There Came Out This Calf

“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 32:23–24, ESV)  

Hey, Aaron, try this instead. “Sorry, Moses. While you were away — and you were away a long time, you know — well, a bunch of us guys got together and said, ‘Hey, let’s make a false god! Moses is gone and God’s not looking. We’ve got to worship something, right?’ So then I gathered up precious metal from a more-than-willing-to-give people, and we cast a golden calf. Then we worshipped and rejoiced and danced around. And I, as high priest, of course, proclaimed a holiday. We sacrificed and had a great time!”

Read the account for yourself and see what you understand by it. But by any measure, Aaron’s attempt to distance himself from this most unholy incident was a shameful misuse of language. Aaron stripped away the whole truth and presented to Moses only the bits which seemed necessary to support the empirical data. There was a golden calf idol in the camp, and the people were worshipping it. Did fear of the people drive Aaron’s temporary insanity? Many of you in leadership positions (and this includes parents) have felt the pressure to please your subordinates—and often at the expense of righteousness. I shall not excuse you, Aaron (or me), but rather point-out that pressure applied by subordinates affects the leadership. Combine this phenomenon with our desire to be “men-pleasers” and we have all the makings of a disaster… and by the way — that Exodus account of God’s people worshipping a golden calf while God was communing with Moses and delivering the Ten Commandments? That qualifies as a disaster!

Aaron’s tacit leadership demanded that he absorb the blame! But he did not, nor did the Lord lay it on him — not directly, anyway. I’d surely have carried that shame with me the rest of my career, but how about Aaron? Do you think he escaped? Do you think that in the middle of performing some priestly duty that his mind didn’t occasionally wander back to that shame filling him with the I'm-not-worthy flood of feelings? Fortunately for us, God does not require perfect people to perform his earthly work. The Aaronic priesthood would endure as a special category until one, whose priesthood was greater than Aaron’s, arrived, Jesus Christ! (Hebrews 9:11)

Did you happen to notice who else was absent from the camp besides Moses? Joshua. Moses and Joshua were returning to the camp when Joshua reported the voices of singing. (Exodus 32:17-18) My own feeling on Joshua is that if he had been in the camp, the infraction would not have occurred. His absence from the fray did two things: it allowed the sin to occur that the heart of the people be made known. Also, his absence and non-participation in the fracas helped make him the legitimate successor to Moses. Like Moses, Joshua was one of the people, but separated for leadership and protected by God. Well, all good for Moses and Joshua — but what about Aaron? Would God let him skate? You be the judge.

“And the Lord plagued the people, because they made the calf, which Aaron made.”  

No amount of weaselly language ever changes the truth. Aaron led the people in a great sin... but God continued to use him. That should encourage every Christian.

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