Summary: FIFTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST SEPTEMBER 16, 2001 Exodus 32:7-14 Title: “Idolatry”
FIFTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST SEPTEMBER 16, 2001
This text is part of the Golden Calf story, a story more complicated that it looks at first blush. To understand it we need to fast forward to the time after Solomon’s death when Jeroboam led the rebellion that resulted in the split up of the Kingdom united under David and Solomon. The northern kingdom, now called Israel, was established over against the southern portion, now called Judah. In order to sever ties with the south- including Jerusalem, the Temple and the cult- and strengthen the new state, Jeroboam had golden calves, or bulls, made and enshrined in the very ancient holy places of Dan and Bethel in the north according to 1Kings 12: 24-33. He thought that would keep people in the north, Israel, from going to the Temple in Jerusalem in the south.
Now Jeroboam actually intended these molten images to represent Yahweh, not the Canaanite god, Baal. Bulls or calves were a common representation of either the god or his throne, the god was thought to stand or sit on the back of the strong animal as on a throne. Jewish religion forbade representing Yahweh by means of idols or icons, and wisely so. It was a short step from “seeing” Yahweh as a golden calf or bull to Yahweh “being” one or, at least, the idol being worshiped. All this was soundly and roundly condemned, especially in the Book of Deuteronomy whose slogan was: one God, one Law, one cult, one people, one Temple. That editor then re-wrote the more ancient desert rebellion story and inserted enough details about a “golden calf” to make it impossible to miss his point. Both Jeroboam now and Aaron then were wrong and both contributed to the destruction of God’s people. There is but one God who is to be worshiped as he has revealed he would like to be and not as humans would prefer. Whether the desert generation was worshiping another deity or worshiping Yahweh by means of an idol this apostasy nullified the covenant and became a model for future generations like Jeroboam’s to avoid.
In verse seven, go down at once to your people: Ex 24: 18 tells us that Moses was gone forty days and forty nights, a long time. During his absence, Aaron, Moses’ brother, up to this point a relative unknown, supervises the construction of an idol and leads a feast with holocausts and peace offerings to it.
In verse eight, Making for themselves a molten calf and worshiping it: “Molten” is the past perfect participle, archaic, to be sure, of “melt.” Metal is liquefied by heat and poured into a cast for shaping. It stretches the imagination to suppose that this traveling band of escapees had enough golden jewelry on them and with them and the technology, skills and equipment necessary to actually make a golden calf of any proportions, let alone one which would have an altar before it. Verse four, says that Aaron used a graving tool. In other words he carved or sculpted an idol. Perhaps, this idol was carved from wood or even stone. The writer was not bothered by the questions such “advanced technology” in a desert setting would raise.