Exodus’ story of the golden calf immediately follows Moses’ mountaintop meeting with God. The Almighty summons him there, as leader of the Israelites, to supply a new legal code to the people. Just recently released from slavery in Egypt, they need some instructions on how to live responsibly in their newfound freedom.
So God lays down the law to Moses—ten laws, actually—written upon stone in mysterious script that must have filled the mortal with awe and dread. And these laws came with various designs and architectural plans for how to construct God’s tabernacle (see Ex 19-31). It appears that they had traded their captivity to Egypt for captivity to God. Read the fine print.
Meanwhile, things aren’t going well with the Israelites down the hill. Aaron, a smooth-talker, is in charge. But the people are smooth-talking him. Impatient for Moses’ return, the people lost faith in God.
I can’t read this story without thinking of the folly of humankind as it deals with God. Surely, while literally laying down the law for Moses atop the mountain, God knows what is happening below. God knows our humanness. Our need to give ourselves to something is not lost on the One who created us. But too often, we chase after the wrong something. Social status, more money, a bigger house.
As Cecil Frances Alexander says in his 1852 hymn, “Jesus Calls Us O’er the Tumult,”
Jesus calls us from the worship
of the vain world’s golden store,
from each idol that would keep us,
saying “Christian, love me more.”
What am I giving myself to that stands between me and God?
Lord of All, you are God of the mountaintop and the valley below. Thank you for our freedoms. Help us live responsibly and follow only you. Amen.