Exodus 32:21-24 The deceitfulness of sin

Sermon notes from Sunday 10 July 2011


Jer 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?

This describes the condition of the human heart without God.  To be deceitful means to keep the truth hidden, especially to get an advantage. It is not a very flattering testimony of humanity, and we don’t believe it!

“Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Heb 12:1b

I want to show the way in which the deceitfulness of sin entangled even a good man like Aaron.

Let’s remind ourselves of the story.  Moses had been on the mountain 40 days and 40 nights, and in his absence the people ran wild, set up a golden calf for worship, and held a festival to indulge in wild partying.  Aaron played the star role by making the idol and organising the party.  Why did they do this?  Moses seemed to have disappeared and they were impatient.  Rather than waiting, they wanted God on their terms rather than on His terms.

v19 “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 in pieces at the foot of the mountain.”

Moses got angry, and it was one of those rare occasions of someone getting righteously angry.  He smashed the tablets with God’s laws to pieces as a prophetic act to show that the people had broken God’s law. Then he burned the calf in the fire, ground it into powder, mixed it with water and made the people drink it.

This is an ancient story, but the sinful desire for idolatry is very much alive and well.  We don’t usually set up visible idols; but we still cherish idols in our hearts-sex, money and power.

We are going to look carefully at Aaron’s role in all this.  .

Aaron confronted by his brother Moses (v21)

Aaron’s excuses (Aaron’s interpretation of events.)

EXCUSE No. 1: “Back off, little brother!”

EXCUSE No. 2: “The wicked people made me do it!”

EXCUSE No. 3: “The cow did it!”

It’s amazing that Aaron got so tangled up in all this after he had seen all God had done.  It reminds us as Christians that none of us are immune from sin.  The cross is a familiar message for us, but we need to be reminded that the cross is the only place we can find salvation and it’s the only place we can receive God’s power for victory over sin.

Main Points

1. Aaron confronted by his brother Moses (v21)

Moses says to his brother Aaron, “What did these people do to you, that you led them into such a great sin?”

Sooner or later God confronts us with our sin.  Or, CAREFRONTS! Often this comes from a person who cares for us, like a brother.  But Aaron was more than a brother; he was the leader of the people, and the buck stopped with him.  Moses knew Aaron had to take responsibility for his sin.

He also knew leaders can sometimes be under a lot of pressure from the people they are trying to lead.  Moses knew what the Israelites were like!  He knew their rebellion and their potential for mutiny.  He seems to be sympathetic towards Aaron, “What did these people do to you?”  Moses assumes that the people must have threatened Aaron in some way.  Moses exercises good pastoral care.  But he also realised that Aaron had to take full responsibility for what he had done:  you led them into such a great sin!

At this point Aaron should have said something like this:

“It doesn’t matter what they did to me, Moses.  I was the one who led them into sin.  I made the golden calf.  It was my fault.  God, please forgive me.”

When we start hearing God’s word His light starts shining into our lives.  We can either repent and confess our sins, or we can come up with all manner of excuses.  Unfortunately Aaron did the latter.

2. Aaron’s excuses:

EXCUSE No. 1: “Back off, little brother!” (v22a)

v22a “Do not be angry, my lord,”

In other words,

“Hang on a minute Moses. Just relax.  Don’t get so upset.  It’s not a big deal.”

It’s difficult to care-front someone, because the sinful nature, the flesh, doesn’t want to be care-fronted.  Sinful human nature doesn’t want to listen; like a monster and wants to carry on sinning.

Aaron should have listened and confessed.  But instead he said, “Now, come on Moses, don’t get angry about it!”

EXCUSE No. 2: “The people made me do it!” (v22b-23)

22b “You know how prone these people are to evil!”

Let’s paraphrase this: “Well, Moses, you know what these people are like, they sin a lot.  And in case you’d forgotten, I’d just like to point out that you’ve been away a long time and that didn’t help matters either.”

Aaron shifts the blame, and we do the same.

It’s my parent’s fault: “My parents didn’t really love me.  My parents never disciplined me.  Or, my parents disciplined me too harshly.

It’s the church’s fault: The church didn’t care for me.

It’s the boss’s fault: My boss treated me unfairly.

It’s the fault of our sinful nature: I’m only human!

Or like Mr Cameron this week, everyone was doing it – we are all in it together!”

These are all excuses, excuses, excuses, excuses.  It’s deceit and it’s a cover up.

There is usually truth in our excuses.  There has to be some truth in our excuses otherwise we wouldn’t use them as excuses.  The Israelites were bent on evil.  But the issue now was Aaron’s sin.

Think of the News of the World story this week.  A lot blame sifting going on; a lot of cover up. Moses started to deal with the problem by going right to the top.  The people were out of control, but Aaron could and should have done something about it.  Some of the tabloid journalists have been out of control, but those at the top could and should have done something about it.  It’s a great / sad illustration of the deceitfulness and wickedness of the human heart without God.

We think we can get away with our sin, but God doesn’t let us get away with it.  Sooner or later we have to face up to the fact that we are sinners who have fallen short of God’s standards, and we need of forgiveness.

Aaron, with God’s help, could have done what was right, but he didn’t.  It was time for Aaron to take full responsibility and say, “Sorry Lord, it’s me.”  But he didn’t.

EXCUSE No. 3: “The cow did it!”  (v24)

He’s told his brother to back off; he’s blamed others; now he refuses to admit what he has done, and lies.  This shows the full extent to which sin had corrupted Aaron and can corrupt us; he entered the realm of denial and unreality.

In v2-6 we get a full account of what Aaron did.  He asked for the gold, he collected the gold, and he made it into the idol.  All this took time. He then declared out loud, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”  Then he announced and organised a festival, which takes a lot of organisational ability.  He calls it, “A festival to the LORD,” though it was anything but a festival to the LORD.  The people went wild with sensual excitement and Aaron didn’t do anything to stop it, and by that time probably couldn’t have anyway.

v23-24 we get Aaron’s version of events.  v23 he tells about what the Israelites did, and Aaron gets it right, word for word!  But v24, where he tells about his involvement, the story suddenly gets a little bit sketchy!

He said, “They gave the jewellery to me, and I threw it into the fire, and behold, out came this calf!”  What! All by itself?

In just reading v24 you would hardly have thought Aaron had anything to do with it.  He treated the golden calf as some sort of spontaneous miracle. “Cow? What cow? Oh, of course, that cow!  Well, Moses, I’ve been wondering about that cow myself as well.  I just don’t know how it got here!  Man, it was unbelievable!  I mean, the people just took off their jewellery, and the next thing you know, Whoosh! There it is, and the people are worshipping it.”

Aaron, get real!  We have a name for this sort of thing: it’s called spin … putting our own interpretation on things; to show us up in a better light.  It’s also called boloney, utter drivel.  The fact is that Aaron was fully involved; the fact is he was fully implicated in all that had gone on … just as proprietors and editors of the newspapers have been fully involved in the phone hacking scandal.  Such is the deceitfulness of the human heart without God.

We might call is spin; the Bible calls it lying.  It’s a strategy we use to avoid facing the facts of our sin, and to minimise what we have done.  We can fool others; we can even fool ourselves; but we can’t fool God. In v35, the word of God refers to the idol as, “the calf Aaron had made.”  After all Aaron’s desperate attempts to shift the blame, and deny his involvement, the truth remained: it is stated very plainly that the sin belonged to Aaron all along.


Ps51v6 “Surely you desire truth in the inner parts.”

Deceitfulness is covering up the truth before the LORD and ourselves.  But God, who is the God of truth is after the truth.  He wants us to align our lives with the truth about God and the truth about ourselves.

Please consider how you can respond to the word of the Lord.


One Response to Exodus 32:21-24 The deceitfulness of sin

  1. Pingback: Resources for Exodus 32:21 - 24

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