Aaron said, “I simply threw it into the fire—and out came this calf!”
This is Aaron’s answer to Moses’s question, “What did these people do to you to make you bring such terrible sin upon them?” (Exodus 32:21)
Have you ever made an excuse for what you did? Or, have you ever tried to explain that it was not as bad as it was? We all have opportunity to do this. This is what Aaron was doing.
The idea of “Oops!” came to me as I was thinking about Exodus 32:35, which says, “Then the LORD sent a great plague upon the people because they had worshiped the calf Aaron had made.” What a tragedy! God says, “As surely as I live, says the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live.” (Ezekiel 33:11) What had happened was serious. People lost their lives. And, Aaron did not have a good reason. His story does not hold up to scrutiny.
The amazing part of this story is the grace and mercy of God. To see this we need to go back to the beginning.
First, we have the making of the golden calf.
The descendants of Jacob had been slaves in Egypt for hundreds of years. Their oppression became unbearable and they called out to the Lord for deliverance. God sent a man, Moses, to lead the people out of slavery to a land that they could call their own. God worked mighty miracles in bringing the Israelites out of Egypt. There were ten plagues. Then they crossed the Red Sea on dry ground with the water standing up as a wall on either side. When they ran out of food, the Lord provided a bread-like food they called Manna. When they ran out of water, God made water come out of a rock. God led them each step of the way with a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night. The Manna and the pillar were there every single day.
After 2 months in the wilderness, the Israelites camped at Mount Sinai. There the Lord descended on the mountain to meet with the people. Exodus 19:16 says, “Thunder roared and lightning flashed, and a dense cloud came down on the mountain. There was a long, loud blast from a ram’s horn, and all the people trembled.” Verse 18 adds, “All of Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the LORD had descended on it in the form of fire. The smoke billowed into the sky like smoke from a brick kiln, and the whole mountain shook violently.”
God spoke to them. He gave them the 10 Commandments. The 10 Commandments start out:
“I am the LORD your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery.
“You must not have any other god but me.
“You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods.”
The voice of God was so terrifying that the people asked Moses to be their go between and they would do whatever he said. Exodus 24:3 tells us that they agreed to do everything that God had commanded.
Moses then went up on the mountain to meet with God. He took along some of the elders of the people, Aaron and Joshua. Chapter 32 takes place after 40 days. Joshua apparently stayed on the mountain waiting for Moses, but Aaron and the elders did not.
Verses 1 of Exodus 32 says, “When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. “ Come on,” they said, “make us some gods who can lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.”
Two things you will notice right away. First, they were still eating Manna every day. Second, the mountain was still smoking and trembling. No one had ever seen what they saw of the Lord’s presence and working on their behalf. They had heard and agreed to God’s covenant. However, they did not look to the Lord to lead them. When Moses did not come down off the smoking, trembling mountain, they looked for Aaron to make gods to lead them.
This is way beyond “Oops.” God calls it stubborn rebellion in verse 9 of chapter 32. In view of it being in the very presence of God, it is hard to understand what was at the heart of this rebellion, but 1 Corinthians 10:6 explains, “These things happened as a warning to us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did.”
This is what was behind the building of the calf. We see it expressed in the aftermath of creating the calf. Verse 5 tells us the people were excited when the calf was completed. They immediately held a festival that included what the New Living Translation has termed pagan revelry. The calf was probably fashioned after the Egyptian god “Apis” which was the god of strength and fertility. According to Wikipedia, “Apis was the most important of all the sacred animals in Egypt, and, as with the others, its importance increased as time went on.” The part the Israelites were excited about was apparently the pagan revelry, which was sexual in nature. They were apparently going back to something familiar from Egypt.
At this point, God decided to destroy the people. He told Moses, “Now leave me alone so my fierce anger can blaze against them, and I will destroy them.”
The Bible tells us that the wages of sin is death. How am I any different when I desire evil things in light of the tremendous sacrifice Jesus made to free me from slavery to sin? Our rebellion against God is serious, and we deserve His anger.
However, two things in this account give us great hope.
First, the intercession of a godly person accomplishes much. Moses intercedes for the people. He pleads with God to spare them, and Exodus 32:14 says, “So the LORD changed his mind about the terrible disaster he had threatened to bring on his people.”
Here is a great mystery. How does an all-knowing, perfect God change His mind? We cannot know or understand such a thing, but here it is. It says that God changed His mind.
This should encourage us to pray. Pray for our children, relatives and friends who do not know Christ. James 5:16 says, “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” This is what we see here in Exodus 32. There is great power in prayer. God has chosen to listen to us when we pray.
First, we can have hope because God listens to prayer, and second because God is always willing to show mercy.
In this case, God withholds the deserved judgment. He continues to provide Manna every morning. His presence continues to be there with them. These people, who in His very presence made an idol and said, “This is the god who led us out of Egypt.” They were not deserving of God’s continued presence, leading and provision. However, God is merciful, and often withholds the judgment we deserve.
In Lamentations, the prophet Jeremiah says:
It is of the LORD'S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness. The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him. The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him. (Lamentations 3:22-25, KJV)
Although none of us is perfect, without sin, God continues to provide everything we need. God knew we would be unfaithful when He sent His Son, and yet He willingly paid the price for us. Should we not then wait for Him? How much should our souls seek Him? Let’s not grow weary and seek evil things and someone else to lead us. Rather, let us ask the Lord to remove the idols of our hearts that are the evil things so offensive to Him. Let us ask God that we might worship with a pure heart.
Let’s put aside the “Oops, did I just do that!” of double mindedness. The Israelites could not hold on to Egypt and follow God at the same time. Neither can we.