The Golden Calf
32 When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, 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 Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.” And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.
And the LORD said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” And the LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.”
But Moses implored the LORD his God and said, “O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” And the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.
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 the camp.” 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 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.
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.”
And when Moses saw that the people had broken loose (for Aaron had let them break loose, to the derision of their enemies), then Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said, “Who is on the LORD’s side? Come to me.” And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. And he said to them, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel, ‘Put your sword on your side each of you, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill his brother and his companion and his neighbor.’” And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And that day about three thousand men of the people fell. And Moses said, “Today you have been ordained for the service of the LORD, each one at the cost of his son and of his brother, so that he might bestow a blessing upon you this day.”
The next day Moses said to the people, “You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” So Moses returned to the LORD and said, “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.” But the LORD said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book. But now go, lead the people to the place about which I have spoken to you; behold, my angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them.”
Then the LORD sent a plague on the people, because they made the calf, the one that Aaron made.
Exodus 32 Commentary
by Hank Workman
Excuses. We’re masters of them when it comes to being caught. Well, we’re masters of them even when not in justification.
The leadership of Aaron is blatantly on display through his lack of godly leadership when the people pressured him to make a golden calf. It would nearly cost him his life.
“I said to them, ‘Whoever has any gold, let them tear it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.”Exodus 32:24
Aaron had been Moses’ right hand from the very halls of confrontation to Pharaoh. He had been made the first High Priest of Israel. Yet through these 2 important aspects alone of witnessing God’s power, seeing the hand of God produce miracles and being given an important place within leadership he failed. His compensating personality gave to the people’s demands.
He was not strong enough to stand against them. He also in time would join sister Miriam in complaining. He was weak. Although God gave him special abilities for him to use, those very skills that should have made him a good team player made him a poor leader instead.
It is his absurd declaration of the cow just magically coming out of the fire that reveals his spiritual decline in leadership even as an example of what was going on with the people themselves. There is no doubt that just because an individual has a status of leadership they will lead correctly. The reality is we as Believer’s when given such roles must even double down all the more making sure our theology and actions, faith for sure are based upon and in tune with God.
Standing against the pressure of the people and the times is something that must be practiced continually. Being in that ongoing relationship with Jesus is where we gain our wisdom to lead and relying on the Holy Spirit to do so is essential.
Are there excuses you are using to not follow completely? Who is this affecting?
Exodus 32 Commentary
by Brad Boyles
The first question I asked when reading this chapter was – what caused this? We read in the very first verse that it was because of a delay. How many times have we allowed sin to grow from our lack of patience in a situation? This is a really simple but powerful application. Had the people trusted in God (and Moses), and waited patiently for their leader, they would not have stumbled into this sin.
The second major issue here is that Aaron takes action without consulting the Lord. Countless times in Scripture we find this to be the case. Numerous times in Scripture we also find faithful men and women who immediately fall on their knees during troubling times. Aaron had great intentions, but he failed to consult the Lord! This is such a true statement of our world today.
Many people have good, “Christian” intentions but lack the spiritual depth of a relationship with Jesus Christ. So, in the end, their decisions really are their own version of Christianity which is essentially what happens in this chapter of Exodus; the people replace God with a golden calf.
So, why a calf?
Nelson’s New Illustrated Commentary describes it this way…
“Cattle were common images for deities in that period. In Egypt, the popular goddess Hathor was represented as having various features of a cow, such as its horns and ears. Male deities in other cultures, such as Syria-Palestine and Babylon, were often depicted as having some cow features, usually horns. And Canaanite deities such as El and Baal are associated with bulls in the Ugaritic texts. If the golden calf represents a Canaanite god, such worship was a blatant rejection of Israel’s God.”Nelson’s New Illustrated Commentary
The most striking part of this chapter that cannot be ignored is the intercession by Moses for his people. We see this time and time again throughout Exodus and Numbers. Moses falls on his face before the Lord and pleads for grace to be found with the Israelites. He pleads on behalf of God’s covenant.
Jesus not only pleads for us, but he offers Himself as a Living Sacrifice. Because of His work at the cross, He is our Lord and Savior. We must remember to be patient in waiting on the Lord, diligent in seeking Him in prayer, and always remember that there is no substitute for the power of Jesus Christ.