“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, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” (Exodus 32:1)
I find this passage very interesting, looking from the perspective that the Hebrew people did not know Moses very well. He was, probably to most, a relative stranger; someone who figuratively plucked the up from Egypt and set them down in this comparative desert. It was not their familiar environment with the the tangibles that they were used to.
Judaism, at its heart, is a faith system based on the cognitive knowledge of Yahweh and not a physical encounter the way we encounter our peers. So the people wanted something they could see and feel, and not some cloud of smoke that floated about.
“Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the LORD.” (Verses 2 – 5)
We assume (or maybe we do not) that from the start Aaron was in on the plan with Moses for leading the people to what would be their homeland. But from these verses it seems that Aaron wanted a physical tangible thing as much as the rest of the Hebrews. Yes, he knew they should be following God; but he was not sure (I am guessing) what form that God should be.
“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.” (Verse 6)
“The LORD said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!'” The LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.” (Verses 7 to 10)
I struggle with this, beloved reader. There is a human impatience with the Divine that is not becoming. Hear me out. When Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were raising there families, the nature of the Lord God was taught to their children; and while they may have made some missteps, they knew the nature of the God of their fathers. The Hebrews who were brought out of Egypt had little knowledge or understanding of the nature of the Lord God who had brought them out. They fell back, as many members of humanity do, on old familiar ways. Is that sin? Probably. But it is understandable errors, and what can be expected while raising up a new generation of believers.
“But Moses implored the LORD his God, and said, “O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’ “ And the LORD changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people. ” (Verses 11 – 14)
And if it is surprising that the Divine would annihilate those who were to be saved, it is just as surprising that Moses talked him out of it.
We who have had the benefit of hearing about the example set down by Jesus, and hearing Jesus referring to the Divine as “Abba” in a way that denotes a caring and loving relationship between humanity and the Divine also know that the sort of tangibles that the world has are not the same as the tangibles that the Holy Presence brings. In fact, those tangibles only came when the Holy Presence came to earth, which was only possible when Jesus had explained about the Lord God in a VERY tangible way. Not a golden calf way, but a sacrificing of one’s self way.
Now, about us. The modern called and chosen people. Is it possible, beloved reader, that we are looking for tangible “good feelings” from our relationship with the Divine? We know that the Spirit of the Lord God moves through us and among us, and we see it only as the way the breeze moves through the trees and grasses. But we expect mountaintop experiences, and when “only” get the sustaining presence of the Divine in our every day-in-day-out lives, we might look for some tangible highs and warm fuzzies. Something to think about. Shalom & Selah!