The year was 1953. In some ways, the world was bounding in recovery from World War II. In other ways, it seemed a dangerous place. On the international stage, former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev won a power struggle in the former Soviet Union that ensued after the death of Josef Stalin. Later that year, the Soviet Union detonated their first hydrogen bomb. A Korean armistice was signed, and the convicted spies – Julius and Ethel Rosenberg – were executed. But things were also moving forward. President Eisenhower ended the wage and price controls that were the pattern from WWII. Chuck Yeager flew the x-1 rocket, and America was bracing for a “high tech” world. Around the world, it looked like a renewed time of discovery was set in motion. Sir Edmund Hillary reached the summit of Mount Everest, and James Watson and Francis Crick introduced the world to the complex structure of DNA – a new acronym to most Americans. “Roman Holiday”, “From Here to Eternity”, and “The Robe” were on the silver screen, while America sang: “Doggie in the Window”, “I Believe”, and “Stranger in Paradise”. Red Skelton lit up screens in the American living room, as more and more people got TV sets. In some ways, the times were grand – in others, people were left uneasy, as if another war was possible at any moment.
Into that world the short story “Impostor” was first published in Astounding magazine. This was a nervous science fiction short story about a scientist named Spence Olham, who was confronted by a colleague and accused of being an android impostor from another world that was designed to mimic a man and eventually sabotage Earth’s defenses. It is unlikely that earth actually HAD any defenses at the time, but no bother. In any case, the story unfolded as Olham worked to escape and prove his innocence, by finding the crashed spaceship and recovering the android’s body. In customary American style, the situation was resolved by the end of the story – and Olham was exonerated.
Why mention this little story? Because it highlights a truth that was made clear in Scripture more than three thousand years before –our world is infected with impostors. No, they are not androids – but they are impostors nonetheless. They are mimicking men and women of faith – people with a real walk with God. They are religious people, and they are all around us in our society. Our text will tell the story.
Key Principle: There is real worship, and there is false. There is a real relationship with the True and Living God – and there are numerous man made religious impostors. With care, one can see the difference!
Sometimes the difference isn’t that obvious. That’s the nature of an impostor. Sometimes, it isn’t even really clear to the person who is pretending that what they are doing isn’t a genuine relationship – it is about strayed religious fervor. It isn’t about their INTENT – it is about the TRUTH of their relationship with God.
Since we have studied a number of lessons of the Civil Code of Law, perhaps it would be helpful to “re-stage the scene” of Exodus 24, for the sake of context…. Israel was in the Sinai wilderness – a month and a half’s journey from Egypt proper. Moses had already faced many leadership challenges. He led the people through the sea and through the drought of their own canteens. He led them through the Amalekite war, interceding with God from a hillside above the battle. He went through a painful but profitable experience of evaluation by Jethro, his father-in-law. Jethro pointed out that Moses placed himself in a position of unrealistic expectation, trying to accomplish more than anyone could expect – a mistake common to driven leaders. The result was an overuse of his abilities, a slow draining of all of the creativity and leadership vision by the wearing grind of daily administration. Jethro told him to delegate administration, and in those words, God used a man that could get Moses’ attention, and get him to change the pattern of his work habits to refresh him and pull him back on track (Ex. 18:24).
Finally, after the departure of Jethro, Moses led the people to the edge of the Mountain of the Law, as God instructed. The time was later memorialized in Shavuot (or “the Feast of weeks”), a holy convocation instructed in Levitical law (Lev. 23:15). This feast was an agricultural celebration, but its true importance is underscored in the Biblical instruction that included it as one of three mandatory offering appearances before the Lord annually (Dt. 16:16). God did not want this time forgotten! This was a day He gathered the children of Israel and God blew a shofar (ram’s horn trumpet) before them that shook their camp (Ex. 19:16)! God has seldom made Himself so obvious in the affairs of men – this day was not common – so God threw a very special party! The party was “fifty days” after their departure – and was captured in the word “Pentecost”, still a holy memorial each year among observant Jews recalling the encounter with God at the mountain, and the giving of the law. The Sabbath days between Passover and Pentecost are counted according to God’s instruction (Lev. 23:15).
God’s Instructions (Exodus 24:1-2)
Exodus 24:1 Then He said to Moses, “Come up to the LORD, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu and seventy of the elders of Israel, and you shall worship at a distance. 2 “Moses alone, however, shall come near to the LORD, but they shall not come near, nor shall the people come up with him.”
God invited seventy elders and a specific guest list of leaders to the mountain to worship Him (Ex. 24:1). They were not allowed to move up the mountain with Moses, but they were instructed to come together for a corporate time of reverence (the Hebrew verb shakhaw means to bow before, prostrate one’s self, or revere, Ex. 24:1) some distance away from Moses. Moses would not be able to lead the people of Israel without their help – and they needed to be sure that he was truly encountering God, and not some natural phenomenon he knew from his previous experience in the wilderness while they were still in Egypt. For that reason, God set up a dinner party.
God’s Dinner Party (Exodus 24:9-11)
24:9 Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, 10 and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself. 11 Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they saw God, and they ate and drank.
This event was unprecedented in human history. God passed by before the men, and they beheld a brightness that seemed like the sun. The mystery in the event was not simply that they gazed upon the path of God, and stood before a striking brightness. The shocking part of the story was their response! They were called there to worship, and yet the text reveals they “saw God, and did eat and drink.” What a response! God came, and they had dinner together.
Moses heard from Jethro weeks before this encounter that leadership needed to be shared – and he was trying. At the same time, the leaders needed to be reassured of Moses’ unique position before God on their behalf. Leaders ate with each other, drank and communed with together. He saw a team leadership formation in corporate worship. There is a time for personal time with God, but there is equally a time for developing a team team. In addition to underscoring Moses’ role, the elders got an opportunity to commune together and feast and worship. What an important lesson: Leaders need to lock arms with other leaders. We are not called to be “Supermen” that face the forces of darkness alone, depending solely on our “superhuman” ability or even the work of the Spirit within. We need each other, and grow when we can worship corporately, not only individually. We are stronger in communion, not in “Lone Ranger” mode.
Often leaders fall into the trap of believing their own press, subscribing to the affirmation of the positive view of their followers and not remembering their own weaknesses. It is part of the fabric of our makeup. We lead – they follow. We know – they don’t. It is a dangerous tendency to distance ourselves from the accountability that helps refocus and redirect us. We need accountability. Without it, we will make up our own rules:
Two young engineers applied for a single position at a computer company. They both had the same qualifications. In order to determine which individual to hire, the applicants were asked to take a test by the department manager. Upon completion of the test, both men missed only one of the questions. The manager went to the first applicant and said, “Thank you for your interest, but we’ve decided to give the job to the other applicant.” “And why would you be doing that? We both got 9 questions correct,” asked the rejected applicant. “We have based our decision not on the correct answers, but on the question you missed,” said the department manager. “And just how would one incorrect answer be better than the other?” the rejected applicant inquired. “Simple,” said the department manager. “Your fellow applicant put down on question #5, ’I don’t know.’ You put down, ’Neither do I.’” – http://www.cybersalt.org/cleanlaugh
The People’s Pledge (Exodus 24:3-8)
When I took you to the top of the mountain for the dinner party, I skipped part of the passage – the meeting of the people at the foot of the mountain before the party above. The people came together before Moses to affirm their desire to have and follow the Law of the Living One…
Exodus 24:3 Then Moses came and recounted to the people all the words of the LORD and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which the LORD has spoken we will do!” 4 Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD. Then he arose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain with twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel. 5 He sent young men of the sons of Israel, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as peace offerings to the LORD. 6 Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and the other half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. 7 Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!” 8 So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
Moses held a ceremony to get the people on board with both the Law already revealed, and the part God was about to reveal to them through his next trip up the mountain. That law would mark the people for all their generations. It would give them identity and blessing, as well as provide a clear standard and expectation. He gathered the people together, and the people responded with open hearts to God. They would obey God’s law! Why? Because….
- They saw God in is power – the plagues of Egypt demonstrated that He was more powerful than anything they had encountered among the Egyptian gods.
- They saw God in His provisions – manna from the wind, meat from the quail that dropped in their path, water from the rocks in the desert.
- They saw God in His direction – a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day guided them.
- They saw God in His empowering – the view of Moses’ arms raised as the enemy was routed was still fresh in their minds.
- They saw God in His rescue – the opening of the Sea when they were trapped by Egyptian soldiers, and the healing of the bitter water at Marah were fresh reminders that God was there to get them through the harsh experience by His power.
As Moses prepared himself for His next meeting with God, he rose early in the morning, wrote down the words God had given him in the previous encounter, raised up an altar and standing stones for the tribes, and sprinkled the blood of offerings on the altar. He read over the words he had written before the people, and they affirmed their commitment to God’s holy covenant. He took the elders and leaders up to the mountain. These were acts of obedience, but they were also acts of preparation – for him and for the people. Look more closely at the setting of the public ceremony, because in it the seeds of a religious impostor are sown. Two important thoughts are introduced:
- First, the allegiance to obedience in Exodus 24:3 seemed to be to a set of rules – with little emphasis on a direct relationship with God. Obviously, Moses intended to have the people feel a relationship to God Himself, but they appeared to be willing to sign on to the RULES without the RELATIONSHIP. God was distant to them – and Moses was the one with the close ties with God. The people were content to DO RIGHT by the Law. Therein lays one of the most common problems that paves the way for an impostor. Real relationship is PERSONAL. You either have a personal relationship with the Living God, or you settle for following the rules that may be based on another’s relationship with God.
- Second, though Exodus 24:3-8 does include the fact that young men helped in the slaughtering of the young bulls – much of the emphasis of the ceremony was, from the perspective of the Israelites, a passive participation. Moses built the altar and Moses sprinkled the blood. Moses recited the Law. Religious impostor’s thrive among those who have become passive in their walk with God. Without a hot heart, a personal passion to know and walk with God, people lose the acuity to true worship and settle for form.
We have already established the scene and its conditions. We can see clearly the environment set for an impostor take over. The people agreed to form, but lacked a fervent and passionate personal walk with God for themselves. They have seen the EFFECT of God, but not gazed upon the BEAUTY of God. They know His POWER, but haven’t explored His person. Their lives have been about THEIR NEEDS – and to the extent that God has involved Himself in meeting those needs – they have considered God. They pledged allegiance to HIS BENEFITS, much more than to HIS PERSON. Add to that, God called the strong leaders away from the people to meet Him privately. Those with a hot heart toward God were missing from the camp. The shade of great trees of God was missing, and the sun bore down on the camp…
The Test (Exodus 24:12-18; 25:1-2; 31:18)
The test that flushed out the impostor occurred in three stages:
God’s Delay: In the first stage, a delay that God ordered made the people impatient with God’s way of doing things. Moses went up the mountain at the Lord’s instruction, and waited on Him: Exodus 24:12 Now the LORD said to Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain and remain there, and I will give you the stone tablets with the law and the commandment which I have written for their instruction.” …18 Moses entered the midst of the cloud as he went up to the mountain; and Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights. Moses was alone with God and awaited God’s instruction – with Joshua some distance away (Ex. 24:13). The delay was God’s idea, as Moses met with God – and God revealed truth on God’s time table. Moses long time away set up the unmasking of the impostors in the camp.
God’s Instruction: In the second stage, God’s instruction to build a sanctuary showed that He understood the needs of the people before they did – their longing to SEE something was very real. God directed Moses to get the people together and take a collection of certain specified goods for the construction of a worship center. Exodus reminds: 25:1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Tell the sons of Israel to raise a contribution for Me; from every man whose heart moves him you shall raise My contribution… The nature of our physical beings is that we need to PICTURE God in some way. He was making a way to meet that need, but they couldn’t wait!
God’s Gift: Finally, God gave Moses the tablets – a very special gift written by His own hand. After the forty days communing, Moses was sent back to the people. Exodus 31:18 When He had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God…Imagine the gift of two tablets made by God’s finger and given specifically to men. Revelation was the prize of obedience and intimacy with God!
The Impostor is Exposed (Exodus 32:1-6)
The long time sitting idle left Israel’s camp uneasy. They wanted to make a representation to worship –but they weren’t patient enough to wait for it. They wanted to get on with the religious stuff – no matter that it was what THEY were choosing, and not what God commanded. The story continued…
Exodus 32:1 Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 2 Aaron said to them, “Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool and made it into a molten calf; and they said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” 5 Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.” 6 So the next day they rose early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.
The people talked Aaron into making a god to lead them. Jewish tradition says that they approached Hur with the idea, but he said no and was killed by them. Aaron was intimidated and went allong with the idea of shaping a god representation. The choice of a god was likely that of the Egyptian deity “Hathor” – normally symbolized by a woman’s body with a calf head in Egyptian records. Other representations were more basic, a calf or a woman with a horn arrangement on her head. The horn “flip” became so common a motif that archaeologists refer to household “gods” (teraphim) that have a flip in their hair as having “Hathor locks”. The influence of Hathor was evidenced in the excavation at Timnah, the copper mining site near Eilat, in southern Israel. Several stone stelae (inscribed standing stones) were found, and at least one had the head of Hathor. The excavation included what appeared to be a Midianite shrine, as Hathor may have spread into their cultic practices as well. Several scholars have noted the relationship between the worship of Hathor and the peoples of the Sinai desert – the Midianites and the Egyptians. It is possible that she was the goddess of both slaves and journeys – and these were slaves on a journey. They probably chose the god image that suited the times., the impostor of religion was offered to replace real worship and real intimacy with God. They just invented an impostor religion – a substitute for real faith and a real walk with God – right there in the desert!
- Man made religion comes from the need to control. – the delay didn’t suit them. (Just because the people didn’t know what Moses and God were doing, they took control – 32:1).
- Man made religion comes from people feeling inadequate and deciding to fill a void (32:1b)
- Man made religion allows a god to be shaped according to their liking (32:1b,4).
- Man made religion doesn’t exclude that God may be at work, it just doesn’t matter! (32:1b).
- Man made religion is satisfied with calling for the low sacrifice of the immediately available (32:2a).
- Man made religion will focus on taking the burdens of this life and making them bearable (32:2b-3).
- Man made religion will take a self styled god and give him praise for events performed by the Living God (32:4).
- Man made religion will bind people to a series of imitation holidays and self designed sacrifices – but the power and presence of the Living God is far off –on another mountain! (32:5-6)
There is real worship, and there is a false religious dance. There is a real relationship with the True and Living God – and there are numerous man made religious impostors. With care, one can see the difference!
In 1973, four hostages were taken in a botched bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden. At the end of their captivity, six days later, they actively resisted rescue. They refused to testify against their captors, raised money for their legal defense, and one of the female hostages later became engaged to one of her now jailed captors. The Stockholm syndrome comes into play when a captive believes they cannot escape, and is isolated and threatened with death, but is shown token acts of kindness by the captor. Obviously, this twisted state of the psyche got its name from later studies of these events that transpired in Stockholm. But the same syndrome has since been seen in other situations in life. It is seen in battered wives, survivors of the Holocaust (not many of them left), and like situations. It basically boils down to this. The victim feels helpless and has lost hope for relief from a situation; gropes for and clings tenaciously to any little perceived goodness or benefit coming even from the person or situation causing the problem, and eventually begins to sense a false love and dedication to the very person or circumstance they’ve been imprisoned to. (adapted from Clark Tanner, sermon central illustrations).
All over our world, the Prince of the air has duped people into believing that really knowing God is hopeless. He offers treats to people to get their allegiance, and then ruins their eternity by dulling their spiritual senses to see the peril of their situation. They have been duped by a religious impostor. Yet, when the truth is brought to them, what will they do? Many will exhibit the RELIGIOUS STOCKHOLM SYNDROME. It takes LOVE and CARE to get the truth to do its work in them.