In this chapter you can see three types of leaders. Which one are you most like: Aaron—the People Pleaser, Joshua—The In-Between Leader, or Moses—The True Leader?
1 When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, "Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him." 2 Aaron answered them, "Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me." 3 So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, "These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt." 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, "Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD." 6 So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry. 7 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. 8 They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, 'These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.' 9 "I have seen these people," the LORD said to Moses, "and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation." 11 But Moses sought the favor of the LORD his God. "LORD," he said, "why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, 'It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth'? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: 'I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.' " 14 Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened. 15 Moses turned and went down the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. 16 The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets. 17 When Joshua heard the noise of the people shouting, he said to Moses, "There is the sound of war in the camp." 18 Moses replied: "It is not the sound of victory, it is not the sound of defeat; it is the sound of singing that I hear." 19 When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. 20 And he took the calf they had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it. 21 He said to Aaron, "What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?" 22 "Do not be angry, my LORD," Aaron answered. "You know how prone these people are to evil. 23 They said to me, 'Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him.' 24 So I told them, 'Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off.' Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!" 25 Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies. 26 So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, "Whoever is for the LORD, come to me." And all the Levites rallied to him. 27 Then he said to them, "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.' " 28 The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died. 29 Then Moses said, "You have been set apart to the LORD today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day." 30 The next day Moses said to the people, "You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin." 31 So Moses went back to the LORD and said, "Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. 32 But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written." 33 The LORD replied to Moses, "Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book. 34 Now go, lead the people to the place I spoke of, and my angel will go before you. However, when the time comes for me to punish, I will punish them for their sin." 35 And the LORD struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made.
One People—Guides to Themselves, Typical Sheep needing to be Shepherded.
1. They were impatient; they could not wait.
The impatience of people is one major reason why people need leaders. Otherwise their impatience leads them to impulsive and unwise actions.
2. They proposed their own solution.
The crowd was a group of blind leading the blind. Their own creative thinking led them to misunderstand who God is or what He is like. Knowing who God is and what His character is like is the most important bit of knowledge. This crowd seriously missed the truth. Mistaking inanimate, temporary, created material for a personal, intelligent, emotional, spiritual, and loving and creating God is an oft-repeated mistake.
3. They followed each other; no one was an independent thinker; no one had the knowledge, courage, or independence to say, "No, this is not right."
4. Their sin escalated from mistaken ideas—wrong thinking—about who God (idolatry) to misbehaving—eating & drinking, and revelry. The Bible and Christian leaders who share its truth with the people provide instruction in correct faith and practice, thinking and behavior, philosophy and actions.
5. People are like sheep. They need a firm and loving shepherd.
Aaron—the People Pleaser
1. He was led by the people rather than leading the people.
2. He was either undiscerning or weak; he did what the crowd wanted him to do.
3. He lied; he knew the calf was not the God who had delivered Israel yet he said it was.
4. He was more interested in gold and pleasing the people than in accurately representing God, truth, holy living, and worship of God.
5. He was industrious in his error; he "cast" the image, and 'fashioned' it with a tool.
6. When confronted, he side-stepped the charge and blamed the people.
7. He lied to Moses saying he had thrown the gold into the fire and the calf came out.
Aaron was the leader of the organized religions community of his day. He had position, but he did not have moral authority this time. In what way or ways are you like Aaron? How can you change?
Joshua—The In-Between Leader
1. Joshua misunderstood what was happening in the camp; he was confused.
2. Joshua could not discern either the problem or its solution and, at this stage in his development, seems to have had no idea of the moral issues involved. (He later developed to be a discerning leader)
3. He represents at this stage in his life the potential leader who could discern that something was wrong but did not know what and had no solution because he did not understand the problem.
We know from Scripture that Joshua eventually developed into a good leader. But at this stage he represents a potential leader who could either develop into a good leader or remain a mediocre leader who never becomes what he could. Some of the In-between Leaders of today will develop to become discerning and wise; others will not. We would not be fair to write off all leaders of this type. As Joshua did, some will develop. Give them a chance. Give yourself a chance. Will you change? It is not wrong to be an In-Between Leader if that is where you are now in your growth as a man or woman of God, but if you get stuck there on you way to becoming a true leader, that is not good. Go through that stage; get past it.
Moses—The True Leader
1. Moses was a God-chaser.
Moses spent hours—days—alone with God. He knew, loved, appreciated, and served God.
2. Moses heard from God. Hebrews 11:6 says that God rewards those who earnestly seek him. Moses was rewarded with many revelations from God. How much would God reveal to us if we sought Him like Moses did. Moses was far away from the camp where the Israelites had fallen into idolatry and misbehavior, but he knew better, more accurately, than Aaron, the moral dynamic of the people's behavior because he was with God and heard from God. If we want to understand people, people's problems, and God's solutions we must hear from God. In order to hear from God we need to be with God.
3. Moses knew the heart and will of God.
This chapter records a most curious and telling test. When God offered to make a great nation of Moses instead of Abraham's descendants, the Israelites, Moses, correctly discerned that God was testing him and declined the opportunity. Contrary to God's offer, Moses interceded before God in behalf of God's people praying what God Himself in actuality really wanted to do. Moses passed the great test. There is no place for personal ego-related selfish and ambitious goals in ministry.
4. Moses was decisive; in a selfless act he broke the stone tablets which would have condemned the Israelites; burned the calf, ground it to powder, scattered the powder on water and forced the Israelites to drink it. The only way they could have recovered the gold would have been to wash it out of their own human waste which would have been a detestable and filthy project.
5. Moses in righteous justice and obedience to God challenged the Israelites to see who was on God's side, then commanded those who responded (the Levites) to kill the guilty idolaters whereupon 3,000 were killed.
6. Moses the intercessor (as was the Apostle Paul) was willing to lose his own place with God if God's people could be saved.
7. Moses was the least in contact with the people; he was not concerned about peer pressure, social influence, polls, or public opinion. He spent time alone with God, knew God's voice and will, and courageously led God's people. He is an excellent example of focusing on the important thing—prayer and hearing from God.
Lifeway Research asked 200 pastors to provide an hour-by-hour calendar of what they do each week. The study included 101 pastors whose churches were in the top 5 percent in conversion rates. The rest were pastors of churches that didn't have high conversion rates.
What they found was fascinating. The pastors of high-growth churches spent most of their time in prayer, study, and teaching. (In fact, that's similar to the description of the apostles' ministry in Acts 6:4.) The other pastors were all busy with a broad variety of work with their pastoral activities. Effective pastors focus their ministries on what's most important.