The Golden Calf - How Not to Worship (Exodus 32)

Date: 10/15/2017
More audio from All Saints Church
Type: Sunday Sermon
Topic: Idolatry
Organization: All Saints
Price: FREE

Exodus 31:18ff - When He had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God. 32:1 Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 2 Aaron said to them, “Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool and made it into a molten calf; and they said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” 5 Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.” 6 So the next day they rose early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play. 7 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, “Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. 8 “They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. They have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and have sacrificed to it and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!’” 9 The LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. 10 “Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.” 11 Then Moses entreated the LORD his God, and said, “O LORD, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 “Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, ‘With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people. 13 “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” 14 So the LORD changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.

Idolatry Devised - In Exodus 32, fear had taken hold of the Israelites after Moses' long absence from the camp. They needed someone to “go before” them. They determined that they needed a “god” as a new mediator of representing Yahweh. The “molten calf” should be thought of as a young bull which was a “symbol of virile power” (EBC). Jeroboam referred to this in his installation of two golden calves in Samaria (931 B.C., 1 Kings 12:28). This idolatry was a violation of the first three commandments, but it is focused on the second commandment. In this case they were attempting to worship the true God in an unlawful way. “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD [Yahweh]” (32:5). “After this, they celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry” (32:6 NLT2).

Wrath Stated - Since the people had “acted basely” (32:7, JPS) or have “corrupted [destroyed] themselves” (Heb. shachat), God condemns these idolaters. The term “corrupted” is also used just before the flood: “Now the earth was corrupt [shachat] in the sight of God” (Gen. 6:11). The same term indicates the “destruction” of the earth: “Behold, I, even I am bringing the flood of water upon the earth, to destroy [shachat] all flesh in which is the breath of life, from under heaven” (Gen. 6:17). The people have corrupted themselves which is a means of destroying themselves. As a result, the Lord burns with a justified anger: “Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation” (32:10).

Wrath Averted - But . . .  the story does not end with the destruction of the Israelites by the fierce wrath of God. Rather, the story ends with Moses the mediator pleading with a just, righteous, and holy God. We tend to read into this that God is capricious. But the story is to remind us that no matter the disobedience of God’s people, God has promised deliverance. What is the basis for “changing the mind of God” - the Word of God in His promises to the fathers.

Gregg Strawbridge Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D., is the pastor of All Saints Church in Lancaster, PA. He became a committed follower of Jesus Christ at age 20, discipled in the context of a University Navigator Ministry. As a result of personal discipleship he went on to study at Columbia Biblical Seminary (M.A., Columbia, SC, 1990), as well as receive a Ph.D. in education and philosophy... read more