Summary: The Golden Calf shows Israel's unfaithfulness at Mt. Sinai. Moses intercedes and God forgives
Faith has a short shelf life. Yesterday's faith doesn't rollover to today. This fact is especially evident in today's story of golden bull. The Lord had moved miraculously in the lives of the Israelites. God had parted the Red Sea, provided them with manna every morning and given them water from a rock. Still, when a new day dawned and Moses tarried on the mountain the faith of the Israelites wavered and they decided they need to make an idol.
It is easy for us, from our comfortable chairs, to be critical of the Israelites. Upon a bit of self-examination, however, we realize that we have the same struggles. Yesterday God moved in our lives in wonderful and miraculous ways, but we wonder what God will do today. There is a lot we can learn, which will help us walk faithfully today, as we examine the story of the "Casting of the Golden Bull."
Say you Love Me
There is a story of a couple celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary. After the festivities are over the woman complained to the man that he had never told her that he loved her in all their fifty years together. Replying his defense the man said that he had told his wife that he loved her at the altar on their wedding day. That should be enough. If he ever changed his mind he would tell her. We chuckle at this story because we know how important it is for us to hear the words, "I love you," and to feel the touch of another person.
When couples or friends are together it is easy to speak their love or demonstrate their love for each other. It becomes more difficult when the distance is great. Those families who have struggled with deployed famiy members can attest to this challenge.
“When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us” (Exodus 32:1).
I think the Israelites weren't sure that God loved them. They wanted a sign of God's love, or at the very least their leader Moses telling them that God loved them. Lacking these assurances the people decided to create something that was a tangible symbol of God's love. They chose a golden bull.
Our shaky faith attracts us to other gods--things we in which we place our hope and trust. Doubting the love of God and of others we become selfish and self-centered. Unconvinced that God will demonstrate God's love for us by providing for us we take for ourselves rather than give to others.
There are ways to bolster of faith. Spiritual disciplines such as reading the Bible devotionally, meditation, worship and Christian fellowship have been used throughout the centuries by Christians to remind them of God's love.
I Want Control
The New Revised Standard Version The Golden Calf
“He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf” (Exodus 32:4).
Camped at the foot of Mount Sinai, the Israelites felt vulnerable. Their leader had been gone for forty days. The wilderness they were in was harsh and threatening. Their food was provided on a day to day basis. Living in such an insecure situation, the Israelites craved to be in control.'
A bull is a powerful animal. Several cultures like the Egyptians and the Canaanites worshiped images of bulls. Though a bull can represent strength and potency, it is merely a beast of burden. Bulls (bovines) are used as beasts of burden. They are controlled by human hands and work for the masters.
With the golden bull the Israelites were able to do something. They were able to worship the idol. Even if they were not in control they would act like they were.
“They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel” (Exodus 32:6).
In our walk of faith we are certainly tempted to seek control. Our prayers frequently sound like God's purpose is to serve us, rather than our purpose is to serve God. When God is silent it is common to yield to the temptation to "do something." We engage in frantic activity that produces no results.
God refuses to be controlled.
A God of Mystery
A golden bull does not adequately convey who God is. This is the only instance where the Israelites attempted to portray God as a bull. Instead God frequently appeared to the people as fire and cloud.
”The LORD went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night” (Exodus 13:21).