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.”
The people were getting tired of waiting for Moses to come down from God’s holy mountain, and felt they needed another solution. Maybe Moses suffered an accident and wasn’t coming back. Maybe God isn’t really there. The people felt they needed something tangible, even if it came from cast-off jewelry. The whole idea seems ludicrous – how can melted down jewelry in the shape of a calf do anything, much less have the power to lead a people out of slavery in Egypt? To read on in the chapter, God was justifiably angry at their behavior. God was ready to destroy them except for the intervention of Moses.
This pattern of turning away from God for manmade gods is one that has been repeated throughout the ages. For me, to read this story is to realize how pointless it is to chase after nonexistent gods. No golden calf has the means of bringing about change and transformation in the human soul. No golden calf may forgive or offer salvation. No golden calf ever ushered in creation, for it is a created being itself, subject to the same effects of age and tarnish like the rest of us. It cannot promise the hope of a new heaven and a new earth, for it will wear out and leave us empty.
Moses intervened on behalf of his disobedient people. Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole human race. Moses was an example of a faithful man, but like any one of us he made mistakes; he wasn’t perfect. We set up golden calves again and again; we stray from God’s paths. We need Jesus who is able to redeem us, for we cannot be made whole on our own. Forgive the gods we make; help us recognize Jesus who alone is our salvation.
In moments of insight and reflection, O Lord, we realize the times we have put too much importance in wrong things, elevating them to positions of prominence they do not deserve. Maybe we do not use the term “god,” but we have put these activities and aims ahead of you. Forgive us when we have given them too much time and attention, and too little to you. Let us give you the praise, in Jesus Christ our savior. Amen.