Have we made the golden calf mistake?
In talking with a friend about the golden calf incident, I was at a loss to explain how it might be relevant to us here and now. To her, it seemed like the Israelites were doing something strange and illogical. They were, I guess, but I would argue we’re not so different.
Here’s part of the golden calf story:
When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play. And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them (ESV, Ex. 32:5-8).
The passage relates this series of events: Aaron sees that the calf is popular, proclaims a feast, the feast takes place, and God disapproves. In its particular details, I agree that we’re not in a lot of danger of making the golden calf mistake: Aaron’s dead, and, let’s face it, a calf is sort of an uncool symbol for God these days. But if we look at it in more general terms, the whole thing becomes a little too familiar. If I ask myself questions about these events, I’m guilty at every step.
1. Have I ever followed a legitimate religious leader who accidentally led me to do something contrary to the commands of God? Yes.
2. Have I ever harbored misconceptions about who God is–in fact, am I likely to still have misconceptions about Him that are as ridiculous as comparing him with a golden calf? Yes and yes.
3. Have I ever participated in a holiday “to the Lord” that was proclaimed a feast by religious leaders though it has nothing to do with God’s holidays? Yes.
4. Did I get delivered, leave Egypt metaphorically, just to quickly turn aside from the way the Lord commands? Yes.
I guess I don’t see any substantial differences between the Israelites back then and us now. Back then, they didn’t have the benefit of being able to read about how people managed to get it wrong fifty different ways. What’s my excuse?