While Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments, the Children of Israel pressed Aaron to make for them “gods which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.”
So, Aaron created a golden calf.
Why would he do this? And why is it significant?
Israel had been in bondage, or surrounded by Egyptian culture, for 400 years. Culture has a powerful influence in shaping attitudes and activities within a nation. The longer a family line exists in a particular culture, the more opportunity for assimilation of practices and traditions of that culture. The Israelites were surrounded by Paganism and Idol worship; they were born into a culture that practiced these things. They may not have embraced them outwardly but they accepted them as the norm. How do we know this? Because the second they were left without leadership they fashioned a god to worship in idol form, just as the culture they were raised in did. This indicates that even if they had been practicing Israelite customs and worshipping the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob they also had “one foot in Egypt”. Because of their lack of faith, they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years and only their children inherited the Promised Land, while they were denied that blessing.
We figuratively live in “Egypt”. We are surrounded by the gods of ease, convenience, vanity, pride, lust, immodesty, commercialism and more. We may not practice all of the cultural trends and traditions we are surrounded with, but do we accept them? Do we give them time? Money? Encouragement? Focus? Other means of support? Do we embrace attitudes and practices that enable and encourage behavior God has deemed unholy or even abominable and call it love or discipleship? Do we engage in practices that separate us from God merely because they are entertaining, or accepted as normal? God has always required sacrifice from his people. Do we think we should be able to participate in all that “Egypt” has to offer and still fully practice our religion in a way that is acceptable before God?
It’s interesting that the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet is Aleph. The pictograph, or ancient symbol for Aleph is the head of an ox, or bull. This is a symbol for strength, power, sacrifice and the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The Israelites may have thought they were doing something good by fashioning an idol in the form of a calf to represent God, but it was a counterfeit, steeped in Egyptian tradition and indoctrination. Aaron built this golden calf because the people desired it; it was a familiar and comfortable practice. Every day we are faced with choices to either do what is right, or to do what is familiar and comfortable. We are constantly being asked to choose between worshipping God and worshipping a golden calf.
We are far more enlightened in the doctrine of the kingdom of God than the children of Israel were. We have been given the higher law and therefore stand to be judged accordingly. We must be aware and accountable for our behavior. We must look at cultural traditions, trends and attitudes and ask ourselves if we are trying to alter doctrine to fit lifestyle, or if we are trying to combine Zion and “Egypt” to ease conscience. We must regularly examine our hearts for golden calf thinking. Complacency, slothfulness, denial, justification all prevent blessings that would otherwise pour down from Heaven from the true and living God.
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them…” Exodus 20:3-5