Updated: Aug 10, 2018
Exodus 32 recalls the famous story of Aaron (the High Priest!) and the Israelite people carving the golden calf when Moses was up in the mountains receiving the 10 Commandments. How dare they create an idol after all the miraculous signs and covenant God had done in front of their eyes?!?!
Their disobedience might seem inexplicable. But once we're also aware of our own fragility of humanity, what's the surprise?
How did this golden calf appear from nowhere? Well, Moses had been up on the mountain for a long time. The people had been waiting, waiting and waiting.... There was no sign of them returning soon. So they just wanted to find something to 'go before' them.
What do you look up to 'go before' you when you need some extra comfort? Consider the following:
5 Signs you may be carving a golden calf
1. You create an additional source of comfort for yourself. You have no intention to disobey God. But your anxiety over uncertainties in life has compelled to find something else in addition to God for a little extra security for a time being. v.1 'Let us makes gods to go before us'
2. You take matters in your own hand. You have no intention to leave God. But you're wondering why God is taking so long to show up. So you provide yourself with a quick temporary relief of the fear in case God needs a little help.
3. You represent God in an image you prefer. You feel God is a far away and unpredictable, so you like to hold onto something concrete and visual closer to you. Well, just for the sake of clarity.
4. You're opting for a completely 'normal' solution like other people are when they have the same need. Many gods in the Ancient Near East were depicted in livestock-related imagery. That's what everyone else does!
5. You look for a 'harmless' quick fix while things are not satisfying. The 'play' in v.6 could imply sexual activities and drunkenness typical in Baal worship.
1. Even God's people and His appointed high priest (Aaron) were not immune to idolatry. Even Aaron, who 'supervised' the creation of the calf, seemed to be surprised by how serious it had become. Why do you think it turned out this way?
2. The calf cost a lot! It didn't appear conveniently in the desert. It required the sacrifice of a large amount of gold jewellery and lots of skills and effort. These resources were meant to be for worshipping God, not to create an alternative image of God, because God is not defined by our resources. What does it teach us about idolatry?
3. The worship of the calf was somehow confused with the worship of the true God (v.6). There was no sign of intentional rejection of God as it's sometimes assumed by modern readers. The people probably thought it's harmless to mix the two together. Why not have an extra god? In what ways are we vulnerable to a similar mindset today?
4. Did anything good come out of having an extra god? What were the direct physical, spiritual, emotional consequences? (Read Chapters 32-33)
It led to more confusion, more chaos, and finally death (3000 had to die as a result). It took a brutal internal purge to resolve the broken relationship with God. The worst result was that it took away God's presence (33:3). This was the exact opposite of the intended result. Nothing good came out of it.
1. Both worship and idolatry are closely tied with emotions. What role did emotions play in this story?
2. Was God really 'absent'? It felt that way and this anxiety prompted the people to create another image of God. But what was God doing?
God was never 'absent', though it appeared so to the people at the bottom of the mountain. In fact, God was doing something very important for restoring His relationship with His people
Now let's look at the contrast between Aaron and Moses...
Moses found favor in God's eyes. But it's not because he was 'better' in doing person. From his conversation with God we can learn something about his concerns (v.11-14):
1. The completion of God's work
2. God's name and honor in the world
3. The fulfillment of God's promises
What's the significance of these 3 concerns? How do they help destroy your 'golden calf'?