Exodus 32:1-6 Calf Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Hope

Questions: What is a god? When do we need one? How is idolatry like addiction? Is Aaron still faithful to Yahweh in all this? Am I? “Read More” to pursue answers.

Body: Lord, speak to me through your Spirit and your Word, your Body and your Blood;
that I might know you as you are, and manifest the image of Christ in this world,
and the world to come. Amen.

Exodus 32:1-6

he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These [be] thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.

Whenever I would read through the Old Testament, I use to always be perplexed by the infidelity of the children of Israel: after seeing so much tangible evidence of the True and Living God, why in the world would they turn to a false idol they themselves had made? I’m sure I rationalized it somehow, but I never quite understood it.

I do now, though I paid a heavy price for that understanding. This entire blog is a testament to my healing from addictive behavior in my late twenties/early thirties. Still, even that addiction served a holy purpose: helping me see how much of my life had always been controlled by more socially acceptable — but no less idolatrous — addictions: reading, intellectualism, self-sufficiency, etc.

I realize now — thanks largely to the teaching of Dick Hockett of Kingsway Community Church — that “folly,” as manifest in Proverbs, is ultimately a denial of God and His power, which is paid for in a coin whose two sides are idolatry and addiction. To put it another way: your ‘god’ is what you go to when nothing else works, to which you give the best of you. Which is pretty much what had happened here:

When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods [a] who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”

Thus it ever is with me: when the God I claim to serve appears absent — or more precisely, when those signs I usually associate with His presence are lacking — part of me goes hungering after the gods of my past. It doesn’t even matter if I know those gods are false. They’ve ministered to certain of my needs, however shallowly — ‘needs’ defined in a way the true God prefers to cure me of rather than fulfill — and I return to them out of loyalty. Not even so much loyalty to them, as loyalty to that part of myself.

It is worth noting that the people do not do this in secret, or even subversively: they go right to the authorized leader, Aaron. Who, shockingly, goes along with their request:

Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool

Well, maybe no so shocking now, since I’ve done the same thing. Aaron is like my rational self, which knows better yet nonetheless yields to the emotional/spiritual pressure for infidelity to Yahweh. Probably for some of the same reasons:

* He knows God intellectually, but not His power to address this need
* He too is afraid at being left alone, and would like a tangible source of comfort
* He enjoys being honored as an authority figure, and the sense of power
* It helps him feel useful — and popular!
* The situation is now something under his control, and of his making
* It eliminates a source of tension between the population and leadership
That may not be an entirely fair critique of Aaron — but it is a valid critique of myself. And, to a certain extent it works:

Then they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”

Aaron has legitimized their desire, and need for a tangible (and small) god to credit with the past. The people are happy with him, and their controllable god. However, he himself now has to bear that cognitive dissonance for which he’s absolved the people. Which may be why he tries to redeem the situation with a feast to Yahweh:

When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD.”

To the extent I understand Aaron, he appears trying desperately to find a way to honor the true God while still legitimizing his pursuit of false ones. Alas, the people make a mockery of this fig leaf:

And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.

I don’t condemn Aaron: I identify with him. If anything, I’m angry at Moses for leaving someone so ill-equipped and under-taught to manage a huge immature multitude. Where is Moses?

More importantly, where is God?

To be continued…


God, I confess that I am in bondage to sin, and cannot free myself. I have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed — by turning to false gods to (try to) satisfy my real needs, and only allowing to you satisfy my false needs. By the blood of your son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. Forgive me, renew me, and lead me, so that I may wholly submit to your legitimate authority, that I may find true delight in your holy will, and walking in your holy ways. That I might glorify you, rather than imperfect created things. I ask all this, not in my own worthiness, but in that of Jesus your son. Amen.

About the Title:

This chapter is so fraught with meaning and relevance to me that I’ve decided to deal with as a trilogy, modeled loosely after the Star Wars trilogies. Today’s title is an amalgamation of Episode I: The Phantom Menace and Episode IV: A New Hope.