What does the Golden Calf have to do with Christians today? Are there lessons there for us?
Delay Brings Idolatry
Sometimes God does not answer our prayers immediately and when He is silent, it is tempting to take things into our own hands. When Moses went up Mount Sinai to receive the Law of God, he left Aaron in charge but after a long delay the people grew restless. John Calvin once wrote that our hearts are like idol factories and the story of the Golden Calf is a supreme example of this because “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” (Ex 32:1). It didn’t take long for the people to crave a false god but the problem was that, much like today, people create a god in their own image and one after their own imagination and likeness.
Today when you share the gospel of Jesus Christ you’ll frequently hear people say “Well, my god wouldn’t send anyone to hell. He is a good god and is all loving.” I say, “You’re right, your god wouldn’t send anyone to hell because you god doesn’t exist. Yes, God is loving but He is also holy and righteous and must judge sin just like any courtroom judge would.” Imagine you’re standing before a judge and you have broken the law and you believe that the judge is good and loving judge but he can’t let you just walk out of the courtroom without incurring a penalty for your crimes could he? No, a good judge must punish lawbreakers and so God must do what is right but there is an Advocate, if a person trusts in Him, to pay your penalty but many people don’t want that kind of a god. They want a god after their own thinking but that’s not Who God is.
Aaron Caves in to Pressure
After Moses’ long delay the people came up to 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” (Ex 32:1b). Here was his chance to stand firm. Aaron must have known that their demands were ridiculous and that there was only One, True God but he caved in to their pressure. Much of the preaching done today is preached by those who have also caved into the pressure of giving people what they want to hear, not what they need. Instead of standing up for what is right and what Aaron knew to be true he said “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. 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” (Ex 32:2-4).
Incredibly, Aaron not only didn’t stand up for the True God but he even asked for donations to make them a golden image. Even worse, he is the one who actually cast the idol of gold into a calf, “fashioning it with a tool.” All too often you will hear people’s own idea of who they think God is but they are not describing the God of the Bible. It seems inconceivable that Aaron, who had witnessed the power of the Omnipotent God, would settle for a false god and one that resembled the Egyptian god Apis or Hapis which is a bull-deity that was worshipped by the Egyptians. There is no doubt the Israelites were familiar with this god so they not only wanted a false, pagan god but one that they were familiar with. This might also be indicative of their missing their former life in Egypt where they too could sin without their conscience convicting them. Egypt resembles the world and their coming out of Egypt was like their coming out of sin, so by their wanting to make a false god from their own imagination that mimicked the one in Egypt, you could say that they missed their former life of sin and idolatry and were rejecting the “I AM” God Who had actually brought them out of Egypt. Now they were claiming this golden calf as god and Aaron even goes so far as to say “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt” (Ex 32:4). Amazingly, Aaron goes along with the nation and more importantly, Israel rejected the idea that God had been the One Who had actually brought them out of Egypt because they said that it was “Moses who brought us up out of Egypt” and not God. The people and Aaron have now strayed exceedingly far from the truth simply because they had given up on waiting for Moses. They were now worshipping and sacrificing to a false god but their behavior was about to get worse.
The People Rose up to Play
After the golden calf was made, Aaron even went further. He said “’Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.’ 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” (Ex 32:5-6). Now Aaron created his own feast day for the nation and the language of where the people rose up early and offered burnt offerings was the epitome of idolatry. Where it was written that “they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry” strongly suggests that there were sexual orgies, drunkenness, and gluttony to the nth degree. How far had Israel strayed from the morality that God had demanded of them to now worshipping a false god and throwing a party that was full of debauchery and drunkenness but this was about to stop as God told Moses “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. 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” (Ex 32:7-8).
Aaron Shirks Responsibility
When Moses finally came down to the mountain, he was outraged because 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. 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” (Ex 32:19-20). Talk about leaving a bad taste in their mouth. This must have been a bitter pill to swallow. The people were now forced to eat their own false god.
Moses asked Aaron “What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin” (Ex 32:21)? Was it really Aaron that “led them into such great sin?” Yes, because Moses had left Aaron in charge and as such he was Moses’, and ultimately, God’s representative and so by his caving into their pressure and his not standing firm on what he knew to be true, he allowed them to enter into idolatry. In fact, it was worse; he actually forged the golden calf with his own hands. That’s why there is such hypocrisy in Aaron’s excuse when he said “Do not be angry, my lord,” Aaron answered. “You know how prone these people are to evil. 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.’ 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” (Ex 32:22-24)! Aaron is blaming the people and not accepting the responsibility of his failure of leadership. What is amazing is that he expects Moses to believe that the calf just popped out on its own by the way he describes it; “they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf” (Ex 32:24). That would be a miracle in itself it they simply gave him the gold and he threw it in the fire and “out came this calf!”
There are many lessons in this story. Pastors, teachers, and church leaders must not compromise Who the God of the Bible is. They must stand firm on what the truth is and not allow the people of the church to create in their own mind a god in their own image and after their own likeness and one that is more suitable to them. God is love but He is also holy and the wrath of God is real (John 3:336b) and must be preached because unless you preach the righteousness, holiness, and judgment of God on sinners, they will never see the mercy of God as relevant and sinners will not flee to the cross to be saved.
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