The Golden Calf Debacle

Exodus 32:1-10

We come in our Experiencing Exodus to THE GOLDEN CALF DEBACLE. Previously in Exodus, God’s grace has abounded. Now we are confronted with the awful depravity of fallen man.

At every point the people’s building project of the Golden Calf contrasts with the Tabernacle that God has just announced to Moses. This gives the account in Exodus 32:1-10 a weighty ironic twist. There are at least ten ironic twists:

1. The people seek to create what God has already provided.
2. They, rather than God take the initiative.
3. God’s authorized worship is replaced by fabricated human worship.
4. Offerings are demanded rather than willingly presented.
5. The elaborate preparations are missing altogether.
6. The painstaking length of time needed for building becomes an overnight rush job.
7. The careful provision for guarding the presence of the Holy One turns into an open air object of immediate accessibility.
8. The invisible, intangible God becomes a visible, tangible image.
9. The personal active God becomes an impersonal object that cannot see or speak or act.
10. Instead of holiness, there is revelry.

The ironic effect is that the people forfeit the very divine presence they had hoped to bind more closely to themselves. At the heart of the matter, the most important of the commandments has been violated. Israel is disloyal to its God!

The issue presented initially in chapter 32 is that of a leadership vacuum. Without proper leadership the people can flounder. Sometimes even the holiest of men, as Aaron can be persuaded to compromise. Exodus 32:1—

When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered round 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.”

SO LONG—forty days and forty nights—Moses was on Mt. Sinai with God. While Moses was having a MOUNTAINTOP EXPERIENCE with the LORD, the people were in the VALLEY below. How long this was before the expiration of the forty days, we cannot tell; but it certainly must have been some considerable time.

The Israelites were God’s chosen people, chosen by His grace and redeemed from Egypt by His power. He had led them, fed them, protected them from the enemy, and made them a part of His covenant. He had given them His holy laws and the people had agreed to obey.

Here at Sinai, the people had seen the awesome display of God’s glory and had trembled at His power. Yet, in spite of all these marvelous experiences, they arrogantly disobeyed the LORD and lapsed into idolatry and immorality.

THIS FELLOW MOSES WHO BROUGHT US UP OUT OF EGYPT reveals the attitude of the people, who relegated God’s works to a mere mortal.

They gathered round Aaron and said, “COME, MAKE US GODS WHO WILL GO BEFORE US.” This is a most strange and unaccountable transaction. Was it possible that the people could have so soon lost sight of the wonderful manifestations of God upon the mount? Was it possible that Aaron could have imagined that he could make any god that could help them?

MAKE US GODS! What a thought! Man called upon to make gods, and people willing to put their trust in such!

The Hebrew word for “gods” is Myhla (‘elohim), which also is translated “GOD” throughout the OT. A proper translation would be: “Come, make us God who will go before us.”

GO BEFORE US suggests that the people are requesting an image of God, not a substitute!

When Aaron says in Exodus 32:3—“These are gods, O Israel”—it also can be correctly translated: “This is your God, O Israel.”

It seems that Aaron only intended to make them some symbolical representation of the Divine for he goes on to say, “Tomorrow will be a festival to the LORD.” Hence it is evident he intended that the true God should be the object of their worship, though he permitted and even encouraged them to offer this worship through an idolatrous medium, the golden calf.

The people GATHERED ROUND AARON. In other words, they came in a tumultuous and seditious manner, insisting on having an object of religious worship made for them, as they intended under its direction to return to Egypt. Stephen in his speech to the Sanhedrin declared in Acts 7:39-42—

But our fathers refused to obey him. Instead, they rejected him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt. They told Aaron, `Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who led us out of Egypt—we don’t know what has happened to him!’ That was the time they made an idol in the form of a calf. They brought sacrifices to it and held a celebration in honor of what their hands had made. But God turned away and gave them over to the worship of the heavenly bodies.

The Bible makes it very clear that by this act the Israelites REJECTED GOD and TURNED their hearts back to Egypt—that’s APOSTASY!

APOSTASY denotes that a person once had a relationship with God, but has consciously chosen to DEFECT DESERT, FORSAKE, FALL AWAY from that relationship. The NT warns the Christian in Hebrews 6:4-6—

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.

TRUST and OBEY is an going thing! We must grow in grace or we will grown in disgrace. To know both God and His commands and reject them is what Adam and Eve did in the Garden! They were the first apostates!

APOSTASY is a conscious abandonment of allegiance and duty to God, His commands, and His leaders. Not only did the Israelites reject God and His commandments, but they also rejected His leader. They said, “As for this Moses, who brought us up from Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”

This is the language of great contempt. They were bitter toward Moses from the beginning! As soon as Pharaoh made them make bricks without straw, the Israelite foremen said to Moses and Aaron in Exodus 5:21—

“May the LORD look upon you and judge you! You have made us a stench to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”

Undoubtedly, the Israelites expected instant results. When Moses and Aaron did not produce them and hardships came their way, they quickly grew impatient and bitter towards God’s chosen leaders.

It is likely they might have supposed that Moses had perished in the fire, which they saw had surrounded the top of the mountain into which he went. Their is attitude seems to be: “Good Riddance—Now we can go back to Egypt!” That old saying is true—“While the cat is away the mice will play!” Moses is away, there is no reason to obey God! “We’ll do things our way now!”

God’s demands upon His people always can be described simply by the words—TRUST AND OBEY— whether the leader is present or absent! Many who claim to be God’s people act quite differently in the presence of His leaders than when they are not present.

IMPATIENCE with God displays LACK OF TRUST and leads to APOSTASY! Exodus 24:12-14 records—

The LORD said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and commands I have written for their instruction.” Then Moses set out with Joshua his assistant, and Moses went up on the mountain of God. He said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we come back to you. Aaron and Hur are with you, and anyone involved in a dispute can go to them.”

What had Moses told the elders? “Wait here for us until we come back to you.” WAIT is the KEY. It seemed SO LONG—but it was merely forty days and forty nights! Israel had waited four hundred years for their redemption from Egypt. What is is forty days and forty nights in comparison?

The human heart lusts after something that can be seen; it loves that which meets and gratifies the senses. It is only faith that can endure as seeing Him who is invisible. Hebrews 11:1-2—

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

We are called to live by faith; we can see nothing with the eye of sense. Jesus is gone up on high, and we are told to wait patiently for His appearing—of which Moses on Mt. Sinai typifies!

The basic cause of the Golden Calf Debacle was UNBELIEF—the people became IMPATIENT while WAITING for Moses, and without true faith they decided they had to have something they could see. IMPATIENCE mixed with UNBELIEF led to IDOLATRY, and IDOLATRY led to IMMORALITY. Exodus 32:2-4—

Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold ear-rings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their ear-rings 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, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”

Both men and women wore these ornaments, and we may suppose that these were a part of the spoils which they brought out of Egypt. How strange, that the very things which were granted by God, should be now abused to the basest idolatrous purposes! But it is frequently the case that the gifts of God become desecrated by being employed in the service of sin. If misused God’s blessings are turned to curses according to Malachi 2:2—

If you do not listen, and if you do not set your heart to honour my name,” says the LORD Almighty, “I will send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have already cursed them, because you have not set your heart to honor me.

Gold would be required for making of the of the Tabernacle and its furnishings. God had abundantly supplied wealth so the people could give towards the building of His dwelling place, not for the fashioning of a golden calf. It is extremely important that we honor God with all our possessions, even down to something so minute as ear-rings! We are trustees of everything we possess, and we are set our hearts on honoring God with those possessions.

To take our possessions and make them into an idols among the greatest sins that plagues Americans! Jesus said it well in Matthew 6:19-21—

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Israel’s sin is a type of something into which we are in danger of falling. Whenever we turn away in heart from leaning exclusively upon God Himself, whether in the matter of salvation or the the path of righteousness, we are in principle, saying, MAKE US GODS.

The Israelites’ treasure was in a golden calf! It is likely that some mould was made on this occasion, that the gold when fused was cast into it, and that afterwards it was brought into form and symmetry by the action of the chisel and graver.

The fruit of Moses’ earlier unbelief bears its fruit in AARON. At the burning bush, Moses said, “O Lord, please send someone else to do it.” God’s anger burned against Moses and He gave him Aaron!

Now Aaron usurps leadership in helping the people to sin. Why did he not rebuke the people and turn to God for help?

To say that Aaron made the calf as a symbol of Yahweh, stooping to the weakness of the people, does not excuse him; for Aaron knew what God had said about idols in the Second Commandment—

You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments (Exodus 20:4-6).

Aaron is now put to the test. It was the first time he had been left in charge of the Congregation, and wretchedly did he handled himself. Instead of fearing the LORD, he feared man!

Without hesitation Aaron submitted to the will of the people, instead of God’s. Aaron took the gold and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “This is your God, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” In Aaron’s mind, God is not being set aside, but he dead wrong! The goal of the EXODUS EXPERIENCE is to free the people to serve and worship Yahweh. This goal has taken a disastrous turn!

To Israelites recently come from Egypt, it probably seemed natural to represent Yahweh as a MOLDED CALF. Amon-Re, the Egyptian sun-god, was also said to be bull. The young bull was equated with strength and vigor as well as being a symbol of fertility in the nature-religions of the ANE.

However, the Egyptian calf-worship, or, rather, bull-worship, was not worship of images, but of living animals. A sacred bull, called Apis, was worshiped at Memphis, and another, called Mnevis, at Heliopolis, both being regarded as actual incarnate deities. Had Egyptian ideas been in the sway, it would have been natural to select a living bull, which might have “gone before” the people literally.

In light of what happen to the Egyptians with the plagues and at the Red Sea, it seems very improbable that the Israelites would have chosen an Egyptian deity to depict their national god.

Since the “molten calf” had no exact counterpart in Egypt, perhaps it points back to an older idolatry, such as is glanced at in Joshua 24.14—

Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.

Joshua warned the Israelites to “put away the gods which their fathers served beyond the River,” that is the Euphrates, where Abraham, Lot and their families originated. Certainly, the bull form was more distinctive of the Babylonian and Assyrian than of the Egyptian worship, and I suspect that the emigrants from Chaldea had clung through all their wanderings to the mystic symbolism that had been elaborated in that idolatrous land.

How easily the old ways reassert themselves. The worst thing about apostasy is that it binds us to the fact that we have rejected God.

At the death of Solomon in 930 B.C., Israel split into North and South and the GOLDEN CALF DEBACLE was repeated by the northern king, Jeroboam.

1 Kings 12 records that Jeroboam after seeking advice, made two golden calves and said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan. He instituted a festival and offered sacrifices on the altar at Bethel.

Like Israel’s pagan neighbors, the deity was represented as standing on the back of an animal or on a throne borne by animals. Jeroboam wanted the LORD to be thought of as invisibly enthroned above and between the two golden calves.

Where is God enthroned? King Hezekiah got in right in 2 Kings 19:15—

And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD: “O LORD, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth.

The folly of Rehoboam is almost unimaginable. But sin makes fools of its victims. If we do not learn from history, it is bound to repeat itself.

Israel’s apostasy at Mt. Sinai resulted from their faithlessness and impatience. Their APOSTASY turns to DEBAUCHERY. Exodus 32:5-6—

When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “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. Afterwards they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.

REVELRY is translated from the Hebrew qxul (letsachek), a word of ominous import, which implies drunkenness, fornicating and adulterous intercourse. The scene is a drunken orgy!

God knew what was going on in the camp of Israel and at this point. He appears to disown the Israelites as His people and seems to shift the BLAME to Moses for what happened with verses 7-8—

Then the LORD said to 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, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’

Yahweh’s response to Moses stands in marked contrast to earlier affirmations, such as “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the Egypt, the land of slavery.” They are not the people the LORD brought up, but whom Moses brought up. God’s disowns people who become corrupt!

Israel’s apostasy was threefold. FIRST, they had CORRUPTED THEMSELVES. the Hebrew verb means TO GO TO RUIN, and is used of that which is marred, spoiled, or morally corrupt. It is used to characterize the world of Noah’s day in Genesis 6:12—

God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways.

SECOND, THEY HAVE BEEN QUICK TO TURN AWAY. In Exodus 24:7-8, they had so glibly ratified the Covenant with blood—

Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.” Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

Now they shamefully had violated and broken this covenant and deserved the death which their own blood oath called upon them. The Golden Calf Debacle shows the utter inability of the people to keep the Covenant in their own strength. Shortly after the people exclaimed that they would make no idols and worship no other gods, they fashioned the golden calf.

THIRD, they not only made the golden calf, but THEY HAVE BOWED DOWN TO IT AND SACRIFICED TO IT AND HAVE SAID, `THESE ARE YOUR GODS, O ISRAEL, WHO BROUGHT YOU UP OUT OF EGYPT.’ Aaron may have understood the relationship of the Golden Calf to the LORD, but the people themselves worshiped the calf and offered sacrifices to it, thereby, violating the FIRST COMMANDMENT—

“You shall have no other gods before me.”

The word DISOBEDIENCE is not adequate for what has happened. This debacle is a fundamental act of DISLOYALTY to the God who had delivered them and entered into an intimate, covenant relationship with them. The result is a brokenness of relationship. Even God is presented as one searching for the appropriate response in verses 9-10—

“I have seen these people,” the LORD said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”

NOW LEAVE ME ALONE displays God’s dismay with His people. In effect, God informs Moses that, if this is what the people want to believe and confess, let them. If they wish to confess a deliverer other than Yahweh, they will have to bear the consequences. God does not treat APOSTASY lightly!

Why did Israel apostatize? God gives the reason: THEY ARE A STIFF-NECKED PEOPLE. In other words, OBSTINATE, BULLHEADED or STUBBORN! They will not bow to God’s authority and will, but choose to bow down to their object of worship.

And of course, they also are IMPATIENT! Combine STUBBORNNESS and IMPATIENCE and it leads to REBELLION against God’s Word. Everyone who rebels against God and His Word is in very deep trouble with the LORD.

Remember that these are the people God redeemed from Egypt! Now the LORD wants Moses to leave Him alone so that His anger may burn against the Israelites and so that He may destroy them! So much for the popular and erroneous teaching that God loves the sinner, but hates the sin! Psalm 5:4-6 reminds us—

You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil; with you the wicked cannot dwell. The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong. You destroy those who tell lies; bloodthirsty and deceitful men the LORD abhors.

Up on the Mountain, Yahweh tells Moses that He will destroy these people—consume them in His wrath—and begin again and built a people from Moses as he intended to build from Abraham.

Frank Sinatra was buried this week. He popularized the song, “I DID IT MY WAY!” Every human being is faced with a choice in life—TO DO IT OUR WAY or TO DO IT GOD’S WAY!

If we choose our way, we are STIFFED-NECKED and God’s anger burns against us! If we choose God’s way and keep His commandments, His love is shown to us.

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