About Jesus      Steve Sweetman

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This Chapter 32 to 33:6

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The Golden Calf (ch. 32:1 – 33:6)


In verse 1 we note the impatience of Israel.  Israel came to Aaron, or, at least some representatives came to Aaron, and asked him to build gods for them to serve.  Why did Israel want Aaron to make gods to worship?  The text states that Moses had been gone for so long, they did not know where he was, so they lost the trust they had in Moses.  Remember Moses was on the mountain for forty days.  As I've said before, the number forty is often used in the Bible as a number of testing.  For example, Jesus was tested fro forty days in the desert.  In light of this, who is being tested here?  Is it Moses, or is it Israel?  I believe it is Israel, and they just failed the test.     


Verse 1 also says, "as for this fellow Moses…"  You can certainly see they were quite upset with him.  When people say such things as this, what they are doing is really separating themselves from the person they are speaking of.  For example, a wife may say to her husband, "your son is in trouble."  Well, the son is the son of both the husband and wife, but the wife is distancing herself from her own son due to something he did.  Israe , as they have before with Moses, is once again distancing themselves from Moses.  They follow him in the good times, but as soon as the hint of anything but good appears, they reject him.  But remember, their rejection of Moses is in fact their rejection of God.


Israel reminds Aaron that Moses was the one who led them out of Egypt.  They've done this before, but they are equating their deliverance to be something bad, when in fact it was good, and not only good, but miraculous.  Israel always forgets about that, something they have done throughout their history, even unto today.


So Israel asks Aaron to "make them gods to go before them."  How ridiculous.  How can something that man makes be a god that can go before them and look after them.  It is like you or I making a little statue and thinking that the little wooden statue can really direct our paths.  There is no logic in this thinking, but such is the way of humanity.  You must also remember that these people were steeped in the culture of all civilizations of their day.  This was the mentality back then.  All civilizations invented their own gods, thinking them to be real.


The next amazing thing, and maybe even more a amazing than Israel 's request of Aaron, was Aaron's response to Israel.  He actually agreed with the people, and this is from a man who had performed miracles because of the power of God that was given him.  This clearly shows the depravity of man.  Even with the power of God, men can fall.  He told the people to gather all the gold and oil they could find so he could make a god.  It is ironic to see that gold and oil, something that was important in the construction of the tabernacle, and something that is very symbolic of God Himself, was used in the making of a gold false god.


Note the gold was to come from gold ear rings Israeli wives, daughters, and sons wore.  Apparently men wore ear rings in Israel back then.   


In verses 2 and 3 Israel does what Aaron says and Aaron makes a gold god that looked like a calf.  Aaron would have gotten the idea from his days living in Egypt because worshipping a golden calf was an Egyptian practice.  Therefore Israel, even though they were not in the land of Egypt, wanted to live and worship as an Egyptian, or, at least wanted to be influenced by Egyptian culture.  I'd suggest that many Christians do the same today when they adopt non-Christian practices into the church.  


The Emergent church of today, for the sake of unity, has no problem participating in worship of other religious gods.  To me this is "spiritual adultery".  It is actually practicing "polytheism", something that this chapter clearly states that God hates. 


In verse 4, note the word "gods".  This Hebrew word is "Elohim", the same Hebrew word that is translated as God in the Old Testament.  "Elohim" is plural.  Probably this is why "Elohim" is  translated as "gods" here.  The question is, "did Aaron make more than one calf, or did this one calf represent more than one God?  It does appear that he made only one gold calf.   This is a hard question to answer, because it goes to how Aaron viewed this gold god.  Did he view it as an Egyptian god, or a representation of the Hebrew God.   


Aaron came to Israel with the calf.  He said, "these are your gods, O Israel, who brought you out of Egypt ."  Aaron presented Israel with "one gold calf" and told them that this was their "gods", plural.  Thus we have the dilemma stated in the last paragraph  How did Aaron view this gold calf?


With that in mind, let me quote from Exodus 20:1 through 6, the first of the Ten Commandments.  "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me, (or besides me)."  The second command states, "you shall not make for yourself and idol in the form of anything in the heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me…"   Israel, led by Aaron, broke both the first and second command, not too long after God gave Moses the commandments. 


So, some people believe Israel broke the first command while others believe they broke the second command.   Those who believe they broke the first command say Aaron viewed the gold calf as an Egyptian god, or representative of  Egyptian "gods", that is, "more than one god"..  Those who believe they broke the second command say Aaron viewed the gold calf as an image of the real God of Israel.   They believe he broke the second command because they believe in Aaron's mind this gold calf was to an image of God.  Aaron did not think of it as a gold calf from Egyptian culture.  Part of the reason for this thinking is because in verse 5 he announced a festival to the Lord where they would worship the Lord, and the Lord must refer to the God of Israel.   


I tend to believe, but not totally convinced,  that Aaron viewed this gold calf to represent a number of Egyptian gods.  The main reason  why I say this is that when he presented the gold calf to the people he said, "here are your gods…"   The argument against this is that the word "gods' here is translated from the Hebrew word "Elohim", the word the Bible translates as "God".  Elohim is "plural', therefore can be translated as "God' or "gods".  When translated as "God", theological thinking has gone into the translation process.  That is to say, we translate "Elohim" as "God", because we believe "God is one" in His essence.  


In verses 5 and 6 Aaron announced that the next day would be a "festival to the Lord."  Note again that this festival is to the Lord, not to the calf.  That being said, Aaron built an altar directly in front of the golden calf.  What was he doing?  Was he trying to atone for his sin?  If so, he was doing a pretty poor job.  What he really was doing was mixing pagan worship with worshipping the only true God.  That does not work.  That is not worship in the eyes of God, but surprisingly, that is what many so-called Christians are attempting to do today in the post-modern church.  At this point, Israel , led by Aaron was practicing polytheism.


Note in verse 6 the people "indulged in revelry".  The Hebrew word translated as "revelry" here is also used in Genesis 26:8 where Abraham and Sarah were seen in indulging in sexual play.  For this reason,  and so because Egyptian calf worship involved sexual orgies, most scholars say Israel was having a sex party after they worshipped the gold calf, which would have been the case in Egypt since calf worship was associated with sex and fertility.  


In verse 7 God tells Moses to go down the mountain.  Notice the way God puts it.  He said, "your people, who you led out of Egypt are corrupt."  God is now distancing Himself from His own people by calling them Moses' people.  And, who really led Israel out of Egypt?  Yes, Moses played a real part, but it was really God who led His people out of slavery.   When the Bible says that "sin separates" us from God, you see that true in this instance.


Notice how God Himself interprets Aaron's actions of building the altar before the calf to worship the Lord.  Whatever Aaron's thinking was is not relevant.  God interpreted the event as Aaron and Israel worshipping the calf, not Him, even though when Aaron announced the event, he used the word "Lord".   In Aaron's mind there could only be one of two ways of thinking.  Either he was attempting to worship the true God along with the calf, or else he was calling the calf Lord.  The latter is how God viewed the whole situation.


In verses 9 and 10 God told Moses to leave so He could burn in His anger.  That does not sound like the modern day picture of who God is.  These days people don't think God could possibly burn with anger, but He has, and does, and He will.


God told Moses that He was seriously considering destroying these people, then He would make them a great nation.  There is a lot in these words.


Who was God contemplating destroying?  He was thinking of killing off the people at the foot of the mountain, that is, Israel.  But He was not thinking of destroying the nation for good.  He specifically states that He would still make Israel a great nation.  This simply means that God was going to destroy those who were doing the sinning.  He was not giving up on the idea of having a specific people for Himself.  He couldn't give up on that idea, because He covenanted with Himself before Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that eventually Israel would be a great nation.


God punished Israel in the Old Testament.  Exiling them to Babylon is the most famous punishment.  But beyond that, I believe God did what He was thinking of doing here, and He did it in 70 AD, after Israel rejected Jesus.  That being said, even though God destroyed Israel, as He states here, He would still make them into a great nation.  We have that to look forward too.


In verse 11, with great boldness Moses asks God why His anger should burn against "His people", who "He" brought out of Egypt.  This is a not so subtle way of Moses responding to God when God told him that these people were Moses' people and that Moses led them out of Egypt.  Moses was pleading with God not to do what He was thinking of doing.


In verse 12 Moses presents God with his logic, which is very good logic.  He basically tells God if you destroy Israel now, what will Egypt and the surrounding nations think of you.  They will say, "their God led them out of Egypt only to kill them in the mountains", which would make God out to look like a fool, or a mad man.


In verse 13 Moses reminded God of what we call the Abrahamic Covenant, where God promised Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky, that they would inherit a certain land, and that they would be a great nation.


Note how Moses put it. He said, "you swore by your own self."  This is exactly what happened.  God did not make a covenant with Abraham.  He did not enter into any agreement with Abraham.  God promised Himself in the presence of Abraham that He would do certain things.  This is one of the most important facts in the Bible.  Abraham was not involved in this covenant.  God promised certain things, and no matter what Abraham's descendents do, God will keep His promise.  This is what Moses was getting at.


Moses was simply suggesting to God that if He killed off the people of Israel, He would be going against what He had clearly promised both Abraham and Israel.


In response to Moses petition, verse 14 says that God "relented", that is to say, He rethought His position.  Many people see this as Moses being able to change God's mind, but I don't see it that way.  I don't think there is clear evidence that God would destroy these people.  He certainly wasn't going to destroy the nation.  What we do know for sure is that He felt like destroying these people.  Moses may have helped God make His mind up, but change His mind, I don't think so.


Concerning the word "lament", the Hebrew word translated as "lament" in the NIV, or "repented" in the JKV, means groan.  To me this suggests something like this.  After God heard Moses' defense, "He groaned and said, okay, I won't destroy them'."   


There were two aspects to Moses defense.  First was the idea that God would not look good in the minds of the world.  The second point concerned the Abrahamic Covenant.  I'm not sure if Moses totally understood God's thinking on this second point.  Moses reminded God of the Abrahamic Covenant so He would not break the covenant, but God had no intention breaking the covenant.  He said so back in verse 12 when He told Moses that He would still make Israel a great nation.  Somehow Moses missed this part of what God said.


In verse 15 and 16 Moses and the others with him went down the mountain.  In Moses' hand were the two stone tablets with the Ten Commandments written on them, the first of which, and possibly the second,  had already been broken.


When Moses and Joshua got close to the people Joshua thought the noise he heard was the noise of Israel preparing for war.  He might have thought that because he was a warier.  Moses disagreed.  He said it was the sound of singing, as in a big party.  Israel was in fact having a party.  In verse 6 we note that the people were 'indulging themselves in revelry."  The Hebrew word translated as "revelry" is also used in Genesis 26:8.  This is where Abraham and Sarah were involved in sexual play.  Because of this, most people see this party as being a "sex party", something that would have taken place in Egypt in their calf worship.     


In verses 19 and 20 we see that Moses is just as angry as God Himself was.  Now Moses knew why God was so angry.  He was so upset that he threw the stone tablets to the ground and they broke in pieces.  He then broke the golden calf, burned it, threw the ashes into the water, and made the people drink the water. 


Here we see an example of "righteous anger", something we do not see much of these days.  When God's people get side tracked, and begin to mix faith in Jesus with other religious practices, we should be just as angry as God and Moses was, but when we do, we are the one's who get criticized for being negative and critical.  That should not be. There is a place for "righteous anger" and the word of rebuke from the prophet of God.


After doing all this, in verse 21 Moses turns to Aaron and confronted him.  In the long run, it is the leaders of the people of God that need to be confronted, and Moses did just that, and so must we today.


Aaron responds in verse 22 to 24. He tells Moses not to be angry when he should have acknowledged his sin and repented.   He told Moses the story of how it all took place.  He reminded Moses that Israel was always bent on evil.  That may well be so, but that is no excuse.  Aaron was in the wrong.  He should have admitted that and repented.  Aaron was shifting the blame on to the people. 


Verse 24 is somewhat comical.  Aaron told Moses that he threw the gold into the fire and "out came the calf."  That's not really the way it happened.  He threw the gold into the fire and with his tools he made the calf as seen in verse 4. The calf didn't just appear from the fire.   


Verses 25 and 26 are important.  Aaron had let the people get out of control and they became "a laughingstock" to those around them.  That's what always happens when God's people sin, lose control, and depart from the truth.  They become a laughingstock to those around them.  I think that is what is happening today in many parts of the church. We've lost control of ourselves.  We've mixed our faith in Jesus with worldly and other religious practices.  We have lost much credibility in the eyes of the world.


In verse 26 Moses stands and says, "whoever is for the Lord, come stand with me."  The Levites did just that.


Verses 27 to 29 will be disturbing to most people.  The Levites killed about three thousand people who had worshiped the golden calf.  This was done because of Moses' orders.  It is my thinking that Moses was actually doing God's will, doing what God Himself wanted to do.  God thought about killing much of Israel but Moses convinced Him not to.  God agreed with Moses knowing that what He wanted to do would be done anyway, and by Moses, the one who convinced God not to kill the Israelis.  


As I said earlier, Moses was filled with righteous indignation, righteous anger.   He felt the same way God felt, and in the long run, he did what he told God he should not do.  All Israel was not destroyed.  They would still have a future.  They would still have a great nation as God said in verse 10.  God visited his people in judgment that day, and He used Moses in the process.


So to help clarify the question I posed earlier, "did Moses change God's mind concerning not killing Israel?"  I don't believe he did.  God got His way in the long run.  


This passage of Scripture will cause many not to be Christian or believe in the God of the Bible, but this is a very important passage of Scripture.  This chapter shows us how God feels when we mix our Christian faith with other pagan practices.  God burns with anger when His people do not obey the first commandment.  The other thing that this passage teaches us is how the leaders of God's people should feel about these things.  They should feel the same way God feels.  They should burn with anger.  The problem these days is very few of us burn with righteous anger over God's people worshipping idols, which we do, even in the twenty first century.   


We have to understand something here.  We do not go out and kill every so-called Christian who mixes pagan rituals with Christianity.  We live in New Testament days.  We preach the gospel to them and require repentance.  If they do not repent, they are in the hands of God for Him to do as He wishes.  It is not up to us to punish.  That is not our job.  God will do that.


In verse 30 Moses did just as I said in the last paragraph.  He told the people that they had committed a great sin.  This sin was against God Himself.  They broke the first of the Ten Commandments.  They bowed their knees to another god, and worse still, it was a god that was no god, but a god of their own creation.  In fact they were putting themselves over and above their God.  How horrible of a sin that is. Moses said that he would meet with God to see if atonement could be made for this sin. 


In verses 30 and 31 we see the prayer of a real leader of the people of God.  Moses asks God to forgive Israel 's sin.  If that could not be possible, then he prayed that his name could be blotted out of God's book.  This is the first reference we have in the Bible about God having a book with names in it.  Moses expected his name to be in this book.  He told God that if He could not forgive Israel, if He could blot his name out of this book and forgive Israel as a result, he would be glad to have his name removed from this book.


This sounds very much like the apostle Paul in Romans 10.  He felt so bad for Israel , his people. That if it were possible, he too would have his name blotted out of God's book if Israel could be saved.  Such passion is what Christian leaders should have today.  If we had Christian leaders like this, we'd have a completely different church. 


In verses 33 and 34 God answered Moses.  He could not blot Moses' name out of His book.  He would however blot those who sinned out of His book and when the time came, He would punish them.  This makes personal salvation clear.   People must come to God on their own.  No one can be saved on the behalf of someone else.  This was the case in Old Testament times and it is the case in New Testament times.


Verse 35 says that the Lord struck the people with a plague.  You will remember earlier that God told Israel that if they obeyed Him, He would not cause any illness or plague to come on them.  Well, here you see.  They did not obey Him, and the plague came.  I would suggest that at times God might do the same today. 


In chapter 33, verses 1 and 2 God commanded Moses to go to the land He had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.


Verse 3 is interesting.  God said that He would not go with Israel toCanaan in case He destroys them along the way.  He is still quite angry.  In verse 2 God said that He would send an angel ahead of Israel instead of Him going Himself.  Again, this shows us the seriousness of the situation.  This shows us how God feels about having other gods besides Him.  We should take serious note of this. 


Many people who read this will conclude that this is a weird fairy tale.  Either it is a fairy tale or else it is real.  If it is real, we see how God feels about false gods, and if He feels this way, I suggest we feel the same way.


Notice the duty of the angel.  He was sent to do God's will.  Angels just don't sit around and worship God.  They have work to do on behalf of God.  


Another point to be made here is that this mountain became a sacred place because God visited Moses there.  The Israelis defiled this place with what they did.  Even worse than that, when God was visiting Moses for the sake of Israel, Israel was worshipping another god.


In verses 4 through 6 we see how Israel responded to what Moses told them concerning the way God felt.  They were quite upset that God would not go with them to Canaan .  How could they be so fickle?  They had just rejected their God, and now they are upset because He will not lead them into the land of Canaan .  That is humanity.  We want to live in two worlds.  We want to live in the Kingdom of God as well as the kingdom of wicked men. We expect that God should help us while we are involved in other gods.  It does not work that way.


This is all true in today's post-modern church.  We allow our churches to be influenced by other religions and philosophies of the world, then we wonder why God isn't doing miracles among us.  We wonder where God is.  


God told Israel to strip themselves of all their ornaments, like rings and bracelets.  Since these were the items that produce that pagan calf god, these things were seen as promoting sin.  This reminds me of the time Jesus told His followers to cut out their eyes if their eyes offended them.  In this case part of the offense came through the ear rings, thus they had to be destroyed.  It's not that the ear rings in themselves were evil.  It was how they were used.  If they had not used the ear rings to sin, I don't think God would have told them to get rid of them.

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