SynopsisFor the last little while, Moses has been up on the Mountain of God, with the LORD, who has been giving Moses His commandments for the Israelites. All in all, Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights. But the people have become restless:
(I find it interesting that they refer to Moses as “this fellow Moses”—suddenly it’s as if they don’t even know him anymore.) In the footnotes, it mentions that some of those plural words for “gods” could also be translated in the singular; so it could also be translated “Come, make us a god who will go before us” in verse 1, and “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you out of Egypt” in verse 4.
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.”
Aaron answered them, “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, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”
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. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.
But Moses sought the favor of the LORD his God. “O LORD,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’” Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened. (verses 11–14)On their way back to the camp, Moses and Joshua hear the sounds of revelry coming from the camp. Joshua thinks it’s the sound of war, but Moses responds with a little piece of prose that, for some reason, I’ve never forgotten:
Moses replied:“It is not the sound of victory,I don’t know why this passage has always stayed with me, but for some reason it has.
it is not the sound of defeat;
it is the sound of singing that I hear.”
“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!” (verses 22–24)This is a bit too much, for Moses. He stands at the camp’s entrance, and calls for anyone who is “for the LORD” (verse 26) to come to him. The Levites come.
He is leaving no question that He is the one who is responsible for deciding who is written into the Book of Life, and who isn’t. Nobody else—not even Moses, and not even for his own name—gets a say in the matter. God is sovereign, over everything.
The LORD replied to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book. Now go, lead the people to the place I spoke of, and my angel will go before you. However, when the time comes for me to punish, I will punish them for their sin.”
And the LORD struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made.
ThoughtsAt the beginning of the chapter, when they are making the golden calf, I notice that verse 4 makes it very clear that this was a man-made god, because it says that Aaron fashioned it “with a tool”. You can almost hear the author of the book shaking his head in wonderment, as the people make an idol, and then worship it as something real. I also notice, however, that the Israelites are very confused; once Aaron has created the golden calf—and claimed that it is the god who brought them out of Egypt—he then builds an altar in front of it, and then declares that they are going to have a festival to the LORD the next day. This means that they either don’t know the difference between the LORD and the idol they have fashioned, or they believe that it’s okay to worship both God and another idol.
(The quotation is from Micah 7:6.) The point is that we—like the Levites—are always to choose God over anything else in our lives, even our families. This may not be something that comes up on a regular basis, but any time there is a choice to be made, between God and anything else, the answer always has to be that we choose God.
Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.
Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn
“a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother in law—
a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.”
Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit—I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel.… (emphasis added)I feel ashamed, when I read this, because I know that this is something I could never say; I would never wish eternal damnation on myself, even if it would buy salvation for an entire nation of people. Selfish? You bet—but we’re talking about eternity here!