Exodus 32:1-35, 1 Kings 12:26-28
When my iPhone starts acting funny—when an app takes too long to open or the screen won’t respond immediately—I feel as though an injustice is being committed against me. That phone is supposed to work. I deserve to have it work.
How quickly I forget. How quickly I lose sight of the fact that not too long ago there were no smartphones. No one texted. No one could retrieve a device from their pocket and check the news or find a restaurant or make a phone call. I’ve gotten so used to having this technology at my fingertips that I rarely wonder at what a technological marvel the smartphone really is. Instead I take for granted that it is supposed to work, and when it doesn’t, I feel like my right to convenience has been violated, as though it were a God-given right.
In the story of the golden calf, the people of Israel forget God. One striking feature of this passage is how quickly it all seems to unfold. Moses goes up onto the mountain to hear from God. He is up there longer than the people want him to be, so they move on and decide to make an idol, violating almost every law God has given them up to this point.
The idea to make a golden calf was not a random thought. It was an attempt by the Israelites to borrow from the religions of the people around them—specifically, idols they had seen among both the Egyptians and the Canaanites. The gold calf was a symbol of strength and fertility. For the desert-bound Israelites, who likely felt weak and possibly near the end of their existence as a people, the idea of making a god of strength and fertility seemed like a good idea.
So that’s what they did. They forgot about their centuries as slaves in Egypt. They forgot about the blood of the Passover lambs. They forgot about the towering walls of water rising above them as they passed through the Red Sea on dry land. They forgot about having no other gods before the one true God. They forgot about keeping His name holy. And so they made an idol, called it their god, and bowed down to it.
One of the things that convicts me personally from this passage is the sense that inconvenience played at least some role in the Israelites’ decision to make this idol. They behaved as though waiting on God violated their right to not have to wait. And just like that, they moved on.
As you read the story in its entirety, here are a couple questions to turn over in your mind: What prompts you to forget God? What idols do you make to replace Him, and why?
Written by Russ Ramsey