The Bible seems to present no end of Trumpian mirrors for our delectation and discussion. As I have offered these various mirrors to our 45th president, I recognize that some of my readers may see these articles as little more than sour grapes at an election lost or as angry pique toward a man who in my wildest nightmares I could never imagine might become my president. Perhaps they are a combination of those two factors among others. I will tell you why I continue to do them: my horror at Trump remains undiminished after his nearly 10 weeks in office. In fact, if I am honest, that horror has increased, as I have witnessed the malevolent incompetence of the man, the narcissistic motivations of his actions, the lack of understanding of the most basic policy issues, many of which bear dangerous implications for all Americans and the world. He seems so ignorant and at the same time so incapable of listening to anyone who might know something! Today, as I watch his ignoble maneuverings, I think of Aaron, often remembered as Moses’ brother but more importantly for us, remembered as the man who led Israel badly astray at the base of the sacred mountain of Horeb.
The story is one of the Bible’s crowning glories, as it is found in Exodus 32. Moses in Ex. 24, has deputized Aaron, along with Hur, to deal with any disputes that may arise in his absence as he moves up the mountain to chat with his God (Ex. 24:12-14). No sooner has the great lawgiver turned the first bend up the mountain than the people of Israel are afraid and angry. Immediately, they demand that Aaron, “Make us gods who will go before us! As for this Moses, that man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what it is with him” (a very literal reading—Ex. 32: 1)! Instead of acting as we might imagine, perhaps telling them to wait as Moses has asked or demanding that they fall to their knees in prayer, Aaron instead demands that they bring to him all the gold they have, that same gold that they took from their Egyptian captors during their escape from Egypt. Why he wants all this gold is not at first clear, but soon he sets to creating a lovely molten calf, a possible god that will satisfy the raging people.
And it does, as they instantaneously shout, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt” (Ex. 32:4)! We note that they have now designated first Moses and then the calf as those who “brought them out of the land of Egypt.” Of course, the very first commandment has made it all too clear who it was who brought them out of Egypt–YHWH alone! They have quickly rejected the God who has led them out of Egypt and into and through the wilderness.
And now Aaron, having unleashed this so-called god onto the people, attempts to make it all better by declaring a “feast day to YHWH” tomorrow (Ex.32:5). The people celebrate a YHWH feast, at least up to a point. The get up early the next day and bring Israelite sacrifices of whole burnt offerings and offerings of shalom. But after the service ends, “the people sat down to eat and drink” (an ancient version of dinner on the grounds), “and then they rose up to sachaq” (Ex. 32:6). The verb that the NRSV translates as “revel,” is based on the word from which the name Isaac comes. It is sometimes rendered “laughter,” as when Sarah announces that her son born in extreme old age will cause laughter to break out. However, in Genesis 26:4 the word has a very different connotation. There Abimelech, king of Gerar, after being told that Rebekah is Isaac’s sister, witnesses the two of them acting not like brother and sister, but like lovers, since they are “fondling” one another, employing this same verb (Gen.26:8). Whatever the people of Israel are up to at the base of Horeb, it has a decidedly lascivious taint, and leads YHWH at the top of the mountain to fly into a roaring divine rage.
YHWH announces to Moses that God is sick to the teeth of these absurd and reckless people and resolves to wipe all of them out and to start over again with Moses, the new Abram of Israel. Yet, Moses, standing toe-to-toe with YHWH, convinces his God to spare the people, using several rather peculiar arguments, reminding God of God’s own covenant with Israel and suggesting that the Egyptians will think YHWH is some sort of fool, destroying Israel after spending all that energy to get them out of Egypt in the first place! As a result, YHWH changes the divine mind and does not destroy Israel after all.
Moses then heads down the mountain with the two tables of the law in his arms. Upon seeing the raucous Israelites and no sign of Aaron, he hurls the tablets to the ground, smashing them into pieces. He then confronts Aaron with his actions, and here we hear echoes of Donald Trump. “What did this people do to you that you brought on them a great sin,” he asks Aaron (ex 32:21)? Aaron’s reply is a hilarious evasion followed by an egregious lie. “Don’t get angry, Moses,” he begins. “You know this people, how bent on evil they are. I simply asked if they had any gold, and when they brought it to me, I tossed it in the fire and out popped this calf” (Ex 32:22-24)!
Here is Donald Trump in spades. When his health care bill went down to ignominious defeat (may God be praised!), he blamed first the Democrats, then his own party’s conservative wing. There was never a thought that the hastily drawn legislation was bad on its face and was doomed to fail. He even tried to strong-arm the holdouts by threatening them with their future seats in the Congress, something of course he had no real power to do, but that too was useless. The failure of the bill had finally nothing to do with Donald Trump. He as a last gasp warned America that the Affordable Care Act was destined to “explode,” and the Democrats would be sorry then, forgetting that the so- called Obama Care Act remained the law of the land, a land where Trump was now president!
Both Aaron and Trump act like petulant children. It is never their fault, even partially, even fractionally; others are the culprits, and if anyone dare accuse them of mistakes, they are both quick to make up some egregious lie to cover their culpability. I fear that Aaron did not die long ago; he has been reborn in the person of the Donald.
What can we do with a “leader” like Donald Trump? Perhaps we, like Aaron, need a Moses, willing to go back up the sacred mountain and plead for mercy, to offer his/her life for the people, to ask God to look with favor on the sinning people (Ex. 32:30-32). Must we await a new Moses, or must we merely survive the next four years, hoping that the child in the White House does not destroy our democracy or even confront others so as to destroy the world? I always hope for the mercy of God, and pray for it each day. May it be so in our troubled and dangerous time!