Moses has been at the top of Mount Sinai forty days and forty nights receiving the Ten Commandments, as well as instructions regarding the tabernacle and the priests. “Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, ‘Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’” So Aaron, the one who should be leading the people to worship the Lord, makes a molded calf to please the people, and he builds an altar before it, where the people worship the golden calf and engage in sexual immorality.
Since the Lord sees everything, He tells Moses to go down from the mountain because the people have corrupted themselves. The Lord says He wants to consume these stiff-necked people and make Moses a great nation without them. However, Moses intercedes for the people and the Lord relents.
When Moses comes down with the stone tablets, he finds the people engaging in pagan rituals, including orgies, worshiping the golden calf. Out of anger, Moses casts down the stone tablets and breaks them. Then he turns the calf into powder and makes the children of Israel drink it. When Moses questions Aaron, Aaron blames the people saying they made him make the calf. Aaron says he took their gold and cast it in the fire and out popped this calf. But the truth is that Aaron made the golden calf for the people because he was more concerned with pleasing the crowd than pleasing the Lord. And since sin against God always has consequences, the Levites team up with Moses and the Lord, and they kill about three thousand people who continued in their idolatry without repentance.
Then Moses goes back to the Lord to intercede for the people once again – “Oh, these people have committed a great sin, and have made for themselves a god of gold! Yet now, if You will, forgive their sin—but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written.” Moses offers his life for the guilty sinners, but God doesn’t require Moses to give his life. God is sending His Son to do for the people what Moses can not, to live a perfect life and to be the perfect final Sacrifice. But God does say, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book.” The Lord is not going to judge the nation as a whole, but He will judge individuals. So God sends a plague on the people and tells Moses He will send an Angel to go before them into the promised land because God can not be in the presence of these stiff-necked people! But Moses refuses to go without the Lord. The Lord ultimately honors Moses’ request to continue with them and says to Moses, “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”
Moses goes back up Mount Sinai another forty days and forty nights with two new stone tablets. God tells Moses to instruct the people to destroy the pagan altars, break the sacred pillars, and cut down the wooden images when they enter the promised land – “for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.”
Did the children of Israel learn their lesson against idolatry with the golden calf incident? Keep reading to find out. (Exodus 32:1-34-35)