We tend to have a monolithic view of idolatry; it’s all about false gods like Baal, Zeus, or Ra. But maybe not.
In today’s reading is the relatively famous story of one of Israel’s most egregious sins against God right at the very start of their “relationship”, the Golden Calf; and one of the most surprising things that people discover upon a more careful reading is that idolatry isn’t always about false gods.
God had called Moses upon on the mountain to give him (the first set) the Ten Commandments, written by God’s own finger, God’s own autograph! But as Moses came down the mountain with Joshua they heard a party going on.
Moses had been on the mountain a long time, 40 days — longer than the people thought that he ought to be. On the positive side of things, the people wanted to worship God; on the negative side, having just come from Egypt, they were bent on worshiping God with an image. They pressured Aaron, while Moses was on the mountain, to “make us a god”. Aaron caved under the pressure and taking gold from their earrings, he crafted a calf to represent God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. How do we know that? Notice 32:4 where Aaron identifies the image as the God who rescued from Egypt. And look at 32:5 — Aaron proclaimed a feast to the LORD.
In case you weren’t aware of it, in most Bible translations, when you see the word LORD all in capital letters or small caps, it is an indirect reference to the personal name of God, sometimes spelled YHWH. The point being that 32:5 tells us that the Golden Calf was supposed to represent the one true and living God, not some false god from one of the surrounding lands.
Wouldn’t that be OK? Clearly not! Moses, upon finding out what Aaron and the people had done, threw down the newly minted Ten Commandments in a symbol of the broken commandment of God. In fact, God was angry enough at the time that He was ready to destroy the whole nation and start afresh with Moses. Moses interceded for the people, but even so there was punishment, execution, and even plague to pay for their idolatry.
The point? Despite the fact that the images that some folks still cling to are sincerely meant to represent the real God or Jesus Christ the Son of God, it is still idolatry and it is still forbidden, and it is still a serious sin.
As just a last comment, and I find it fairly humorous, because it is so typical of us human beings, is Aaron’s excuse for what he did — I just threw the gold into the fire and miraculously out popped this calf (to paraphrase). We can laugh, but let’s not laugh too hard, “Why do you laugh? Change the name and it could be said of you.” Our excuses often sound really good in our heads, until they get seen in the light of day and we actually say them out loud or have to defend them.
- I’d have been to church, but we had company come over. (And God isn’t as important as my company)
- I would have told him the Gospel, but I’m sure he wouldn’t have responded. (This is because I can read minds, so I thought I’d just make the decision for eternity for him)
- I know I shouldn’t worry about money so much, but what if God doesn’t come through? (Because God is kind of unreliable, right?)
Let’s abandon the excuses and just do what the Lord has commanded.
I’ll be looking for you tomorrow, Lord willing.