Gods of Egypt
"Up, make us gods, who shall before us; 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." (Ex.32.1 RSV).
Man has ever been prone to make God in his own image and likeness. There are few who realise with Solomon that heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain God; and much less any house that man can build. The average Israelites of Moses' day believed that God dwelt literally inside the innermost sanctuary of the Tabernacle, and that Aaron went in to speak with Him face to face. Moses and the leaders of the nation knew better, but they could not impart that knowledge to the people, for the people would have none of it. A visible leader, a mighty man of valour to go before them and smite their enemies, they could follow. A popular figure, arousing their feelings and enthusiasm to discover a land flowing with milk and honey, they could heed. This mystic who remained alone on the mountain to no apparent purpose for days on end, coming down only to define and order their communal life together for a purpose still not fully understood, had ceased to fire their imagination. They did not understand what he was doing and they looked about for more tangible things upon which to fix their interest. So it was that they tired of the high mission to which they had been called; shrank from the hardships of the journey that lay before them, and magnified the obstacles that lay in the way. The fair vision of a land in which their children could grow up and the family of Israel live as a free people disappeared. In their hearts the vivid colours of Egypt, its gaudy temples, its green fields and its blue river, exercised an appeal the more potent because in spirit they had never really left Egypt. The cruel slavery was forgotten, the distress and sore labour faded from their minds, and they said to one another "let us return to Egypt, for the former days were better than these". While Moses wrestled with God on the mountain, the people in the plain sat down to eat and drink and "rose up to play". The tremendous significance of their deliverance from Egypt no longer meant anything to them. The enthusiasm that led them to shout exultantly "All that the Lord has spoken we will do" had spent itself and they were left only with an awareness of those things that appealed to the gross materialism of their natures. That expression "to play" indicates a free indulgence in unholy rites and practices that were expressly condemned in the law Moses had so recently given them. For a short time they had caught a vision of heaven, and in the wonder of that vision had given themselves wholeheartedly to God for His service. But the vision had faded and they had turned once again to the more tangible if less exalted things of this world.
We must, nevertheless, impute to these unfortunate Israelites a certain measure of sincerity. They did not turn back to the gods of Egypt solely because the worship of those gods pandered to depraved desires which could not be satisfied in the purer worship of the Most High. Their reversion to the religion of Egypt was largely because that religion was expressed in terms they could understand.
They had been brought up in its atmosphere, under the shadow of its temples, indoctrinated in all its lore and traditions. Those marvellous manifestations of Divine power, the ten plagues, the Red Sea crossing, and the waters of Marah, had for a time turned their thoughts and devotions to the hitherto unknown God whom Moses preached. The rosy promises of a land in which they might live free from Egyptian bondage spurred them on to a new zeal and service fired by that expectation. With the magnetism of Moses' personal presence withdrawn and his own prolonged absence on the mountain top, the old arguments and ideas began to reassert themselves. Feeling themselves to be in need of leadership and guidance, and fearing that both Moses and the God whom he represented had forgotten and deserted them, the people stretched out longing hands to the gods that they had previously served. Dreading to be left without a shepherd, they were willing to accept as shepherds even those that would lead them back into the intolerable bondage from which they had so recently escaped.
This is the test that comes upon each one who hears and accepts the Divine call to complete dedication of life. Sometimes it comes to communities of believers, sometimes to individuals, but to each at some time in life, comes the insistent question "Do you love me more than these? Are you prepared to maintain your high ideals, your continual seeking the things of the Spirit, the things which are above, even although Moses has disappeared into the mists of the mountain top and the magic of his voice, the thrill of his presence, is yours no more? Can you finish your journey to the Kingdom under the guidance and in the strength of an invisible leader now that the visible one who led you in the early days has passed out of sight? Will you turn to things of earth to give your allegiance? The gods of Egypt will appeal more readily to the senses and give you a feeling of earthly satisfaction. There is music, dancing, rich foods, exhilarating drink and good company, for those who espouse the gods of Egypt. For a while these things will seem to be more worthwhile than the selfless devotion to a cause that seems on the surface to be a lost cause. But you are not really in tune with these things, and in your heart of hearts you know it. The turning away from the high spiritual standards of your calling may give temporary relief to eyes, tired with "straining ...for the tarrying day" and cause them to rest more easily upon the pleasant things of this world. But they will bring leanness into your soul, and your heart will become sick for the days when "we walked to the house of God in company". No one, having once sincerely and intelligently appreciated the conditions of our calling and caught a glimpse of the creation that shall be, can ever really be satisfied with earthly arrangements, institutions and interests again. "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation; old things are passed away; all things have become new." And "Our citizenship is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Saviour".
We do not necessarily formally reject the faith that is in us when we turn to follow 'gods of Egypt'. We can set them up in our own midst and worship them thinking that we are worshipping the Most High more acceptably. We, no less than others, can make God after our own image and likeness. And it is so fatally easy because, like Israel of old, we want to see results. This waiting period is a time of severe strain. There is so much to be done in the execution of the Divine purpose, and we want to play our part in it. Israel was anxious to inherit and build the Promised Land and could not understand the wilderness experiences that had to come first. We are like that. We want to see our Father's Name vindicated and His praise and worship established throughout the earth. We know that we are called to witness to His truth and His Plan through all our days on earth, to be witnesses to Jesus in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth. We know that this witness is a necessary part of our spiritual development and training for the future work. It can be made to produce results of a more visible and tangible nature than the fruits of the Holy Spirit's work in our own hearts and lives. So we tend to be like those Israelites in the wilderness, to give the greater attention to that which is the means to the end, and to forget the end itself. The world will not be converted through our preaching now. That is a basic principle. We are called and commissioned nevertheless to preach the Gospel at all times, in all places, in every manner that we can, as a witness to all nations, right up to the end of the Age, until the end comes. Unless we are so guided in all our ways and activities by the power of the Holy Spirit and transformed into the likeness of our Lord, then we shall not be counted worthy to be entrusted with the task of reconciling men to God in the next Age, So" be the more zealous to confirm your call and election, for if you do this you will never fall; so there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ".(2 Pet.1.10,11). There follows the graces of the Christian character, fruits of the Spirit that must grow in us if we are to be well-pleasing to our God.
We must learn to look, then, not at the things which are seen, but at those which are not seen, and in the power of that vision lay our hands to the opportunities of outward service that come our way. Our witness must be as a people, a compact body of believers, a family in Christ, witnessing not only by word of mouth or publicly, but by demonstration our faith in our own fellowship and revealed in our meetings. The one that hears our message must be able to look at us in our assemblies and see what this faith has done for us, and seeing, "falling on his face, he will worship God, and declare that God is really among us." (1 Cor.14.25 RSV). No witness is really effective unless it eventually leads to this.
We go forward, then, not behind the panoply of gods of Egypt, borne each upon their bearers' shoulders, as Isaiah so caustically remarked "because they cannot go", but behind the guiding cloud which rises aloft and goes always in front of the host. It leads onward, away from Egypt and all its materialism, away from the standards and methods of this world; on, ever on, towards the Promised Land and the realisation of all the golden promises made to our fathers and inherited by us. We can transform our fellowship into a compact family, held together, not by creeds and regulations, but by the power of the Holy Spirit operating in each heart and mind. This will lead to spontaneous co-operation together in every good work and our witness will be so effective that others will know that we have "been with Jesus."