One of the darkest moments in the history of Israel came when they demanded that Aaron make them a golden calf.
We examined the lives of Jacob, Joseph, and Judah and discussed their trip to Egypt to find food because of a severe famine that threatened survival. Jacob’s entire family moved down to Egypt because Joseph had gathered food from the entire nation of Egypt into storehouses and they had plenty of food. They certainly didn’t expect to stay there 400 years.
The family line of Jacob lived in Egypt for 400 years. During that time, they multiplied into millions of people. Scriptures tell us that a pharaoh rose up in Egypt who did not know Joseph, and he placed the children of Jacob into servitude. They became menial slaves gathering straw to make bricks. For centuries people have seen the pyramids of Egypt. The children of Israel built them.
God promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob a Promised Land, a fruitful, abundant land, belonging only to them. He promised to take care of them. He told Abraham that his family would go down into Egypt. They would be there for four generations, but he would bring them out.
At last, the day arrived when God brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt. God used Moses to bring about a series of plagues throughout all of Egypt that ultimately ended with the death of the first born in every family in Egypt as well as the firstborn of all other creatures. That plague broke the will of the Egyptians.
The Egyptian people said, “Go. Leave. We don’t want you hear any longer.”
So, Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt towards the Promised Land. On their way, they came to Mount Sinai. We find that recorded starting in Exodus chapter 20. As written in the next several chapters—Exodus chapter 20 through chapter 31—God met with Moses and Joshua on top of Mount Sinai and gave to them the law, the life guide that God provided for his children.
We call these laws “the 10 Commandments. God instructed Moses to give it to the children of Israel, outlining clearly they ways in which he wanted them to worship him. He said to them at the very beginning in Exodus chapter 20, “I am the God who brought you out of Egypt. There is no other God. Therefore, you will have no other gods beside me.”
This contradicted the pluralism that they would find when they got into the Promised Land where the people worshipped thousands of God. God, who brought the children of Israel out of Egypt said, “I am God and God alone. There are no other gods beside me. Don’t try and raise up some other god gods and say, ‘I am going to worship these God's. No. I alone am God. Worship me and me alone. Furthermore, do not make any image of me.
God gave very explicit directions of how they should worship him. If you want to read that, you can find it at Exodus chapter 20 through verse 31.
Moses and Joshua spent 40 days on top of the mountain, a significant period. Meanwhile, the children of Israel grew restless.
They grumbled, “Where is this guy Moses? This man who brought us out, then came to us and said, ‘I am going to take you to the promised Land.” He has disappeared and we are down here in the wilderness, with no food or water. What are we going to do?”
Unbelief developed in the children of Israel. In a short time, they forgot their promise to worship God and God alone. They decided to disregard all that God had done for them.
They came to Aaron, the brother of Moses, whom Moses had placed in charged during his absence. The discontented Israelites came to their temporary leader and said, “Make us gods. Make us gods like those that we used to have back in Egypt. We will worship those god's that we can see and follow them back to Egypt.
Of course, they had a faulty memory of their times in Egypt. They forgot the slavery. They forgot the cruelty and despair. Infidelity sprang up in less than 40 days.
Aaron told them what to do. He told them to bring him their gold and their golden earrings and promised to make them an idol.
They brought their gold and their earrings. Aaron cast them in the fire, melted it down, and created a golden calf. He set it before them and said, “Here, oh Israel, are your gods who brought you out of Egypt.”
What a sad demonstration by the man whom God appointed to serve as the spokesperson on behalf of Moses. When God originally called Moses to go to Egypt and orchestrate the freedom of the Israelite people, Moses was overcome with fear and told God that he was not very good at public speaking.
God said, “All right. I will raise up your brother Aaron. He will be your spokesperson.”
This brother of Moses had seen all of the plagues in Egypt and all of the supernatural, miraculous things that God had done, yet, amazingly, he said, “I will make you an idol.”
The children of Israel bowed down and worshipped the idol. Aaron said to them, “I want you to come out and worship and tomorrow we will have a great feast day and worship the Lord.”
You know, you can’t just take the name of the Lord, put it as a name tag on something you’ve designed yourself, and have it be the Lord. That is what he did. He took the name of God who had told them, “Worship me and me alone. Do not make any images. Do not attach my name to any images to fall down and worship him.” Aaron completely rejected all of that and said, “Here is the Lord, the one who brought you out of Egypt.”
Meanwhile Moses and Joshua enjoyed the presence of God on Mount Sinai. God said “Moses, there is trouble down below. You need to go back because the people whom you have brought out of Egypt have fashioned them a gold calf and they are worshipping it.”
Moses and Joshua pressed down the mountain as in their dismay they heard the profane sounds and voices of the people who went from infidelity to idolatry. The men of God arrived to find this naked mass of people practicing all kinds of debauchery, immorality, and wickedness.
Less than 40 days earlier, these faithless people had promised to worship God and God alone. They solemnly promised to God, “All that you say we will do.”
Yet, because of their unbelief in God, they rejected the God who demonstrated himself to them with supernatural, miraculous things. They doubted his word. He said, “I will take you the Promised Land” but they didn’t believe him. They turned to that which they could see with their own eyes and could touch with their own hands and fashioned a God to worship instead of the true and living God.
As Moses came upon the scene, he went to his brother, Aaron, whom he had placed in charge, and said, “Aaron, what did you do? How could you do this?”
Aaron responded that it was the people. “The people said they wanted idols. These people are stiff-necked and troublesome and I was afraid.” Oh dear reader, that was not a leadership, that was cowardice.
Moses took the golden calf, pounded it into dust, strewed it on their water and forced the rebellious people to drink it. After that he said, “Who is on the Lord’s side? Come and join me.”
The sons of Levi came, and Moses instructed those honest men to take their swords and go throughout the camp and kill their brothers and their neighbors as a judgment for the gross sin that they committed against God. On this sad day, they went throughout the camp and slew 3000 people for their sin.
Moses said, “You know, you have sinned a grievous sin against God. I am going to go back to God, and I am going to intercede on your behalf. Perhaps God will have mercy upon you.”
Moses left and went back up onto the mountain, though uninvited. He made the weary climb to plead with God for mercy on behalf of the people whom God had brought out of Egypt. He felt so strongly on behalf of his brothers and sisters that he came to God with this offer. He said, “Please, God, forgive these people for their sin. But, if you won’t forgive them, then take me instead. Take my life for theirs.”
He offered himself up as a substitute to pay the penalty that this mob of people had earned by their disobedience and rebellion.
God’s answer was gracious. He said to Moses, “I will not take you as a substitute. When I come down among them, I will punish them.”
This changed things. God had promised to lead his people out. After seeing his people worship a man-made idol, he made a new provision. He said that he would no longer go with them. Instead, he said that he would send an angel to lead them to the Promised Land. This is in chapter 32 of Exodus.