Golden Calves

BIBLE VERSE FOR TODAY…. “…he [Aaron] received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it.” Exodus 32:4-5 ESV

What is the deal with cows and idolatry among God’s people? This making of the “golden calf” seems to garner, like many events in scripture, some disagreement and conjecture. Apparently, In Egypt, a bull, Apis, was sacred to the god Ptah and emblematic of him. It was to represent strength. One article I read said that the calf was to be more of a physical symbol connected to the Lord because of the long absence of Moses.

In these cases, I consider the plain record of the scripture. The people said, “…make us gods who shall go before us.”  Then we read, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it.” (Exodus 32:4,5 ESV)

Then we see the people’s response, “…they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” (Exodus 32:6 ESV)

The ensuing revelry got so out of hand that when the Lord sent Moses down from the mountain the Levites gathered in loyalty to God and Moses and were instructed to go through the camp to kill those caught up in the frenzy of their misconduct. Later we see a plague that killed thousands.

Paul addresses this historic event when he writes to the Corinthians, “Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.’ We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died.” (1 Corinthians 10:7,8 ESV)

The irony of the events is that the first commandment was being broken, while Moses was on the mountain receiving the law of God.

We read of the days of Jeroboam of Israel, when he made two golden calves, in an attempt to secure his kingdom. He set them up in the southern and northern part of the nation with the express purpose of keeping God’s people from returning to Jerusalem to worship. These idols were the longest lasting form of idolatry in the nation before finally being destroyed by King Josiah of Judah.

In this account we do see Aaron giving in to the pressure of the people. What people demand, especially in times of fear, is not what they need. Aaron is described as “fashioning the calves” from the gold the people carried out of Egypt. He then tries to excuse his failure by saying, “I threw the gold into the fire and out jumped this calf.” Momentary actions, have severe and lasting consequences. The people enjoyed their “sin for a season” but the result was the death of thousands.

Paul describes the shallowness of human actions in these words, “Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.” (Romans 1:22,23 NIV)

We are called to serve the all-powerful God that is not seen, but ever-present in our lives. There is no God, like our god. He was made known through the person of Jesus Christ and we can be those who are truly wise by staying true to Him, resisting voices of doubt and standing firm in our faith.

May the words of Paul be ever on our lips, “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:17 NIV)

Prayer for today…. Lord give us the strength and focus to stay true to You in our lives. Regardless of the clamor of voices today that desire to make a “god in our own image.” Thank You that You are higher, greater and beyond our comprehension. Anything else is only a false god made to fit our own desires. Thank You that following Your ways leads us to a higher life of true peace, contentment and satisfaction.