The Great Lesson of the ‘Golden Calf’

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27 Nov 2014 by Jason Law CM –


In an increasingly self-focused world, we daily see people around us drawing further and further away from God. If we think idolatry is only practiced by heathens, then we do not understand its danger and insidiousness. Idolatry is defined as a love of anything more than God, and the reason why God take this matter so seriously is because it impairs us in our relationship with Him. So if we think idolatry is a ‘worship of graven images’, then we haven’t really understood the real issue behind it.


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It is near impossible for us to abstain through our own efforts from the sin of idolatry. Idolatry does not just come in the form of love of money or fame. It could come in the form of our attachment to our families. Would we be able to accept it, if one day, God’s will is for our families to be separated from us? It might come in the form of a preoccupation with our self-identities and a dependence on approval and praise from others. Could that amount to self-worship?

In fact, and many may not realize this, idolatry can also come from seemingly spiritual attitudes. Are we in love with our spiritual conceptions, not being able to admit that we may sometimes err, always judging our other brothers-and-sisters-in-Christ, and insisting that others are wrong? Is there spiritual pride in us? The Bible and the story of Lucifer tells us that pride is one of the gravest starting point for sin.    


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Most, including myself, often find that we are not completely free from the adverseness of idolatry, but my point for all this is not to unsettle others or cause gloom or depression in the hearts of people. The real point and need for Christianity and Christ is that we are all sinners and in need of God’s grace. The Bible is our foundation in the knowledge of God, but we must also be open to God’s revelation, mentioned by Paul in Galatians 1:12. We must humble ourselves and admit that it is not our knowledge that is going to save us, but the grace of God on undeserving sinners. Only then, can we go beyond our systems and start walking with God instead of our flesh.

Nevertheless, we can learn about the nature of idolatry and take responsibility and precautions for our walk with God. On the 16th of November, Pastor Calvin Lee of Kajang Assembly of God (KAOG) shared some lessons from the passage of the Golden Calf found in Exodus 32, and this reflection is partly based on his message. He shared that there were 2 problems that caused the people to sin and what we can learn from Moses.


Pastor Calvin Lee of KAOG.


Like many other instances, the first problem here lies in the heart and wrong focus of the people. Exodus 32:1 gives us a strong indication that the Israelites were looking at a man instead of God. To the Israelites, it was Moses that had brought them out from Egypt. They had forgotten the 10 plagues in Egypt, the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea, the pillar of cloud and fire, and the provision of manna.    

Pastor Calvin shared that problems start when we do not acknowledge God for His providence. It draws our attention away from the only sure foundation in our lives, and places it on fallible entities, whether it is another man, or something like our finances, things that will fail us eventually.


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He shared that the Berean believers in Acts 17:11 did not just take Paul’s words for granted. They respected Paul as an apostle of God, receiving him with open hearts and minds, but they looked to God as the ultimate source of truth. They searched the Scriptures so that they could verify the truth of Paul’s preaching. Today, we have many prophets going around, sharing about supernatural experiences which are impossible to verify. Sometimes, I find their focus questionable.

For example, are we going to be concerned when we get to Heaven whether we’re going to be staying in chicken coops or mansions? Down here on Earth, it is the social disparity and greed for material goods that are causing a skewed system of values, drawing us away from God, and creating many problems.


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Isn’t it possible that Heaven would be like a restored Eden where the rewards are Spiritual and immeasurably greater than just material riches and its attendant significance? Would we even care for material goods then, when we are finally in a perfect relationship with God?  

If we want to get to Heaven to be rich, then I think it’s based on the wrong focus and motives. We are not getting there for the love of God, but mainly to be awarded. Similarly if the reason we want to get to Heaven is to escape Hell, or so that we can feel superior to others that didn’t make it.


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Furthermore, Pastor Calvin communicated the fact that the people were impatient, and a major reason for this was because of their mistake in placing their focus on Moses. The people’s focus on Moses showed that they did not really know God. Moses was an intermediary and any concept of a vital and personal relationship with God was absent.

When Moses had gone up Mount Sinai, for the Israelites, any thought given to God had gone up the mountain with him. The delay caused them to grow impatient and started the trouble of them stumbling for a surrogate. For the ancient Egyptians, the calf was a personification of Hathor, their goddess of joy and fertility. Inevitably for the Israelites who had been in Egypt, there was a downfall and a displacement of God in the form of the golden calf. The further away we go away from God, the deeper we go into stranger land and the bigger the danger of losing our faith.


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The lesson here is in the importance of an individual relationship with God. We cannot depend on others through a second-hand faith, and there is a danger in knowing about God but not knowing Him personally. God has given us direct access to Him through Christ, and we must not stay behind in our ‘Egypts’. Sometimes, God may delay His answers to our prayers. Do we grow disillusioned or confused with God and resort to taking matters into our own hands? How we handle God’s ordained delays is a good measurement and reflection of our spiritual maturity. It is also a good gauge of our propensity to build up golden calves.

There was also the problem of Aaron and his leadership, and a serious lesson to be learned if we’re in a leadership position. Because Aaron chose not to make a stand for God, he did not protest and he allowed the people to do what they did. He compromised, and worse, as a leader, he too did not acknowledge God. Implicitly, he had led the people he was supposed to guide into idolatry.


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God’s judgment and wrath was such that He initially wanted to destroy the whole people and establish Moses as a new Abraham. In all previous instances, He had called the Israelites His people, and the call for Moses to go into Egypt was to deliver God’s people. Now, He was calling them Moses’ people (Exodus 32:7) and offering to Moses the same covenant that He had given to Abraham (Exodus 32:10).

The challenge that Pastor Calvin gave was for leaders, even us, to be a Moses. Moses had made his stand for God very clear, destroying all traces of the idol and forcing the people to drink it so that nothing was retrievable (Exodus 32:19-20). He issued that challenge of making a stand for God to the other Israelites, and he did what was in that time a difficult but necessary task (Exodus 32:25-29).


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The human tendency of falling into idolatry and the absolute seriousness in which God views the issue brings home the message that we need to build up a personal relationship with God. Trust grows through a meaningful connection which can only come through familiarity and knowing God, not just as an academic subject, but as our true living Father. Others can serve as guides but ultimately we need to return to God. Our hope is in nothing and no one else.  


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