Forgiven for the Glory of God
“All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do.” That’s what they said, word for word. So how did it come to pass that they fell so far so fast. At the foot of Mount Sinai, they were terrified at the smoke, the thunder, the lightning, the trumpet sound. They had said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die” (Exodus 20:19). Now, just a few weeks later, if that long, they are demanding that Aaron make a god for them – and he did! One of the more humorous passages in all the Bible is Aaron’s excuse before Moses: “They said to me, ‘Make us gods who shall go before us’ … So I said to them, ‘Let any who have gold take it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf” (emphasis added). What is even more outrageous is that they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” Aaron even went so far as to call the calf by God’s holy name, the “LORD,” when he proclaimed: “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.”
There is so much here we could discuss, but I will take two things in particular. First, the passage says, “And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” Paul refers to this in his first letter to the Corinthians (10:7) and to the Romans (1:18-32) when speaking of idolatry: Idolatry always leads to immorality. Idolatry so blinds the mind that it perverts the heart. Those who worship false gods experience a darkening of the mind and then lose all restraint. The golden calf was not the God of the Ten Commandments. When we create our own god, which is what idolatry is, we create one to our liking, one who will invite us to “play.” Simply observe the world.
The second matter to notice is the basis for Moses’ intercession for the people. When God threatens to destroy the Israelites, to what does Moses appeal that God might relent? His glory. Moses says in effect, “But what will the Egyptians say? They will say that it was with evil intent that you brought them up out of the land of Egypt, to kill them.” Moses makes no excuses for the people. He doesn’t say that they didn’t know any better, or that it’s been a long time in the desert, or that God is expecting too much. As far as Moses is concerned, they rightfully deserve to die. But Moses appeals to the interest of God’s glory among the nations. And for that reason alone, God relents. Which teaches us this: God’s care for our salvation is not first and foremost about us, but about His glory.