Getting the Gold (Exodus 24; 31-34)

Monday, April 25, 2022


A huge thank you to Mary for this transcript!

Channing: [00:00:00] Hi! I'm Channing.

Elise: And I'm Elise. 

Channing: And this is The Faithful Feminists Podcast. 

Elise: [00:00:12] We focus on feminist interpretations of scriptures and follow the LDS Come Follow Me manual as a guide for study. We understand scriptures can be a tricky endeavor for readers, but we also believe sacred texts contain compelling examples of loving and liberating relationships with The Divine, others, and ourselves. We hope you'll join us in exploring the problems and promises of sacred texts with imagination, critique, and celebration to reveal what we feel is the loving and liberating heart of scripture.

Channing: [00:00:41] While Mormonism, with its iconic floral foyer couches, is our background, we follow our faith and our God on the winding path of spirituality over institution, and connection over condemnation.  We are fellow wanderers, weavers, and doubters. If you’ve found yourself feeling a little too faithful for some and not enough for others: Welcome. We've saved you a seat on the soft chairs. This podcast is funded by our listeners’ generous donations. If you'd like to support our work, connect with us on Patreon or on our website at

Hi friends! Welcome back! Today's episode we'll be discussing Exodus chapter 24 and 31-34 for the dates April 25th through May 1st. We’re so super glad you're here. It's been a long time, or at least for us it feels like a long time. We haven't been able to sit down and really dive into the text for a couple of weeks. So we're really excited to be back. Thanks so much for your patience as we've worked on some extracurricular projects and just nourished ourselves and spent some really necessary time together. 

So today, like we said, The Come Follow Me manual only assigns chapter 24 and chapters 31-33 as the remaining assignments for Exodus, we wanted to give just a really quick overview of the chapters for the rest of the book, just so that we can all construct a timeline of events from where we were in the last full episode that we recorded and where we'll be going in the future. So in last week’s chapters, 18 through 20, which we didn't have an episode for, the manual covered Moses's preparation and receipt of the 10 commandments on Mount Sinai, as well as the creation of shared leadership by appointing spiritual leaders for the Israelites operating underneath Moses. Chapters 21-23 outline the law of Moses with guidelines about Sabbath day practices, sacrifices, the proper treatment of widows and servants and the infamous “eye for an eye, tooth for tooth” way of life. And chapter 24, the Israelites covenant to keep the law of Moses and in chapters 25 through 31, we'd get an outline for how to build a tabernacle with its various elements, as well as the vestiges and sacred practices for Aaron and the priests of the tabernacle. For today, most of our focus will be in chapter 32. There is so much going on in this chapter and it has a couple, well, not a couple, but one very iconic story that we wanted to focus on today. 

Elise: [00:03:38] And I think even before we get to Chapter 32. One thing that caught my eye in chapter 31 is actually the section heading that reads “Artisans are inspired in building and furnishing the tabernacle.” And this line stood out to me because hopefully as people know you and I really value and cherish arts in all of its forms, especially art as experience. I mean, we just finished this whole entire Holy Week series of poems and creative essays. You and I both draw and paint and we love being in the art museum. And even on our website, we have a line that reads, “but more than that, we believe that artists, creators, activists and beauty makers are essential to imagining a world where all can flourish.” And I think this chapter heading reminds me again of the important role that artists and creators play in making the world a better space. And that includes building beautiful worship spaces and also social justice spheres. Like our amazing artist friend, Michelle Franzoni Thorley, who's advocating for more diverse and inclusive representations of divinity in congregations and church buildings. Or another example is artist Camilla Stark, who's creating this super cool graphic novel to fight climate change. So I really love, specifically in chapter 31, but even the chapters that come before it, that aren't covered in the Come Follow Me manual, I like seeing the role that the community plays, but most importantly, the role that the artists play or the crafters make, or the cobblers and the sculptors and the people that are really participating in building a beautiful space for worship. This also reminds me about art and architecture in our churches and worship space. Author Janet Wooten summarizes Rosemary Radford Ruether’s description of the possibility of what a purpose built complex or church for worship could be. And they spend a lot of time focusing on the architecture when they say, “the space would need to be both centering and elevating.” She describes a circular space with a dome to let in natural light and oriented to catch light at both winter and summer solstices. Under the celebration center, there would be a crypt for rituals connected with birth and death. The whole complex would consist of the celebration center, an egg shaped building for study or conversation, gardens, pools, saunas, a play center, places for weaving, pottery and other crafts, a library and cottages where people could stay. Wooten also dreams of banners and tapestries and sculptures and quilts that could connect a congregation's journey and legacy together. I really love dreaming about beautiful spaces and the role that art plays in my own worship. I remember once when Channing was in Phoenix we went to a Franciscan church and retreat center and the entire grounds really seem to have this artful approach in the way that the buildings worked in complement with the environment and the landscape. It really brought to the forefront, not just that we were on sacred ground, but really that the artful crafting of this ground was a sacred experience.

Channing: [00:06:56] Yeah. I also remember too, when you came to visit me, that we went to the Cathedral of Mary Magdalene in Salt Lake. And I remember just walking in and seeing how vibrant and colorful the entire cathedral and the chapel was and how we could just walk along, yeah, any portion of the building really, and admire the stained glass windows, the paintings, the sculptures, and just take in all of the gorgeous symbolism and stories that were unfolding in this space without anyone really having to speak or present.

And I just, I appreciate those moments of recognizing that there are so many other ways to worship than what we encounter in our own LDS chapels, which can sometimes be aesthetically bland, I think is probably the right way to say that. Which I think is also like, really ironic because the background of our podcast cover art is probably the most colorful thing I've ever seen in the church building anywhere.

Elise: [00:08:08] Yeah. The paisley couch.

 Channing: [00:08:08] Yeah, exactly. But I just, I love the idea of creating an envisioning and working together and crafting communities and spiritual practices and spiritual ideas. And there's, so there's so much potential there. And so much, I think even just for you and I, when we've gone to museums or artful spaces, or even just like sat in a park and like sketched buildings and random visitors, that there's a certain kind of connection that is made through beauty and through aesthetic and through art and I just love this connection that you've made here with the text of an illumination of encountering the divine through art. It's just incredible. 

Elise: [00:08:56] Yes. Thank you. And I know that my life has been made richer, my worship has been deepened, and my belief in a higher power has been made far greater because of the work of artists and architects and creators who help me commune with God.

And so I'm really grateful that those themes were also highlighted in chapter 31. 

Channing: [00:09:16] As we move from this really beautiful imagining and reverence for artful spaces we move into, I don't know, maybe another iteration of art, which is kind of funny, it's a little tongue in cheek way of looking at this. But we move to chapter 32 which tells the story about the golden calf. And the traditional telling of the story, and the one that shows up in the text, is that the Israelites wanted to create a golden calf to worship. And so Aaron said, “okay, everyone gather up all of the gold jewelry and we'll melt it and we'll create this golden calf.” Meanwhile, Moses is up on Mount Sinai talking with God and they're having these really deep spiritual conversations, I imagine, until at one point, God says, “Hey, Moses, all of the people down in the valley have created this golden calf and I am pissed.” And Moses is like, “Oh, okay. I will go fix it.” So Moses goes down to the valley and he approaches Aaron. And he's like, “What is this golden calf?” And Aaron was like, “Well, the people said that they wanted one and they just gave me their earrings. And I melted it. And then out of a fire came this golden calf.” And Moses is like, “Okay, highly likely story.” And then more drama unfolds from that point, which we'll get to later, but that is the story of the golden calf. So I'm excited to kind of dive into the story. 

Elise: [00:10:54] I really like your telling of this story, because it brings it to life in a different way than the text does. And one of the lines that stood out to me is that when the people turn to Aaron, because Moses has been up on the mountain with God for so long, the people turned to Aaron and they say, “Aaron, can you please make us gods that shall go before us? For, as far as Moses goes, the man that brought us out of the land of Egypt, we don't know what's become of him. So like, we don't know what to do now.” And in my first reading, in my attempt to be a compassionate reader, I hear the people may be experiencing a bit of fear. Maybe they feel that they've been abandoned by both their God and their prophet leader. I think that they might be feeling a bit of uncertainty and they also might feel disconnected and have a lack of direction. And so I think in the most generous reading, these people are trying to say, “We need help. We're afraid. Can you please point us in some directions so that we can know where to devote our attention?” And maybe even the people are looking for a way to reconnect with God and remind themselves of the God who brought them out of Egypt. So in this way, I don't actually think, even though this golden calf comes out of the, I don't know, pot of gold, I don't think that the people actually have mistaken the golden calf for the God who brought them out of Egypt. But I do think that they were looking for a physical reminder of a supernatural being. I think that they were turning to this golden calf in an attempt to reconnect with God. And at its best, I believe that that is also what rituals and symbols can do for us. Rituals and symbols can point us toward God.

And one of the questions I asked when I was reading was when do I find myself pulled towards symbols and metaphors and rituals in an attempt to connect to God? What do I need in my own life that I'm trying to replace with a golden calf? And yet granted, even with this most compassionate, most generous reading, I also know that in the text the commandment is still really explicit because in Exodus chapter 20 verse four, it says, “thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above or that is in the earth beneath or that is in the water under the earth.” So I recognize that this is both a direct commandment and a direct covenant that the people have entered into with God to not have any graven images or idols created to replace God. And because of this, this actually caused Channing and I to do a little bit more research, as opposed to only relying on our first gut interpretation, which led us to something new.

Channing: [00:13:42] Yeah. So we came across an article titled “Hebrew Women in the Wilderness: Midrash and Aggadah” by Tamar Kadari. And in this article, they illustrated that rabbis show women who wandered in the wilderness as righteous, more righteous than the men. Women also resisted the sin of idolatry in the creation of the golden calf. In Exodus 32:2, Aaron says to the people, “Break off the golden earrings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons and of your daughters and bring them unto me.” In this Kadari says that men were eager to build the calf. So they asked their wives for their jewelry, but the women were unwilling to cooperate in this sinful activity. So, as a consequence, only the men contributed their jewelry. The scriptures say, “And all the people took off the gold rings that were in their ears,” but the scriptures do not specify that the women offered their ears. The article makes the argument that this example showcases women's loyalty to God and to the commandment. And also that women were rewarded with the Jewish holiday dedicated to them called Rosh Chodesh, the monthly celebration of the new moon. This includes themes of atonement, renewal, rebirth, and not doing work so that they can gather together and celebrate. And we just want to note here that featuring Rosh Chodesh is not an invitation to conduct your own Rosh Chodesh celebration as it is uniquely Jewish. 

Elise: [00:15:16] I'm really glad that we did a little bit more research to find out this midrashic tradition that showcases that another interpretation of this story is that the women actually held true to their covenant, held true to their faith and promised to only ever worship God. And then seeing how this scripture has influenced the Jewish holidays and tradition around Rosh Chodesh is a really lovely way to, one, find the women in the text and, two, see how the text really shapes and can continue to influence our lives. 

Channing: [00:15:36] That's really beautiful as we were going through reading this text, I was also reminded of something that I had read in “The Screwtape Letters”- which was written by C.S. Lewis- about idolatry. And I have a really well loved copy sitting on my bookshelf. I really do love this book. It makes me smile. But for anyone who's not familiar with it, “The Screwtape Letters” is a book that's written in letter format, framed as demons who are talking to one another and instructing each other on how to properly tempt humans. And in one of the letters, one of the demons writes to his understudy, “You will find an individual human’s conception of God to be a composite object, containing many ridiculous ingredients. There will be images derived from the incarnation. And I have known cases where for some, their God was actually located up and to the left at the corner of the bedroom ceiling or inside their own head or in a crucifix on a wall. But whatever the nature of the composite object, you must keep him praying to it. The thing that he has made, not to that which has made him. Once thoughts and images have been flung aside, or if retained with a full recognition of their subjective nature and recognized as never fully knowable by them as they are known by it, that is when the incalculable may occur.” And I really love this quote. And I always think about it whenever I think about or hear about idolatry, because it reminds me of a phrase that Elise and I often say on the podcast, like literally, Elise, I bet you know what it is. It's that God is always more than we expect God to be. And I think Lewis does a really good job of illustrating that when we worship an image of God, It might be worth asking ourselves, could this image possibly be what Lewis calls, a composite object, containing many ridiculous ingredients? We can ask ourselves: where do these ingredients that we believe make up God come from? Maybe individually they'd look nice, but in concert with other ingredients, they can become harmful. In one case maybe God is a composite of men's gold earrings, or maybe our particular composite is made up of cherry picked pieces from various hierarchical systems. But when we are willing to fling aside our images of God, or like C.S. Lewis alludes, recognize that the images of God we have created are subjective, we can be surprised by what happens after; C.S. Lewis calls it the incalculable. 

Elise: [00:18:52] Another part of the golden calf story that was interesting to me is the way that God responds. When God realizes that the people are starting to worship this golden calf, God says to Moses, “Now, therefore, let me alone that my wrath may wax hot against them and that I may consume them.” And here we can see, God is super pissed. God actually says, like, “Leave me alone. I'm so mad that I'm going to lose it and I'm going to consume and like, kill all of these people.” But Moses says in response to God's anger, “Why are you getting upset at the people that you brought out of Egypt? Don't go ahead and kill all these people because then the Egyptians are going to say, wow, God just freed the Hebrews only to turn around and then slay them in the mountain.” Moses says, “Turn from my fierce wrath and repent of this evil against my people. Remember the covenants that you have made with these people, remember Abraham and Isaac and Israel. Remember the covenants you have made to multiply and protect your own people.” And then verse 14 says, “and the Lord repented of the evil, which he had thought to do unto this people.” And this for me is really remarkable to see Moses pushing back, critiquing and calling out God. First, because it levels the power dynamics and puts God and Moses on common ground. It also showcases Moses's trust in the relationship that he has with God. Moses knows because of the trust that he has in the relationship with God, Moses knows that this relationship can sustain a call-out and a critique. And I feel really blessed to have friends that can do that for me, but I feel most especially blessed to have you, Channing, as a friend who is willing to call me out, who's willing to hold me accountable, who's willing to remind me of who I am at my core when things get a little fiery for me or when I'm not acting as my highest, best, most-healed self. And I think even in those moments of conflict or when we have to push back on each other, our relationship has been made deeper through the critiques and call-outs, and that's also thanks to the trust that we have in one another. 

Channing: [00:21:04] Yeah, I've always really appreciated that about our friendship, because I think it really offers us a unique gift in knowing that we can trust each other to say how we're really feeling and what we're really seeing pop up in these experiences with each other. So I don't have to leave a conversation with you wondering like, “Oh my gosh, did I say something wrong? Did I do something wrong? I can't believe that I said XYZ,” or whatever because you and I have built the trust into the relationship that we don't have to wait until the conversation is over and then return to it. We just say it in real time. And it's always very gentle and rooted in relationship and compassion and a shared desire to be our best selves with each other. And I've always really treasured that because then, in this particular case, and in these particular circumstances, call-outs always feel like a gift because it shows me where I can deepen my love for myself, for other people, and for the divine.

So I'm always so grateful for our ability and willingness to do that for one another. 

Elise: [00:22:22] Yeah, me too, that is really such a gift because friendships and relationships have the possibilities to help make us better people. And I think that's one thing that we can see here between Moses and God: Moses trusts God, and God trusts Moses.

And so when Moses says, “Hey, I'm not going to let you let your wrath wax hot against the group of people and then consume them. And by not letting you freak out on them, I'm doing this because I love you.” And then I can also imagine God when they've chilled out a little bit, I can imagine that God is really grateful for Moses, for reminding them of their true character, a God who is loving through and through who is patient and long suffering. And I think that's a real gift and an encouraging exchange that we see between Moses and God that Moses can critique and call out and hold God accountable. And then God actually turns around and repents, wants to do better, has a change of heart. Here too, if God themselves can pause and repent, it's a huge reminder for me to do the same thing. And it shows me that it's not necessarily my anger that I need to repent of, but it's the acts that follow or that could follow and get me into violent places that need to be repented of. It shows me that I need people who love me and see me and can remind me of who I am when I've really lost my way. I need friends who can call me out and hold me accountable. And the friendships that do that for me are the ones that are built on trust. 

Channing:  [00:23:56] I love this section of this chapter and I wish knowing what comes afterward, that the chapter just ended here and we could just celebrate it with all of its amazingness, but we've been in the scriptures for like two and a half years now. And that's just never the way this ever shakes out. So, unfortunately there's still more that happens in this chapter and it gets quite violent. After Moses and God have this really incredible interaction about compassion and repentance, Moses returns from Mount Sinai to the Israelites and basically says, “I'm on God's side, who else is on God's side?” And all of the Levites, it's all the Levite men stand up and God says, “Okay, thank you, Levite men. Now you can go kill three men each, of those people who participated in creating this idol.” And so collectively these men go out and kill about 3,000 of the Israelite men and then afterwards, Moses returns to Mount Sinai and says to God, “I took care of it. I really took to heart how upset you were. And so I want to just say, like, if you need to blot my name out of the book of life, you can do that.” And God's like, “I'm not gonna do that.” And then the chapter ends, so that is what we have to work with at the end of chapter 32. And needless to say, we have mixed feelings about Moses.

Elise: [00:25:38] Yeah, like, because part of me thinks, “Wow, Moses, you, you just did it. You just stopped God from consuming all of the people, but the minute you come down from Mount Sinai, your next command to the people is to go murder 3,000 of them?” I don't, it's just not making sense for me. And I wished that Miriam or Aaron, or one of Moses's gazillion friends or followers had called Moses to repentance, had reminded Moses of who he was at the core in the same way that Moses did for God. And this is me also assuming that no one did that, maybe lots of people did and Moses didn't listen. And yet later in the story, it's Moses who's intervening between the people and God in an attempt to atone for the sins of the people. Just like Channing said, Moses shows up to God after the killings have finished. And Moses says, “Okay, it's covered. All of the sins of the people can be put upon me and you can kind of like write me off.” And God doesn't. So it's confusing because Moses goes to bat for his people, but he also commands them to kill each other. And I don't know how to make sense of this right now. What seems to right now, what I'm sitting with is just the reminder that, not just that people are complex, but also that my lack of exposure to and study of the Hebrew Bible confronts me with new challenges that are unlike the challenges we've grappled with in the Book of Mormon or in the Doctrine and Covenants. In our experience, even in the first four months of this year for the podcast, we see wilder, more magical stories. We see bigger gods who are mad, but they're complex and growing. And of course we see prophets like Moses who are really messy. So I don't have perfect sense made of this, but all of this is just to say that the Hebrew Bible is challenging and I feel really lucky to be able to read and learn this year. And kind of practice holding both the amazing parts that feed me and the really challenging parts that make me concerned and question a lot of things that I think I know about God or prophets or liberation. 

Channing: [00:27:55] Yeah. Yeah. And that's something that you and I definitely have grappled with off-air is just the intensity of the Hebrew Bible. And I think that that really speaks to, I don't know, its ability to kind of hold this timeless story of people's experiences with each other and people's experiences with the divine. The Hebrew Bible is an old text and so it has mythical proportions to it. And I think that it's a lot to ask any reader of the text to encounter and then walk away from tricky portions, just like this one, with any type of surety or certainty about the meaning of this story or what to do with this story.

And so I really appreciated your perspective here in saying, like, “Wow, I was really confronted with my own experience of this chapter and not being provided with a clear answer.” And that's something that we've always been very grateful for and very frustrated by as we've moved through the text- all of them so far. And I'm sure that this won't be the last time for either one of us. 

Elise: [00:29:13] Yeah. Yeah, that's right. 

Channing: [00:29:13] Before we finish out the episode for today. I just wanted to spend a little bit of time in the chapters that remain outside of the Come Follow Me assignment. What really stuck out to me in these chapters that mostly focus on the creation of the tabernacle, the artists involved in the creation of the tabernacle. So that really sums up chapter 32. And from here we have a handful more chapters before the book of Exodus is complete. Chapters 33 and 34 documents a handful of further interactions between Moses and God. Some of them happen face-to-face and others occur through what the texts calls, “cloudy pillars” and also happened on Mount Sinai in which God and Moses make and receive more commandments and covenants. Chapters 36 through 40 outline the creation of the tabernacle, the arc, the mercy seat, altars, incense, anointing oils, the breastplate of Aaron, and other priestly garments. The men of Israel make sacrifices in the tabernacle and Moses blesses Israel. And these chapters finish out the book of Exodus. And before we wrap up the episode for today, I just wanted to share some thoughts that I had about some of these remaining chapters that were left out of the manual reading assignment, because I really think that they speak to something that, Elise, you alluded to earlier, which was the importance of ritual. I'm sure that we've spoken before about our shared fascination with ritual on the podcast, because it's something that Elise and I are just totally intrigued by. It literally, we're just fascinated by it, but I think we'll continue to see ritual be really important throughout the Hebrew Bible, because there's something really compelling, like, just so interesting about the embodied act of ritual. Ten chapters from the book of Exodus focus on exact preparation for worship. And a question that I had about this is: what can this teach us about the relevance of ritual? We've said elsewhere that ritual is an act of reverent embodiment. Ritual returns us to the body through the senses. Something about the exactness of the instructions for ritual preparation and performance is something that really challenges me in the text. I think there's something really rich in extravagantly precise ritual. In some ways these rituals take us out of ourselves by honing our focus and offering clarity and intention. I also think that if all worship always must be an extravagantly precise ritual, it becomes a distraction. And this is one place that I actually think the LDS church maybe gets ritual right. Extravagant rituals are performed almost exclusively in the temple, but a less involved yet still precise ritual is in the sacrament. The more capacity for presence and engagement, the more elaborate the ritual, just like we find in the temple. However, the more potential for distraction or disruption, the less elaborate the ritual like teenage boys passing the sacrament to a chorus of screaming toddlers and crying babies. And yet both are effective in providing opportunity for reverent, present embodiment. The text really seems to revere and honor rituals founded on extravagant exactness. And so questions that I want to ask about this week's texts are: How might ritual enhance or facilitate my connection with the sacred in new and unexpected ways? What rituals are already a part of my spiritual practice? What do I enjoy about them? What do I wish there was more of? And finally, how can I better nurture my own reverent embodiment? 

Elise: [00:33:25] Thank you so much for being with us this week. We're really glad to be back into the normal Come Follow Me flow of the podcast. And we also want to issue a special thanks to our transcription volunteer team who have been so lovely in preparing all the transcriptions for our website. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Friends, thank you so much for joining us today for another episode of the Faithful Feminist Podcast. We know your time and space is sacred and we are so grateful to have spent ours with you. If you enjoyed this episode, we'd be so happy if you left us a loving rating on iTunes and Spotify. So other seekers can find us. 

Channing: [00:34:09] Financial donations support the many hours of research work and devotion to each episode, as well as the everyday cost of creating and publishing the podcast.

You can support us on Patreon or through a simple Venmo donation and help us create a world where creators, artists, activists, and beauty makers are valued and paid for their labor. Find us on those platforms and on Instagram as The Faithful Feminist. We're deeply grateful for your kindness and encouragement. We love you so much, and we hope to spend more time with you again soon.

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