Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
Bereft children in East London, WW2, New Times Paris Bureau Collection, National Archives
And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.
— Exodus 32:1
The people in the Exodus story are most often identified as a single body, and rarely as individuals. Further, this body of people takes on the persona of a disgruntled, hurt child. In this passage I can hear my two sons—my body of sons—shortly after their mother and I separated. The three of them stayed in our home. I flew away to Antwerp and descended into alcoholism. The boys, on the cusp of puberty at the time, were left, bereft, bewildered. "As for this Dad", they might have said, "we wot not what is become of him."
Where I descended, Moses ascended, but to his people it amounted to the same thing. Moses had gone, and essentially taken their God with him. The people were left, bereft, bewildered; they felt an emptiness and sought to fill it in the best way they knew how. Up, makes us gods, which shall go before us they cried. When we are hurting, especially from loss or desertion we experience a hole in our soul, and it is natural to seek to fill that hole. Were the Israelites wrong to build a calf of gold to worship? Easy to say yes, after all they broke the newly-given commandments, Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing...1 And yet under the circumstances we can have compassion.
In the throes of our divorce my sons would seek those male relatives and close male friends of their mother's to hold up in my absence, defiantly using the term "father-figure" to describe them in the rare moments we spent together during these troubled years. My sons came back to me though, and I to them. There was learning and there was healing. It is ongoing.
Perhaps this chapter of Exodus is intended quite simply as a metaphor for the suffering of children in a marriage breakdown. It's unlikely, of course, but it can certainly be understood that way. The Word lives today, in ways that may surprise and touch us, if we let it in.
1 Exodus 20:3-4