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.”
- Moses was still up on Mt. Sinai, and the Israelites were getting impatient. Was God working? Yes – He was spending time with Moses and giving him the instructions on how to build the tabernacle, the place where God would dwell. But the Israelites felt Moses was taking too long – so they chose to return to the gods of Egypt. Friends, how many times have you felt God was delayed in His decision, so you turned to your own flesh to guide you? You may be familiar with Jeremiah 17:9 which says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” The Lord is speaking about how our inner man, mind, will, understanding, and so forth are polluted and sick. That’s why we’re told in Proverbs 3:5 to trust in the Lord and lean not on our own understanding!
2 Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron.4 He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”
- As I chewed on these couple verses over the week, it really sunk in deep. Do you remember where they got the gold earrings they were wearing? Look back in Exodus 11:2: “Speak now in the hearing of the people, and let every man ask from his neighbor and every woman from her neighbor, articles of silver and articles of gold.” These earrings were from the Egyptians. The Lord moved the Egyptians to give the Israelites gold and silver. As they wore those gold earrings, they were a symbol of the Lord’s victory over Egyptians. Yet, they took them off and gave them over to idolatry.
- When the Lord blesses us with gifts and talents, how often are we taking it and allowing it to become an idol? The answer should be “never” – but we all know that’s not true. Each of us has idols that must be dethroned. Family, career, appearance, romance, money, achievement, entertainment – the list goes on. None of these things are necessarily bad until we begin to worship them.
- One more thing in regards to the gold earrings. They had to sacrifice something for that idol. They had to give something up in order to get something to worship. That is the way it works in our own lives too when we start to worship idols of this world. It always includes a sacrifice. And this is true of our walk with Christ – there is always a sacrifice involved. We must give up our time, our sleep, our money, our relationships, and so on in order to fully worship Him. But the return is unimaginable!
5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.” 6 So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.
- Aaron was given authority over the Israelites while Moses was on Mount Sinai (24:14), yet he failed to restrain them from sin. Instead, he enabled them to sin by fashioning an idol for them. We each have our spheres of influence – in our home, at work, and within our communities. We must be ever so careful how we are leading others. We must guard ourselves against crafting "golden calves" for those around you. Jesus said in Luke 17:1-2, "There will always be temptations to sin, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting! It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone hung around your neck than to cause one of these little ones to fall into sin.”
7 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. 8 They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’
9 “I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”
- God described the Israelites as a stiff-necked people. “When a man plows with an ox and the ox refuses to turn according to the guidance of the farmer, the ox stiffens his neck to rebel and pull against that guidance. When our heavenly father prompts us and we stubbornly stiffen our neck and try to do it our own way, we are stiff-necked, stubborn oxen!” (Angela Michaelis, 2 Chronicles 30). It’s interesting how God described the people as stiff-necked – which is probably a reference to the calf (ox) they were worshiping!
11 But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. “Lord,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’” 14 Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.
- In verse 10, God said he’d make a nation out of Moses. It may seem odd that God offered to do this, but His intention was not to negate the promise made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (because the Lord is true to His word), but to test the heart of Moses. But Moses’ heart proved true because he understood God’s covenant and shared the love God had for His people.
- Satan has three plays: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). As believers, we must be in fellowship with the Father, just as Moses was, so that we stick to His plan and don’t allow our flesh to lead us astray.
15 Moses turned and went down the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. 16 The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.
17 When Joshua heard the noise of the people shouting, he said to Moses, “There is the sound of war in the camp.”
18 Moses replied:
“It is not the sound of victory,
it is not the sound of defeat;
it is the sound of singing that I hear.”
- Joshua heard the noise of the people and said it was a “sound of war in the camp.” And friends, it was a war. It was a war for the throne of their hearts, but they gave it over to the idols of the world. What war is raging within you? What is vying to dethrone the Lord Jesus Christ and sit on His throne? Be strong and courageous! Immerse yourself in Him and allow His word to transform your heart. A while back, I read Kyle Idleman’s book, Gods of War, which deals with the very issue of idolatry. One repeat statement he makes is that an idol cannot be removed, it must be replaced. And the only true replacement that will bring you satisfaction is Jesus.
19 When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. 20 And he took the calf the people had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it.
- The Israelites broke two commandments – they created a graven image and then worshiped it as God. When Moses came down the mountain and saw what was going on, he didn’t just get his chisel out and place a check mark beside those two commandments to denote their committal of sin. He threw both tablets down and broke them to pieces. James 2:10 says, “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.” That is why we need GRACE! If a person just sins one time in their entire life, then they are guilty of all. We need the grace of Christ Jesus and His righteousness to remove our sin.
- Moses’ act of taking the calf, burning it, grinding it up, and then scattering it in the water for the Israelites to drink is a bit weird, isn’t it? Again, we must study the Old Testament remembering what was physical then, now has a spiritual meaning to New Testament believers. It was very solemn to have them drink of what they worshiped. But friends, when we chose to displace Christ and turn our attention to the things of this world and allow them to take precedence, we are contaminating ourselves. Just like the Israelites contaminated themselves by drinking of the sin they relished in. There are lots of things we can “worship” in this world, even without realizing it. Make a list of the things you do with your time, with your money, and with your thoughts. You're digesting those things into your life. The idols in our lives go down to the inmost parts (Proverbs 18:8) and they don’t just stay compartmentalized. They travel throughout our spiritual bloodstream.
21 He said to Aaron, “What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?”
22 “Do not be angry, my lord,” Aaron answered. “You know how prone these people are to evil. 23 They said to me, ‘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.’ 24 So I told them, ‘Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off.’ Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!”
- If we could sum up with Aaron told Moses it would be this: “Wasn’t me, Moses.” Really, Aaron? Did you forget to take your ginkgo biloba extract and that’s why you can’t remember telling them this:
Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron.4 He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”
- Wow. Aaron was more afraid of God’s people than he was of God himself. He told Moses that he just threw the gold into the fire and out popped this calf idol! Wrong. The idols we have in our life don’t just “happen” – it takes nurturing on our part. We spend time fashioning them in some capacity.
25 Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies. 26 So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me.” And all the Levites rallied to him.
27 Then he said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’” 28 The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died. 29 Then Moses said, “You have been set apart to the Lord today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day.”
- Again, the physical things connected with the Old Testament are spiritual for us. What do we know about the sword? The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17)! And, we know from 2 Timothy 2:15 that we are to rightly divide the word of truth. Arthur Pink says, “The sword must be drawn against every influence that corrupts the people of God, even though it may have a place in those nearest us. It might seem very sever to treat brethren, friends, neighbors, in this way, but it was the only way to be consecrated to Jehovah, and to secure His blessing.” Be careful to ensure those influences aren’t corrupting you! Measure those activities up against the Word of God and allow His Spirit to speak to you.
30 The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.”
31 So Moses went back to the Lord and said, “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. 32 But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.”
- Moses was a type of Christ – a mediator. He went to God on behalf of the Israelites and pleaded for forgiveness. I love how Moses said in verse 32 that his name should be blotted out of the book, too. It shows his love and affection for the Israelites. If they die, he should die, too. For clarity purposes, the book he’s referencing isn’t the Lamb’s book of life we’ve heard of from Revelation 21:27, but the book the Lord keeps with the names of everyone living on earth (Psalm 69:28 and Isaiah 4:3).
- 1 Timothy 2:5-6 tells us, “…there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time…” How wonderful it is to know that the blood of Christ Jesus removes the sin of our life! The accuser (Satan), cannot touch us because we are right with Him through accepting His grace.
33 The Lord replied to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book. 34 Now go, lead the people to the place I spoke of, and my angel will go before you. However, when the time comes for me to punish, I will punish them for their sin.”
35 And the Lord struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made.
- Our sin has consequence. Remember David and Bathsheba’s first child that died? Even though it was a tragic loss, it was consequential. This isn’t to say that all “bad” things are because of sin. But, God in His infinite wisdom and supreme parenting, must ensure that His children are properly disciplined. When “bad” comes, we must ask ourselves whether it is a storm of correction or a storm of perfection. Amen.