The Golden Calf (Exodus 32)

“Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” (Exodus 32:1)

When we first read of this tragic incident in the history of the Hebrew nation, it appears that the people intended to reject God completely and turn toward an alternate “god” whom they would now worship instead. But the idolatry which they sunk into is far more subtle and a much greater trap for us to beware of than we might suspect.

I remember seeing the scene in the “Ten Commandments” movie with Charlton Heston as a kid where the people were going wild and worshipping the Golden Calf and thinking, wow, that’s really stupid! Why would they do that? To me, it seemed the same as a group of Christians suddenly deciding that they were going to start worshipping a tree stump or a boulder. It made no sense.

But looking at the actual passage in the Bible, it seems that this isn’t really what the Israelites were doing at all. First of all, their intention wasn’t really to reject God, but to replace Moses. They had looked to Moses, ultimately, for guidance and leadership. And now, nearly six weeks since they had last seen him, they weren’t even sure if he was still alive.

It seems that what the people were wanting was some other tangible object upon which they could look and feel the reassurance of God’s leading. The Pillar of Fire and Cloud which had gone before them was now resting atop Mt. Sinai. Moses was gone. And the people wanted something in which to place their trust and direct their worship. Yet the action that they took was not to look for some other god to follow, but to attempt to reshape Jehovah into an image which satisfied their own desires. In disobedience to God’s Second Commandment (Exodus 20:4), they wanted a likeness of that which is in heaven.

Is this not the great temptation into idolatry for the child of God? It’s not the temptation to follow after other “gods”, but the temptation to fashion our God into something else, something more palatable for us. Something which pleases our senses and satisfies our fleshly desires. We would never dream of waking up tomorrow and bowing down before a statue of Buddha; but we don’t even hesitate to redefine God and His will into something which we like better than what He has revealed to us.

Take, for example, what the Israelites did with their Golden Calf:

So the next day they rose early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play. (Exodus 32:6)

They brought the Calf burnt offerings and peace offerings, but where are the sin offerings? The God of Heaven had revealed that offerings for sin are required and He had given a Law to be followed; the Calf had no such expectations of the people. The Calf gave no law nor did it require atonement for sin. The Calf only wanted for the people to eat, drink, and play. God’s Law convicts us of sin and His righteousness demands atonement for our transgressions. So, we reshape God into a different “god” with no requirements. God expects us to walk uprightly and to obey Him, so we mold a golden calf who only wants us to be happy. The God of the Bible is Holy and a Consuming Fire Who will judge the unsaved in the Day of His Wrath, so people create a different “god” who just wants everybody to be nice to one another and will eventually save everybody in the end.

The God of Heaven has revealed in the Bible that we are all lost and depraved sinners in need of a Savior; He has shown us that the end for the lost who reject Jesus Christ is an eternity in the outer darkness of Hell. But many people do not like this God, so they reshape Him into something else. They pour the God of Heaven into a golden calf mold of their own creation and He comes out of it fashioned into their own image. They create a “god” who neither judges nor condemns, who lives in a Universe where neither sin nor Hell exist.

To worship a golden calf is absurd, indeed, but people do so all the time. If we are to worship God, we must worship Him in truth, as He really is, and not reshape Him into something else.

To God goes all glory. In service to Him,


**Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible  (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission.

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?”]