Back in 1984, Wendy’s challenged their competitors with the famous question – “where’s the beef?”. It featured a little old woman examining her burger and asking the question to her two friends.
The question became a cultural catchphrase used to challenge the substance and validity of the claims others make.
Too bad that feisty woman was not one of the Hebrews encamped around Mt. Sinai after they had been delivered from Egypt. In this post we will look at a moment in the history of Israel where they failed to ask that question.
Setting the context a bit the Hebrews had been enslaved in Egypt for some 400 years. However, after these long bitter years their God has just rescued them in dramatic fashion. The people sitting in the camp were all witnesses to the 10 plagues that fell on the nation of Egypt before the Pharaoh let them finally leave the country. And they all stood at the banks of the Red Sea and trembled in fear as the Egyptian army, sent to chase them down, had them boxed in and was ready to destroy them. And they all rejoiced as they saw God (in the form of a pillar of cloud) stand between them and the army protecting them from certain slaughter and then deliver them through the parting of the Red Sea.
These Hebrews who now sit in the wilderness at the foot of Mt. Sinai are traveling to the land promised to Abraham (the father of their nation). In the last few days they have been offered a set of laws (Exodus 20-23). These laws are offered to them by God in the form of a covenant where He would be their protector and bless them if they obeyed the laws, but punish and remove His protection if they disobeyed. The people readily accepted these conditions and entered into the covenant confirming it with a blood oath (Exodus 24).
It is at this point that they find themselves at the bottom of Mt. Sinai waiting for their leader Moses who has gone back up the mountain. While he is receiving instructions on how to build the ark and tabernacle they are growing tired of waiting.
1When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, 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.” 2So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” 5When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.” 6And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play. (Exodus 32:1-6 ESV)
Why did the Hebrews choose to invent a new god (which they had just agreed not to do)? Why did they accept and worship a statue of gold over the God that actually delivered them? Especially a god that they watched be fashioned from gold. Gold that moments ago was being worn as jewelry that they had owned and donated for the cause. And how could they actually think that this god delivered them from bondage and brought them out of Egypt when it did not even exist until after they were enjoying their freedom?
Where’s the Beef?
There was less beef in this god then the hamburger in the Wendy’s commercial so why were the Hebrews so quick to accept and worship the golden calf? There are many reasons why the Hebrews may have chosen to define their own god that day that could be explored. After all these were a tired and scared group of people. They had no home land as of yet. They are in the wilderness and currently without their leader Moses. And as for idols – well all the other nations are doing it. But, I think that at the core the main reason was this golden calf god was a lot less demanding than the real thing. This chunk of gold was not going to be making any rules on how to live that would have to be obeyed. Instead the Hebrews could go eat and drink and play. Why ask questions when you can “have it your way”.
Today we would laugh at such a scene. Yet people do the same thing when they form their religious or spiritual views based on
accepting things based on personal preference and subjectivity – a topic explored in a prior post Burger King theology. Can one really mix and match various spiritual ideas blending them together based on preference and actually believe that it is true? We may not worship a golden calf, but people aren’t any different when they think of Jesus as only a good teacher or a spiritual adviser who will guide us to enlightenment. The idea that Jesus was a good teacher is based on such teachings as “don’t judge, lest ye be judged”, “treat others the way you want to be treated”, and the call to “love others” and care for the poor. But where do we find these teachings? While there are some extant references to Jesus’ teaching outside the Bible, most of Jesus’ teachings are contained in the New Testament. And most who would claim that Jesus is a good teacher would readily admit that they rely on the New Testament to know what he taught.
But here are some of the other claims that Jesus makes:
- son your sins are forgiven (Mk 2:5)
- Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God … whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:3, 36)
- it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me … (John 8:16)
- I and the Father are one … I am the Son of God (John 10:30, 36)
What is interesting about these claims is that the Pharisees and people at that time challenged Jesus:
- no one can forgive sins except God (Mk 2:7)
- how can these things be? (John 3:9)
- who is your father, who are you? (John 8:19, 25)
- you, being a man, make yourself God (John 10:33)
Wonder where those same people willing to ask “where’s the beef” types of questions were when the golden calf was being offered as god?
Questions are not bad. We need to be able to examine our beliefs. But how can we accept teachings from the Sermon on the Mount and reject Jesus’ other teachings or His death and resurrection when they are in the same book? On what basis should we take one teaching of say the Gospel of Mark or John as authentic and reject another teaching as “inaccurate” ? What confidence can anyone have that they picked the right sections as accurate?
The real question is when one approaches spiritual truth or the identify of Jesus this way how is this any different than the Hebrews who sought a golden calf?
Sounds a lot more like Burger King Theology than the Wendy’s version and where’s the beef, in that?