Meditations in Exodus: 68. The Folly of Sin
Ex 32:1 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 (or a god) 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.”
We have seen how the Lord called Moses up the mountain and kept him there for forty days. In the light of what we have been seeing in recent meditations, what now follows is horrific: “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.” (v.1) As I noted in the quote above, ‘gods’ could be ‘a god’. The folly of what takes place starts with the people but when it says ‘people’ it is probably the tribal leaders who come to Aaron to put pressure on him to do something.
What’s the problem? Moses has disappeared and there has been no sign or sound of him or of God for well over a month. The people are beginning to wonder, are they suddenly leaderless. Their description of Moses is less than complimentary. But it is their demand for a ‘visible god’ that is most stupid. Throughout the Bible the stupidity of worshipping man-made idols is made clear. Why should a metal image have any power?
I can only assume this demand for ‘a god’ is a demand to have a token image that they can put out front when they travel, that sends a message to other equally superstitious people, “Mess with us and you mess with our god,” but as that ‘god’ is merely a metal image it is pure superstition to believe it might help. A dictionary definition of ‘superstition’ is “a belief or beliefs justified neither by reason nor evidence nor by any religious canon”. Nothing about a metal idol suggests it has power to help. Now pile up all the evidence of the experiences they have recently had with God – that God is a Being who is all powerful and all knowing – and you are left wondering how anyone can be so stupid as to opt to a cast image against the Living God.
Now at this point Aaron should have done what Isaiah many centuries later said: “To the law and to the testimony”. (Isa 8:20) There was his answer, but perhaps in reverse order. Consider their testimony: they have watched God decimate Egypt and destroy Pharaoh by many miracles. They have followed a pillar of cloud and of fire for over a month. They have water cleansed for them and miraculously provided for them, they have been enabled to defeat the Amalekites, and they are still collecting and eating the miraculous daily provision of manna. Moreover, they have seen the clouds and the fire and heard the trumpets, and seventy of the elders have actually ‘seen’ God. The amount of their testimony is staggering. Aaron should have started with this.
But then he should have challenged them with the Law that Moses had written down starting with “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.” (Ex 20:4,5) i.e. we don’t do idol worship here! That is what SHOULD have happened!
But Aaron doesn’t do that. Why not? Some might suggest that he still has too much of Egypt left in him. He hadn’t had forty years in the wilderness of Midian or the desert of Sinai learning to be a shepherd again (remember when Israel first wentto Egypt they had been shepherds, which were despised by the Egyptians (Gen 46:31-34) but Israel appear to have been assimilated into Egypt and then made slaves, no doubt taking on board so many of the teachings and beliefs of Egypt).
We say this because of what followed: “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.” (v.2-4) It is suggested that the calf was probably similar to representations of the Egyptian bull-god, Apis, which they would have known about when they were back in Egypt. Aaron was giving them something familiar and possibly comforting – even though wrong!
It is also possible that Aaron gave way so easily because he is fearful of the people. Leaders often take the wrong course for this reason, whether secular or spiritual leaders. When you rely for your income (as the enemy tells you) on the people, it is difficult to overcome the fear of upsetting people. Whatever it was Aaron gave way.
Whether it was an attempt to keep this in a God-context we are not sure, but “When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD.” (v.5) Giving him the benefit of the doubt he does appear to be directing them back to “The I AM”. However, he is showing naivety in that he is setting up an opportunity for it to go even more wrong: “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.” (v.6) It may have started off well but it soon degenerated into an orgy.
Before we are too condemnatory about these people (and they do deserve condemning!) we should remember that we are not immune to getting it wrong. Christians do sin. We shouldn’t but sometime we fall. There is a way back through repentance and forgiveness through the Cross, but essentially it was our folly that led us to sin in the first place. If you like, we forgot the law and the testimony. We forgot what we are and what we should be and we forgot all of God’s goodness to us. Unless there is repentance these things will have consequences and that is what we have to look at in the next meditation.