Rebellion Redeemed

Every moment we are constantly creating systems in our mind that are simultaneously crashing on themselves. These systems are called expectations. They are predictions, assumptions, calculations, and hopes that we believe in—a high risk, high reward, process.


The risk is high because we are vulnerable to disappointment, hurt, and sorrow. The reward is high because this creates opportunity for surprise, laughter, and joy.

Expectations are full of opportunity to give life or destroy. In Exodus 24, we find the Israelites, while Moses is receiving the Law on the mountain, wrestling with their expectations. We are told that Moses remained “on the mountain forty days and forty nights” (24:18). In this period, Moses is fasting as he prepares to receive the Word of God to give to his people (Deuteronomy 9:9). However, we learn that the Israelites, “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 (Exodus 32:1, ESV).’” The people expect Moses to return earlier and decide to produce an alternative rather than embrace the tension of waiting for him to return. This unmet expectation will yield extreme consequences for the Israelites.

If we look further, I think we see deeper roots to Israel’s disobedience than just unmet expectations. The story reads that since Moses was not back when they expected him to be, they decided to make a tangible idol that they could depend on. However, the fact that Moses did not come back when they thought he would is not license to sin against a God who has just rescued them from slavery. It is merely a circumstance and, in this case, a difficulty they must deal with. However, while the Israelites’ main focus is on this specific difficulty and how to overcome it, the real focus is on the Israelites themselves. With one expectation of theirs not being met, they quickly abandon God and return to worshiping created gods. This reveals that the problem is not their expectations but the underlying beliefs that have lead them to create those expectations.

“With one expectation of theirs not being met, they quickly abandon God and return to worshiping created gods.”

The way expectations manifest themselves most commonly in my life is by simply doing things selfishly in order to get something in return from the person I am doing it for. Sometimes when I may be feeling sad and have alone time in our apartment I will think of something kind to do as a way to love my wife. So, while she is gone, I will clean the dishes and make dinner for the both of us. When she gets home, she is usually surprised and thankful—but sometimes not to the degree I am expecting or hoping that she is. I will desire for her to be more excited and grateful for what I did for her than she outwardly expresses and that breeds frustration for me. This often puts me in a more sensitive mood where I feel hurt. When I am feeling this way, I am more likely to take things the wrong way or become impatient and sharp with my words.

So why did I do the dishes and make dinner, then? Was it because I wanted to love my wife, or was it because I wanted a response from her and for her to affirm me in a specific way? My expectations reveal that I might not really believe that God will comfort me in my sadness, so I will look for comfort in someone else. This becomes an idol when the affirmation from my wife is something I yearn for and will work to achieve so I can receive something that only God is meant to give.

“My expectations reveal that I might not really believe that God will comfort me in my sadness, so I will look for comfort in someone else.”

God describes this condition in verse 9, when He describes Israel as a “stiff-necked people”—just like us. In fact, the meaning of the name Israel is “to struggle with God.” We struggle with God because He wants to change us into something greater, and how He wants to do it typically gets in the way of what we want. As C.S. Lewis says, “Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms.”

James says that, “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (1:15, ESV). The Israelites’ expectations of Moses are not satisfied, leading them to fashion the golden calf and ultimately to the death of around three thousand people (32:28).

But let’s look at Moses’ response. The Israelites create the idol to go before them because they do not know where Moses is—ironically, Moses is going before them and receiving the law on the mountain. Moses responds by being an advocate of his people in the midst of their rebellion as he goes to God saying, “. . . 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’” (32:12-13, ESV).

The good news is that in the middle of our rebellion the way is being made for us to be brought back into the fold of God. The promise does not depend on the one that it is made to, but the One who made it. And while the one who made it is our Judge, He is also our defender—His death and resurrection make it possible for His kingdom to come on Earth as it is in Heaven and for our lives not to be a series of imploding expectations but “a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is [our] spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1, ESV). To Him be the glory!

Raven Howard

Raven is a goofy bald man with a passion for people, adventure, and manual brew coffee. He loves his wife, Trader Joe’s, intentional conversations, and his dog, Camp (pictured). Raven attends our Downtown campus.