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Aaron’s Calf

Posted by adventbiblestudy on November 22, 2016


Chapter 5 Aaron’s Calf

Moses Comes Down From the Mountain

Exodus 32:1-5 NLTse When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. “Come on,” they said, “make us some gods who can lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.” (2) So Aaron said, “Take the gold rings from the ears of your wives and sons and daughters, and bring them to me.” (3) All the people took the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron. (4) Then Aaron took the gold, melted it down, and molded it into the shape of a calf. When the people saw it, they exclaimed, “O Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of the land of Egypt!” (5) Aaron saw how excited the people were, so he built an altar in front of the calf. Then he announced, “Tomorrow will be a festival to the LORD!”

Now we can begin to see why Aaron was told to sacrifice a bull at the entrance of the Tabernacle to atone for himself and his sons. God used the symbol of a bull to show who had power over what. God gave Adam authority over all the beasts of the field. Priests like those in Egypt gave that authority to the beasts by making idols out of them. It was much like what God did in Egypt when Egyptian priests turned water into blood. Aaron had to show the people he created that false god and he was the one in control. Not that golden calf.

The people would have looked and wondered at what Aaron did when he killed that bull. All their lives they were taught a bull represented Egypt’s savior, a connection between themselves and those gods they worshiped. God put an end to that god and opened up a path to a whole new set of symbols pointing to this world’s only true Savior.

Amazing how God told Moses about sacrificing a bull at the entrance of the Tabernacle before Aaron and the other people got the idea to make a golden calf. Notice how there wasn’t any purification of that gold. Just throw it in and see what came out.

What we just did is follow the general rules of context by looking back on a series of stories to see a spiritual connection and learn the details that connected them. We didn’t jump around from book to book to solve the spiritual meaning of a symbol. Nor did we gather proof texts from different sections of the Bible and different stories to prove a preconceived idea. We followed a story in the way it was recorded until the story unfolded. Remember, this series of stories is one long story. This story told us, Moses is still on the mountain with God getting details about the Tabernacle and its services. Instructions for Aaron to follow when he consecrated himself and his sons is part of that overall story. We see how God reveals the meaning of a symbol within the proper context when we stay within the story. The same story guarantees the proper context.

People miss the seriousness of this story about Aaron and that calf when they jump from book to book, story to story, or worse yet, one sentence to another. Like little parts of gold jewelry, they gather up little bits and pieces of scripture from here and there, melt them down and make their own gods. Their gold is mixed with all kinds of stuff that makes it impure. But they don’t care. They think those other elements makes it better. They don’t give God’s Spirit the chance to purify the message. The spiritual meaning of that calf and the bull Aaron sacrificed to atone for his sins explain the spiritual meaning of the symbols in this story. God recorded stories for us to study each one as a whole. God never intended for His Word to be torn apart, melted down, and to have men claim authority over His recorded Word.

Go Down the Mountain

Exodus 32:6-8 NLTse The people got up early the next morning to sacrifice burnt offerings and peace offerings. After this, they celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry. (7) The LORD told Moses, “Quick! Go down the mountain! Your people whom you brought from the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. (8) How quickly they have turned away from the way I commanded them to live! They have melted down gold and made a calf, and they have bowed down and sacrificed to it. They are saying, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.'”

How many people see the message in these few verses? Before Moses went up the mountain alone to meet with God, Israel turned down the offer to be His kingdom of priests. They told Moses to go up, talk to God, then come back and tell them what He said. Moses was gone for a little over a month. Those same people who refused to be God’s priests decided to be priests in their own religion.

There’s no question this happens today. The Christian world is filled with priests, pastors, and ministers of all kinds with no idea how to talk with God, and in many cases, no intention of trying to communicate with Him. Where do they get their information from? No one really knows. They think someone along their chain of command listens to God, but their not sure who or how. Neither can they explain how to communicate with God.

God compared their sacrifices to pagan revelry. Does this include sacrificing individuals because modern day priests and pastors don’t know how to learn, teach, or turn lives over to Jesus? I’ve seen my share of Internet discussions and videos with pastors claiming they or their church have authority for this or that. They usually claim authority to interpret scripture or power over distribution of spiritual gifts. They claim they are assuring people don’t make mistakes and teach the wrong thing. When people are led by God’s Spirit, when they listen and obey God’s voice, how can they teach the wrong thing? Isn’t that God’s concern? I’ve asked dozens of pastors, church leaders, and individuals where the Bible says Jesus gave the authority He earned by His sacrifice to anyone. No one has been able to answer that question except to say, “everyone knows He did.” Just because you repeat something enough times does not make it true. Nor does God change His plan of salvation based on the will of a majority. All that rebellion does is delay joy associated with God’s promises and forces millions to suffer for their mistakes.

I Have Seen Their Rebellion

Exodus 32:9-14 NLTse Then the LORD said, “I have seen how stubborn and rebellious these people are. (10) Now leave me alone so my fierce anger can blaze against them, and I will destroy them. Then I will make you, Moses, into a great nation.” (11) But Moses tried to pacify the LORD his God. “O LORD!” he said. “Why are you so angry with your own people whom you brought from the land of Egypt with such great power and such a strong hand? (12) Why let the Egyptians say, ‘Their God rescued them with the evil intention of slaughtering them in the mountains and wiping them from the face of the earth’? Turn away from your fierce anger. Change your mind about this terrible disaster you have threatened against your people! (13) Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You bound yourself with an oath to them, saying, ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven. And I will give them all of this land that I have promised to your descendants, and they will possess it forever.'” (14) So the LORD changed his mind about the terrible disaster he had threatened to bring on his people.

God showed His way of doing things is to start over from scratch. He did it with the flood, then with Abraham. After Israel’s display of pagan revelry, God was ready to start over again. This time He was going to begin with Moses. But Moses stood up for Israel and saved them. This is another example of a priest, someone who pleads with God for the people he knows. Did you notice Moses was speaking directly with God? I’ve heard dozens of pastors preach on those verses, but none of them used it as an illustration showing attributes their supposed to possess, or how their supposed to talk directly to God. A great sermon begins at God’s throne followed by a good long look in the mirror.

Moses reminded God about His battle with those false gods from Egypt. That’s all God had to hear. God wanted to know someone was paying attention to the lesson He was teaching by using a series of stories, lessons, and symbols. God needed Moses to speak up. He needed people to see the difference one person can make.

Moses Threw the Tablets

Exodus 32:15-19 NLTse Then Moses turned and went down the mountain. He held in his hands the two stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. (16) These tablets were God’s work; the words on them were written by God himself. (17) When Joshua heard the boisterous noise of the people shouting below them, he exclaimed to Moses, “It sounds like war in the camp!” (18) But Moses replied, “No, it’s not a shout of victory nor the wailing of defeat. I hear the sound of a celebration.” (19) When they came near the camp, Moses saw the calf and the dancing, and he burned with anger. He threw the stone tablets to the ground, smashing them at the foot of the mountain.

I have to admit, I never did figure out why Moses broke that first set of tablets. I’ve heard a lot of explanations, but all of them were man made fabrications. Nothing more than what I would consider opinions. There has to be an explanation in scripture. I have another question. Where did Joshua come into the picture?

So Moses and his assistant Joshua set out, and Moses climbed up the mountain of God. Moses told the elders, “Stay here and wait for us until we come back. Aaron and Hur are here with you. If anyone has a dispute while I am gone, consult with them.” Then Moses climbed up the mountain, and the cloud covered it. And the glory of the LORD settled down on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days. On the seventh day the LORD called to Moses from inside the cloud. To the Israelites at the foot of the mountain, the glory of the LORD appeared at the summit like a consuming fire. Then Moses disappeared into the cloud as he climbed higher up the mountain. He remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights. (Exodus 24:13-18 NLTse).

Based on the text, it appeared Joshua went up the mountain with Moses. It also appears Joshua stayed at one level while Moses went into a cloud to meet with God. It seems a little unusual for two men to go up a mountain and return forty days later with two tablets of stone with God’s law written on them. Is there a connection between Moses, Joshua, and God’s law we don’t see?

It doesn’t seem right to compare anyone to God’s law. After all, not one of us has been able to keep all of it. And how could God’s law be used as a symbol to point to two men? Or did Moses and Joshua somehow teach us something about the law we haven’t see yet? Maybe we can understand a little more if we looked at what is referred to as the fear of God. We can look at a few examples later in Israel’s journey to see if there is any connection.

Genesis 28:16-17 NLTse Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it!” (17) But he was also afraid and said, “What an awesome place this is! It is none other than the house of God, the very gateway to heaven!”

Exodus 3:5-6 NLTse “Do not come any closer,” the LORD warned. “Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground. (6) I am the God of your father–the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” When Moses heard this, he covered his face because he was afraid to look at God.

Exodus 20:18-20 NLTse When the people heard the thunder and the loud blast of the ram’s horn, and when they saw the flashes of lightning and the smoke billowing from the mountain, they stood at a distance, trembling with fear. (19) And they said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen. But don’t let God speak directly to us, or we will die!” (20) “Don’t be afraid,” Moses answered them, “for God has come in this way to test you, and so that your fear of him will keep you from sinning!”

Jacob, Moses, and the people all feared God. Why? Jacob deceived his father and stole the perceived birthright from his brother. Moses looked at God in the form of a burning bush. Israel heard God’s voice as He gave them the ten commandments for the first time. We can see Jacob didn’t have much of a relationship with God at that time. Otherwise he would have known better than to lie his father. Moses went up that mountain to find out who God was. Israel was stuck on Egyptian deities and hadn’t heard from God for four hundred years. None of them really knew God before He talked with them. Another thing they all had in common when the Bible said they were afraid, all of them were in God’s presence at that moment. The fear of God is being in His presence.

Psalms 130:1-8 NLTse From the depths of despair, O LORD, I call for your help. (2) Hear my cry, O Lord. Pay attention to my prayer. (3) LORD, if you kept a record of our sins, who, O Lord, could ever survive? (4) But you offer forgiveness, that we might learn to fear you. (5) I am counting on the LORD; yes, I am counting on him. I have put my hope in his word. (6) I long for the Lord more than sentries long for the dawn, yes, more than sentries long for the dawn. (7) O Israel, hope in the LORD; for with the LORD there is unfailing love. His redemption overflows. (8) He himself will redeem Israel from every kind of sin.

David was in God’s presence in a way we should all understand. He talked with God and listened. David understood God because he had a relationship with Him. When we read through stories about Jacob and Moses, we see how they had times when they weren’t sure how to listen. As their relationship with God grew, so did their communication skills. Those are lessons we need to learn from.

Moses and Joshua were contracts to those people at the bottom of that mountain. Moses talked with God, Joshua waited. The people at the base of the mountain saw God’s presence. They knew where God was. They knew He was watching. But they refused to talk to Him. It didn’t take long for them to develop a sense of self reliance. We might call it selfishness. In this example, we’re shown where that always leads – to idol worship.

It may not be a golden calf. Idols come in many forms. The enemy makes a living from disguising idols and other deceptions. We can see how those people made themselves priests after they turned down God’s offer to be His priests. They sacrificed, set up ceremonies, and made a god all in clear site of God. How far does the world go today when most Christians are convinced God doesn’t listen anymore?

Moses Ground the Calf to Powder

Exodus 32:20-28 NLTse He took the calf they had made and burned it. Then he ground it into powder, threw it into the water, and forced the people to drink it. (21) Finally, he turned to Aaron and demanded, “What did these people do to you to make you bring such terrible sin upon them?” (22) “Don’t get so upset, my lord,” Aaron replied. “You yourself know how evil these people are. (23) They said to me, ‘Make us gods who will lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.’ (24) So I told them, ‘Whoever has gold jewelry, take it off.’ When they brought it to me, I simply threw it into the fire–and out came this calf!” (25) Moses saw that Aaron had let the people get completely out of control, much to the amusement of their enemies. (26) So he stood at the entrance to the camp and shouted, “All of you who are on the LORD’s side, come here and join me.” And all the Levites gathered around him. (27) Moses told them, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Each of you, take your swords and go back and forth from one end of the camp to the other. Kill everyone–even your brothers, friends, and neighbors.” (28) The Levites obeyed Moses’ command, and about 3,000 people died that day.

Gold has a strange property. When dissolved in thinner, it turns the brightest red. Gold is used to tint the finest red paints. Some time on that mountain, Moses must have been shown how to burn gold to a point before it melted, quickly cooled it to make it brittle, then grind it to dust so it would easily dissolve in water which is nature’s best thinner. Israel drank the idol in a liquid resembling blood.

Who can estimate the thoughts that must have gone through their minds when one after another person drank that potion. Can you imagine breaking God’s law like they did while He was watching from His mountain? We should be able to imagine such a thing. We all do it everyday.

Aaron’s response takes us back to that first sin in Genesis when Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent. Adam also blamed God. Aaron blamed Moses. If Moses knew how evil the people were, why did he leave Aaron alone and in charge? Aaron said, “why did you put me in charge?”

What goes through your mind when you compare the idol Aaron made to what Eve did at that tree in the garden? How does a bite of fruit compare to a golden calf? The first comparison seen is the way each shifted blame. Neither Aaron, Adam, or Eve took responsibility. Their first reaction was to put someone in their place to pay the penalty. Now we can see why God worked up a plan to do what people want – someone to take the blame and pay the penalty for sin. Now that we understand how God works with human nature, we know He understands it much better than us. God immediately saw that side of human nature. How long did it take for you to catch on?

Neither one of them understood God, His nature, or power. David summed up something they should have been thinking about. O LORD, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, LORD. You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand! I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! (Psalms 139:1-7 NLTse).

Why would you try lying to a God who sees and knows everything? As if people think they can get away with something. We still see that attitude today, but with a new angle. People actually believe all they need to do is pray at the last minute and all their sins will be forgiven. What about all those sins you’d rather blame on someone else? I’m sure there’s a long list of them. That’s why it’s important to communicate with God, so he can remind you about them. Now we understand why Aaron had to place his hands on the bull, the first, and second ram. He had to do it himself, and show the people, we need to repeat the process of atonement, remembering our sins. If Aaron, Adam, Eve, and all of us for that matter can forget God is always watching, I’d say there is a really good chance we’re going to forget a sin or two if we rely on our own judgment and memory.

How serious is the matter of atonement and asking to be forgiven? There is always the chance your life will end in a flash. Look what happened to those people at the base of that mountain. Moses told them to stand on one side or the other. It appeared only the Levites, the same family Aaron and Moses came from, joined with their brothers. There must have been members from other families because they all show up in later chapters, and only 3,000 people were killed that day.

That is a small percentage of the 600,000 that left Israel. This shows how a small group of people can effect an entire group. Still loosing 3000 is a great loss. Think for a moment why they were killed and if anything could have been done to save them. Then consider the circumstances.

Moses Atones for Israel

Exodus 32:29-35 NLTse Then Moses told the Levites, “Today you have ordained yourselves for the service of the LORD, for you obeyed him even though it meant killing your own sons and brothers. Today you have earned a blessing.” (30) The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a terrible sin, but I will go back up to the LORD on the mountain. Perhaps I will be able to obtain forgiveness for your sin.” (31) So Moses returned to the LORD and said, “Oh, what a terrible sin these people have committed. They have made gods of gold for themselves. (32) But now, if you will only forgive their sin–but if not, erase my name from the record you have written!” (33) But the LORD replied to Moses, “No, I will erase the name of everyone who has sinned against me. (34) Now go, lead the people to the place I told you about. Look! My angel will lead the way before you. And when I come to call the people to account, I will certainly hold them responsible for their sins.” (35) Then the LORD sent a great plague upon the people because they had worshiped the calf Aaron had made.

What a strange way to obtain a blessing. Who would have ever thought killing someone would be associated with an ordination. This is another case where it pays to look at another translation. For Moses had said, Consecrate yourselves to day to the LORD, even every man upon his son, and upon his brother; that he may bestow upon you a blessing this day. (Exodus 32:29 KJV).

We can see the word ordained isn’t used in the KJV. That translation used the word consecrate. The Hebrew word means to be full of in relationship to a hand. We can see the Levites are being set apart because they stood up against sin. But how did they stand up against it? By killing people. They obeyed God and killed their brothers, fellow Israelites. This seems strange and out of character for a loving God. We can’t imagine what actually led to such a disaster. We’re told about the calf, festival, and sacrifices they offered. Did that push them over the line? Why did some die while others were given a second chance?

There’s a second verse to look at. The NLT translation said, obtain forgiveness. The KJV used the word atonement. And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses said unto the people, Ye have sinned a great sin: and now I will go up unto the LORD; peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin. (Exodus 32:30 KJV). The Hebrew word for atonement means to cover. We covered those details in previous chapters. When we read the end of the chapter, we can see that’s what Moses did, reminded God about what happened. Moses couldn’t forgive or cover those sins himself. All Moses could do is remind God about those sins and ask Him to forgive them. Moses did something really strange. He offered God a choice. Was Moses getting bold? We have to ask why this conversation was recorded. It seems like a natural part of the story, but take a closer look at what’s going on.

In the midst of all of what was going on, Moses stepped up and talked to God like he could bargain with Him. What could possibly make Moses think he could bargain with the God of the universe? Moses just spent forty days and nights talking with God. Moses learned more about God than most people would ever hope for. Of course they became friends. That was part of the lesson. Just because most of those people turned down the chance to be God’s priests didn’t mean the lessons stopped. The lessons continued. Moses illustrated another vital detail about priests. They aren’t afraid to talk to God. They know God. They trust God. How many priests do you know who are like that?

That calf caused God to send a plague through the camp. Who can help but notice the correlation between the first and last verse in the chapter? They both deal with the calf. The introduction tells about making the calf. The summation tells about the consequences. The detail that gets to me is how people place such a literal meaning on this lesson. As long as their not worshiping a golden calf, people feel safe. Is that true?

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