Exodus 32 – Moses takes a long time conferring with God on the mountain (40 days), and the people become restless and anxious. Throughout the wilderness journey, they express the same anxieties.
Back on earth, down the mountain, life is full of human frailty. So the people go to Aaron and ask him to “make us a god who will be our leader” (32:1). One of the commandments – the FIRST one by the Catholic count, is specifically NOT to make any such representation. The Lord, seeing what is going on, tells Moses “Go down at once to your people, [not his any more, note] for they have become depraved” (32:7).
God threatens to “consume them” but Moses pleads with Him on their behalf—this is his other “hat” a prophet wears—the role of being a pleader for his people. The prophet not only represents God’s voice to the people. He represents the people’s voice to God. He is a two way intermediary. Moses reasons with God as he might have with some proud potentate and tries to get Him to see how the fate of His people ultimately reflects on Him. He reminds God of the promise he made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and exhorts Him to the faithfulness He swore to them on more than one occasion. I guess we all need to be reminded once and a while.
Moses meets up again with Joshua and returns to the camp with the tablets, but when he sees himself what they have done, his anger flares up so much [he does have a temper---remember 11:8] he throws the tablets down and breaks them. He takes the golden calf, melts it down, grinds up the gold, throws it on the water and makes the people drink it. Then he turns to Aaron, appropriately enough, and asks him an unexpected question—not what have you done? Or even what have my people done? but “What did this people ever do to you that you should lead them into so grave a sin?” (32:21)
Aaron, of course, blames the people—he was just their pawn or he just did what he did to keep them from doing something even worse. “I told them, ‘Let anyone who has gold jewelry take it off,’ They gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and this calf came out.” [Is this supposed to be funny??]
Moses, seeing what he is confronted with, takes charge. He has those who are “for the Lord” come to him. Only the Levites rally to him, and he instructs them to slay their kinsmen—about 3000 [a stylized number often used in the Bible] are slain. And this becomes the basis for their being seen as dedicated to the Lord in a special way!!
The next day, Moses leaves them again and returns to the mountain to “make atonement” for them (32:30). Only when he is there do we see him as a pleader for his people once again.
Early Christian Writers
Justin Martyr (100-165 AD) – First Apology
What Christ Himself Taught
15 – Concerning Chastity: Jesus said such things as this – “Whosoever looketh upon a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart before God.” If you marry a woman who is divorced from another, this is also adultery.
Many believers who have been “Christ’s disciples from childhood” remain pure for their whole lived. And it isn’t just a few who can live by this standard. “Christ called not only the just and the chaste to repentance, but the ungodly, and the licentious and the unjust.” Our heavenly Father would rather have the repentance of the sinner, not his punishment.
Christians love all people. “He taught. . .’if ye love them that love you, what new thing do ye?’” “Pray for you enemies and love them that hate you.”
“Lay not up for yourselves treasure upon earth. . . but lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt.” Be kind and merciful; take no thought what you shall eat or put on.
16 – Concerning Patience and Swearing: “[C]oncerning our being patient of injuries, and ready to serve all, . . . free from anger, this is what He said: ‘To him that smiteth thee on the one cheek, offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak or coat, forbid not. And whosoever shall be angry is in danger of the fire . . .”
“’And let your good works shine before men, that they, seeing them, may glorify your Father which is in heaven.’” He comments that he’s seen many times people won over to the gospel by the witness of Christians’ lives.
As to not swearing and always speaking the truth, he quotes Jesus: “’Swear not at all; but let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.’”
Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only with all your heart.
“[L]et those who are not found living as [Jesus] taught, be understood to be no Christians, even though they profess with the lip the precepts of Christ; for not those who make profession, but those who do the works, shall be saved, according to His word.”
17 – Concerning Civil Obedience: He notes that Jesus taught his followers to pay whatever taxes were owed to those in civil authority over them. While God alone is whom we worship, “in other things we gladly serve you, acknowledging . . .kings and rulers of men” and we pray that “with your kingly power you [also] be found to possess sound judgment.”
Everyone will be judged by God in the end anyway.