Are You Kidding Me?
15Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets that were written on both sides; on the front and on the back they were written. 16The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets. 17When Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a noise of war in the camp.” 18But he said, “It is not the sound of shouting for victory, or the sound of the cry of defeat, but the sound of singing that I hear.” 19And as soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. 20He took the calf that they had made and burned it with fire and ground it to powder and scattered it on the water and made the people of Israel drink it. 21And Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you have brought such a great sin upon them?” 22And Aaron said, “Let not the anger of my lord burn hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil. 23For 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.’ 24So 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.” 25And when Moses saw that the people had broken loose (for Aaron had let them break loose, to the derision of their enemies), 26then Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said, “Who is on the Lord’s side? Come to me.” And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. 27And he said to them, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘Put your sword on your side each of you, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill his brother and his companion and his neighbor.’ ” 28And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And that day about three thousand men of the people fell. 29And Moses said, “Today you have been ordained for the service of the Lord, each one at the cost of his son and of his brother, so that he might bestow a blessing upon you this day.” 30The next day Moses said to the people, “You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” 31So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. 32But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.” 33But the Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book. 34But now go, lead the people to the place about which I have spoken to you; behold, my angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them.” 35Then the Lord sent a plague on the people, because they made the calf, the one that Aaron made.
When I get to see God face to face and should I be allowed a chance to ask a few questions one of them will have to reference Aaron’s words to Moses after he crafts the calf from the gold of the people. “So they gave it [the gold] to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.” Every time I read these words my mind conjures up the image of two old guys (Moses was 80 and Aaron 83 at this point) having this discussion as to the origins of the golden calf. Aaron’s excuse defies logic for me. It’s also not lost on me that Moses has no reply for this excuse and I mean really – what could you possibly say to something like that?
Before this almost comical conversation we see Moses actually destroy the stone tablets that bear the 10 Commandments written by the hand of God Himself! That’s some anger right there. (God makes Moses pay for that choice later on.) But we can’t blame Moses for his anger. The people have lost their minds! And their temporary leader has not helped with the situation at all. Aaron could have made so many other choices when presented with the complaints of the people. But instead he gives into their idolatrous desires and creates an idol for them to worship. Moses response is immediate and violent. He grinds up the idol and sprinkles it into the water supply. Now the people must consume their new “god.” There is also retribution in the form of death as several people are killed by the sword, wielded by the Levites. Three-thousand people lose their lives that day. The price of idolatry is high.
"A few questions arise in connection with this brief account that are not fully answered in the Bible itself. Why did Moses make the people drink the water mixed with the material of the golden calf? Was this to demonstrate to the people how weak their idol-god was? Did he want to humiliate them by having them drink a god whom they had worshiped? Was this a punishment to show that they had desecrated their only true source of life, just as water is a source of life? Was a result of this drinking the plague mentioned in verse 35, which the Lord caused to come upon the people? Was this simply the result of Moses’ burning anger, without any special meaning attached to it? The Bible doesn’t say. There may be some truth in all of the above opinions, which have been expressed by Bible scholars."
Wendland, E. H. (2000). Exodus (2nd ed., p. 208). Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Pub. House.
Finally, we find Moses returning to the Lord and interceding for the people. They most certainly didn’t deserve it, but Moses is a great leader and surprisingly offers himself up as a sacrifice for their sinfulness. God does not accept this offer, as Moses is not the Messiah and is sinful himself. His sacrifice would not pay the price for their sin. The Apostle Paul makes a similar offer in the book of Romans for the Jews who simply refused to believe that Jesus was the Promised Messiah. His offer too is rejected.
3For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. 4They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises.
Psalm 49 notes that while someone might offer up their lives to save many others, their offering is unacceptable. Only the innocent sacrifice of Jesus can pay for our sins.
7Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life,
8for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice,
9that he should live on forever and never see the pit.
While God does visit a plague upon the people, He does not destroy them entirely which is what they deserved. He chooses grace again and allows them to continue to live as His people. Because of Jesus, God chooses that same course for me and you every single day of our lives. While Moses and Paul may have had it in their hearts to surrender their lives on behalf of the people they were unfit to do so because of their own sin. Jesus was sinless and thus His sacrifice, made once for all, was the perfect and final payment for my sin. So even in the midst of a rather strange story, we find the Gospel and peace with God.