Christianity 201

June 30, 2020

God’s Vast and Intricate Creative Splendor Subverted

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Aaron Wilkinson has appeared here many times. He graduated in English and Theatre from Redeemer University in Hamilton, Ontario and blogs occasionally at The Voice of One Whispering. To read this there (with pictures) click the header below:

Gold In Exodus

If you grew up in the church, you probably know the story of the escaped slaves ending up in the desert and making themselves an aureate bovine to worship while Moses is up on the mountain being told that making golden cows-idols is a bad idea. (As an aside, gold-leaf hamburgers are a real thing served at some ridiculous restaurants.)

This story was probably told to you as it was to me: a moral tale on the importance of obedience and the dangers of idolatry. The question I had never asked was this: how did escaped slaves have gold? I recently read Exodus from beginning to end without skipping sections (possibly for the first time) and the story of the gold itself, and its eventual intended purpose, is rather interesting.

During the Burning Bush account near the start of the narrative, we read the Lord saying this:

“…You will not leave empty handed. Every woman is to ask her neighbor and the woman who lives in her house for silver and gold jeweler and clothing. You will put them on your sons and your daughters. So you will plunder the Egyptians.” – Exodus 3: 21b,22 (Tree of Life Version). See also 11:2 where this command is repeated, in case you missed it the first time.

Shortly after, we read that it happened just as God had promised.

“So [the sons of Israel] acted according to the word of Moses. They asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold, and for clothing. ADONAI gave the people favor in the eyes of the Egyptians and let them have what they asked for. So they plundered the Egyptians.” – 12: 35,36

Two things stand out to me at this point: first that this seems to be a move of willing compassion on the part of the slaves’ wealthy neighbors rather than a move to pay the Israelites to leave. A divine-inspired compassion, but still far from an extortion. Second, I think the “plundering” language is meant to be somewhat ironic. The outcome is the same (Israelites have gold, Egyptians have less) but the means is rather different.

I’ll have to skip over the plagues, the Passover, and other pertinent details of the story, but I do want to mention that I had never before realized that the crossing of the Reed Sea takes place during the night and the Egyptians’ demise coincides with dawn. So imagine the starry night sky and the gold- and silver-bedecked Israelites passing down below in the sea bed. Someone should paint that.

Then we get to Sinai and the delivering of the 10 Commandments. Afterwards, in the same speech, God tells Moses: “Do not make gods of silver alongside Me, and do not make gods of gold for yourselves.” – 20:23

Moses relates these instructions and the Israelites respond with a resounding ‘by golly, we’re in!” Moses goes back up the mountain and receives more instruction.

‘Tell [the sons of Israel] to take up an offering for Me. From anyone whose heart compels him… Gold, silver and bronze; blue, purple and scarlet cloth; fine linen and goat hair; ram skins dyed red, sealskins, acacia wood; oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil and for the sweet incense; onyx stones and setting stones for the ephod and for the breastplate.” – 25:2-7

At this point, I think of my Minecraft world and how stoked I feel when I have stacks of materials to make into something awesome. You might think how it would feel if someone gave you a million dollars to make your dream home. The possibilities with what you can do with all these resources are limitless and God has a plan for all of it, which includes:

♦ The Ark of the Covenant, which has gold-covered wood sides, gold rings, gold-covered rods for carrying, and a solid gold cover!
♦ Gold statues of these Cherub creatures which are wildly amazing!
♦ This really awesome tree-shaped lampstand with floral details of blossoms and bulbs! (A burning bush, if you will. In art, the Chapter 3 bush is usually portrayed as leaf-less twigs, but what if it was actually covered in leaves and flowers?)
♦ All these ceremonial clothes with gold details and a cool tent made from all this flowing coloured cloth!

And lots more! This is going to be a monumental artistic masterpiece.

Leaving the gold aside for a moment, wrapping up all this instruction at 30:11 we read “Then ADONAI spoke to Moses…” Adonai has been speaking to Moses for like 5 chapters now, so why this phrase? Well, from here to the end of Chapter 31, this phrase appears 6 times. In these speeches, he promises to send his Spirit upon Bezalel and Oholiab, two artists who will make this all happen. And at the end, God calls Moses to remember the Sabbath “…for in six days ADONAI made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he ceased from work and rested.”

Six acts of speech. Two humans who will be intimately connected with God. Then finally the Sabbath. I do believe we are meant to see this story at mount Sinai as mirroring the Creation in Genesis. And if that’s the case then the next thing we should expect is a fall.

Imagine you just came home from Michael’s or Hobby Lobby or whatever your local art supply store is. You just had a great idea for a painting and you just bought the most expensive high-quality materials you could get your hands on. You put the shopping bag on the table, take a quick trip to the washroom, and when you come out you see your kid has gotten into the paints, spilled most of them on the floor, and finger-painted a pile of dung onto the wall.

Now imagine you just got the blueprints for this awesome tabernacle and all these rad liturgical symbols and tools, and you head down the mountain and find out your brother made… a cow.

The tragedy of the golden calf is more than just an act of disobedience and idolatry. Those are surely important aspects, perhaps even the most important aspects, but these are compounded by subverted artistic potential. The scope of God’s creative vision was vast and intricate, and Aaron made… a cow.

“Then [Moses] took the calf that they had made, burned it with fire, ground it to powder, scattered it on the surface of the water and made [the sons of Israel] drink it.”

I’m left with some questions. If this story is meant to evoke the Creation and Fall, can we infer backwards that the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil would have eventually served a vast and intricate purpose? Would there have been a Knowledge of Good and Evil pie in making? Is Israel’s punishment here supposed to evoke the curse on the serpent in Genesis to eat dust? Was the tabernacle any less golden then it could have been for this waste of material? What is the “gold” in my life that God wants me to save for a special purpose? I’m sure I could ask more.

Now there’s Gold in the Garden of Eden, and there’s Gold in the New Jerusalem. There’s Gold everywhere in between. There’s entirely too much gold for me to consider all at once, but if I’m patient then I’m sure God will show me what to do with it.


My fellow Tolkien fans may appreciate both the motifs of the Tree the gives Light (Menorah / Trees of Valinor), and the deliverance that comes at dawn (Reed Sea / Helm’s Deep.) Almost makes you wonder if Tolkien was some kinda Bible-reader.

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