Do you ever wish that you could see or touch God? I do. Why? Because then I wouldn’t have to rely so much on faith.
Picture this. The ancient Hebrews, who were fumbling around in the desert, waiting on Moses to return from the mountain, really wanted to see God. It wasn’t enough to witness the Red Sea part. It wasn’t enough that God had provided manna for food and watered them from a rock. The Hebrews wanted more. Just like us.
The Hebrews had just agreed to make no graven images before God; Commandment Number Two. Then Moses hikes up the mountain for some one on one with God. Mind you, he wasn’t able to see God directly either. And he stays there a really long time. It was too quiet for the Hebrews. Nothing appeared to be happening. Where was Moses? They got impatient. Then they got scared. Some of the men got together and confronted Aaron. Aaron didn’t know what to do to calm them. If he had been thinking clearly, he would have calmed them and explained that Moses would return shortly. But instead he got the idea to collect all their gold jewelry that the Egyptians gave them. The Hebrews came in droves to donate it. Aaron melted it all down and then shaped it into a calf.
Why a calf? The Hebrews’ former neighbors, the Egyptians, worshiped those animals and bulls as fertility gods. So it wasn’t so much of a stretch for the Hebrews to “borrow” the image of a calf they could see to call on “god.” Oh the partying and revelry! What a fantastic distraction from the unpleasant experience of feeling terrified and tired of waiting. I am empathetic toward this circus act because I would have joined right in. They weren’t consciously rebelling or rejecting the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who delivered them from the Egyptians.
Yet, “Their great sin consisted in not realizing the Presence of an unseen God, while the fears of their unbelief led them back to their former idolatrous practices, unmindful that this involved a breach on the second of those commandments so lately proclaimed in their hearing, and of the whole covenant which had so solemnly been ratified.” (Bible History, Old Testament, 216)
To compare spiritual development with physical development, the Hebrews were in the infancy stage. In this stage, objects and people do not exist to a child who cannot see them, just like my six month-old son who fusses and whines when he can’t see me. The Hebrews were still learning to take comfort not in what God could give or do for them, but in His Presence, and still today, so am I.
What’s your golden calf? When was the last time your fear and impatience prompted you to turn to something other than the living God for comfort?