When the people realized that Moses was taking forever in coming down off the mountain, they rallied around Aaron and said, “Do something. Make gods for us who will lead us. That Moses, the man who got us out of Egypt—who knows what’s happened to him?”
So Aaron told them, “Take off the gold rings from the ears of your wives and sons and daughters and bring them to me.” They all did it; they removed the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from their hands and cast it in the form of a calf, shaping it with an engraving tool.
The people responded with enthusiasm: “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up from Egypt!” Aaron, taking in the situation, built an altar before the calf. Aaron then announced, “Tomorrow is a feast day to God!”
Early the next morning, the people got up and offered Whole-Burnt-Offerings and brought Peace-Offerings. The people sat down to eat and drink and then began to party. It turned into a wild party!
YHWH spoke to Moses, “Go! Get down there! Your people whom you brought up from the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. In no time at all they’ve turned away from the way I have given them: They made a molten calf and worshiped it. They’ve sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are the gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt!’”
YHWH said to Moses, “I look at these people—what a stubborn, hard-headed people! Leave me alone now, give my anger free reign to burst into flames and incinerate them. But I’ll make a great nation out of you.”
Moses soothed the face of YHWH, his God. He said, “Why, God, would you lose your temper with your people? Why, you brought them out of Egypt in a tremendous demonstration of power and strength. Why let the Egyptians say, ‘Their God had it in for them all along—they were brought out to be killed in the mountains and to be wiped right off the face of the Earth.’ Stop your anger. Think twice about bringing evil against your people! Think of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants to whom you gave your word, telling them ‘I will give you many children, as many as the stars in the sky, and I’ll give this land to your children as their land forever.’”
So YHWH relented, and the disaster that threatened the Israelites was forestalled.
This passage is terribly interesting. What kind of God can be negotiated or bargained with? The God of Exodus is a very human and very divine character. In some ways it gestures towards Jesus’ full human, fully divine.
I have not always understood God to be an all loving, all compassionate, all including God. When I first discovered God I discovered a God of liberation and restoration. A God that answered prayer but was jealous, demanding, and required a lot of attention. I first knew an angry disciplining God.
I can’t tell you how many times I have bargained with God. Begging, pleading, and negotiating with God was probably the second thing I did, right after asking God for patience. I remember the first time I bargained with God.
I am not sure what month it was. I have always believed it to be around Good Friday of 1997. I was dating a woman whose parents were very active in a church. It was a charismatic church that met in an old bowling alley. The pastor was sleek, handsome and young. The service was full of song and people spoke in tongues. It was the exact opposite of what I remembered as a child.
It had been at least ten years since I had intentionally darkened the doorway of any church. Church was important to my girlfriend so as our relationship evolved I would attend worship with her. I went a few times but not every week. I was not a huge fan of singing and they sang a lot.
One night I was at my girlfriends parents house hanging out or having dinner. My brother, Kevin, knocked at the door my girlfriend’s mom answered and beckoned me to come. With tears in his eyes and the color gone from his face he told me, “Grant is in the hospital. He Kelly, and mom are at UCLA. Grant was evacuated in a helicopter. He was paralyzed. They got in a car crash on PCH. Grant was not wearing a seatbelt.”
I fought back tears and made my way to my car. Kevin and my girlfriend followed. I could not drive so my girlfriend drove us. Along the way we chain smoked in that God awful silence. I wrestled with God. I begged God. I bargained with God. “Lord, if you heal my brother I will give you my life. If you make him walk I will believe in you and follow you.”
I arrive with worry on my heart and this bargain with God in the back of my mind. I go in to the ER and see my family there gathered. Worry across their faces. The accident had been bad. It was a wonder that everyone in the car was not killed instantly. My mom was in the front passenger seat. She had been battered and bruised but had not broken any bones. She looked like she fought Mike Tyson for 12 rounds.
My youngest brother, Kelly, had not a scratch on him. Apparently, Grant was not wearing a seat belt and when the accident happened he used his body to shield Kelly and was then thrown through the front windshield. He was the only one airlifted. He was in bad shape.
I made my way back towards where he was being treated. I heard a commotion and fighting. I thought it sounded like, Grant. I turned the corner to see my brother, Grant, standing there in a hospital gown, with tubes hanging from his arms and hospital staff trying to calm him down. He kept repeating, “I want a cigarette. Just one smoke. Look at me, I think I deserve it.”
I walked over and lead him outside to smoke. We did not talk about the accident or my bargain. I was relived. I let go of my bargain with little to no intention of going through with my deal with God.
I left that night with no care, my brother was healed. He had experienced a miracle. Like the kind from the Bible.
I tried to sleep that night and could not. I tossed and turned. I felt God prodding me as if to say, “I did my part. No it’s your turn. Keep your end of the bargain.” I fought this for hours. Finally out of exhaustion I sort of prayed something like, “Ok God, you win. I’m yours.” Then passed out.
I told no one what I had done. I went along with my life. Something’s changed but mostly I felt the same but not. I went to my girlfriend’s house one night for dinner and was meet by her mom. She stared at me with a big grin. She said, “Something is different about you. You did not get a hair cut. No new tattoos. Did you give your heart to Jesus?”
I think she may have been joking but I was relieved and awed by her question. I answered, “Yes! What do I do now?”
Bargaining with God is something that most of us find our selves involved in at one point or another during our lives. This is not the first time God bargains with creation. Sodom and Gomorrah is a point of bargaining between God and Abraham. If only 50 righteous people were discovered Sodom and Gomorrah would be saved. Then they bargain 45, 40, 30, 20, and finally 10 righteous people. God seems to be in a bargaining mood. It is almost like those old school late night TV commercials with Crazy Eddie hawking cheap, foreign electronics.
What are we bargaining for? Why are we bargaining? As we bargain with God and God with us there is a shifting of power and a fight for justice. As we bargain with God we are drawn deeper in to relationship with God and in to relationships with each other. It is the rule of bargaining that both parties win. A good bargain is one where the seller thinks they got the best of the buyer and the buyer believes they got one over on the seller. The hardest part of bargaining is being patient enough to get the bargain you always wanted.
What are you bargaining with God for? What would you like to bargain with God for?