Characteristics of Weak Leaders

Exodus 32

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
May 2017

A church is only as good as the leaders it has.  Everything rises and falls with leadership. There is a leadership crisis in the church today. Some leaders do not preach the Bible.  They preach psychology.  They tell stories but they do not preach God’s Word.  Some do not preach it, while others do not even believe it anymore.  Others do not live godly lives.  There are ungodly leaders.

Some pastors do not lead and others lead like dictators.  Some elders appointed not even qualified for the job.  One of the biggest problems for mega church is leadership.  The church sometimes grows so fast, they do not have enough leaders to take care of all of the sheep.

Leadership problems are not unique to the church.  The Jews had leadership problems in the OT.  In this chapter, we see two leaders (Moses and Aaron).  One passes the leadership test and one fails miserably.  One is a great leader. The other one was a big disappointment.  If you want to see what a good leader looks like, we see it in this chapter.  If you want to see what a bad leader looks like, we also see it in this chapter.

Anatomy of a Sin

So let’s look at this chapter.  To get the context of what is going on, you have to go back to Exodus 24.  In Exodus 24, God called Moses and about 70 leaders up on a mountain and he appeared to them.  They saw a vision of God.  Then Moses went all the way up to the top of the mountain and went directly into God’s presence which looked like a thick cloud.

Before they went up on the mountain, we are told something important. Exodus 24:13-14 says, “Then Moses set out with Joshua his aide, and Moses went up on the mountain of God. 14 He said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we come back to you. Aaron and Hur are with you, and anyone involved in a dispute can go to them.”  Moses’ brother Aaron and a man named Hur were in charge while all of these leaders were up on the mountain.  Hur was the grandfather of Bezalel, the one who built the Tabernacle (31:1-2).

Moses stayed up on top of the mountain for forty days and forty nights.  He didn’t eat anything during that time but the people at the beginning of the mountain were beginning to worry.  Moses must not be coming back.  He’s gone for good.

2 Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”

5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.”6 So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry. (32:1-8 NIV)

When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”

Moses is up on the mountain.  Moses told them to wait for him until he got back but he was up there over a month (forty days).  None of us like to wait for things.  They got tired of waiting.  It was taking too long. What would we think if our President disappeared for forty days?

The Jews wanted someone to make them a god who would go before them.  They needed someone to lead them. That was their first mistake.  They were following Moses, instead of following God. They wanted a god they could see.  They wanted one they could look at. They wanted a golden calf.  It seems strange to us.  We do not worship cows in America but they just came out of Egypt. The Egyptians worshiped cows, along with a lot of other animals.

Bulls were worshiped in Egypt.  No animal in the ancient Near East was worshiped more than the bull.  It was the symbol of fertility and power (so Hamilton). It was much easier to bring the Jew out of Egypt than to bring Egypt out of the Jews.

We look at this and wonder how the Israelites could be so stupid. The Hebrews were in bondage for hundreds of years.  God supernaturally delivered them out of slavery.  He supernaturally protected them.  The Red Sea split open.  He provided for them with manna from heaven and water from a rock.  He guided them with the pillar of fire and cloud.

He spoke to them from the mountain.  The whole nation heard Him.  He made a special covenant with them.  The all agreed to the covenant and agreed to keep all of the commandments God gave them.  Now they want someone to make them another god.  Notice what God says.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. 8 They have been QUICK to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’ (32:7-8 NIV)

How is it possible that the nation fell into this so quickly with all of these miracles of God happening right before their eyes? Keep in mind that the whole nation does not do this.  Only three thousand people die at the end of the chapter.  Three thousand out of two million died.  It is a small fraction but is still a lot of people.

It is the size of a small town. When the Jews left Egypt, they left with a mixed multitude (12:38). Some other people went with them who were not Hebrews and did not have their faith. They might have had an influence here.

The people went to Aaron with this request (32:1).  Why don’t they bring it to Hur?  He was also a leader.  He is not mentioned at all in this chapter.  According to Jewish tradition, they did bring this request to Hur.  In fact, they went to him first and he refused to do it, so they killed him. That is what the Talmud says (Tractate Sanhedrin 7a).

We are going to be a little hard on Aaron today but we want to make sure that we are balanced.  I want to begin by talking about Aaron’s strengths.  He had many of them.  I would want someone who criticizes me to be balanced, so I want to do the same thing to Aaron.

Aaron’s Strengths

Aaron had many positive attributes.  He had some gifts that even Moses did not have.  He was good at public speaking.  Apparently, he was a good communicator.  Moses asked him to be his spokesman.  He was his press secretary.  God called him Moses’ prophet (7:1).  Someone called Aaron “the orator turned idolater”[1]

He was humble.  He does not seem to mind that his younger brother got all of the attention as the leader of the nation.  He never seems to be jealous of his baby brother who grew up in the palace of Egypt and received the finest education, even though he grew up a poor slave.

He got to play second fiddle as Moses’ assistant, even though he was the older brother.  He was a good team player. He had an incredible ministry. That ministry involved some miracles.  He performed miracles with his rod.  He threw it on the ground and it became a snake (7:9-10).

In fact, the first three of the ten plagues (the plague of blood, the plague of frogs and the plague of gnats) were all done by Aaron’s rod.  Aaron had direct experience with the power of God.  He was also Israel’s first high priest.  He had the top job in the Tabernacle.

In this chapter, we see that, while he was a great communicator and a great miracle worker, he was not a great leader. I want to share with you four signs of a weak leader in the church from the life of Aaron.

Four Signs of Weak Leaders

1) Weak leaders avoid confrontation.

No one likes conflict but sometimes it needs to be done.  Weak leaders avoid conflict at all costs.  They are passive-aggressive.  They would rather do what it easy, than what is hard.  They give people what they want, rather than what they need.  That is exactly what Aaron did.

Instead of standing up for what was right and for what he believed in, he caved to pressure.  He took the path of least resistance.  He was more of a follower than a leader.  Why did he do it?  That brings us to our next point.

2) Weak leaders fear people

Strong leaders do not fear what people think.  Weak leaders are people pleasers.  In this situation, the people surrounded Aaron and got in his face.  They intimidated him.  If the Talmud is correct, they had already killed Hur.  Aaron was thinking, “If I do not do what they say, I will be dead too.” Aaron feared the people more than he feared God.  His action was motivated by fear.  The Bible has a lot to say about the fear of man.

Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28 NIV).  We need to come to the point that we say with the Psalmist, “The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 118:6).  We need to stop worrying about what other people think and worry more about what God thinks.

3) Weak leaders do not take responsibility

Someone said, “Taking responsibility is the highest mark of great leaders.”[2] Weak leaders do not take responsibility for their actions. In some churches, you can never criticize the pastor.  He is God’s Anointed.  Some teach that it is a sin to criticize your pastor.  They base in on Psalm 105:15.  That is a dangerous teaching because it says that the pastor is accountable to no one.  He can do no wrong and can say no wrong.  That is how cults are started.

Psalm 105 is talking about physical harm, not criticism.  The fact is that we are sinners.  None of us are immune from criticism.  All of us can fall into sin, even great sin.  Aaron does here. Moses does later.  David did.  Paul had to rebuke another apostle over something in Galatians.  Weak leaders do not take too well to correction.

“Good leaders take responsibility. Bad leaders place blame.”[3]  They never admit a personal mistake.  It is always someone else’s fault.  Harry Truman used to have a sign on his desk when he was president.  The sign said, “The buck stops here.”  The idea was that he did not pass the buck.  He accepted responsibility as president for what went on in the country. Unfortunately, Aaron did not follow that philosophy.  He made excuses for his behavior.

When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. 20 And he took the calf the people had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it.

21 He said to Aaron, “What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?” 22 “Do not be angry, my lord,” Aaron answered. “You know how prone these people are to evil. 23 They said to me, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.’ 24 So I told them, ‘Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off.’ Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!” (Exodus 32:19-24 NIV)

He made three excuses for his behavior.  It must have run in the family.  When God called Moses at the burning bush, he made four or five excuses why he could not do what God told him to do.  He said, “You are sending the wrong man.  I am not qualified for the job.  I am terrible at public speaking.  I do not know what to say.  I do not even know your name and no one will listen to me anyway.”

The Excuses of Aaron

Now Moses confronts Aaron about what happened.  Aaron was the one put in charge and Aaron makes excuses.  After Moses came down the mountain, he confronted Aaron and Aaron makes three basic excuses.

First, it was not a big deal.  Moses called it, not only sin but “great sin” (32:21).  Aaron says in essence, “What’s the big deal?  It is just a golden calf. Don’t overreact.  It is not a major problem.”  Weak leaders always minimize sin.

Second, it is the way that people are these days.  It is just signs of the times. There was some truth to this.  The people were prone to do evil.  God called them “a stiff-necked people” (32:9) but that did not justify what they did. Aaron used it as an excuse for sin.  “I can’t help sinning.  I have a sin nature.  I just do what comes naturally to me.”

Third, these things just happen.  I had no control over it.  Aaron said, “I just threw the gold in the fire and ‘poof’ this calf came out.”  That was a bold-faced lie.  It was a bunch of bull, as Frank Carpi in our Sunday School class pointed out.  Aaron was not honest about what happened and about his role in this idolatry.

Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron.

4 He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf  (32:3-6a).

Apparently, men wore earrings in that day as well.  He threw the gold into a fire and fashioned it into an idol, using a tool.  Aaron was the one who built the thing.  He was the idol builder.  He does not just worship the idol, he builds it.  He makes it and he does not make any idol.  He makes a gold one and then he made an altar.  Here he functioned as a high priest of a pagan deity.  He was the worship leader.

4) Weak leaders try to appease appease people

They cannot say “no.”  When the people came to Aaron and asked for a golden calf, instead of correcting them, he just appeased them.  Sometimes parents appease their kids.  They start to cry, so the parent gives them what they want to shut them up.  That is exactly what Aaron did.

It was the policy of appeasement. When you are threatened and intimidated, just give in.  It is a big problem today.  Chamberlain appeased Adolf Hitler.  Some leaders today believe we should just appease terrorists.

Aaron did the same thing.  The people came to Aaron and asked him to make them idols.  They got in his face and intimidated him.  What was Aaron’s answer?  He gave them exactly what they wanted but then tried to keep the worship of Yahweh. He made a golden calf but then made an announcement.  “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.” (32:5 NIV).

Aaron came up with the PERFECT COMPROMISE.  He was the first syncretist.  The people wanted to worship a gold calf.  He wanted to worship Yahweh, so he said, “Let’s do both.  That will make everyone happy (except God).  This was the strategy of Aaron.  There was only one problem.  In order to do this, Aaron had to break one of the Ten Commandments, namely the Second Commandment.

You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,6 but showing love to a thousand  generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. (20:4-6 NIV).

Beware of the danger of mixing Christianity with paganism. Furthermore, Jesus said that you cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24).  You can’t serve God and Money and you can’t serve God and a Golden Calf either.  God said not to do this. In fact, the Second Commandment has a warning if you break it.

Beware of the danger of mixing Christianity with false religion (take one idea from Buddhism, one idea from Hinduism, one idea from Islam and add it to Christianity).  That is what the Bahai faith tries to do.  It tries to unify all of the world religions.

Beware of the danger of mixing Christianity with political correctness.  Christianity is true but Jesus is not the only way. It is okay to be Christian, as long as we are tolerant, inclusive, non-offensive and non-judgmental.  That will not work. The gospel itself is offensive.  It calls people sinners who deserve judgment.




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