Hey, my friend. Welcome back to Let’s Encourage One Another.
This week is going to look a little different from normal, because I want to share with you one of the devotions from my devotional, Imagine.
Imagine was written based on the spiritual practice of imaginative prayer, which is where you try to imagine what it might be like to be one of the people in the Bible, or to watch a Bible story unfold before your eyes.
I talk more about imaginative prayer in some other episodes, plus I had a conversation with Eva Kubasiak on the Bible Study Made Simple podcast, where I explained it some more and walked through an example. I’ll be sure to link to all those in the show notes below.
But for today, I’d simply like to read through the devotional with you and ask you some questions to consider at the end.
It’s focused on those times when we fail—big time. Like, not just the normal, everyday failures we might experience like getting grumpy or being late to a meeting or getting into a disagreement with someone in our family.
But the bigger ones, the ones where we really mess it up and we carry the shame or guilt or condemnation around with us.
You’ve got one in mind? I know I do.
Let me read through the Bible passage and devotional with you, and then we’ll have a few moments at the end to ponder some questions together. It’s entitled, “Falling Forward.”
Exodus 32:1-29 (NLT): The Gold Calf
When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. “Come on,” they said, “make us some gods who can lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.”
So Aaron said, “Take the gold rings from the ears of your wives and sons and daughters, and bring them to me.”
All the people took the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron. Then Aaron took the gold, melted it down, and molded it into the shape of a calf. When the people saw it, they exclaimed, “O Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of the land of Egypt!”
Aaron saw how excited the people were, so he built an altar in front of the calf. Then he announced, “Tomorrow will be a festival to the Lord!”
The people got up early the next morning to sacrifice burnt offerings and peace offerings. After this, they celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry.
The Lord told Moses, “Quick! Go down the mountain! Your people whom you brought from the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. How quickly they have turned away from the way I commanded them to live! They have melted down gold and made a calf, and they have bowed down and sacrificed to it. They are saying, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.’”
Then the Lord said, “I have seen how stubborn and rebellious these people are. Now leave me alone so my fierce anger can blaze against them, and I will destroy them. Then I will make you, Moses, into a great nation.”
But Moses tried to pacify the Lord his God. “O Lord!” he said. “Why are you so angry with your own people whom you brought from the land of Egypt with such great power and such a strong hand? Why let the Egyptians say, ‘Their God rescued them with the evil intention of slaughtering them in the mountains and wiping them from the face of the earth’? Turn away from your fierce anger. Change your mind about this terrible disaster you have threatened against your people! Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You bound yourself with an oath to them, saying, ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven. And I will give them all of this land that I have promised to your descendants, and they will possess it forever.’”
So the Lord changed his mind about the terrible disaster he had threatened to bring on his people.
Then Moses turned and went down the mountain. He held in his hands the two stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. These tablets were God’s work; the words on them were written by God himself.
When Joshua heard the boisterous noise of the people shouting below them, he exclaimed to Moses, “It sounds like war in the camp!”
But Moses replied, “No, it’s not a shout of victory nor the wailing of defeat. I hear the sound of a celebration.”
When they came near the camp, Moses saw the calf and the dancing, and he burned with anger. He threw the stone tablets to the ground, smashing them at the foot of the mountain. He took the calf they had made and burned it. Then he ground it into powder, threw it into the water, and forced the people to drink it.
Finally, he turned to Aaron and demanded, “What did these people do to you to make you bring such terrible sin upon them?”
“Don’t get so upset, my lord,” Aaron replied. “You yourself know how evil these people are. They said to me, ‘Make us gods who will lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.’ So I told them, ‘Whoever has gold jewelry, take it off.’ When they brought it to me, I simply threw it into the fire—and out came this calf!”
Moses saw that Aaron had let the people get completely out of control, much to the amusement of their enemies. So he stood at the entrance to the camp and shouted, “All of you who are on the Lord’s side, come here and join me.” And all the Levites gathered around him.
Moses told them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Each of you, take your swords and go back and forth from one end of the camp to the other. Kill everyone—even your brothers, friends, and neighbors.” The Levites obeyed Moses’ command, and about 3,000 people died that day.
Then Moses told the Levites, “Today you have ordained yourselves for the service of the Lord, for you obeyed him even though it meant killing your own sons and brothers. Today you have earned a blessing.”
Devotional: Falling Forward
It was, perhaps, his greatest failure as a leader of Israel. They had recently escaped from Egypt, from slavery, from Pharaoh’s harsh rule. His brother Moses was on the mountain, receiving God’s commandments. And he…he was simply waiting for Moses to come back and let them know what to do next.
So far, they had been a team, Moses and him. Both of them had been appointed by God to help lead His people out of Egypt. Both had confronted Pharaoh with the plea to let God’s people go. Both had endured the Israelites’ complaints and grumbling.
But now, Moses was on the mountain, while Aaron remained with the people. It had already been forty days, and Moses hadn’t returned. The people were getting restless. What was he supposed to do?
When the Israelites asked Aaron to “make us some gods who can lead us,” he jumped at the chance. It wasn’t long before he had created a golden calf, an idol for the Israelites to worship.
As a priest, Aaron was supposed to help people worship God, not idols. He was supposed to encourage them to trust God, to praise Him, to wait on Him. Yet in this moment, he fails. He had never felt more sorrow and despair. How was he supposed to move forward from this?
Aaron may have messed up, but he didn’t let that stop him from pursuing God. It wasn’t easy, though. Every morning he had to sacrifice a bull on the altar. While I can only imagine what was on his mind as he did that, I can’t help but think he was reminded of his failure to lead Israel closer to God as they worshiped the golden calf he had created for them.
Yet Scripture shows that Aaron did not allow that failure to stop him from following God. As he begins his work as a priest in the book of Leviticus, we see him obeying everything God tells Moses. We read in Numbers 14 that when the Israelites begin rebelling against God, Aaron falls face down beside Moses to pray for them. In fact, we constantly see him falling face down before God in worship, setting an example for the people of Israel of what it means to follow God.
How many times do we beat ourselves up for failing in some way—failing to achieve a goal, failing in a relationship, failing sometimes without any fault of our own—and allow our failure to prevent us from moving forward? While there were moments when Aaron failed, he used those opportunities to draw closer to God. How can we follow his example?
- What failure do you struggle with in your own life?
- Are there any places where you get stuck or continually mess up?
- How can you “fall forward” and continue following Jesus in spite of your past choices and mistakes?
Get Your Copy of the Imagine Devotional
I hope that devotional was meaningful for you, my friend. I know it was for me when I wrote it, but it continues to be for me as I read it here together with you. I can’t tell you how many times past choices get in my face and make me feel like an utter and complete failure.
Yet God is good, and He can redeem those experiences we have and use them our good and His glory. As Romans 8:1 (NLT) says, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” Amen.
You can get your own copy of my devotional at lovedoesthat.org/imagine. For 15 days, you’ll dive into a different story in the Bible and get a taste of what a person’s life might have looked like as they encountered God through their specific circumstances. Each day’s reading includes a key quote from the study, a related Bible verse and Scripture reading, and three journal questions to consider.
Okay, my friend, that is all for today. Until next time, let’s encourage one another.
RELATED EPISODES + RESOURCES:
- Imagine Devotional: http://lovedoesthat.org/imagine
- Episode 32, Bible Study Made Simple Podcast with Eva Kubasiak
- Bonus Episode 11: [Imaginative Prayer] Jesus, Have Mercy
- Bonus Episode 20: [Imaginative Prayer] Coming Back to God in Thanksgiving and Praise: The Grateful Leper
Learn more and register for Journal Gently, an 8-week program designed to help you use writing as a way to process hurt, grief, and trauma with God.