelites, along with his sons Nadab and Abihu, Elezar and Ithamar, so they may serve me as priests. Make sacred garments for your brother Aaron, to give him dignity and honor (Exodus 28:1-2).
Pretty cool, right? Yeah, well that very Aaron was the dude who made the golden calf in the first place. The Bible records,
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 32:3-4).
Wow Aaron, way to go. Was it stupid on his part to do this? Yes, especially considering he was called to be the first legit priest. Was it the end of the line for him? No, even after leading Israel to worship a god of gold, Aaron was restored to his place. Later on he was still ordinated as the first ever Israelite priest by Moses. We read,
Moses said to the assembly, “This is what the Lord has commanded to be done.” Then Moses brought Aaron and his sons forward and washed them with water. He put the tunic on Aaron, tied the sash around him, clothed him with the robe and put the ephod on him. He also tied the ephod to him by its skillfully woven waistband; so it was fasten on him. He placed the breastpiece on him and put the Urim and Thummim in the breastpiece. Then he placed the turban on Aaron’s head and set the gold plate, the sacred diadem, on the front of it, as the Lord commanded Moses.
Then Moses took the anointing oil and anointed the tabernacle and everything in it, and so consecrated them. He sprinkled some of the oil on the altar seven times, anointing the altar and all its utensils and the basin with its stand, to consecrate them. He poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron’s head and anointed him to consecrate him (Leviticus 8:5-12).
So even after helping Israel to commit one of their worst sins in the desert those early years, when the altar of the Lord was set up, the first man to be God’s priest was Aaron. If he was restored after sinning, then you don’t need to worry, God will lift you back up when you’re ready.
Is it stupid when a Christian sins? Yes. But Jesus understands; the Bible tells us,
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are- yet was without sin (Hebrews 4:14-15).
The Lord knows what it’s like to live on earth, and though he didn’t sin, he also faced the same temptations we face every day. And don’t worry, you’re not alone, everyone sins. In fact, John notes, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Everyone sins, and anyone who says they don’t is lying. Can we come back from Golden Calf Syndrome? Yes; for it is written, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Consider this: after many mistakes (including building a fake god), the Israelites crossed into the Promised Land, still God’s holy and chosen people. So get out of your pit of sin and despair, get your head back in the game, and live a new and rejuvenated life in Christ!
Rock on God!