Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Aaron said to them, “Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. He took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool and made it into a molten calf; and they said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” Now 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.” So the next day they rose early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.
Then the Lord spoke to Moses, “Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. They have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and have sacrificed to it and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!’” Exodus 32:1-8
The people had gotten tired of waiting. This man Moses had disappeared. Perhaps he had encountered a wild beast up on the mountain. It had been over five weeks now, and that was a long time—how long could they just hang around waiting on him? They were bored. Nothing was happening. This God had evidently deserted them.
We understand that. I think we all get bored with waiting on God at times. It’s hard to just…wait. The thing we have more trouble understanding today is the eagerness with which the people accepted this new god. After watching Aaron melt down their jewelry and re-shape it, they immediately proclaimed the calf a god and proceeded to make offerings and have a celebration.
Moses was enraged when he saw the people in their ‘play,’– so angry that he broke the most precious things he had ever held, tablets that God had engraved with his own hand. Have you ever wondered why he reacted so violently? While he was up on the mountain, God had already told him that the people were worshiping a golden calf. He surely was expecting that. So why the eruption of rage?
I think there is a clue in verse 25–Moses saw that the people were out of control. The different Bible versions have widely varying translations, (click here to see them) so it’s not exactly clear what the people’s ‘play’ consisted of. Several versions refer to nakedness, some imply sexual immorality, and all of them refer to some type of lawlessness—running wild, breaking loose, out of control. In other words, not only were the people of Israel sacrificing to and worshiping a false god, but they were also doing it in a way that was an abomination to the true God.
2 Chronicles 33 has an interesting message. Manasseh had been a very bad king. He had “misled Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the sons of Israel.” God was very angry with him, yet instead of destroying Manasseh, He gave him another chance. When Manasseh was captured by his enemies and in great distress, he humbled himself, and then “Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.” The released and newly repentant king set to work and strengthened his kingdom. He got rid of the idols he had placed in the temple and
16 He set up the altar of the Lord and sacrificed peace offerings and thank offerings on it; and he ordered Judah to serve the Lord God of Israel. 17 Nevertheless the people still sacrificed in the high places, although only to the Lord their God.
Did you catch that? They were worshiping the one true God…in the high places. The places that had been created and dedicated to false gods. Just in case you think that may be acceptable, notice what we’re told about the next king, Josiah.
While he was still a youth, he began to seek the God of his father David; and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the Asherim, the carved images and the molten images.
So those who had been worshiping the true God in the high places had been doing so before false gods. Manasseh had gotten the idols out of the temple, but he hadn’t done away with them. They were still very present.
Are we guilty of doing that today? Could there be remnants of other gods present even in our churches today? Have we failed to destroy the old idols, maybe even incorporating them into our worship of the one true God? Do we make excuses, as Aaron did? “You know the people yourself, that they are prone to evil. For they said to me, ‘Make a god for us ” (Ex. 32:22-23) In other words, Aaron was saying, “You know how they are. We need to keep them busy here so that they don’t wander off and hang out with the heathen. I was just trying to keep them happy.”
Maybe, just maybe, we aren’t so very far from that unquestioning acceptance of another god as we would like to think. To the followers of Moses, including Aaron, the adoring worship of lifeless things was perfectly normal. After all, they had spent their entire lives in Egypt, where that was the common and accepted thing, quite ordinary and rational. They didn’t see it as a huge departure from what they had been doing already. They still made sacrifices and feasted, just with a slightly different twist, in a way that seemed fun and exciting. They may very well have seen that calf as the same god they had been worshiping all along, equivalent with the pillar that led them. Remember they said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” In their culture, gods took many different forms. It probably was easy to rationalize the change.
We still have widespread gods in our world. The difference is that most people no longer admit that they worship. They simply are ‘fans,’ they ‘follow’ or are ‘into’ various endeavors. They don’t see that their passion often IS worship. My question is…could we possibly be bringing things into our churches that are introducing other gods without even being aware of it?
I realize this idea could be taken a lot of different ways, and I’m certainly not going to give a list of offenders or call out particular practices as false gods, because I don’t know, but it’s food for thought. Are we bored with waiting on God and looking for a new way to worship Him? Do we ever look in the wrong places? Sometimes I wonder.