Many people are familiar with the story of the Golden Calf formed by the Israelites in the book of Exodus while Moses was atop the mountain receiving the 10 Commandments from God. The irony has never been lost on me that while they were melting all of their gold and jewels to form an idol, God was instructing Moses that his people should have no other gods before Him and should not make “graven images”. Astonishingly, these are the first two commandments and they are the ones that the people led by Moses’ brother Aaron were breaking while Moses was in the actual presence of God. Further irony is that Aaron was a priest which meant his responsibility was to mediate God and his people. His job was to point them to the true living God and the manner in which He should be worshiped, yet here he was making a golden calf as a poor substitution. Reformer John Calvin wrote in his Christian Institutes that “the human heart is a perpetual idol factory”. Aaron seems to say the same thing when confronted by Moses, “you know how prone these people are to evil.” It is true today that we are naturally a faith-less people when we lose patience with God and become anxious, worried, or bored. We believe God dwells in some type of abstract transcendentalism and that he will not fulfill the promises he made in scripture. So our broken rebellious hearts resort to manufacturing idols. We reason within ourselves that we must have something visible and tangible to fill us.
From a view high above, our idols are easy to spot. Food, drink, pleasure, money, career, family etc, but let us consider from the ground view what that looks like. Idols are intentional misrepresentations of God, so keep in mind, Aaron and the Israelites were not necessarily trying to replace the God of Moses. In reality, they were trying to represent him since they were growing worried and impatient with how long Moses had been away. To misrepresent God is to attribute good things to creation instead of the Creator. When it gets down to it, we believe ourselves to be the determining source of our own joy and fulfillment. To be more specific, if we seek acceptance from anyone other than God, we might craft a social media image we want others to see and affirm. If we seek love from someone other than God, we might flirt with someone other than our spouse to elicit a response we wish our spouse would give us. If we seek our own power instead of the power of God, we might pursue a career that provides a large financial portfolio and material possessions so that we can put forth an image of intellect, charisma, and strength. If we seek our own glory, we might elevate our children as representatives of our greatness even it it means crushing them under the weight of selfish expectations. (There are countless other examples we could mention here.)
Exodus 32:19 “When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. 20 And he took the calf the people had made and burned it in the fire”
The end result of Aaron’s golden calf was that it was destroyed. Not only did this act of Moses put God’s anger on display, it was a tangible demonstration of the temporal nature of man’s created idols. In the end, the calf couldn’t bear the weight of the Israelites’ expectations and neither can the “golden calves” we’ve created to fill the emptiness of our souls.