1When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, 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.” 2So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” 5When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” 6And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play. 7And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. 8They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ ” 9And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. 10Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.” 11But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. 13Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’ ” 14And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.
There are a several stories in the Bible that make me say “wow” every single time I read them. The recounting of the golden calf is just such a story. I am appalled at Aaron’s incredible lack of leadership and faithfulness and I am stunned by Moses’ willingness to intercede for this feckless people. There are also feelings of surprise at the actions of the people. Moses is gone up on the mountain for only 40 days and the people devise an idol to worship. The most shocking of all is the undeserved grace that God shows to the people who show Him utter disrespect and disregard.
But I shouldn’t be surprised. My own life is filled with examples of sinful disrespect and disregard and it often takes me far less than 40 days to betray God. In this story we find an absolutely honest look at God and the fact that our sin does indeed affect Him. He is hurts and angered by the people and their golden idol. He has specifically told them not to take part in that very activity and now here they are, building a golden calf. Of course His anger burns. Even the psalms mention this event on more than one occasion.
19They made a calf in Horeb and worshiped a metal image.
20They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass.
21They forgot God, their Savior, who had done great things in Egypt,
22wondrous works in the land of Ham, and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.
23Therefore he said he would destroy them—had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him, to turn away his wrath from destroying them.
Moses steps into the role of leader at this point in the story and intercedes for the people. He even tells God that He will look bad in the eyes of their enemies (the Egyptians) if He now destroys the people He has rescued from slavery. Here we see the evidence of real relationship between God and Moses. Moses is free to speak with honesty to the Lord of the Universe. This is inspiring to me. Most shocking at this point in the story is the fact that God hears Moses’ words and does not destroy the people. God always chooses grace first. That’s inspiring too. God does the same thing for me every single day for I am certain that I deserve destruction and don’t receive it because of the blood of Jesus. Grace is the overriding aspect of God’s story once again.