What if someone wrote a biography about you and got it all wrong? And I’m not talking about a biography written long after you are dead. Nope! You are still alive and almost everything in the biography is false. It doesn’t represent you at all. As a matter of fact, it is almost as if they wrote it about a completely different person. Or, maybe they wrote it about a completely different species. The book is entitled “The Life and Times of You”, but instead of being about you it is about a duck. And the life and times of a duck is really quite different than your life and times. Now imagine that everyone who approached you threw bread crumbs in your face because they assumed the book was accurate and, well, ducks like bread crumbs. Would it all role off your back like water off of a . . . well, you know.
Exodus 32:1-10 is about the sin of the golden calf and God’s anger response. In Genesis 24:18 we are told that Moses was up on the mountain for forty days. Our story probably takes place near the end of that forty days. The people grow restless. At this point is important to remember that Moses was the go between Yahweh and the people. They fear that something may have happened to Moses and there they are stuck in a barren wasteland; with no one to show them where to go; with no one to talk to God for them. In their apprehension they assemble themselves against Aaron and demand that he make them a god. And this brings us to a translation dilemma: the word “god” is actually in the plural and several sources believe it should be translated as such. But the dilemma is that “god” is often in the plural to refer to God. It is not beyond the realms of the people’s experience to request for gods. After all every other nation is polytheistic. But the plural just doesn’t stand up in the context. If they are requesting gods, why does Aaron only make one statue? And what they are asking for is not another god. They want an idol of Yahweh.
They assembled against Aaron with two commands “Come! Make!” Aaron comes back at them with two commands “Tear off! Bring!” Many have tried to defend Aaron here and he does seem a bit angry at them. His command is to tear off their earrings. Just tear those things off of your wives and sons and daughters. Tearing earrings off is not pleasant boys and girls. Some have even suggested that he was hoping they would not want to part with their gold. I’m thinking his anger and meager attempts were not enough because he ends up making a golden calf. And when he is done he tells them “This is your god who brought you out of Egypt.” He is not introducing them to a different god.
This is made even more clear by what follows. Aaron makes an altar. Remember the commands about making an altar to worship Yahweh. Aaron also declares that the following day will be a pilgrim feast or religious feast day to Yahweh. There has been no shift of allegiance to a foreign god. They are still attempting to worship Yahweh. But they are breaking the second commandment. No graven images! And why is this such a big deal. I mean, after all, they are still worshiping Yahweh. Well, okay, they are depicting him as a calf, but that was a symbol of strength. The next day the offer up burnt offerings, they feast it up and then they rise up to play. And here we discover the problem. The word “play” has sexual overtones. In Genesis 26:8 the word is translated “caressing”. Any image of God is going to be wrong in some way. You cannot depict the Almighty with a statue. The image will be limiting or quite off the mark. And when you miss who God is, you will find yourself involved in ungodly activities.
The scene shifts in verse 7 to the mountain top and Yahweh is burning mad. Some have tried to downplay this claiming that the author is ascribing human emotions to God. Ummm. Really? This is a righteous anger. They melted down their own gold fashioned into a calf and bowed down to it, offered sacrifices to it, and called it the God who led them out of Egypt. In Yahweh’s name they threw a feast and descended into revelry. God is so angry that he wants to kill them all and start over with Moses alone. More on that later. We may do evil things in anger, but anger is not evil. Sometimes anger is the only right response.
God told us not to make images of him for a reason. It is hard enough to get who God is. It will take our lifetime and then some. Don’t mess that up by chasing after limiting or off the mark images. If you are off the mark of who God is, you will descend into all manner of wrong things. Wrong image equals wrong actions. And here is an amazing truth: we are intended to be the image bearers of God. Peace, Walter