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.’” –Exodus 32:1
While Moses spends forty days and nights on Mt. Sinai receiving the tabernacle building instructions and tablets of the covenant from God, the Israelites’ impatience becomes their undoing. Instead of waiting for God to fill the tabernacle with His glory, Israel falls into idolatry again, even though they witnessed the invisible God in action. With Moses’ absence, Aaron caves to public pressure. Instead of turning to God for help and warning the people, he gratifies their sinful hearts’ desire by making a golden calf in place of God.
So the people fall back into idol worship—which still lingered in their hearts from their captivity in Egypt—before indulging in immorality. Psalm 106:19-23 says Israel exchanged the glory of the true and living God for the image of an animal, acting like the heathen nations around them (Rom. 1:22-27).
Righteous anger kicks in when Moses sees their revelry. Perhaps his action of throwing the tablets down symbolizes the people’s sin of breaking God’s covenant. Aaron later offers a lame excuse, blaming the people (vv. 22-24). But God doesn’t buy it. He would have killed Aaron in His anger if weren’t for Moses’ intercession (Deut. 9:20).
The Great Test (vv. 7-14)
Warren Wiersbe (Be Delivered) writes: “In leadership, the difficult experiences with our people either make us or break us, and Moses was about to be tested. God called Israel ‘your people whom you brought out of Egypt,’ as though the Lord were abandoning the nation to Moses, but Moses soon reminded Him that they were His people and that He had delivered them. Furthermore, God had made a covenant with their forefathers to bless them, multiply them, and give them their land (Gen. 12:1-3). Moses intended to hold God to His word, and that’s what God wanted him to do.”
Next, God takes a different approach with Moses: He offers to make a new nation out of Moses’ descendants after wiping out Israel. But Moses love for his people—as stubborn and sinful as they were—trumps. Moses isn’t focused on himself or his future. Rather, his utmost desire is to glorify God and watch Him fulfill His promises.
Evidently, Moses spends the next 40 days and nights interceding for the people before taking disciplinary action (Duet. 9:18). Although God had every right to be angry with Israel, Moses persuades Him to not destroy Israel. Wiersbe observes: “In writing this account, Moses used human terms to describe divine actions, which is why he wrote in verse 14 that God ‘repented’ (KJV). The Hebrew word means ‘to grieve, to be sorry’ (Gen. 6:6; 1 Sam. 15:29) and describes God’s change of approach in dealing with His people (Jer. 18:1-12; 19; 26).
Idolatry happens when we seek to replace the unseen God with something that can be seen, usually something physically oriented. We must guard against trying to shape God to our liking for the convenience of obeying or ignoring. Faith is the underlying issue of idolatry since “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1).
Aaron had been helpful to Moses with his speaking skills. But without his brother’s leadership, Aaron yielded to public pressure. God gives various abilities and weaves them together for His use. But a strength/ability can also become a weakness if one isn’t careful. As in Aaron’s case, the skills that make a good team player can sometimes also make a poor leader. Most of us have more of the follower than leader in us. Only God deserves our complete devotion. If a leader teaches or acts against God’s Word, we must stand firm, even if it means standing alone. Yet we’re really not alone. God promises to never leave us or forsake us (Heb. 13:5).
Lastly, instead of referring to the Mosaic covenant—ratified about one month prior—Moses appeals to God on the Abrahamic Covenant. For the provisional law couldn’t save or change human hearts where sin roots. Rather, the Mosaic Covenant showed human hearts’ depravity and condemned sin based on the righteousness of men. While the old covenant gave no assurance for forgiveness of sins, the new covenant is based on the righteousness of Jesus Christ, the Messiah. Therefore, we can have complete confidence in His forgiveness.
I’m so thankful that God doesn’t leave us in our mess! If you want to probe further into how God can revive and change a sinful heart, the following podcast from my pastor, Cliff Purcell, does a great job in addressing how the Holy Spirit wants to breathe new life into one’s heart. You may find his podcast here: A Chance of Flurries. . . Next week, we’ll look at how seriously God took Israel’s flagrant sin. Have a great week!