This time, I’ll comment after each paragraph of this interesting and somewhat difficult-to-understand chapter of the Bible. If you have any questions, please feel free to comment below, and our devotional team will do our best to answer your questions.
The Golden Calf
32 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.” 2 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.” 3 Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 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.” 5 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.” 6 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.
It seems like Aaron wasn’t too thrilled about making a new god for the Israelites to worship. I don’t think he thought the Israelites would actually part with their jewelry to make a god, but they did. They were so intent of finding something physical to worship that they created a cow. Maybe this is where we get the phrase “Holy Cow”. Hmm… I think I may try to avoid calling cows holy after reading this story! I’m also afraid this was no innocent game of baseball that the Israelites decided to play. In addition to worshiping the idol, all that wine had made these people worship something else—each other’s bodies.
7 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. 8 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!’” 9 The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. 10 Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.”
My father is a pastor, and I remember countless times (especially during one terrible year) when each of our vacations was cut short because a member died. That’s bad news! Moses also receives bad news from God—the people are worshiping the “Holy Cow.” Now God tells Moses to leave Him alone, and let Him destroy the people and let God make a great nation out of Moses. God is testing Moses, and Moses understands the worlds “leave Me alone” to open up the way for Moses to “bargain” with God.
11 Then Moses entreated the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, ‘With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” 14 So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.
Moses now acts as the Israelites’ defense attorney. He pleads with God, and wins—just like Jacob wrestled with God and won. I think this was part of God’s plan—Moses bargaining with God. And look what happens: God changes His mind. Could it be that if we pray for something to happen and it’s God’s will, He will change His mind and do it? Could it also be that if we don’t pray about something, God will allow something to happen that is against His will?
15 Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets which were written on both sides; they were written on one side and the other. 16 The tablets were God’s work, and the writing was God’s writing engraved on the tablets. 17 Now when Joshua heard the sound of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a sound of war in the camp.” 18 But he said,
“It is not the sound of the cry of triumph,
Nor is it the sound of the cry of defeat;
But the sound of singing I hear.”
It is interesting how Joshua thought it sounded like war instead of a party. Their music must have been angry and war-like (or they had no skill in playing instruments because they were so drunk). Either way, it’s something interesting to think about as we consider what type of music to listen to today. I also think it’s amazing that God wrote His law on those two tablets of stone. He could have had Moses write them, and they could have been written on paper, but God wanted to show that His law never changes—so He wrote them in stone.
19 It came about, as soon as Moses came near the camp, that he saw the calf and the dancing; and Moses’ anger burned, and he threw the tablets from his hands and shattered them at the foot of the mountain. 20 He took the calf which they had made and burned it with fire, and ground it to powder, and scattered it over the surface of the water and made the sons of Israel drink it.
Moses threw the “Ten Commandments” (as we call them today) and they shattered, symbolizing the way the Israelites had broken their covenant (treaty) with God. When we break God’s law, even today, it breaks apart our covenant (treaty) with Him. Sin separates us from God.
21 Then Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you, that you have brought such great sin upon them?” 22 Aaron said, “Do not let the anger of my lord burn; you know the people yourself, that they are prone to evil. 23 For they said to me, ‘Make a god for us who will go before us; for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 24 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.”
A likely story! I threw their gold in the fire and out came this calf? Amazing how people will make up terrible lies rather than face their own crimes—even today!
25 Now when Moses saw that the people were out of control—for Aaron had let them get out of control to be a derision among their enemies— 26 then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me!” And all the sons of Levi gathered together to him. 27 He said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Every man of you put his sword upon his thigh, and go back and forth from gate to gate in the camp, and kill every man his brother, and every man his friend, and every man his neighbor.’” 28 So the sons of Levi did as Moses instructed, and about three thousand men of the people fell that day. 29 Then Moses said, “Dedicate yourselves today to the Lord—for every man has been against his son and against his brother—in order that He may bestow a blessing upon you today.”
And this is where the story gets difficult to understand. Why would a loving God tell His people to kill others? Imagine that you have a bag of oranges, and you notice that a few near the middle are getting moldy. What are you going to do? You’re going to dig through the bag and throw the moldy oranges in the trash so the others won’t get moldy. Also imagine you have a litter of puppies and one gets rabies. Are you going to let the one who has rabies live, and run the risk of it spreading the disease and/or killing the others puppies? No! You’ll have to kill that one rabid puppy to let the others live. It’s the same way with God. He had to get rid of the offenders so that the rest of His people could live. He also had to show His children that sin has a price tag—death.
“Love no less than justice demanded that for this sin judgment should be inflicted.”* God is the protector of His people. It was actually God’s love that had the offenders be destroyed, because if they had been allowed to live, the whole Israelite clan would have turned against God, and each other. God’s only surviving people would have become corrupt, and the whole world would have looked similar to the world right before the flood. God’s grace loves us, but it also protects us from those who would harm us!
30 On the next day Moses said to the people, “You yourselves have committed a great sin; and now I am going up to the Lord, perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” 31 Then Moses returned to the Lord, and said, “Alas, this people has committed a great sin, and they have made a god of gold for themselves. 32 But now, if You will, forgive their sin—and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written!” 33 The Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book. 34 But go now, lead the people where I told you. Behold, My angel shall go before you; nevertheless in the day when I punish, I will punish them for their sin.” 35 Then the Lord smote the people, because of what they did with the calf which Aaron had made.
This is my favorite part of the story! Moses actually asks God to erase his name out of the Book of Life if God will not forgive the Israelites! Moses truly was the most humble man on the earth (Numbers 12:3). He would rather miss out on heaven than have his people miss out on it. What about you and me—would we rather be in heaven without our friends, or do we care so much about their salvation that we would be willing to risk our own salvation for them? That’s something for me to think about…
I hope this makes you think as well!
Timmy Baze 😀
*Ellen White, Patriarchs and Prophets, page 325. Ellen White was a co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and a prolific author during the 19th and early 20th centuries. She is most famous for her classic book Steps to Christ, which is on the all-time bestseller list. For more information go to www.whiteestate.org.
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.