The Golden Calf
The account of the Israelites worshiping the golden calf is among one of the most famous stories of the Bible, and probably the only one that most people know of when they think about the book of Exodus, or the Old Testament. Moses had been on the mountain for 40 days getting what I call the “Holy Spirit download” of the Law and perhaps Genesis as well. Can you imagine being in God’s presence for 40 days? Moses did this on 3 different notable occasions (and perhaps more) and fasted during some of them. If we set apart this much time to be with God imagine what we would know, what we would have experienced, and how much closer we would be to our God!
So while Moses is experiencing God like few others have in history the Israelites down at the foot of the mountain got bored and impatient with Moses’s dealings with God. They went to Aaron and asked him to make for them a god that they could see, touch, and understand. They donated all their golden rings and ear rings to Aaron to make the form of the golden calf. Remember what I said previously that the gold and riches that the Israelites acquired from Egypt was for God’s holy purposes for the tabernacle but here we find these riches being used for idolatry and wickedness.
The strange thing about this golden calf business was that they took what God did and credited it to the calf. They claimed that the god(s) which they had just created was actually the one that saved them out of Egypt. Here we see man making for himself gods, this has happened from the beginning of time and is the source of which we find different religions claiming different gods than our own – Hinduism (which ironically worships cows), Islam, Zoroastrianism, etc. Even in our modern culture we see people “making gods” out of everyday things including themselves, they accredit God’s goodness to their homemade god whether it’s money, control, sex, drugs, or love. It’s amazing that the Jews did this so quickly when you realize that in Exo 20:23 God’s first ordinance of the Law (after the 10 commandments) was to not make gods out of silver and gold! Yet here they are, but are we any different? God burns with anger towards their idolatry and Moses, true to being a type of Christ, stands up for Israel and begs mercy of God on behalf of his people.
So Moses turns and goes back down to the camp site as God told him to, upon seeing the wicked party that had begun Moses, in his anger, throws and the tablets of the Lord down and they break to pieces. Moses gets golden calf which they made, grinds it to powder, puts it in the water, and makes the people of Israel drink it! Talk about holy anger, I can only imagine how angry Moses was with Israel’s sin after he himself had experienced such bliss and depth up on the mountain just to come down and find a counterfeit god insulting the greatness of the one true God. Jesus felt similarly in the temple when he turned over the tables.
Moses confronts their supervisor Aaron, the second in command, and Aaron tells his brother the lamest excuse “They gave me their gold, I threw it in the fire, and out came this calf!” When we are in sin and caught red handed we make some pretty sorry excuses and lies, but this simply proves the desire of our flesh to justify and allow sinful activities.
At the end of Israel’s stay at Sinai we find yet another type of Christ in Moses’ character. Because of Israel’s sin Moses says “Now I will go up to the Lord, perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” Moses soon found out he was unable to do this, Jesus however was a fulfillment of this role. He did not cover up our sin like the sacrifices of the Old Testament, He took away our sin and the weight of them by His atoning death (Heb 10:4, 19-22).
Conversations with Yahweh
In chapter 33 Moses meets with God in the tent of meeting which was outside of the camp. When he met with God there, the cloud would descend in front of the tent signifying God’s presence. In Moses’s talk with Yahweh I see a few important things come to the surface.
1. Moses asks God to help him serve Him better. He says “Please show me now Your ways, that I may know You in order to find favor in Your sight”. This shows intimacy, maturity, and a desire to serve God more. If you consider yourself mature in Christ but are not hungering for more ways to “find favor in God’s sight” than you are digressing in your walk with Christ. There is no neutral in Christ, only forward and backward. Moses was hungry for God, he made it plane in prayer, and he an answer to his humble but honest request.
2. Moses does not claim for himself the things that rightfully belonged to God. By now Moses could have easily begun to see Israel as his people, as his possession and that his high level of leadership was well earned. However, Moses rightfully referred to Israel as “Your people” referring to God. Don’t let pride convince you that the blessings in your life are your own or that your merit earned them. Always thank God for the things He has entrusted you with. We are stewards of whatever God brings our way whether it’s riches or lack.
3. Moses did not want to move unless God was with him. At this point in time Moses probably didn’t know that he would be in the desert for 39 more years at this time but I’m sure 3 months in the desert goes a long way. Despite the discomfort of the desert he did not want to go anywhere (including to the Promised Land) unless God’s presence would accompany them. We may receive opportunities in life that seem like an easy way out or even a blessing but they are not all of God and we should not want to go anywhere (even to comfort) if God is not with us. It’s better to be poor but with God than rich and without God.
4. Moses realized the side effects of having contact with God – being different. If someone claims to be a Christian it should be noticeable by way of their lifestyle (1Cor 5:17). A born again Christian does not live or think the same as the unbeliever, this should cause them to stand out to some degree (Rom 12:2). In Hebrew we find a word “Kadesh” which translates to “holy” and means set apart, distinct. This word should be a description for the Christian, we live for God and imitate Christ, we also display God’s unmerited love to the world around us because of God’s great love toward us. If you are doing this you should be looking pretty different (1Pet 4:4).
5. Moses asked God for exactly what he wanted, and he got it. Now I don’t mean to devalue reverence, silence, or humility but don’t forget that in prayer – you can be direct and to the point. When you do this you are not bossing God around, or being selfish (assuming it’s not a holy request), you are simply being clear and to the Sometimes we think prayer is a systematic, structured, religious thing and we get so weighed down with our religious check list that we never get to express our deepest desires to God. Moses wanted to see God, he probably didn’t even know what that meant except possible death, but he wanted to see him so he asked. Don’t beat around the bush, just ask (Mat 7:7)!