Robots and angels don’t err, they can live for a thousand years without making a single mistake. Human beings, however, sin and fail and make lots and lots of stupid decisions; individually and communally. There is, however, an obvious distinction between mistakes committed by individuals and sins perpetrated by a collaboration of many people. Current day Germany is a perfect example.For, regardless of how moral and charitable the German people are and no matter how many years will pass from the terrible events of the Holocaust, the unspeakable crimes and inhumane savagery they committed back then will hover over them like a black cloud and a bloody stain of infamy. It’s their elephant that will forever remain in the room.
The Israelites in the desert had their fair share of sins and wrongdoings, they continuously tested Moses’ patience and God’s Forgiveness. Their greatest sin- by far, was that of the Golden Calf; it portrays the character of the Isralites as traitorous, ungrateful and infidelitous [my word] to an unforgivable extent. The Calf’s shadow follows us to every exile and back, it’s our elephant in the room.
A short recap: Moses was on the mountain with God and delayed his expected time of return, the Israelites came to Aaron and asked him to make them a god to lead them. Aaron made a golden calf and proclaimed a festival for God on the morrow. The nation exclaimed “These are your god who brought you out of Egypt” and celebrated by partying and dancing. God told Moses that He Wants to kill the people for what they’ve done, Moses defends them. Moses then descends from the mountain and upon seeing the situation, his anger and rage burn against the people and he shatters the Tablets to the foot of the mountain.
There is a lot to examine here. Firstly, if their intention was to fill the vacuum Moses’ absence created, why didn’t they crown a different leader? Moses wasn’t a god, he was a prophet, a teacher and leader; Aaron qualified for all the above why not take him for the new leader? Secondly, had the worshipers believed in this calf from that point on, it would a least make as much sense as all idolatry does; the statement “These are your god who brought you out of Egypt” concerning a statue that was crafted five minutes earlier, is not sinful, rather quite stupid. Thirdly, it would’ve been grammatically correct had they said ‘this’ is your god, what else were they referencing when they said ‘these’, there was only one calf? Finally, if Moses thought that the people weren’t worthy of the Tablets after betraying God, why did he bring the Tablets down in the first place? God had clearly informed him of everything the nation has done, did the greatest prophet not trust God’s Word?
Perhaps we should start with our last question. What was it that Moses witnessed and thus convinced him to shatter the Tablets, that God’s Word didn’t?
And when Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said unto Moses, There is a noise of war in the camp. And he [Moses] said, It is not the voice of them that shout for mastery, neither is it the voice of them that cry for being overcome: but the noise of laughter I hear. And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses’ anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount. (Exodus 32:17-19)
Joshua has no idea what was going on in the camp, for he’s been waiting on the mountain for his master’s arrival; Moses, however, knows good and well what the nation is up to but is perplexed by the noise, so tries to decipher it desperately. And it was his accurate conclusion that terrified him, and eventually, upon witnessing it – infuriated him.
When God told Moses that Israel made a Golden Calf, it was his perception that their intention was idolatrous, and hence somewhat forgivable; after all, idolatry was natural to them. Idolatry was at the very heart of Egyptian culture and pretty much the culture of the entire world; it would take centuries for Israel to get it out of their system. Moreover, Moses figured, if Samuel, Ezekiel and Isiah can petition to God to forgive the terrible sin of idolatry, than he, too, should have quite a good shot. The laughter and dancing, however, convinced Moses that the Calf was no idol.
Had the Calf been their new god, they would’ve been motivated to move on and get away from God’s Mountain; they had no reason to dwell in a dangerous desert any longer. They should have organized a military and prepared for war with the nations they will inevitably pass en route to Canaan. That is the shout of mastery Moses thought he heard at first. When he realized it was no call for war, he feared they had foolishly gone to war with their powerless god and have been defeated. But the voice was no voice of cries. It was laughter.
Laughter? Celebration? What do they have to celebrate? They’re stuck in a desert with no obvious solution of how to get out, as is evidence by the fact that they didn’t quite trust their Calf to lead them through the desert or war. Moreover, regardless if they had a new god or not, it hasn’t been a day since they came to the conclusion that their liberator and beloved teacher had passed away, why did they not mourn him? Did he not deserve some last respects after all he’d done for them? Did you ever hear of a community or a people celebrating on the very day of their leader’s death?
When Moses saw the dancing, the laughter and celebration, he understood. The party was not for the new god. The party was a celebration that they finally got rid of Moses. It was personal. Moses’ version of God was demanding. Moses’ God had a strict code of morals and values. Moses’ God came with hundreds of commandments; they were sick and tired of it. They would achieve nothing by crowning Aaron as their new leader, for Aaron would preach and demand just like Moses did; they wanted to party carelessly. God was not their problem, He never bothered them. It was Moses’ version of God that tied their hands. No Moses- no rules. No restrictions.
They had no reason to deny the True Almighty God who took them out of Egypt, and they couldn’t deny Him even if they wished to. When they chanted ‘These are your gods who took you out of Egypt’ they were referring to their laughter and dancing! This is our version of God! Yes, God Created the world, but He does not obligate us. ‘They’- the party and laughter are our new gods. Not real gods, for we still believe in the God Moses believed in; just figuratively. They rebranded God by appointing a Calf as a teacher, and carelessness as the only command. Their slogan was something like: “I believe in God, but thank God I’m not religious!”
The reason we still feel the shadow of the Golden Calf, is because we never really stopped worshiping it. We can get frustrated at Moses [at times] for making our lives so complicated. Why does God care if… Why do we have to… Why can’t we just party like everyone else? Yes, of course we believe in God… but… We secretly envy all the people in world who seem to by dancing and laughing around their lusts and animalistic inclinations- their Calf. And that, more than idolatry, is what Moses could not forgive.
Oh! The title. Why did they choose a calf? why not the lion, the King of the Jungle? The answer is, a lion is mightier than man; you can’t tell him what to do, he’s boss, his rules. The ox, perhaps the King of the Farm, but he’s submitted to man. He’s a slave to man. The ‘leader’ they craved, was not to lead them; quite the contrary, their crowned ‘leader’ was to be their Golden Slave.