There were 18 guys from both the upper and lower tiers of the maximum-security unit at tonight’s Bible Study. As I’ve mentioned before, this is highly unusual. Typically only one tier or the other is allowed out in order to avoid interactions between rival gangs. The guys were well behaved tonight and there were no incidents. Men who might have been enemies on the outside were studying the Bible together. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement…. To be spiritual is to be amazed.” When I observe these men I am amazed.
Our opening discussion was about stress, and the things people do, good or bad, to deal with stress.
Things people did to deal with stress:
- Video Games
There was a guy who had lost his marriage to video games. When he and his wife would have conflicts he would retreat to video games. He withdrew further and further until he lost his marriage.
Many of the other guys in the room had used drugs and alcohol when they felt the stress of life. This frequently took a toll on their families, financially, and emotionally.
I asked for examples of situations that were stressful:
- Going into jail or prison
- Getting out of jail or prison
- Living on the streets
- Life in general
For the first part of our study we read:
Exodus 32:1-6 NKJV
The Gold Calf
32 Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for 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.”
2 And Aaron said to them, “Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. 4 And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf.
Then they said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!”
5 So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord.” 6 Then they rose early on the next day, offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.
I asked the guys if they new the background of this story: where were the people and why were they there?
Many were completely unfamiliar with the story.
Some people remembered that Moses was a person who lived a long time ago and that he a Hebrew who had been raised in Pharaoh’s house. When he was 40 years old he murdered an Egyptian who had been mistreating a Hebrew slave, so Moses had to leave the country. Another 40 years later God calls Moses to free the Hebrew slaves. His brother Aaron does most of the public speaking because Moses felt inadequate. After frogs and flies and plagues and stuff Pharaoh tells them they can leave, and people even give them gold jewelry as a going away present. After the parting of the Red Sea and escaping the Egyptian army the Hebrews are camping and Moses says he’s going up the mountain and will be back in forty days.
According to the commentaries there was a misunderstanding of when the 40 days started and ended. When Moses doesn’t show up at the time the people expected him they work with Aaron to make gods. Moses’ own brother betrays his trust and helps the people build a false god.
In Genesis 1:26 it reads, “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man…’” and now the people are saying, “Let us make gods”.
Their way of dealing with stress was to make gods.
Why make a golden calf as a god?
- It’s easier to understand
- It’s less scary
- It doesn’t tell you what to do, it doesn’t ask you to change your life
With their new gods the people can eat and drink – it probably wasn’t water. I had to explain the phrase “and rose up to play.” One commentary wrote,” And rose up to play is a tasteful way to refer to rank immorality among the people of Israel.” In other words they were having a drunken orgy.
So how does this apply to our lives today?
The “golden calf” that some of the men deal with is addiction. It is interesting that the golden calf was made from gold taken from their wives, sons, and daughters. Some of these men had supported their drug habit by using money that was supposed to support their families.
Next we looked at
Exodus 32:7-14 NKJV
7 And the Lord said to Moses, “Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. 8 They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them. They have made themselves a molded calf, and worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!’” 9 And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people! 10 Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation.”
11 Then Moses pleaded with the Lord his God, and said: “Lord, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians speak, and say, ‘He brought them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your fierce wrath, and relent from this harm to Your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” 14 So the Lord relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people.
We see a few interesting things here.
Moses negotiates with God even though Moses has no power. Rather than trying to bully or demand rights Moses instead appeals to the character of God. Here was Moses, a murderer, who was given a second chance. He Moses was pleading for a second chance for his people.
Recently I watched a video (link to video at the end of the blog) of a man telling his story of a second chance. Two back-to-back events got through to him that he needed to change and convinced him to accept a second chance.
His craving for drugs at 2:30AM led him to a part of town where he didn’t belong. He was by a park and was immediately surrounded by guys with guns. They were taking him into the park and he was convinced that this was the end of his life. Suddenly a police car comes by and shines a bright light and all of the guys with guns scatter. He realizes his life has just been saved. But he still rationalizes that his drug use is only affecting him. No one else is getting hurt.
The next morning his eight year old daughter sits him down. Her uncle and mother are there too. His daughter says to him, “You’re not the right dad for me. I see other kids and their dads come around and they pick them up from school and they do things with them. But you’re not there.”
After she had said what she had to say she let out a wail like someone was hurting her. He said he will never forget that sound. She began crying uncontrollably.
At that moment he realized he wasn’t only hurting himself, it was affecting everyone around him.
He knew he needed a second chance.
Ours is a God of second chances. Aaron was the eloquent one who gave the people what they wanted. But God used Moses, the murderer, who had been given a second chance. And Moses wanted a second chance for his people as well.
We each took silent inventory of the “golden calves” that we’ve clung to in times of stress: addiction, violence, becoming withdrawn, destructive behaviors. We asked God to help us find the life He intended for us in the second chance.
->Video Link (Language warning)