It is not easy to stand firm in God’s promised future when you are dealing with the present challenges of life. Just ask Aaron who had to stay in the valley with a nation of impatient people while Moses was on Mt. Sinai with God. Chapters 24-31 of the book of Exodus tell us about what happened for forty days and forty nights as God equipped Moses to lead Israel into a future they had never lived in before. While we are privileged to know the content of God’s conversation with Moses, all the people who were waiting in the valley knew was that Moses was not with them.

Exodus 32:1 tells us of their response to the reality they were facing: “when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron and said to him, ‘Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’”

To appreciate the challenge Aaron was facing, it is more accurate to state that the people were “standing against” Aaron rather than “standing around” Aaron. In other words, Aaron was facing a demanding mob as he chose whether he was going to acquiesce to the people’s demands to make gods for them to worship or stand firm in God’s promised future.

Rolf Jacobson has these insightful reflections about the decision that Aaron made in responding to the demanding mob. He does this by dividing today’s scripture reading into the following scenes.

Scene One – “Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt.”

This scene focuses on how the people of Israel became fearful because they did not know what had become of Moses who led them out of slavery. The people are half-right that Moses was the person God had chosen to bring the slaves out of Egypt, but they are all wrong in forgetting that it was the God of Israel who delivered them from slavery as witnessed as attested by God in Exodus 20:2:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

Jacobson writes that Scene One concludes with the realization that God’s people can fall prey to the temptation of confusing human leaders such as Moses with God. When that leader disappears, humans can lose sight of God and lose faith in their direction.

I would add that Scene One confirms that our present fears can overcome us when we forget to stand firm in the future God has promised.

Scene Two – “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.”

The second scene focuses on Aaron as Aaron gathers the collective costume jewelry from the people, melts them down, and makes a golden calf. Jacobsen offers a helpful insight on what Aaron’s sin was in this second scene by observing that most interpretations of this story accuse Aaron of making an image of a false god. But that is not really where Aaron went wrong. As indicated by Aaron’s proclamation in verse 5 – “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord”–Aaron’s mistake was to make a false image of the true god.

Aaron knows that Moses did not lead the people out of Israel–the Lord did. And thus, he proclaims a festival to the Lord. But, in order to give the people something to follow, Aaron makes a false image of the true God–which God had forbidden in Exodus 20:4-6 –

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.

Unfortunately, Aaron chose to go beyond the demands of the demanding mob by declaring that the golden calf, rather than the God of Israel, had delivered the people from their slavery in Egypt. Aaron went beyond their request to build gods for them and declared that a festival to the Lord of Israel would be held the next day in honor of the Lord.

The golden calf Aaron crafted was likely the image of an Egyptian calf deity known as Apis, thought to be the first idol worshipped by the ancient Egyptians. The Apis calf was a sign of Pharaoh whom the God of Israel had defeated when Moses led the slaves out Egypt. Apis likely was the reason why the Lord said no other gods should be placed before the God of Israel.

Scene Three: “Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt.”

Scene Three switches to the mountain top where the Lord is consulting with Moses. God, being aware of what is occurring among the people instructs Moses to “go down at once. Your people, whom you led up out of the land of Egypt have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’”

All because Aaron refused to stand firm when the former slaves of Egypt demanded he make gods for them. All because the former slaves forgot to stand firm in the future that God had promised to them.

Scene 4: “Your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power”

In the fourth and final scene, Jacobsen states that Moses is finally the only one in this story to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth: Israel is “your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt.” This is the fifth time that the key phrase repeats in this story. And, for effect, Moses adds to it: “with great power and with a mighty hand.”

And then, Moses points out that God’s promised future is the result of God’s faithfulness to God’s servants. how you swore to them by your own self…” That is, aware that the Lord had offered him the tempting chance to be a new Abraham, Moses throws the promise to Abraham back at God’s in bold act of intercessory prayer: “You promised! You promised Abraham! You promise Isaac! You promised Israel! By your own name you promised!”
The story of God’s promised future is not only the story of Exodus. It is also the story of God’s promised future for all people of faith. God’s promised future is what allows us to stand firm when we face life shattering challenges in the present living of our lives. When we are tempted to forget the promise of God’s presence,

It is not easy to stand firm in God’s promised future when are you facing the life-shaking challenges of the present. Today’s scripture reading from the first chapter of Philippians was written by Paul to the churches at Philippi. In this letter Paul encourages them to stand firm in one faith as they strive side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel. Facing the challenges of the present, Paul encourages them not to be intimidated by their opponents.

Writing his letter from a prison cell for preaching the good news of Jesus, Paul encourages them to stand firm in the promise of God’s future.

May God bless you as you stand firm in the gospel of Jesus.

Standing Firm

by Pastor Marc Brown
September 24, 2023

Accompanying Scriptures: Exodus 32:1-14, Philippians 1:21-30

Fort Hill United Methodist Church
Order of Worship for September 24, 2023

Scripture Lesson Exodus 32:1-14, Philippians 1:21-30

The Good News      “Standing Firm”

Music                          “Christ Be With Me” by Stuart Townend



Closing Music      “Built on a Rock” arr. Gilbert M. Martin

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