While Moses was communing with God, receiving all of the divine instruction needed to worship Him as a people, the people themselves were getting restless at the foot of Mt. Sinai. Their immediate desire to worship another god tells us two things:
- Mankind has an innate knowledge of a higher power that compels him to worship something that he considers is greater than himself
- Mankind’s overall lack of loyalty to the true God is not new, and people with a more tangible connection to God like the early Israelites even had difficulty remaining loyal to the true God that saved them in many ways
Perhaps they had not time enough to grow in their faith, or perhaps they were still unconvinced that this God that had brought them out of Egypt was deserving of total devotion. It is difficult to gauge what was going through their minds when they decided to make another god to worship. Part of it is undoubtedly the fact that Moses had been the representative of God and now he was missing atop the mountain for an extended amount of time. But nothing could excuse the statement made in the latter part of verse four, after Aaron the soon-to-be high priest had fashioned them a golden calf: “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!” Surely they had seen enough of the power of the true God to stop them from putting their faith in a material thing that had just been fashioned before their eyes. One would think…
But even weak-willed Aaron could not stand in the way of the people’s foolishness as he led them in worship to this false god. Aaron effectively led them in breaking the first three commandments. If the plagues and miracles were not enough, the people had also been told by God numerous times that it was He and He alone that was responsible for bringing them out of Egypt.
God of course is aware of these abominations and sends Moses back down the mountain to stop the idol worshipping. God wishes to destroy the people for their disrespect and lack of loyalty. Moses, however, pleads on their behalf and brings to light the promise God made to multiply the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel as many as the stars of heaven.
Joshua accompanied Moses back down the mountain and the sound of the people was such that it made him think it was a battle at the foot of the mountain. But Moses knew better. It was the sound of the people as they were singing and dancing. Moses’ anger is such that he breaks the tablets with the Ten Commandments at the foot of the mountain. He then takes the golden calf, burns it, and scatters the detritus in the water, then forces the people to drink it.
Aaron dodges accountability for his actions in leading the people, blaming them for their desires to serve the false god. And although it may have been difficult to assuage the passionate crowd, Aaron still bears hefty blame for lacking the backbone to reprimand the people for their sin and refusing to participate. Instead of standing up and acting truly as a Hight Priest worthy of the title, Aaron either has zero backbone or is a willing participant in the sinful acts of worship, or both.
When Moses sees the condition of the people, he calls the righteous to him and bids them to kill the unrighteous sinners in the camp. About three thousand men died in the ensuing retribution for having turned their backs on God. Moses then goes to God and intercedes for the people, offering that he himself be blotted out of God’s book if that means that the people will be forgiven.
God does not agree to Moses’ proposal but instead pledges that the people that sinned against Him will be blotted out of His book. God then urges Moses to continue leading the people to the designated place. But the Lord does put a plague on the people of Israel as an interim punishment for having worshipped the gold calf.
The lessons for this familiar Bible story are many. Thinking about the dynamic of God, Moses, Aaron, and the people, there is quite a bit to glean:
- When there is weak or new faith, it is especially susceptible to temptation
- When there is a spiritual leader in charge, he must be strong and unwavering in his leadership, intolerable of encroaching threats to the faith
- In the absence of physical reminders, faith should grow and expand to fill in the gap until confidence once more is the norm
How can you apply these principles to your life? In the absence of daily Bible reading, we can become like the listless Israelites, searching for something in the place of God that has little or no value. If you are in a leadership position, how aware are you of the always-existent threats, no matter how harmless, wrong, or ridiculous they might seem? Are you ready to stand up and face the ugly visage of bold sin?
I encourage you to pray daily for your strength of faith and for your willingness to speak up for the truth. Not your truth, his truth, or her truth, but THE truth.