Exodus 20:4, ESV

You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.


EXODUS 32:1-6, NIrV

1 The people saw that Moses took a long time to come down from the mountain. So they gathered around Aaron. They said to him, “Come. Make us a god that will lead us. This fellow Moses brought us up out of Egypt. But we don’t know what has happened to him.”

2 Aaron answered them, “Take the gold earrings off your wives, your sons and your daughters. Bring the earrings to me.” 3 So all the people took off their earrings. They brought them to Aaron. 4 He took what they gave him and made it into a metal statue of a god. It looked like a calf. Aaron shaped it with a tool. Then the people said, “Israel, here is your god who brought you up out of Egypt.”

5 When Aaron saw what they were doing, he built an altar in front of the calf. He said, “Tomorrow will be a feast day to honor the Lord.” 6 So the next day the people got up early. They sacrificed burnt offerings and brought friendship offerings. They sat down to eat and drink. Then they got up to dance wildly in front of their god.


After watching Moses go up the mountain to meet with God, the Israelites waited for him to come back. But over a month went by with no sign of Moses. The people thought, "Maybe he's never coming back!" It was then that the people came up with one of the worst ideas ever: "Let's make some gods to lead us!" Now, can you build a god? Of course not! But you can make a statue and try really hard to believe it's a god. And that's what the Israelites asked Moses' brother Aaron to do. They handed him all their gold jewelry and Aaron shaped it into a god that looked like a young cow.

+ What did the people say after making the golden calf? (vs. 4)

+ After making the god, what did the people do? (vs. 6)


EXODUS 32:7-10, NIrV

7 The Lord spoke to Moses. He said, “Go down. Your people you brought up out of Egypt have become very sinful. 8 They have quickly turned away from what I commanded them. They have made themselves a metal statue of a god in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down and sacrificed to it. And they have said, ‘Israel, here is your god who brought you up out of Egypt.’

9 “I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses. “They are stubborn. 10 Now leave me alone. I will destroy them because of my great anger. Then I will make you into a great nation.”


Way up on top of Mount Sinai, Moses had no idea about all the shenanigans going on down at the bottom. But God did! He let Moses know the sad truth: while Moses was learning about all of God's commands, the Israelites were trying their best to break every single one of them. Worst of all, instead of praising the Lord God for powerfully rescuing them from Egypt, the Israelites were giving glory to a golden cow! As you could probably guess, God was furious at his ungrateful people. So furious, in fact, that he told Moses, "I'm going to wipe them all out and start a new nation with just you!"

+ How could God know what was going on at the bottom of the mountain?

+ What word did God use to describe his sinful people? (vs. 9)


EXODUS 32:11-14, NIrV

11 But Moses asked the Lord his God to have mercy on the people. “Lord,” he said, “why should you destroy your people in anger? You used your great power and mighty hand to bring them out of Egypt. 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘He brought them out to hurt them. He wanted to kill them in the mountains. He wanted to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn away from your great anger. Please take pity on your people. Don’t destroy them! 13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel. You made a promise to them in your own name. You said, ‘I will make your children after you as many as the stars in the sky. I will give them all this land I promised them. It will belong to them forever.’ ” 14 Then the Lord took pity on his people. He didn’t destroy them as he had said he would.


On top of Mount Sinai, Moses was a man caught in the middle. Down below him were the golden-cow worshiping Israelites. And up above? The mighty Lord God, ready to wipe those sorry sinners off the face of his planet! Knowing they were doomed if he said nothing, Moses begged God to forgive his people. And amazingly, the mighty mountain-shaking God of Israel listened to the request of a puny human! Had God changed his mind? Of course not – he’s perfect. By letting Moses stand in the middle for his people, God was giving us a chance to learn what a forgiving God he is!

+ Moses gave two reasons why God shouldn’t destroy his people. What were they? (vs. 12-13)


EXODUS 32:15-20, NIRV

15 Moses turned and went down the mountain. He had the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands. Words were written on both sides of the tablets, front and back. 16 The tablets were the work of God. The words had been written by God. They had been carved on the tablets.

17 Joshua heard the noise of the people shouting. So he said to Moses, “It sounds like war in the camp.”

18 Moses replied,

“It’s not the sound of winning.

    It’s not the sound of losing.

    It’s the sound of singing that I hear.”

19 As Moses approached the camp, he saw the calf. He also saw the people dancing. So he was very angry. He threw the tablets out of his hands. They broke into pieces at the foot of the mountain. 20 He took the calf the people had made. He burned it in the fire. Then he ground it into powder. He scattered it on the water. And he made the Israelites drink it.


Moses marched down after his 40-day mission on the mountain. He was sort of like a parent who drove home from work only to find out his kids had thrown a wild party and burned his house down! Old man Moses was so mad, he slammed the stone tablets to the ground. As the words of God's Law broke into a million pieces, it was a sad picture of all the law-breaking the Israelites were doing. Moses showed the people what a useless wimp their golden cow god was. He pulverized the statue into powder, mixed it in water, and made the people drink a glass of their "god!"

+ Who had written the commands on the stone tablets that Moses smashed? (vs. 15)

+ When Joshua heard the sound of the people, what did he think? (vs. 17)


EXODUS 32:21-24, NIRV

21 He said to Aaron, “What did these people do to you? How did they make you lead them into such terrible sin?”

22 “Please don’t be angry,” Aaron answered. “You know how these people like to do what is evil. 23 They said to me, ‘Make us a god that will lead us. This fellow Moses brought us up out of Egypt. But we don’t know what has happened to him.’ 24 So I told them, ‘Anyone who has any gold jewelry, take it off.’ They gave me the gold. I threw it into the fire. And out came this calf!”


Have you ever been caught doing something wrong and told a whopper of a lie to try to cover it up? If so, then you are in good company – that’s exactly what Aaron did! When Moses saw his people partying around a statue, he asked his brother, “How in the world could you lead the people to do such an evil thing? What was Aaron’s answer? “I had no choice! The people made me do it. I took their gold, tossed it into the fire, and out popped a golden calf!” I’m sure Moses rolled his eyes so hard at his brother’s ridiculous tale that they were in danger of rolling right out of his head!

+ What had the people said to Aaron about Moses? (vs. 23)

+ Why was Aaron’s lie so hard to believe?


EXODUS 32:30-35, NIRV

30 The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a terrible sin. But now I will go up to the Lord. Maybe if I pray to him, he will forgive your sin.”

31 So Moses went back to the Lord. He said, “These people have committed a terrible sin. They have made a god out of gold for themselves. 32 Now please forgive their sin. But if you won’t, then erase my name out of the book you have written.”

33 The Lord replied to Moses. The Lord said, “I will erase out of my book only the names of those who have sinned against me. 34 Now go. Lead the people to the place I spoke about. My angel will go ahead of you. But when the time comes for me to punish, I will punish them for their sin.”

35 The Lord struck the people with a plague. That’s because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made.


After punishing Egypt with plagues and parting the Red Sea, God rescued his people from slavery. He led them out of Egypt in order to bring them into the land he had promised to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob many years before. So how did his people thank him? By building a golden calf and saying, “Here is the god who rescued us from Egypt!” It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why God was angry with his people.

On the mountain, Moses stood in the middle for his people. He begged God to spare his people from death. And God listened to Moses' prayer. Though they deserved death, God promised to not wipe out the Israelites. But though his people had been saved from death, they still needed to pay for the sinful things they had done.

Once again, Moses was ready to stand in the middle for his people. He marched back up the mountain to tell God, “My people have committed a horrible sin. Please forgive them. But if you won’t, wipe away my name from the book of the living in their place.” Moses was willing to die to rescue his people from punishment.

There’s no greater way to show how much you love someone than being willing to die for them. However, God said no to Moses’ prayer. He sent a deadly plague to punish his people. Why didn’t God let Moses be punished in their place? Because a mere man like Moses didn’t have the power to pay for the sins of an entire nation.

The Old Testament (the first half of the Bible) is filled with many amazing (but true) stories. And the neat thing is that many of these true tales are shadowy, blurry pictures of the greatest story in the history of the world. What story is that? It’s the one where God sent his Son to save the entire world! And without even knowing it, Moses was giving us a shadowy picture of Jesus, 1,500 years early!

You and I may have never constructed a cow out of gold, but we’ve broken God’s commands. We're just as sinful as those cow-worshiping Israelites. And God feels the same way about our sins as he felt about the wild partying of his people so long ago.

But we have a man willing to stand in the middle for us, too: Jesus! Like Moses was willing to be punished for the sins of the Israelites, Jesus was willing to be punished for the sins of the world. But unlike Moses, Jesus wasn’t merely a man: he was also the Son of God! Because of that, he had the power to pay for an entire world’s worth of sins. That’s exactly what he did when he died on the cross.

The bad news story of the golden calf actually points to the good news story of Jesus. Like Moses was ready to be the man in the middle for them, Jesus really was the man in the middle for us!

+ Why couldn’t Moses pay for the sins of his people?

+ Why was Jesus able to pay for all of our sins?

© 2023 Andrew Doane. All rights reserved.