In Exodus 21, God begins to lay down the law. Everything from servants to donkeys and what to do when somebody kills someone by accident is covered, leaving no room for questions. In their naivety, the people agree that not only is the law good, but they have no problem living by it and being obedient to every detail. To seal the deal, Moses sprinkles the blood of oxen first on the altar and then on the people, foreshadowing a better covenant with Jesus long after they exasperate their own efforts to keep the law.
Moses leads the way up the mountain, followed by his brother Aaron and his sons and seventy elders for dinner with God. Upon their arrival, they see their Creator arrayed in all His glory. This should have been a life-changing event for Aaron and the others, but we see later on the outcome was not even close to what God or Moses was hoping for.
After dinner, everyone arrives back at camp ready for a good night’s sleep. God calls Moses all the way back up the mountain for a private summit meeting, engraving on stone what we know today as The Ten Commandments. In addition to that, over the next 40 days and 40 nights under a canopy of clouds on the mountain top with Moses, God downloads the blueprints for the tabernacle with significant detail.
Meanwhile back at the camp, the natives are restless. WIth Aaron and Hur biting their nails, everyone is wondering just what Moses is doing up there if he’s even still alive after all this time. The people don’t like the idea of following someone they can’t see. After all, in Egypt, everything from flies to cows were openly worshipped, so why couldn’t they have something to represent God that they could could see, hear, touch, taste and smell?
Even after Aaron’s dinner date with God, we don’t hear him object even once to the people’s demands. Instead, he bows. To appease the crowd, he comes up with the idea to melt down their gold earrings, souvenirs from Egypt, to mold an idol, ironically the same gold Moses is planning to use for the tabernacle.
Aaron and his ego get so caught up in the popularity polls that he declares it was this golden calf who delivered them from bondage in Egypt. Then he takes it another step further and builds an altar, declaring a feast for the next day. As the people begin to party, God interrupts His meeting with Moses to report what’s happening below.
God is more than ticked. He thinks it would be a great idea to smoke the people and start all over again with just Him and Moses. After all, the people are proud and stubborn idiots. What good are they to anyone? Fortunately for the people, Moses stands up and makes an appeal based on God’s promise to Abraham to bring His people into the Promised Land.
God relents and sends Moses down the mountain to deal with the people. Tablets in hand, Moses nears the camp and hears the roar of a crowd. In the distance, it sounds like singing. Drawing closer, the first thing he lays eyes on is the calf and an orgy of people dancing around it (Exodus 32:25, 1 Corinthians 10:7-8).
His blood is boiling as Moses smashes the Ten Commandments into a thousand pieces. Next, he grabs the golden calf, throws it into the fire and melts it down to a fine powder. Not finished yet, he mixes it into the water and makes them drink it. That’s expensive koolaid. Moses’s righteous indignation is on overload as he demands a reasonable explanation from Aaron as to how all of this transpired.
Aaron’s natural instinct is to shift every bit of the blame onto the people. He reasons with Moses that we all know what the people are like anyway. The details have become somewhat fuzzy, but he does seem to recall asking them for their earrings. And then, after throwing the gold into the fire, magically, a cow appeared. “No, really – a cow…I was as surprised as you were, Moses.”
Disgusted with their behaviour, Moses stands in the gate of the camp and asks one simple question: “Who is on the Lord’s side?” Without hesitation, the Levites cross the line to stand at Moses’ side. To their astonishment, Moses then commands them to bear the sword and slay the people. In all, about 3000 were killed that day, a small number compared to over a million in total.
With that, Moses heads back up the mountain first thing in the morning to make amends for the people. Sadly, those who worshipped the calf are hit by a plague and experience an untimely death because of their sin. Remember, this is the Old Testament. The people are under the Mosaic covenant. They agreed to live by the law and be judged by the law. And because no one could abide by the law, let alone the Ten Commandments, Jesus came to fulfill the Law, taking the punishment on Himself for our sin and shedding His blood for all humanity.
We don’t come under the New Covenant automatically. It’s a choice. Like Moses invitation to the people that day, I ask the same question of you: Which side of the law are you on? There is no fence to sit on. Just a line to cross. If feel you’ve done something God can’t possibly forgive you for, you’re wrong about that.
The Bible is filled with people who did everything under the sun, yet God forgave them. If he can forgive them, He can forgive you too. A relationship with God through Christ is central to fulfilling your purpose and destiny here and now and for eternity. This is the one time I will encourage you to cross the line. If you need help with this decision or want more information, please email me. I’d love to talk and pray with you.