Why Did They Turn to Idolatry? | Part One

One of my responsibilities at my day job is to train employees in our software tools.

As I was doing this last Friday, we had to wait for what I sarcastically refer to as the “spinning circle of death” to load the page we needed.

At one point, I stopped the trainee I was working with from clicking the link again by pointing out the circle was still spinning and stating we needed to be patient for the computer to finish processing.

They immediately looked at me with a big grin and said, “Patience is not one of my virtues.”

I laughingly replied, “So this is why we have so many technical issues during your training. Clearly, God is helping you grow in this virtue.”

Why am I sharing this jesting about the need for patience?

And what does it have to do with this post’s title, “Why Did They Turn to Idolatry?”

First, what is patience?

Merriam-Webster.com defines patience as the capacity, habit, or fact of being patient.


Patience, please.


Merriam-Webster.com defines the sense of patient I am talking about as any of the following options:

  1. Bearing pains or trials calmly or without complaint
  2. Manifesting forbearance under provocation or strain
  3. Not hasty or impetuous
  4. Steadfast despite opposition, difficulty, or adversity
  5. Able or willing to bear

Second, what is idolatry?

Merriam-Webster.com defines idolatry as either the worship of a physical object as a god or an immoderate attachment or devotion to something.

Why Did They Turn to Idolatry? | The Back Story

Now consider the following passages from the book of Exodus, with the definitions of patience in mind.

On the third new moon after the people of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. They set out from Rephidim and came into the wilderness of Sinai, and they encamped in the wilderness. There Israel encamped before the mountain, while Moses went up to God.[1]

Describe the significance of the people’s departure from the land of Egypt. (Quickly scan Exodus 4-14 to aid your answer.)

Did the following people or groups have patience during the lead-up to their departure from Egypt? Why or why not?

Moses and Aaron?

The Israelites?


The Egyptians under Pharoah’s rule?


22 Then Moses made Israel set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water. 23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named Marah. 24 And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” 25 And he cried to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a log, and he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet. [2]

Describe the Israelites’ attitude when they could not drink the water.

How did the LORD provide for the Israelites in Exodus 15:22-25?

When traveling in a desert, water is an essential need for survival.

Why do you think the LORD allowed the Israelites to find unsuitable drinking water first?

There the Lord made for them a statute and a rule, and there he tested them, 26 saying, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, your healer.”[3]

List the responsibilities given to the Israelites in the verses above.

Who showed this responsibility in Exodus 15:22-25a?

What does the LORD promise the Israelites in the verses above?

After providing them with clean water in the desert, the Lord also promised to keep them free from the plagues he had sent to the Egyptians if they listened to Him and remained obedient to His commands.

Read how the Israelites responded to their circumstances shortly after God provided them with clean water and gave them additional promises.

The whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” [4]

What is the obstacle from the Israelite’s perspective now?

Who are they upset with?

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.”[5]

What does the LORD provide for the Israelites in Exodus 16:4-5?

Why does the LORD include a test for the Israelites?

So Moses and Aaron said to all the people of Israel, “At evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against the Lord. For what are we, that you grumble against us?”[6]

What do Moses and Aaron say the Israelites will know and see about the LORD?

Who do they say the people are actually upset with?

Then the LORD spoke to Moses again.

11 And the Lord said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’ ” [7]

The Israelites had grumbled about not having enough to eat as they had in Egypt, their place of captivity. (Exodus 16:3)

In response, the Lord, as promised, sent them quail in the evening and bread in the morning. (Exodus 16:13-19)

Yet, even with these provisions, some of the Israelites continued to grumble against Moses and Aaron. They failed repeatedly to heed the instructions given to them by the LORD even though they had His presence with them. (See Exodus 13:21-22, 16:10, 20, and 27.)

Describe the LORD’s level of patience with the Israelites at this point.

As the Israelites continued to move about from place to place in the desert, they found themselves without water again and quarreled with Moses. (Exodus 17:1-3)

After chastising the people for quarreling with him, Moses complains to the Lord.

Moses cried to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.”[8]

Describe Moses’ level of patience at this moment.

The Lord instructed Moses to take the staff he used to strike the Nile River to get it to part for their safe crossing and strike a rock. Moses followed these instructions and water came out from the rock for the people to drink. Once again, proving the Lord was with them and providing for their needs. (Exodus 17:5-7)

Back at the foot of Mount Sinai, the LORD reiterates what He has done, and what He wants the people to do, and announces His future plans.

The Lord called to [Moses] out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” [9]

What additional promises does the LORD offer the Israelites in the verses above if they obey His voice?

Why Did They Turn to Idolatry? | Application Questions

At this point in our quick review of Exodus 4-19, who would you say is best at exercising patience as defined above? The LORD, Moses, Aaron, or the Israelites? Why?

What has this quick review revealed to you about the LORD’s care for Moses? Aaron? The Israelites? You?

When do you struggle the most to be patient?

Based on Exodus 4-19, what does the LORD want us to do when we are struggling with patience?

How has the LORD provided for you in the past day? Week? Month? Year? Lifetime?

I am uncertain of the source of the following verse, but it is appropriate to our review of Exodus 4-19 today.

Are you humbly grateful or grumbly hateful?
What’s your attitude?
Do you grumble and groan,
Or let it be known
You’re grateful for all God’s done for you?

But we still need to answer, “Why Did They Turn to Idolatry?”

Guess what, some patience will be required before answering that question.

Come back for “Why Did They Turn to Idolatry? | Part Two,” in two weeks.

Yep, you read that right.

It will be two weeks until the next post.


Barbara Lynn

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ex 19:1–3.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ex 15:22–25.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ex 15:25–26.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ex 16:2–3.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ex 16:4–5.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ex 16:6–7.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ex 16:11–12.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ex 17:4.

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ex 19:3–6.

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