by William J. Stewart
Three months after leaving Egypt, the Hebrews came to Mount Sinai, where God would give His Law to them. He spoke to all the people from the top of Mount Sinai, revealing His covenant with Israel. Then He called Moses to come up the mount so He might give him the tablets of stone on which the Law would be written (Exodus 24:12). The next several chapters reveal details of the Law of Moses.
Moses would be with the Lord on the top of Sinai for 40 days. No sooner had God finished revealing and recording His Law (Exodus 31:18) than trouble began in the camp. The Lord commanded Moses,
Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. They have made themselves a molded calf, and worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt (Exodus 32:7-8).
Just prior to Moses ascending Mount Sinai to receive the Law in written form, the Israelites had agreed to have no other gods nor to make any idols (Exodus 20:3-5, 23; 24:3, 7). Not two months had passed, and the people had violated their covenant with God.
Moses was gone, but there were other leaders in Israel. The elders, Aaron—where were they when this idolatry was being conceived? The people did not do this on their own—they approached Aaron, asking that he make gods for them (Exodus 32:1). He ought to have rebuked them and encouraged them to trust in God, but instead he told them:
Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons and your daughters, and bring them to me (Exodus 32:2).
Having melted and molded the gold, he presented a calf to them, saying:
This is your god, O Israel, that brought you you out of the land of Egypt! …Tomorrow is a feast to the LORD (Exodus 32:4-5).
The activity of the people on the next day involved burnt offerings, eating, drinking, playing, dancing and a noise that Joshua mistook for the sound of war, but which was identified by Moses as singing in the camp (Exodus 32:6, 17-19). He was sure the people must have done some awful thing to Aaron for him to not stand against such wickedness. So far as we know, there were no threats, no coercion, just a request from the people and a positive response from Aaron (Exodus 32:22-24). The worst of it is Aaron’s lame explanation about how the calf came into being. He took no responsibility for it, claiming that he cast the gold into the fire, and this calf jumped out!
Friend, there is an important lesson for us to learn from Aaron and the people of Israel. Though they had the word of God revealed to them, though they knew this practice was contrary to His will, they did it anyhow. As we read Exodus 32, we see how close they came to being destroyed that day—and rightly so. It was Moses’ pleading their case that made the difference.
Folks today may not be fashioning molded calves, but any time God’s people add something which God does not authorize, or disregard what God has commanded, they are just as guilty as Israel with their idol. It will sometimes show itself by the preacher satisfying itching ears, speaking just what will make the people feel good about themselves, and not addressing sin and the need to walk in holiness. It may present itself in the disregard for Bible truth in exchange for denominational dogma. Years ago I spoke with a denominational preacher who knew the Bible commanded baptism for the forgiveness of sins, but excused himself from teaching such, since he was paid to preach salvation by faith alone. It may be the addition of a gymnasium, a family life center, or any number of things which have nothing to do with the gospel of Christ, the work of the church or the souls of men. It may be the use of instrumental music in worship despite the fact God has said nothing about doing so.
God has given His word in expectation that we obey it. He has given His word for our good—why would we want to go beyond of fall short of what He has said? May we not excuse ourselves or others from the gospel of Christ—God will not. And may we not add to or take from the Divine instruction. Are we wiser than God?