If I told you that there would be a worship service for the God of Scripture, to seek His blessing on us, led by a well known preacher, with many churches working together, at great expense and organisational effort, and the music and the preaching is going to stir us up to intense zeal and passion, wouldn’t you be interested? This was the scene when Israel worshipped with the golden calf.
But God’s verdict on this? Here we have in black-and-white, God’s opinion of their worship service:
Then the Lord spoke to Moses, “Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. “They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. They have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and have sacrificed to it and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!’ ” (Exodus 32:7–8)
God called it corrupt, and said Israel was not worshipping Him, but instead worshipping a thing they had made. Can you imagine their reaction, to be told, “You weren’t worshipping God. The symbol you made of God, you had actually worshipped it, and it warped your idea of God, and you worshipped your own feelings.”?
Apparently, the essential ingredients of revival are not sincerity, passion, zeal, emotion, organisation, expense, unity, sacrifice, effort. Apparently, you can have all that, and yet not have revival.
So why was it not revival? We get part of the answer by looking at how they acted in this event, and what was the character of this worship-response. What was the dominant affection, the mood, or the tone of this event? C. S. Lewis once said the thing we think we are loving is seen in the kind of love. He wrote this, “The form of the desired is in the desire. It is the object which makes the desire harsh or sweet, coarse or choice, ‘high’ or ‘low.’ It is the object that makes the desire itself desirable or hateful”.
So, what kind of desires, and affections were present in this event? We can tell be looking a little closer.
First, we read, they ate and drank, and got up to play.
What does that mean? Well, likely not church volleyball, or hide and seek. The Hebrew word translated play is tsahaq, and it often means laugh, mock, joke. The character of this event was revelry, joking, fun, amusement. But it also refers to immoral conduct, even orgies associated with pagan revelries. There was this lightweight approach that became sensual, sexual.
Second, see what Joshua thought when they were coming down the mountain.
Now when Joshua heard the sound of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a sound of war in the camp.” But he said, “It is not the sound of the cry of triumph, Nor is it the sound of the cry of defeat; But the sound of singing I hear.” It came about, as soon as Moses came near the camp, that he saw the calf and the dancing; and Moses’ anger burned, and he threw the tablets from his hands and shattered them at the foot of the mountain. (Exodus 32:17–19)
Whatever the kind of celebration, whatever kind of music employed, it reminded Joshua of the riot and chaos of battle. It didn’t sound sober, modest, dignified; it sounded like chaos.
Third, look further down in verse 25.
Now when Moses saw that the people were out of control—for Aaron had let them get out of control to be a derision among their enemies— (Exodus 32:25)
The character of what they were doing was lacking in self-control. Their zeal, their emotion, their excitement, their passion was without self-control, without bounds, without restraint, and it caused the enemies of Israel to ridicule their behaviour. It was raucous, and undisciplined and ridiculous.
The character of the whole thing did not match who they said they were worshipping.
They kept Commandment One – you shall have no other gods beside me. But they broke commandment two – you shall not make a craved image. Commandment one is the who of worship, commandment two is the how of worship. Evidently, they did not believe that they needed to carefully guard the how.
This was not revival, because somewhere, they made an end out of their experience, and no longer pursued the end of who God truly is.
What was lacking was the essential ingredient that is present in Acts 2:41–47.
Here you have many of the same things: things done for God, lots of unity and oneness of purpose, leadership by prominent people, lots of sacrifice.
But notice the quality, the character of the whole thing in verse 43. “Then fear came upon every soul”.
Fear. Awe. Reverence. Honour. Dignity. Sobriety. The fear of the Lord is at the heart of revival.
In the New Testament, whenever God’s grace was particularly manifest, do you know what the text records? Fear. Reverence. Awe. When the Lord did some of His greatest miracles, we read
And they were all amazed, and they glorified God and were filled with fear, saying, “We have seen strange things today!” (Lk. 5:26)
And fear gripped them all, and they began glorifying God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and, “God has visited His people!” (Lk. 7:16)
And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!” (Mk. 4:41)
The great difference between this kind of reverence and the phony emotionalism of revivalism is that true reverence, true awe and fear is a deep and sober affection rooted in who God is, and grown and deepened. True reverence for God is a weighty, serious, profound response to God that is more than a feeling you feel. It instead becomes a sense of God’s importance, greatness, beauty, loveliness that affects every part of the Christian life. The fear of the Lord is what we experience the clearer our view becomes of who God is.