Summary: Aaron responded to popular demand and made an idol for the people to worship. Israel was about to discover that punishment as well as divine enablement is a work of God.


Exodus 31–34“My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (Ex. 33:14).Aaron responded to popular demand and made an idol for the people to worship. Israel was about to discover that punishment as well as divine enablement is a work of God.


God enabled Israel’s craftsmen (31:1–11), and emphasized the Sabbath obligation (vv. 12–18). Yet as Moses met with God on Mount Sinai, Aaron cast an idol (32:1–6), arousing God’s anger and bringing swift discipline (v. 7–33:6). Moses was shown God’s goodness (vv. 7–23) and was given new stone tablets on which God Himself had written His commandments (34:1–35).

Understanding the Text

“Filled him with the Spirit of God” Ex. 31:1–11. It’s a mistake to suppose that all spiritual gifts are listed in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. Every special ability God gives can contribute to worship and enrich the lives of others. The person with “skill, ability, and knowledge in all kinds of crafts,” as well as the preacher and evangelist, exercises a spiritual gift, and is to rely on the Spirit of God.

“Between Me and the Israelites” Ex. 31:12–18. Is the Sabbath for Christians? The text clearly states that the Sabbath is a sign of God’s covenant with Israel. From the beginning Christians have met on Sunday, not the seventh day of the week. While the Sabbath commemorates Creation (v. 17), the first day of the week commemorates Jesus’ resurrection (Matt. 28:1; Acts 20:7). What links the two is that each is a day of rest and worship. And each serves as a weekly reminder to believers of their personal relationship with God.

The golden calf Ex. 32:1–33:6. Calf and bull figures cast in metal often served as idols in Syria-Palestine. The figures represented the virile power of the god. In some cases the bull or calf seems to have been viewed as a throne on which an invisible deity stood or was seated.Making such a figure was an overt rejection of God. Even worse, in saying, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt,” the people credited pagan deities with the saving work the Lord had performed!How could such a thing happen in the very shadow of Sinai, where thunder and lightning testified to the presence of the Living God? Our only explanation is that sin so corrupts human beings that anyone is capable of ignoring evidence of God’s existence. Even “proof” cannot change the heart or mind of an individual who is determined not to believe.

“Aaron answered them” Ex. 32:2. Aaron and Moses provide us with contrasting insights into spiritual leadership. When the people demanded that Aaron make them gods, Aaron did what they said (vv. 2–3). Leaders are supposed to do what God requires, not what people demand. Aaron went even further. He “saw” their reaction to the golden calf (v. 5). He then took the initiative and constructed an altar. Like a modern politician who relies on polls to discover what people want, and then promises it to them, Aaron sensed where the Israelites were going and hurried to get out in front!At times each of us is tempted to take Aaron’s “easy way out.” Going along with the crowd may appear to be a way to avoid uncomfortable conflict. It isn’t. It’s a way to become guilty of our own and of others’ “great sin” (v. 21).

“The Lord said to Moses” Ex. 32:9–14. While Aaron was weakly surrendering to the shouts of the Israelites, Moses was courageously pleading with God. The Lord told Moses what had happened in the valley, expressed His anger, and threatened to destroy Israel. He would establish His covenant with Moses alone.Moses’ appeal reflects two concerns: destroying Israel would cause the Egyptians to misunderstand God’s motives in delivering the Israelites; and God must remain faithful to the promises He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

“Whoever is for the Lord” Ex. 32:25–35. When Moses saw Israel’s idolatrous worship for himself, his reaction was much like God’s. He was so angry and upset he broke the stone tablets on which God had inscribed the Law (v. 19). Then Moses called those who were “for the Lord” to come to him.When Moses took a stand, he found that he wasn’t alone. It’s the same today. Teens, and adults as well, often feel alone in their commitment to what is right. “I’m the only guy in my class who’s still a virgin,” one 17-year-old complained. Yet when he took a stand for what he believed and stood up to the ridicule directed at him in the locker room, he found that he wasn’t alone after all! Others who had been afraid to speak out came and told him they agreed.Moses took that public stand. His courage moved the Levites, who had not participated in the others’ sin but who had stood by silently, to join him openly.When conscience convinces us that something is wrong, we need to follow Moses’ lead and take an open stand. And if someone else takes the role of Moses, let’s be ready, as the Levites were, to “rally to him.”

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