Moses is up on Mt. Sinai having an incredibly holy experience with the Lord. He’s given the 10 commandments. He’s encouraged. He’s given rest. And then he’s warned…
“Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves.” - Exodus 32:7
So as he is coming down, he sees the people worshiping a golden calf. Considering he left the people down there with Aaron, who had helped lead them up to this point, Moses was confused and angry.
So they had this conversation…
"(21) And Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you have brought such a great sin upon them?” (22) And Aaron said, “Let not the anger of my lord burn hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil. (23) 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.’ (24) 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.”
I’ll be honest. When I read verse 24 last week, I laughed out loud. Come on, Aaron! Like Moses is going to believe that a golden calf just happened to form itself in the midst of the fire. Not to mention - even if that miraculously happened - the golden calf certainly didn’t force the people to worship it.
If you have kids of your own or have spent any length of time with kids in general, you’ve probably had similar conversations. Sure, probably not about a golden calf, but something like…
“I don’t know why there is marker on the wall. It wasn’t me.”
“I didn’t eat those cookies on the counter. I don’t know where the crumbs came from.”
“I didn’t mean to get home too late. Before I knew it, it was 3am.”
“I have no idea how that dent got in the car… during the time that I was driving it. Someone must have hit it in the parking lot and drove away.”
Much like what we’re about to read, there is always a real story behind the “I don’t know how that happened.” In Aaron’s case in Exodus 32, this is what actually happened:
"(1) When the people saw that Moses delayed coming 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.” (2) So 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.” (3) So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. (4) And 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!” (5) When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” (6) And 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."
He made a golden calf.
One that he took the time to fashion with a graving tool.
After he waited for it to melt in the fire.
…which happened after he instructed the people to remove their gold jewelry and hand it to him.
So not only did the golden calf not just magically appear from the flames, but it was a time-consuming multistep process that Aaron initiated.
I think of what my pastor said one Sunday morning when we were going through Romans,
“We often say we ‘fell into sin.’ No you didn’t. You plotted and planned and walked right into it.”
We have to be careful not to play the game Aaron’s trying to play here when it comes to our sin and “idol-making.”
What do I mean? Well, I noted a few child-like examples earlier, but adults are no better…
“I don’t know how we got pregnant. It just happened one night.”
“I don’t know where this addiction came from.”
“I have no idea how I ended up in this financial mess.”
“I’m not sure what happened. My marriage just kind of ended one day and there was nothing I could do.”
We could go on, but I think the picture is painted. In every single one of those examples, what happened was the result of a hundred little decisions made that lead them in the wrong direction; the direction being one of at least one person in the scenario making an idol of something – possibly even themselves - that would only destroy them. Yet, oftentimes, we’ll say exactly what Aaron said, “…I threw it into the fire and out came this calf.”
Take this for example:
“I can’t pay my rent this month.”
That reality is the result of a dozen little decisions you made before the day your rent was due.
Last week you decided to go out to dinner twice with friends.
The week before that you called out of work for a day because you woke up with a headache, which shorted your pay by $180.
And the week before that you shelled out $400 in credit card debt payments.
…because over the last 12 months you put $3,000 on your credit cards on things you did not need nor could you afford.
On the more serious side, consider this example:
“I don’t know how we got pregnant. It just happened one night.”
More often than not, what actually happened was this:
You made a conscious decision to sleep with them.
After silently deciding in your mind that you’d let yourself do it if the opportunity arose.
Which was easy to decide because you’d been hooking up for months before that night.
… which started because you were flirting with the line of what’s ok for weeks before the first time you went too far.
It was a multistep process - the result of a heart left unchecked - not a “we threw it into the fire and out came this calf” kind of thing.
And so it is with having idols. Nobody wakes up one day and thinks, “I think I’ll make an idol of my job” or “I think I’ll idolize myself from now on.” It happens over time as a result of a hundred little decisions made day-to-day. You fashion the golden calf with tools you intentionally acquire, and once you’ve shaped it into what you want to worship, you bow down.
Much like Israel, our hearts are prone to wander. We will forsake the God who delivered us from bondage we chose due to our own foolish impatience and desire to worship a golden calf fashioned by man with the things of the world.
If Aaron was honest, he would’ve told Moses that he was sick of hearing Israel complain, took his absence as an opportunity to appease them, and then tried to make it look pretty by announcing a feast to the Lord once the altar was built.
If we were honest, we’d say we got frustrated with or tired of waiting for what we wanted, chose to chase our desires our way in our timing, and just put in the effort to make it look good and right on the outside.
Denying that you shaped the golden calf doesn’t make it untrue. It just deprives you of addressing the reality of your heart that led you to collect gold, acquire tools, wait for the fire to melt it, shape it, and then worship it. And you know where that gets you? Bound and unfulfilled.
And here’s the thing about idols…
They destroy. There is not a single time in Scripture where a person/people chose to worship anything or anyone but the Lord that it did not lead them right into some form of bondage or destruction. There is not a single time in your life that chasing what you wanted in your own timing resulted in anything truly good and God-honoring. Can God use all things for good? He sure can, and He does. Does that justify our idol-making and wandering hearts? It sure does not. Nor does it free us from the consequences.
What comes out of the fire of your heart is the result of how you choose to live; how you let yourself think, feel, explore, make decisions, spend your time, process challenging seasons.
And it’s either going to produce a golden calf or a song of praise to God and God alone.