Cling to God in the Face of Betrayal

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Moses faced great disappointment. Moses entrusted Aaron with great responsibility and Aaron failed to act responsibly. This happened when Moses was on Mt. Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments and instructions to build the tabernacle, and he left Aaron in charge.

The Pressure of Restless People

Moses was a long time returning, and the people grew restless. They wanted a new leader and even new gods. “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. 32:1b).

Perhaps they forgot what they had promised after a previous trip Moses had taken to Sinai to hear from God: “All that the Lord has spoken we will do” (Ex. 19:8). Now they demanded of Aaron, “Make us gods who shall go before us” (Ex. 32:1a).

“Make us gods”? And incredibly, Aaron concedes to the demand.

He instructed the people to donate their gold, melted it down, and “fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf ” (v. 4). Meanwhile up on the mountain, covered by fire and smoke, clearly letting the Israelites know God remained among them, Moses received Aaron’s commissioning to become High Priest or Chief Intercessor for the people of Israel. God described in detail Aaron’s clothing, his duties, his leadership over the Levites, and the ordained sacrifices in proper worship of the Lord. And what was Aaron doing down below? Leading the people in rebellion against God’s law and idol worship. Talk about a contrast! But I am convinced Aaron’s foolish acquiescence to the people’s command for him to fashion a god to worship was not what upset Moses most. It was his falsehood in relaying what happened.

Look closely:

And Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you have brought such great sin upon them?” And Aaron said, “Let not the anger of my lord burn hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil. For they said to me, ‘Make us gods who shall go 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.’ So I said to them, ‘Let any who have gold take it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.” – Exodus 32:21–24

I hope you noticed what Moses attempted to do with his question. And what he desperately hoped to be the case behind these circumstances. Moses wanted to believe that Aaron had made this decision under great distress and derision. He hoped Aaron might prove innocent in this mess and only unable to stop it. It’s painful enough when someone doesn’t come through and disappoints us, but even worse when it seems that they did so easily and willingly.

“God will never let us down. He will always be enough.”

Look at Aaron’s response. He caught on to Moses’ desire to find him innocent and he piggy-backed on this suggestion. These people are wicked, Moses, you know that. He shifted blame but first coated Moses’ bleeding heart with flattery calling him “my lord.”

Then Aaron shifted the blame even further. You were gone a long time, Moses. You left me alone with them for way too long! That’s a sneaky way to suggest this whole ordeal was actually Moses’ fault. But then the most devastating part occurs. Aaron lied to Moses’ face. Aaron came up with a plan, asked the people for gold, and fashioned the calf in the fire with his very own hands. “Out came this calf ” indeed! But that’s not the story he told to Moses at all. Talk about betrayal!

A Test for Moses

In the midst of Aaron’s betrayal, Moses faced a tremendous test. Two tests actually. Would his pride seep in, taking him beyond justifiable anger to utter vengeance, or would he humbly run to God for help in this devastation? Take a look at God’s offer to Moses for vengeance.

And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. . . . Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.” – Exodus 32:7–8, 10

God offered Moses a pass to choose vengeance over forgiveness. He tested Moses’ heart. God implied that it was Moses who delivered and led the people out of Egypt. With all the grumbling Moses has thus far endured it would be tempting to take some credit for his hard work and tough obedience. But instead he demonstrated his deep dependence on God. Moses insisted that God Himself was the deliverer and the leader. Look at Moses’ response to God’s suggestion, “But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, ‘O 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?’” (Ex. 32:11).

Moses gets an A+ here in godliness in my book. He recounted to God his simple role in all of this: I’m just the messenger, God. It was Your power and mighty hand that set us free! In the middle of devastation our pride tempts us to color ourselves in the best light and paint our betrayer in the worst one. God tested Moses’ heart to see if he might remain humble before God, and he passed with flying colors.

Second, when God threatened to severely punish the people for their rebellion and destroy them completely, how easy it would have been for Moses to agree with God about this idea of revenge. The Israelites have railed and rallied against Moses and his leadership from day one. To just be done with this assignment would be a relief ! But Moses does something entirely unexpected: he interceded for the people.

“Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’ And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.” – Exodus 32:12b–14

What?! I’m not sure I could pass this test. In my inadequacy it would be pretty easy to hand over all the accomplishments to God. I know how utterly incapable I am to deliver anyone, including myself. But intercede for the very people who criticized and betrayed me? Whoa! That would take a miracle!

We Will Be Betrayed

People will fail us and lie to us, and we’ll be tempted to desire vengeance from having to bear the brunt of their poor choices. Maybe it’s the parent who walked out. Maybe it’s the coworker who did not follow through on the project and lied to the boss, blaming us for their failure. Maybe it’s the teacher who promised to help our struggling child but didn’t. Maybe it’s the friend who didn’t show up in that moment we needed them most. Maybe it’s the pastor who didn’t confront our spouse in their sin. We will feel betrayed.

In our conquest to defeat our fear of inadequacy we can become tempted toward self-sufficiency. We’ll pull back and isolate, and decide that being alone is the only way to protect ourselves. Moses could have nursed his wounds thinking, “After all I’ve done for these people? All the time, sacrifices, criticism I’ve endured and loyalty I’ve displayed, and this is how they treat me!” Or we’ll be tempted to quit leading, cease loving, and walk away, asking God to take us somewhere else with someone else and start over. And our deep fear of inadequacy—of not being enough—will tempt us to believe that they failed us because we weren’t good enough to deserve loyalty, honesty, or love.

Moses turned away from both temptations. He acknowledged God’s sovereignty in their deliverance and His faithfulness to His promises. He turned to God and reminded himself, along with God, about the character and the capability of the God he served. (Not that God needed reminding, but Moses needed to decide if he would turn toward self-sufficiency and striving or would surrender in the wake of this devastation.)

What will we do in those moments? Will we turn to God for direction? Will we humbly acknowledge that He is in charge even when everyone and everything around us appears out of control?

We Must Run to Our God

God invites us to be free from fear of others’ lack of obedience or trustworthiness. God never blamed Moses for the Israelites’ behavior. Their choices angered God, but Moses remained God’s friend. God did not deem the moral failure of the Israelites a reflection of Moses’ inadequacy as their leader. And friend, your family member’s moral failure is not a reflection of your inadequacy either. Self-sufficiency suggests our involvement in others’ lives determines their outcome, but that’s giving humanity way too much credit. Surrender solidifies that each person is in God’s hands and answers only to Him with their choices. We may not be the perfect spouse, parent, child, or sibling, but their choices ultimately remain their own.

Sometimes in our inadequacy and shame we anticipate being let down by others because we feel like we deserve to be. We expect to be disappointed because we feel like a giant heap of disappointment. We view ourselves negatively so we expect to be treated negatively. We strive to never let anyone else down or we self-sabotage, choosing relationships with people who will most likely wound us.

When others betray us and bring devastation to our lives, we need to remember that God is near to us (e.g., see Psalms 34:18; 46:1; 139:7). God will never let us down. He will always be enough. The more we develop a deep friendship with God, bringing Him our deep hurts, longings, and doubts, the more we will grow to trust Him. And we will also learn to trust our loved ones to His care.

Our fear of inadequacy tells us people will reject, disappoint, or betray us because we deserve it. Or that others’ failure is somehow our fault. Our God disagrees. He demands that wrong be made right. He teaches us to turn to Him in our despair and devastation. He asks us to surrender them over to Him, letting Him be God, instead of striving to secure the outcome we want.

For Further Reading:

Letting God Be Enough

by Erica Wiggenhorn

Everyone thinks you’ve got it together. But inside, you’re asking, “Am I enough?” No matter how good we look to others,...

book cover for Letting God Be Enough