The Aftermath of the Golden Calf

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The Aftermath of the Golden Calf:  Response and Consequence to Sin

Exodus 32.7-35

Pastor Oesterwind


Response to Sin (7-29)

                God (7-14)

                Moses (15-20)

                Aaron (21-24)

                Levites (25-29)

Consequence to Sin (30-35)

The Broader Context: 

1.       Response – the Lord and Moses respond to Israel’s sin (32.7-33.17)

2.       Revelation – the Lord reveals Himself again on Mount Sinai (33.18-34.9)

3.       Renewal – the Lord renews His covenant with Israel (34.10-28)

4.       Reestablishment – the Lord reestablishes Moses’ authority and leadership (34.29-35)

Response to Sin (7-29)

God (7-14)


Exodus 32:7–10 (NKJV) — 7 And the Lord said to Moses, “Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. 8 They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them. They have made themselves a molded calf, and worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!’ ” 9 And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people! 10 Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation.”

Exodus 32:11–14 (NKJV) — 11 Then Moses pleaded with the Lord his God, and said: “Lord, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians speak, and say, ‘He brought them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your fierce wrath, and relent from this harm to Your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’ ” 14 So the Lord relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people.

The Lord answered Moses’ prayer by relenting from the harm He said He would do to His people.  God’s response was altered by the prayer of Moses.  Judgment would still come, but not to the extent that it would have come had Moses’ not prayed.  That God would judge the people is seen in the context: 

Exodus 32:34–35 (NKJV) — 34 Now therefore, go, lead the people to the place of which I have spoken to you. Behold, My Angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit for punishment, I will visit punishment upon them for their sin.” 35 So the Lord plagued the people because of what they did with the calf which Aaron made.

Exodus 34:6–7 (NKJV) — 6 And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, 7 keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.”

God’s response to the golden calf sin is a test of Moses’ leadership over the people.  Moses was dealing with a stiff-necked people (9).  Wouldn’t it be better to start over?  Of course, God knows the answer to that question all along.  When God basically tells Moses to not interfere so that His wrath might burn hot and consume Israel, it is not unlike what a parent may do with a child.  I’ve told my son that if he leaves his Legos on the floor, I will simply throw them away.  I haven’t thrown them out yet.  My son doesn’t want to find out if I’m serious.  I want him to be responsible; I don’t want to throw his toys away.  His responsibility would save his Legos.  God did the same thing in His exchange with Moses so that Moses would fulfill his responsibility to intercede and save Israel.

God’s response provoked prayer from a righteous man.  This pray has effective components that we may place in our own prayer lives.  P. G. Ryken mentions five of these that I have adapted:

·         Appealed to God’s fatherly affection.  God had called them Moses’ people; Moses was saying, “God, they are Your people.”  They were God’s children and nothing could change that fact.  As for us, this promise also holds true.  Once we become children of God, nothing can change that fact:  “No man is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand” (John 10.29).

·         Appealed to God’s past investment.  God had done great and mighty things on the behalf of Israel.  How could He destroy a people He had redeemed?  God has revealed to some of us our sin.  He has sent people to us with the Gospel.  He redeemed us through the blood of His precious Son.  How could He give up on us now? 

·         Appealed to God on the basis of His public reputation.  It was not for Israel but rather for the name and reputation of God that God should extend mercy.  What would the Egyptians say?  The glory of God motivated the intercession of Moses.  When we pray for the deliverance of the needy souls around us, we must form the same basis in our prayer to God.  We want God to get glory for saving sinners.

·         Appealed to God on the basis of His merciful compassion.  The people of Israel deserved the full measure of God’s wrath.  Moses asked that He turn away from leveling this full measure.  When God turned aside, He was showing mercy.  He’s not obligated to do so.  We all would do well to remember that.  But it is part of His character.  So, we cry out for mercy in the lives of those around us.

·         Appealed to God on the basis of His promise (covenant) to/with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  This is the strongest part of Moses’ prayer.  It is so because God will not break His promise.  We must pray with the promises of God firmly in mind.  God always remains faithful to His Word.

Moses (15-20)

Exodus 32:15–16 (NKJV) — 15 And Moses turned and went down from the mountain, and the two tablets of the Testimony were in his hand. The tablets were written on both sides; on the one side and on the other they were written. 16 Now the tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God engraved on the tablets.

Moses turned and began to move down the mountain with the Ten Commandments in hand.  The stone tablets were written on both sides (not a common perspective).  It is said that they are the work of God.  That the writing itself was the writing of God.  God is the source of the Law; therefore, He has the authority to carry it out.

Exodus 32:17 (NKJV) — 17 And when Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a noise of war in the camp.”

Moses rejoined Joshua who had attended him.  Joshua heard the celebration and misconstrued it as the noise of war.

Exodus 32:18 (NKJV) — 18 But he said: “It is not the noise of the shout of victory, Nor the noise of the cry of defeat, But the sound of singing I hear.”

Moses corrects Joshua.  It is not the shout of victory or the cry of defeat (prevailing or failing) in battle, but rather it is the sound of singing.  The singing was something akin to corporate worship (responsive singing; antiphonal singing). 

Exodus 32:19–20 (NKJV) — 19 So it was, as soon as he came near the camp, that he saw the calf and the dancing. So Moses’ anger became hot, and he cast the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. 20 Then he took the calf which they had made, burned it in the fire, and ground it to powder; and he scattered it on the water and made the children of Israel drink it.

·         This is not Moses’ first reaction to what the people had done.  Remember that the Lord had already revealed it to him.  When he sees it for himself, his anger burns hot.

·         Moses shattered the tablets because the people had shattered their relationship with God. 

·         He completely and thoroughly destroyed the idol and made them drink the ashes mixed with water.

You might argue that Moses lost his temper as you work through this chapter.  However, God never rebukes him for his actions.  It seems Moses is filled, in fact, with righteous indignation.  Our anger is seldom righteous.  It usually comes as a result of our frustration with people or things. 

Knowing this, we must never take action to correct a matter or discipline our children when we’re angry.  For those of us who have authority over employees, we must guard against impulsively reacting to employees when they stir up our ire.  This leads to rash, impulsive venting of anger.  Our anger must stay within the boundaries of obedience to God. 

Moses broke the commandments because the people didn’t deserve to have them.  By breaking the second command, Israel had broken all of the commands.  The thorough destruction of the calf and the drinking of its dregs would remind Israel of the bitterness of idolatry.

Moses was also modeling for us the idea of restoration after sin.  Some people think that immediate forgiveness of sin is equated with immediate sanctification.  Just because we confess our sin, doesn’t mean things just return to normal.  While sin is freely and fully given, there are consequences.  If a man or a woman is unfaithful toward a spouse, the marriage will need rebuilding if it survives at all.   The scars of sin remain even after the guilt is removed.  Sin also brings the chastening of God.  Moses dealt with the sin of Israel with this in mind (19-20).

Aaron (21-24)

Exodus 32:21–24 (NKJV) — 21 And Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you have brought so great a sin upon them?” 22 So Aaron said, “Do not let the anger of my lord become hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil. 23 For they said to me, ‘Make us gods that shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 24 And I said to them, ‘Whoever has any gold, let them break it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I cast it into the fire, and this calf came out.”

·         Moses addressed the Lord in v. 11 by questioning His anger even as Aaron does here with Moses.  However, that’s where the comparison ends.  Whereas Moses offered reasons why the Lord should not obliterate Israel (all centered on the character of God), Aaron seems quite willing to blame the people for what has happened.  The sign of a weak leader is that he is expedient under pressure.

·         This is a contrast of leaders – the hopelessness of Aaron’s statement, “The calf came out” and the magnificence of Moses’ intercession on behalf of the people.

·         How not to repent – see vv. 22-24.  Three problems with Aaron’s confession.

o   Deflecting righteous indignation – “Hey, c’mon!  It’s not that big of deal.  Why so angry? 

o   Blameshifting – “You know this people.  You’ve dealt with them; they made me!”

§  My parents didn’t love me.

§  My husband didn’t care for me.

§  My wife didn’t meet my physical needs.

§  The deacons didn’t handle the situation right. 

§  My boss is so unfair.

o   Refusal to admit and acknowledge his sin – an idol is never self-produced; it’s always man-made (this calf came out).

The Levites (25-29)

Exodus 32:25–29 (NKJV) — 25 Now when Moses saw that the people were unrestrained (for Aaron had not restrained them, to their shame among their enemies), 26 then Moses stood in the entrance of the camp, and said, “Whoever is on the Lord’s side—come to me!” And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together to him. 27 And he said to them, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘Let every man put his sword on his side, and go in and out from entrance to entrance throughout the camp, and let every man kill his brother, every man his companion, and every man his neighbor.’ ” 28 So the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And about three thousand men of the people fell that day. 29 Then Moses said, “Consecrate yourselves today to the Lord, that He may bestow on you a blessing this day, for every man has opposed his son and his brother.”

·         The people were unrestrained or out of control (the KJV has naked but the Hebrew word means out of control or unrestrained).  Moses saw this and he knew it was because Aaron had allowed it.  This left them vulnerable to slander from their enemies.

·         Moses’ dividing line becomes a call to the Levites.  Aaron was a Levite.  It is certain that he with great shame and embarrassment came to Moses along with other Levites who had been swayed by idolaters.  Then, the Lord commanded (not Moses) that these Levites kill their brothers, friends, and neighbors.  They followed through in great agony I’m sure. 

Consequence to Sin (30-35)

Exodus 32:30–35 (NKJV) — 30 Now it came to pass on the next day that Moses said to the people, “You have committed a great sin. So now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” 31 Then Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Oh, these people have committed a great sin, and have made for themselves a god of gold! 32 Yet now, if You will forgive their sin—but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written.” 33 And the Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book. 34 Now therefore, go, lead the people to the place of which I have spoken to you. Behold, My Angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit for punishment, I will visit punishment upon them for their sin.” 35 So the Lord plagued the people because of what they did with the calf which Aaron made.

The people are punished with a plague.  A plague is a small-scale warning for Israel.  There would come a time when God would increase the measure of His wrath by taking this people away into foreign captivity.  3,000 died when the Levites put to death their kin.  Then, the plague occurred – which may have killed others or just made them very sick.  We’re not told. 

·         Moses intercedes again for the people.  He knows the magnitude of what the nation has done.  He identifies with people to the point of asking God to include him in their condemnation by being blotted out of God’s book of life along with Israel.

·         We know it is God’s book from v. 33.  God corrects Moses by maintaining that He will by no means clear the guilty and Moses was not guilty.  Being blotted out of the Book of Life is a real, absolute, and irreversible consequence of sin:

o   The Hebrew word for book can be translated scroll, book, or record.  The ancient world kept record of a population through a census.  When people died or moved away, they were blotted out of the record.  Hence, the book became known as the book of the living or the book of life.

Psalm 69:28 (NKJV) — 28 Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, And not be written with the righteous.

People who do not respond to God’s revelation are said to be blotted out of the book of life.  That is, they will not continue to live eternally.  After the first death, they experience the second death.  See verses below:

Revelation 2:11 (NKJV) — 11 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.” ’

Revelation 20:6 (NKJV) — 6 Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.

Revelation 20:14 (NKJV) — 14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.

Revelation 21:8 (NKJV) — 8 But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

NT Believers are in the book because they trusted in Christ for salvation. 

Revelation 13:8 (NKJV) — 8 All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

Revelation 17:8 (NKJV) — 8 The beast that you saw was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition. And those who dwell on the earth will marvel, whose names are not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.

Revelation 20:12 (NKJV) — 12 And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.

Revelation 20:15 (NKJV) — 15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.

Revelation 21:27 (NKJV) — 27 But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

·         The Book of Life is a record of those possessing eternal life.

·         Those not in the Book of Life are blotted out when they finally reject Christ and the eternal life He offers.  They will experience eternal death.

·         I believe all who are physically born have their names in the Book of Life.  God does not put only some names in it and leave other names out of it.  All human beings that are living can be saved until they finally reject Christ.  It is then that they are blotted out.

1 Timothy 2:3–4 (NKJV) — 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

2 Peter 3:9 (NKJV) — 9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

Hymn – Is My Name Written There? (260)

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