When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron and said to him, ‘Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ Aaron said to them, ‘Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.’ So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mould, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, ‘Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.’ They rose early the next day, and offered burnt-offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.
(Exodus 32:1-6, NRSV)
The story of the golden calf is a familiar one for many people. Often, our response is something along the lines of: “How silly,” or “they made the false god, knew it was fake, and yet still worshiped it.” Our reaction to the story is often one of mockery at a people for doing something so obviously fake.
Yet, are we any different? The people of Israel had literally just been set free from Egypt and started on their journey the Promised Land. They stopped at the holy mountain so Moses could have a conference with God. And when Moses didn’t come down the mountain right away, the people changed course and invented a god to worship.
What are our golden calves? What are the golden calves that we create for our own lives? Do we dare name them? What might they look like?
How about our national or political golden calves? What the things that we, as a nation, are willingly melting down our gold (wealth), making an idol, and worshiping?
A god is something that we worship. It is something that we put our hope in. It is something that offers us salvation. The people of Israel created a calf – made from their wealth, and told themselves that this god was the god that brought them out of slavery and gave them salvation.
There are many things in our world that offers us salvation. These false gods tell us that if you build or create them, they will be the ones that offer you security and safety, power and might, wealth and health, happiness and fulfillment. The false gods proclaim these messages to us individually and as a nation. And they are just as empty as the golden calf and what it promised.
And as a result, the people suffered – their wealth was sacrificed for this false god. Their food was used for this false god. Their people were literally killed because of this false god. False gods – golden calves – lead to death and destruction. What else should we expect from something based on a lie?
What are you golden calves? What are our nation’s golden calves?