Moses and the Golden Calf Bible Story: Summary and Lessons

When Moses brought down the Ten Commandments, the Israelites were already practicing idolatry by worshipping another god.  What can we learn from this and apply it to our lives?

The Golden Calf

Moses went up Mount Sinai to receive instructions from God for Israel and stayed there a very long time but when he came down the mountain with the Ten Commandments, Israel had already turned to idolatry.  We read this account in Exodus 32:15-20

“Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets that were written on both sides; on the front and on the back they were written.  The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.  When Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a noise of war in thecamp.”  But he said, “It is not the sound of shouting for victory, or the sound of the cry of defeat, but the sound of singing that I hear.” And as soon as he came near the camp and saw the golden calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain.  He took the calf that they had made and burned it with fire and ground it to powder and scattered it on the water and made the people of Israel drink it.”

Caving into the People

Just like Israel, church leadership can cave into the popular demands of the people and fail to stand up for what is right.   Israel had no excuse.  They knew better.  Moses was full of righteous indignation and it was completely justified so he immediately went to the one who was ultimately responsible which was Aaron and “Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you have brought such a great sin upon them?”  And Aaron said, “Let not the anger of my lord burn hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil.  For they said to me, ‘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.’  So I said to them, ‘Let any who have gold take it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf” (Ex 32:21-24).  Listen to Aaron’s excuse.  He said that they told him to “Make us gods who shall go before us.” They took off all the gold they had and gave it to me and then, “I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.”  Aaron was making excuses for his lack of leadership.  As the priest of Israel, he should have stood firm and warned them that this is idolatry.  Aaron blamed the people evaded responsibility.   Aaron would have Moses believe that, like magic, they gave him all the gold and “out came this calf.”  Really!?  The calf just magically appeared?   He simply tossed in the gold into the fire or kiln and “out came [a] calf?”

Moses fixes the Blame

Moses was not convinced that a calf simply came out, just like that.  No, Moses saw that the people had broken loose (for Aaron had let them break loose, to the derision of their enemies)” (Ex 32:25).   It was Aaron who “had let them loose, to the derision of their enemies” not the people that had forced Aaron’s hand.   So then, “the Lord sent a plague on the people, because they made the calf, the one that Aaron made” (Ex 32:35).   There the Scripture plainly places the blame where it should be…not on the people but on Aaron for “the calf [was] the one that Aaron made.”   Yes, the people sinned but like Pontius Pilate who conveniently caved into the pressure the Jews put on him and not wanting to make waves with the Caesar, he went ahead and condemned an innocent Man, Jesus Christ, who Pilate had declared, “I see no sin in this Man.”  The point is that the leaders are more responsible than those who are under their leadership.  The higher up an authority goes, the more responsibility there is.  It is amazing that God didn’t send out the angel to have Aaron blotted out of the book of life too.

Leaders are More Accountable

James recommends that “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1).  One thing you might notice when he mentions teachers is the “we” indicating that he was a teacher too.  That’s why we shouldn’t press God too hard or kick doors open ourselves to make ourselves teachers for we are held to a higher standard and “will be judged with greater strictness.”  This means pastors, elders, deacons, Sunday school teachers and church officers.  This is not their church, it is Jesus Christ’s church and they will answer to Him.  We ought to apply this to our own lives and think seriously about what we teach.  Does our teaching square up with the Bible? Does it fit the doctrines taught by Christ and the Apostles?  Is the teacher watering it down or inserting their own beliefs or system of values?  And do they cave into popular demand to those things that are contrary to the Word of God?  That is serious stuff.  Just think of all the false teachers, ministers, self-proclaimed apostles and prophets there are today.  They will face Christ someday and answer for their heretical and apostate teachings and believe me, I don’t want to be in their shoes that day.

Application for the Teachers, Leaders and Pastors

Jesus warns us too and not just the apostles by saying “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matt 7:15-16a).  Peter tells us that “there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.  And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words.” (2 Pet 2:1-3a) and what will be their end?    Here is why anyone who abuses their leadership position should take notice; “Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep” (2 Pet 2:3b).  This means that they were judged long ago and their destruction is not sleeping or they are not getting away with anything because they have already been judged and condemned….they just haven’t had the sentence carried out yet.  Those who preach another gospel…or a false gospel are cursed (Gal 1:8) Paul doesn’t want us to “be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Cor 2:11).

Golden Calf Bible Story

Conclusion

The lesson of the golden calf is obvious.  Those who are in positions of authority will be held accountable to God,  those who teach false doctrines stand condemned already (unless they repent), godly leadership is not about being popular but about obedience to God, and leaders who disobey can’t blame those who they have authority over.  They will be held responsible and “it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them” (2 Pet 2:21).  God knows how to “keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment” (2 Pet 2:9b).  Want to be a leader, a teacher, an elder, or a deacon?  Know this, you “will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1b) and that’s exactly why James tells us “Not many of you should become teachers” (James 3:1a).

Another Reading on Patheos to Check Out: What Did Jesus Really Look Like: A Look at the Bible Facts

Article by Jack Wellman

Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book  Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon

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  • Claudia Prieto-Sotero

    This article really helped me with something I had to do for my youth group thing at my Church, please do this for all of the stories in the Bible.

  • Claudia Prieto-Sotero

    This article really helped me with something I had to do for my youth group thing at my Church, please do this for all of the stories in the Bible.