Maybe you are familiar with the events that unfolded at the base of Mount Sinai in Exodus 32 when the Israelites worshipped a golden calf, and the original Tablets of the Testimony were shattered. As you reflect on that story, put yourself in it, and consider with which of the following three groups you would have been aligned.
We’ll call the first group, the idolators. This group asked Aaron to make them an idol because they interpreted Moses’ absence as God’s abandonment of them. Aaron agreed and utilized their gold jewelry to craft an idol shaped like a calf. The people then proclaimed, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt” and scheduled a religious festival for the next day in which they engaged in idolatrous worship, raucous behavior, and sexual promiscuity (Exodus 32:4-5). The text initially implies that the entire nation of Israel participated in this idolatrous activity. However, only 3000 people were punished for this sin (Exodus 32:28). At this time, the Israelites consisted of more than 600,000 men, not including women and children (Numbers 1:45-46). Therefore, it would seem that the vast majority of them did not commit idolatry that day. So, the first group we encounter at the base of Mount Sinai actively participated in the worship of the golden calf. This group chose to fulfill their personal desires rather than adhere to the will of the Lord. They had come to the point that they wanted to do what felt right instead of what was right.
The second group was comprised of Levites. When Moses arrived on the scene, his “anger burned hot” (Exodus 32:19). As a result, he shattered the Tablets of the Testimony, destroyed the idol, then stood in the entrance of the camp and drew a line in the sand. It was there that Moses made the Israelites choose between the one true God and the idol they had just created by saying, “Who is on the Lord’s side? Come to me” (Exodus 32:26). Upon hearing this challenge, only the tribe of Levi choose the Lord’s side. The other eleven tribes refused to move. Sadly, this means that a vast minority chose to align themselves with God. So, the second group we encounter at the base of Mount Sinai are those who willingly choose to be on God’s side. This is the group that was given the assignment of executing those who participated in the worship of the golden calf (Exodus 32:27), and, despite the difficulty of that assignment, they faithfully obeyed it because they understood that when you choose God, you choose to do whatever He commands.
The final group at the base of Mount Sinai could be called the fence riders. This group is not as easy to spot as the idolators and the Levites, but they are definitely present. If only 3000 people were executed for worshipping the golden calf and only one tribe chose to be on the Lord’s side, then what were the rest of the Israelites doing? I believe they were riding the fence. They weren’t explicitly opposing God by worshipping an idol, but they also weren’t willfully choosing God either because they didn’t join Moses when he said, “Who is on the Lord’s side?” Instead, this group remained noncommittal. Indecision was their decision. And as a result, they may not have been guilty of idolatry, but they were still guilty of rejecting God.
Now, with which group would you have been identified? Would you have been numbered with the idolaters? Would you have searched out for your own god to appease your interests? Would you have chosen what felt right instead of what was right? Or would you have been numbered with the Levites? Would you have chosen the Lord’s side even though you would have been in the minority? Would you have been obedient to God even though such obedience would have required you to complete a difficult task? Or would you have been numbered with the fence riders? Would you have remained silent when faced with the decision to choose sides? Would you have been guilty of tolerating sin rather than opposing it? Would you have chosen to stand still?
Moses drew a line in the sand, and that line still exists today. We must choose whether we will serve idols, remain noncommittal, or serve the one true God. Only one of these three options leads to the Promised Land. May each of us choose to boldly proclaim the same words that Joshua used—”as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”