Shemot/Exodus 32:1 And the people saw that Moshe delayed to come down from the mountain
Coming right at the beginning of the incident of the Golden Calf, this verse provides a starting point for the extraordinary lapse of our people into making and worshipping an idol while Moshe was still withHaShem on Mt. Sinai. Commentators, both Jewish and Christian, have waxed lyrical over this event - although largely from opposing and often aggressively argued points of view - for centuries. The Jewish commentators, understandably, try to play down the magnitude of the incident, often attempting to exonerate Aharon in a number of different ways, to deny that it was actually idolatry or to provide excuses for it being a mistake rather than a deliberate offence. Christian writers, on the other hand, tend to be more focussed on showing that the Israelites' behaviour proved their - and so mankind's - inability to keep the Law, even before the ink was dry; they talk - quoting one of Calvinism's five points - about the total depravity of unregenerate man. One thing the commentators seem agreed upon is that - whether by mistake, by miscalculation, by confusion, by temptation or by human nature - the Israelites failed to obey Moshe's specific instruction to wait for him to return.
A careful reading of the text tells us that the people had been waiting. They had waited for what they thought was the specific length of time: forty days1. But then they saw - and the evidence of their own eyes was quite accurate - that Moshe had not re-appeared when they expected him to do so. The verb - a Qal prefix 3ms from the frequently used root , to look or see - is singular; the people all saw, as one. There was no getting away from the fact that he wasn't there; everyone saw the same thing. - here a Polel affix 3ms from the root - has a number of possible meanings. In its Qal voice, it means to be ashamed, disappointed or confused; in the Polel voice, it means to delay or be delayed. The word is used to describe the way the servants of Eglon, king of Moab, who had just been killed by Ehud, waited for him: "they waited till they were embarrassed. But when he still did not open the doors of the roof chamber, they took the key and opened them, and there lay their lord dead on the floor" (Judges 3:25, ESV).Hirsch comments, "they waited outside the door so long until they came to the conclusion that they could no longer expect their expectation to be fulfilled."
The Scriptures relate a number of occasions when people found it hard to wait for what G-d had said or promised. Avraham Avinu, for example, heard G-d's promise: "one who shall come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir" (B'resheet 15:4, NASB) and believed G-d. The next chapter records his wife Sarah becoming impatient about an heir, "Now behold, the L-RD has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children through her" (16:2, NASB) and persuading Avraham to sire a child with her maid-servant. Although Avraham loved Ishmael and later extracted a promise from G-d to bless him, that action was subsequently proven to have been wrong, as Sarah herself was to have Yitz'khak, the son of the promise, herself. That choice - out of G-d's timing - had consequences, both for Avraham and Sarah, for Ishmael and Yitz'khak and a long-term residual that the world is still acutely aware of today.
Samuel instructed Saul, after he had been made king over Israel and was being threatened by the Philistines, "After that, you are to go down to Gilgal ahead of me, and I will come down to you to present burnt offerings and offer sacrifices of well-being. Wait seven days until I come to you and instruct you what you are to do next" (1 Samuel 10:8, JPS). The text tells us that when Israel was gathered at Gilgal, "He waited seven days, the time that Samuel had set. But when Samuel failed to come to Gilgal, and the people began to scatter, Saul said, 'Bring me the burnt offering and the sacrifice of well-being'; and he presented the burnt offering" (13:8-9, JPS). Saul was a Benjamite, not a Levite and certainly not a cohen; not only had he been told to wait, but he wasn't permitted to make an offering to HaShem. The consequences of this impatience - understandable, perhaps, at a human level as he saw his troops starting to scatter - were dire. "He had just finished presenting the burnt offering when Samuel arrived; and Saul went out to meet him and welcome him" (v. 10, JPS). Samuel asks what Saul has done; Saul replies, attempting to justify his actions and Samuel tells him, "You acted foolishly in not keeping the commandments that the L-RD your G-d laid upon you! Otherwise the L-RD would have established your dynasty over Israel forever. But now your dynasty will not endure. The L-RD will seek out a man after His own heart, and the L-RD will appoint him ruler over His people, because you did not abide by what the L-RD had commanded you" (vv. 13-14, JPS). Ouch! Although it didn't seem to happen immediately, the kingdom was lost to Saul and his heirs; HaShem chose another - David - who would be king.
Yeshua told a number of parables urging the disciples to be ready for His return. In one, He said, "Nu, who is the faithful and sensible manager whose master puts him in charge of the household staff to give them their share of food at the proper time? It will go well with that servant if he is found doing his job when his master comes. Yes, I tell you he will put him in charge of all he owns" (Luke 12:42-44, CJB). Here, faithfulness in carrying out instructions is rewarded. On the other hand, Yeshua continued, "But if that servant says to himself, 'My master is taking his time coming,' and starts bullying the men- and women-servants, and eating and drinking, getting drunk, then his master will come on a day when the servant isn't expecting him, at a time he doesn't know in advance; his master will cut him in two and put him with the disloyal" (vv. 45-46, CJB). Notice, that this isn't a case of not being ready because of not knowing or believing that the master would come back, but not doing the work that had been given while waiting - Yeshua goes on: "Now the servant who knew what his master wanted but didn't prepare or act according to his will, will be whipped with many lashes" (v. 47, CJB).
Has the body of Messiah been waiting so long for Yeshua's return that we have grown complacent about the work that we are supposed to be doing in His absence or to prepare for His return? It seems that just as some branches of Judaism don't believe that the Temple will be rebuilt or the sacrifices resumed, so have stopped praying for it to happen, so many parts of the body of Messiah have stopped believing either in the imminence of the Yeshua's return - i.e. that it will be soon - or even that He will ever return. Instead, the promises are spiritualised, deferred - "probably not in my lifetime" - or simply not talked about at all. Yet by so doing, we remove the incentive and the urgency for reaching others with the gospel - even though every man will still die, if Yeshua hasn't returned, so needs to hear the gospel on their own account - or make any serious attempt to grow the kingdom against the assimilationist depredations of society. We allow the cutting edge, the offence of the gospel, the "stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles" (1 Corinthians 1:23, ESV), to be subverted and co-opted into a social action program where the gospel is often denied or forbidden a hearing.
During the days that Yeshua spent with the disciples after His resurrection and before He ascended to heaven, "He instructed them not to leave Yerushalayim but to wait for 'what the Father promised, which you heard about from Me. For Yochanan used to immerse people in water; but in a few days, you will be immersed in the Ruach HaKodesh!'" (Acts 1:4-5, CJB). The disciples did as they were told and waited. Only ten or so days later, at the feast of Shavuot, one hundred and twenty of them were gathered together in one of the upper rooms in the Temple complex when the Ruach was poured out as promised and started the pouring out of the gospel message in Jerusalem, Samaria and to the ends of the earth! Enabled by their obedience and waiting for G-d's timing, many were amazed at what they heard and over three thousand souls were brought into the kingdom in just one day, with many others to follow.
Now today we face a similar situation. Yeshua told the disciples: "Lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together" (John 4:35-36, ESV). If that was true when first He spoke these words, how much more so is it true today when nearly two thousand years have gone. We have to stop sitting on our thumbs and move into rapid and Spirit-inspired action to bring in the harvest for the kingdom of G-d!
1 - See b. Shabbat 89a for an explanation of how the count and the time might have been misunderstood.
Further Study: Matthew 25:1-13; Luke 10:1-2
Application: Hear Yeshua's words! It is time for each of us to spring into action, or to help fund others to do so. Reach into your pocket for your passport or your wallet today!
© Jonathan Allen, 2012
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