TODAY’S READING: Exodus 33–35
There is a fine line between art and idolatry. God is pro art, giving artists the Spirit of God in design (Exo. 35:31–32). God fills artisans with skill so that their creations may glorify the Creator globally (v. 35).
The problem with art is that it is easily perverted. Some give Aaron’s artistry the benefit of the doubt: “In the ancient Near East, bulls, as well as other animals, were sometimes intended not as an image of the deity itself, but as mounts for the god who was understood to be present.” Perhaps Aaron’s compromise was to craft an image on which the uncarveable Jehovah could “sit.” But even if the intention was good, the compromise was still idolatrous. We must not call idolatry art, and if the art is perverse or indecent, it’s idolatry and it ticks God off. “The narrative of Exodus 32–34 records the sin of Israel and Aaron together…which threatened to bring the destructive wrath of God instead of His covenantal presence.” What makes God especially upset is if places of worship become places to perform our “sacred” arts. When music and speaking in the church become performance based—showcasing the creature in the very place God alone is to be honored—we have crafted idols. We may profess that it’s merely a “bull” for the Lord to sit on, but that would be…well…bull.
God was so angered that He threatened to abandon Israel, but thankfully, Moses interceded. The first intercession was missional, for “the kind of response expected from YHWH’s elect [is] that the divine blessing may be mediated to the nations…. That is to say, we learn the missional significance of intercessory prayer.” Moses reflected to God the divine heart for all nations to be blessed—what the early intercession of the Bible was based on. In effect, Moses asked God to stay the course in the divine plan to use Abraham’s seed to bless all nations.
The second intercession was just as vital and just as missional. God offered to help Israel go on into Canaan and fulfil His promise to Abraham (33:1), which as we have learned was centered on the salvation of representatives of all nations. But God said this would be done with His help (v. 2), not His presence. God was in effect offering His power without His person, miracles without intimacy, victory without relationship. And Moses was having none of it: “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here. For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight…” (33:15–16, my emphasis).
Moses understood that God’s blessing was to be found and lived in among the nations, in integration with them, an integration that avoided compromise. God expects us to live holy and wholly among the nations in such a way that He is known. Home for the people of God is not to be a seclusion or sequestering away from the different peoples of the earth. Canaan’s land was the people of God (wherever they are), marked by His presence, surrounded by the nations. This was why God plunked Israel down in the middle of the pagan and powerful nations of Moses’ day. This is why He plunks immigrant Buddhist Lao in our neighborhood, why He plunks Arab Muslims in our workplace, and why He plunks Hindu children in our schools. Jehovah wants the nations to see that when we are with Him, our faces shine (34:30). It’s a daily reminder that His presence is life.
 The Chronological Study Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008. 106.
 Christopher J. H. Wright. The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2006. 335.
 Ibid, 362.