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, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”
“I’ll wipe them out—all but Moses!” That was the conclusion the Lord God came to as he looked in at the sickening sight of Israel bowing down to gods of gold. He burned with anger. While they danced in frenzied idol worship, those people had no idea of how close they were to being wiped off of the face of the earth and plunged into the pits of hell.
Scripture warns, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). Sodom and Gomorrah found this to be horribly true. So did the people of Noah’s day. But none of them had received the same degree of loving care as did these people. The Israelites had been slaves. Their boy babies had been sentenced to death. Their backs had been laid open by the whips of the Egyptian slave drivers. But they were rescued.
Did they not remember? Had they already forgotten the passing of the angel of death over non-Jewish Egypt? What about the miracle at the Red Sea? Didn’t they see the smoke and fire on Mount Sinai? Didn’t they hear the voice of God roaring from the mountaintop? Did they not know who God was, and what he was like?
How then, could they think gods of gold could be a substitute for him?
Satan made it easy for them. He convinced them they had no choice. Moses had gone up into the mountain covered with clouds, smoke, and fire—and he did not come back. They panicked. They thought they were caught without protection. They told Aaron, “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” (Exodus 32:1).
What should he do? Aaron improvised: “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me” (Exodus 32:2).
Now, he had the makings of a golden calf. He had seen such things in Egypt. He would give the people something they could see—something concrete they could worship. “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”
He improvised. He adapted. But he surely did not overcome.
He and the rest of Israel would learn that when it comes to God, the rule is: “Improvise not!”
God’s response was swift. To Moses, he said, “I have seen these people, and they are a stiff-necked people. 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” (Exodus 32:9,10).
There was no excuse for these people. No way to escape. Their only hope was mercy.
Moses begged for that mercy. Mercy was granted, but it came with a lesson. The golden calf was ground into a powder which the people were forced to drink with water. Then we hear, “And the LORD struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made” (Exodus 32:35).
We have become familiar with the lesson of plagues. We, too, have begun to learn that God is not to be trifled with.
Of course, God is not made of gold! Yet, we can say he has a heart of gold. He remembered the promise to make the descendants of Abraham into a great nation. He remembered his promise to send a Savior through these people.
He spared that nation. He did not abandon those people. The Savior came.
Our Savior came. He has not abandoned us. He keeps his promises. We are safe for all eternity.
God’s Word is as good as gold!
Prayer: Lord God, too quickly we look for other answers and other things to count on in life. Too easily we improvise instead of faithfully following your directions. Forgive our sin. Strengthen our resolve. Point our hearts back to your sure, firm, powerful words. You are the only true God. We serve you as Lord Most High. We are privileged to say “In God We Trust!” Amen.
Written by Rev. Paul Ziemer, WELS National Civilian Chaplain and Liaison to the Military, Belle Plaine, Minnesota.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. Note: Scripture reading footnotes are clickable only in the web version.