The Golden Calf

Aaron gazed up the mountain, past steep rocks and through the scraggily desert bushes. How many days had it been? So many. And here he was still sitting, and waiting. Alone.

He sighed. He had tried to turn to God as Moses would have expected him to, but it just wasn’t working. Lately it felt as if his prayers were just piling up in front of him, as tall and as useless as the mountain he stared at now. At least in Egypt he had always known what to do.

He sighed again, and stood. He should get back.

He headed that way, but as he neared camp, he heard the shuffle of feet and the muffled sound of voices. Eventually he could see that the whole camp had gathered, and many were calling his name.

“Aaron! Aaron!”

“What is it?” he asked, a bit wary. Maybe they had begun to question his leadership as much as he had.

A spokesman moved to the center of the group. “Aaron, we don’t know when Moses is coming back. We aren’t even sure that he will! We have no direction from God and we’re tired of uncertainty. Where is God now that we need Him? Or Moses? Maybe we were wrong in coming here, I don’t know. We just want to go back to the things we do know. We want to live like we used to in Egypt. Egyptians could at least keep track of their gods.”

Aaron pondered this. Had he not just been thinking himself how much easier it had been living the old way? If all agreed, then surely it had to be right… It certainly felt like the better choice.

“All right,” he said. “Bring me all the gold you can find in the camp. We’ll melt down earrings and such until we have enough. And send me those who did this kind of work back in Egypt!”

All day was spent gathering bits and pieces of gold, stoking a fire and keeping it hot, and carefully pouring each bit of gold they melted into crevices. It felt good to have a purpose and a direction again. It felt good to feel excitement instead of just fear and worry. It felt good to be doing something.

Aaron worked harder than anyone, and as the sunset burned behind the mountain that night, he proudly gathered the people together to unveil their final product.

Wordlessly, he whipped off the covering, and the people’s voices roared in exuberance. This is what they remembered. This was familiar and comfortable, and this felt like the home they had left not long before.

“This is our god!” the people yelled. “This is the god that brought us out of Egypt!”

Aaron quickly erected an altar before the statue.

“Tomorrow we will feast in celebration!” he announced.

And they did. The next day, the people rose early and gathered around the statue. They offered every kind of offering they knew or remembered from Egypt. They feasted and laughed, enjoying the day and the freedom that it brought. Finally Aaron felt like things might work out after all.

If only he could focus on his success instead of continually brushing away the thought that suggested that maybe he had had direction all along, that maybe his job had been only to wait.

It seemed ridiculous. Action was always better, right?

As absurd as this story sounds, it’s based on history. You can find the facts yourself in Exodus 32. These people who had been saved from slavery by miracles, who had seen water pour from a rock, who had watched the Red Sea part decided that trusting God was too hard and their old way of life was easier. Really?? But aren’t we sometimes tempted to do the same?

If you saw the video yesterday, you’ll know that in our striving to be holy, there are two molds we are supposed to avoid: the mold of the world and the mold of our own past sin. In this story, the Israelites fell for the lies of both.

They wanted to be like the world. All the people they knew around them and the Egyptians they had known before worshipped idols. Those people’s lives didn’t seem horrible, so the Israelites decided it must not be too awful of a practice.

When we see the lives of those who are successful, smart, popular, or gorgeous, we tend to think, “Hey, that’s working pretty well for them, and my way is headed nowhere fast”, so we slowly drift into their pattern of living. Holiness means being set apart, it means doing things because they are pleasing to God, not just because other people do it. And as the Israelites saw, sometimes that’s hard!

The Israelites themselves had also lived in Egypt before, and maybe some of them had worshipped idols before. They had certainly witnessed and gotten relatively comfortable with the practice of idol worship. When hard times came, they looked for the comfort and ease of doing what they knew. What were your past struggles? Gossip? Lying? Don’t these things still come naturally back to you sometimes when you are in a hard place?

The Israelites picked what was easy over what was right. They chose the wrong mold, and while they enjoyed it for a time, if you keep reading Exodus 32, you will see that God was angry with them. Moses too came back furious. They hadn’t been able to depend on God for even 40 days! Weren’t God’s promises enough for them?

Aren’t they enough for us when right living seems too hard?

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