“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.’ 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. Then they said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’ When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, ‘Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.’ So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.”—Exodus 32:1–6 (NIV)
In today’s passage, we see what the Israelites did when Moses was away on the mountain with the Lord. He was gone 40 days, which apparently was too long for them to remain faithful. This prolonged absence and perceived delay gave way to their worst instincts—and that includes Aaron. This is important for us to note because what we do in seasons of God-ordained waiting or when we think we’re alone is a telling measure of our spiritual maturity.
So, the people wanted Aaron to make them gods to lead them. Where? Into the Promised Land. They knew God had led them out of Egypt. Yet, they were willing to trust a lesser god of their own making to take them the rest of the way.
But the people weren’t the only ones who displayed a lack of spiritual maturity. You see, instead of being the priest and leader the people needed and redirecting them to the worship of the Lord, Aaron caved to their desires.
The Church has long had “leaders” who cheapen the true worship of God as outlined in Scripture for a lesser god, an amalgamation of cultural influences, sinful compromise, and human personality. And then they have the audacity to call this god the Lord, even though it doesn’t reflect or resemble what is outlined in Scripture. This is exactly what Aaron did here. He didn’t say, “This is a new god.” He along with the people said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 32:4 NKJV).
They reduced the indescribable, uncontainable, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present God of the universe to a created thing. When we do this—when we exchange the true and proper worship of the true and living God for that which is perishable and malleable—the result is futile thinking and our foolish hearts becoming darkened. Ultimately, we are given over to sinful desire, shameful behavior, and a depraved mind (Romans 1:18–32).
You see, the problem is that when we make our own gods, they end up looking a lot like us—imperfect and prone to sin. This is slavery, friends . . . slavery to performance, to our own expectations, to cultural whims, to our own feelings, and to our worst instincts and urges. This leads to devastation and disappointment always.
So, what must we do to avoid this? What the people should have done from the beginning: worship the Lord as He has instructed to be worshiped. The best way to avoid the issues of idolatry is through obedience to the Word. He gave clear instructions to them through Moses over and over again, and He has given us the full revelation of Scripture to recognize who He is and how we are to worship Him. Immerse yourself in the Word, “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1 ESV). Don’t stray, don’t add to it, and stay firmly entrenched, daily hiding His Word in your heart.
Pause: What can we learn from the Israelites’ and Aaron’s mistakes?
Practice: Ask the Spirit today to search your heart and reveal any areas where you may be exchanging the true worship of God for something else.
Pray: Father, You’re the only One worthy of worship. You’re the only One who can save and sustain, who can lead me in the way everlasting. Yours is the kingdom, the power, and glory forever and forever. I pray today that You would reveal and refine like gold in fire any areas in my life where I have exchanged true worship and submission to You for something of my own making, something influenced by the world and the prince of this world. Lead me in everything I believe, say, think, and do. Amen.