Thursday, 22 March 2012

The Golden Calf

Thursday Midweek Communion 22 March 2012

Reading Exodus 32

7 Then the LORD said to Moses, Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt.

8 They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, 'These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.'

9 I have seen these people, the LORD said to Moses, and they are a stiff-necked people.

10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.

11 But Moses sought the favour of the LORD his God. O LORD, he said, why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand?

12 Why should the Egyptians say, 'It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth'? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people.

13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: 'I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.'

14 Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.


You can almost feel the fear amongst the people of Israel. Moses their leader had freed them from slavery in Egypt, and led them to Mount Sinai. It’s not a high mountain – less than 7,500ft. I climbed it in just over a couple of hours. Mount Katherine next door is bigger. At over 8.600ft it was not covered by our annual travel insurance, and sleeping at the top in below zero temperatures was uncomfortable.

Moses had been gone a very long time. He was being taught the Law by God, and given the two tablets on which the 10 Commandments were inscribed by the finger of God.

The people say to Moses’ brother Aaron that they didn’t know what had become of him. So they asked Aaron to organise the melting down of all their gold jewellery, and make a golden calf which was to be hailed as a deity in place of the one who really led them out of Egypt, not Moses.

It seems an odd thing to do, bearing in mind the wonders the people had seen. The plagues. The crossing of the Red Sea. The destruction of Pharaoh’s army, and so on. What good would a man made image be in God’s place?

You have to read the text closely to realise the image itself was not made as a god, but as a representation of God. After fashioning it, Aaron sets it up before an altar as proclaims: Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD. The LORD is in capital letters. So the sin that Aaron committed was to make a false image of God, and not an idol.

Meantime up the mountain an alert icon flashes on God’s tablet computer telling him what the people have done. God offers to scrap the experiment with Abraham’s descendants, and start again with Moses. But Moses, in an example of prayer, reasons and argues with God. How would it look to other nations if after all God has done for the Israelites he were to destroy them on the foothills of Sinai.

The story teaches us what sort of God we have. One who can be trusted. Who is faithful and keeps his promises, even faced with our sin and disobedience, however bad that might be. One who makes good out of evil. A God who listens to our feeble intercessions, and can change his mind. One who cannot condone wrongdoing, but can overlook and forgives even the most serious of sins.

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