Dancing around a golden calf

What is the lesson for us today from the story of the Israelites' worship of a golden calf statue?

While Moses was up on the mountain talking to God, the Israelites convinced Aaron to make an idol to worship

Commentary on Exodus 25

Exodus 25:1-9a; 32:1-6a

25 1 The Lord said to Moses, 2 "Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give. 3 These are the offerings you are to receive from them: gold, silver and bronze; 4 blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair; 5 ram skins dyed red and another type of durable leather; acacia wood; 6 olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; 7 and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece.

8 "Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. 9 Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you." . . .

. . . 32 1 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 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."

2 Aaron answered them, "Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me." 3 So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool.

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

5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, "Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord." 6 So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings.

Week 47 (November)

The determined attempt to plant a thriving Nazarene congregation in the heart of New York City was told in the book Shepherd of Times Square.

Led by Pastor Paul Moore, a small band of Nazarenes opened an evangelistic ministry in the middle of a city that, for many, epitomizes evil and decay. They aimed to revitalize the lives of New York City's spiritually needy people -- from creative artists to teenage prostitutes.

However, at one point in his ministry at the Lamb's Club, Paul Moore was brought up short because several of the new Christians in the congregation had not made a clean break from their sinful past.

The problem was not unique. Most pastors have had to deal with new converts who sporadically give in to temptations to return to old sinful practices.

It even happened to the Israelites in the Sinai desert. "We will do everything the Lord has said,"1 they had shouted. But scarcely had the echoes of that promise died away when they started dancing in idolatrous worship around a golden calf, an idol reminiscent of one of Egypt's pagan gods.

It must have been a pathetic -- if not disgusting -- sight: God's chosen people indulging in revelry around a golden calf, saying, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt." 2

Only Moses' intercession with the Lord saved the Israelites from complete destruction as a consequence of their sin.

For a tiny congregation in Times Square, it was the intercession of their pastor during a midnight walk along the East River.

The following Sunday morning, a powerful, Holy-Spirit-inspired message by Paul Moore in the Lamb's Club included this statement: "No matter what the sin to which you cling is, you may be sure that true deliverance will not come unless you hate it."

What every new Christian has to learn is that making a start with the Lord is not, by itself, sufficient. The spiritual shallowness that led the Israelites to stray can also send us dancing around a golden calf that recalls our past.

Think about it for a minute. What is it that causes you to rejoice? Do you find yourself reading your bank statement with more interest than you do your Bible? Do you prepare your income tax forms with more diligence than your Sunday School lesson? In what area of your life will your golden calf be found?

What Paul Moore -- who is now with CitiHope International -- had to say in New York City is true: You'll never get true deliverance from the temptation to worship your golden calf until you come to hate it. Beginning and continuing a relationship with the Lord means facing up to God's call to holiness, which means an abhorrence of sin.

Let's firmly resist the temptation to go against the will of God. Let's leave our golden calf behind and walk in the way of holiness! [ Nine audio sermons on holiness ]

1 Exodus 24:7, New International Version
2 Exodus 32:8, New International Version

Discussion questions

  1. How does the story of the Israelites worshiping the golden calf relate to the struggles faced by new converts today?
  2. In what ways can new converts find themselves dancing around a "golden calf" in their lives? What are some modern-day idols that people may be tempted to worship?
  3. What does true deliverance from the worship of personal idols require? How does this connect to developing a relationship with God?
  4. Why might it be important for new Christians to confront and hate their sinful past if they expect to experience true deliverance? What roles do self-reflection and self-discipline play in this process?
  5. Reflecting on your own life, what are some potential "golden calves" that you may be tempted to worship instead of fully committing to a relationship with God? How can you cultivate an abhorrence of sin and pursue holiness in those areas?

    -- Howard Culbertson,

I wrote this devotional article while Barbara and I were serving as missionaries in Italy. It originally appeared in Standard, a weekly Faith Connections take-home curriculum piece for adult Sunday school classes published by The Foundry.

God's presence or His presents?

NextWhich is most important: What the Lord gives you or His being with you? [ read more ]

Takeaways from the story of the Golden Calf in Exodus 32

In summary, the story of the golden calf serves as a powerful reminder of the dangers of idolatry, the importance of trust and patience, the consequences of sin, the responsibilities of leadership, and the possibilities of forgiveness and redemption. It continues to resonate as a cautionary tale and a source of spiritual reflection for believers today.

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