And Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you have brought such a great sin upon them?” And Aaron said, “Let not the anger of my lord burn hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil. For they said to me, ‘Make us gods who shall go before us. 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 I said to them, ‘Let any who have gold take it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.” Exodus 32:21-24
We know from the beginning Aaron does not lift a finger to stop the people. He meets their demands, participates in the rebellion, and makes it possible for them to worship a golden image. In the end as Moses questions what he has done, he shifts the blame to the people and makes excuses, even as lame as they are. The point is that Aaron takes no responsibility for what happened. He basically blames the people and makes himself out to be someone in a bad situation. Adam Clarke in his commentary says this of what Aaron claims, “What a silly and ridiculous subterfuge! He seems to insinuate that he only threw the metal into the fire, and that the calf came unexpectedly out by mere accident.”6 What Aaron does is silly and dishonest. He made the idol with a reference to former gods he had known in Goshen. He allowed the people to sin. They were willing and demanding, but he actually made the idol. He told the people to give up their earrings and gold, and he proclaimed a day of feasting and worship. To push all this aside and say it merely happened is silly, but it does not remove our responsibility. Leaders have to take responsibility for their people even if the people are intent on evil. This failure of Aaron caused the people to sin.
So how can we apply this story to our own lives? How does this apply to our nation today? The golden calf most definitely represents idol worship. Taking something superficial and trying to replace God with it. And while America is definitely about the business of worshiping superficial idols – money, affluence, fame, self, and so forth. There is a deeper application, one that is not so obvious. Remember how Moses went up to meet God and the presence of God left the people and went up to the mountain. The people became impatient, wondering if Moses was coming back. And they fell into sin. Well, when we look at the Israelites, we tend to think how foolish they were – that we would never worship idols and do what they did. But the fact is, we engage in the same activities all the time. Sometimes applying God’s word requires transferring what it says to our time and culture – basically applying it in the right way for us. Just as Moses was a long time in coming, so it is with Christ. Christ has been away a long time. Do you ever wonder how long it will be? Do you ever think that maybe he is not coming after all? II Peter 3:3-4 says, “knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.’”
It is easy to think things are just the same as they have always been and nothing will ever change. But this is false! Remember how the Israelites had everything they needed while Moses was away, yet it was not enough. They grew impatient waiting on him, and started to revert back to former ways of thinking. It is just the same with us. We grow weary of waiting on God; we tend to think he is not coming. And I don’t just mean the second coming of Jesus. God comes into our lives in many ways. Sometimes it is a specific need we have, or maybe a perpetual problem that never seems to go away. We need God to come, but he always seems to tarry. We grow weary and restless waiting for him. And what do we do when we are in this state? Many times we rebel. We think about how we can solve our problems and we revert back to former days. We bring the idols we once worshiped into our present situation and we try to replace God. Even though God has told us what to do, we rebel. We do not like it his way. We think the old way is better. We revert back to our way of doing things.
Let’s take a very practical example. Supposed God starts to reveal himself to you in a supernatural way, a way he has never shown himself. Supposed instead of depending on your natural knowledge of God, you have to listen to his voice and respond to him in unexpected ways. This may seem fine at first, but then you get irritated. You get tired of it; you want things to go back to where you can understand them. You want to put God in a box. Well, guess what? He doesn’t fit in a box. Our comprehension of him is limited and he is much more than we can imagine. So when we grow tired of this new supernatural God, we put him back in the box we can understand. We make an idol and call it God. We revert back to what we can handle, we become just like the Israelites. This may seem mild, but really it isn’t. It is rebellion. When God brings us to a new place, we have to change our thinking and actions. We have to obey him and move forward not backward. When the Israelites reverted back to the idol worship, something they could understand, they ended up at a place they likely did not intend. They ended up corrupting themselves through idol worship and sacrifice, eating and drinking, singing and dancing and pagan sexual fornication. The fact is when we revert back, we end up corrupting ourselves as well. We must move forward and obey God. No matter how uncomfortable it may be, reverting back to former idols never works. We end up in a very bad place. For many of us, this may represent choosing God over religion. God takes us to a place of growth and knowledge of how grand he is. But we can’t seem to understand and are not willing to accept some discomfort. So we revert back to our religious experience. We set up our religious idols and call them God. I would contend just as it says in the Psalm, “They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass.” (Psalm 106:20), that we too are exchanging the glory of God for an image of religion. Jehovah God is a supernatural, supreme, awesome, wonderful, Creator-Redeemer, unfathomable, I AM. He is uncomfortable, challenging, and beyond our wildest imagination. Unless you want to drink the burnt powder of your religious idols, I suggest you live in obedience to God no matter the circumstances. Pull down your religious understanding and glory in the awesome grace of God. We all get to choose – whether to constantly revert back to the fake religious culture of our day or stand in the presence of God’s magnificent glory.