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"Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for 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."
WHILE Moses was in the mountain alone with God, a strange and wicked thing was done in the camp on the plain.
The Golden Calf
Nuremberg Chronicles, 1493
At first the people were alarmed when they saw the mountain smoking, and heard the thunder. But soon they grew accustomed to it, and when day after day passed, and Moses did not come down, at last they said to Aaron:"
Come now, make us a god that we may worship, and that we may have to lead us. As for Moses, the man who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him."
Aaron was not a man of strong will, as Moses was. When his brother Moses was not by his side Aaron was weak, and ready to yield to the wishes of the people. Aaron said: "If you must have a god that you can look at; then break off the gold earrings that are in your ears, and in the ears of your wives and children, and bring them to me."
| Then the people brought their gold to Aaron; and Aaron melted the gold rings into one mass, and shaped it with a graving tool into the form of a calf, and this he brought out and stood up before the people. Then they all cried out: "This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt." |
And Aaron built an altar before the image, and he said to all the people, "Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord." Perhaps Aaron thought that if the people could have before them an image that they could see, they might still be kept to the worship of the Lord God. But in this he was greatly mistaken.
Adoration of the Golden Calf, Nicolas Poussin, 1629
The people came to the feast, and offered sacrifices; and then they began to dance around the altar, and to do wicked deeds together, as they had seen the people of Egypt doing before their idols. And all this time the mountain was smoking and flashing with fire, almost over their heads!
Worship of the Calf W.C. Simmonds
And the Lord, up in the mountain, spoke to Moses, and said. Hasten, and get down to the camp; for your people have done very wickedly. They have made for themselves an idol, and they are worshipping it now. I am angry with them, and am ready to destroy them all, and to make of your children a great nation." |
And Moses pleaded with the Lord for Israel, and God did not destroy the people; but he sent Moses down to them, holding in his hands the two stone tables on which God had written the Ten Commandments. As he went down the mountain Joshua joined him, and said to him: "I can hear noise of war in the camp. It is not the sound of men who are shouting for victory, nor is it the cry of those who are beaten in battle; it is the voice of singing that I hear."
And in a moment more, as they stood where they could look down upon the camp, there was standing the golden calf, and around it were the people making offerings, and feasting, and dancing and singing.
And Moses was so angry when he saw all the wickedness and shame of his people, that he threw down the two tables out of his hands, and broke them in pieces upon the rocks. What was the use of keeping the tables of stone, he may have thought, while the people were breaking the laws written upon them?
Moses came straight into the midst of the throng, and at once all the dancing and merry-making stopped. He tore down the golden calf, and broke it in pieces, and burned it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and threw it into the water; and he made the people drink the water filled with its dust. He meant to teach the people that they would suffer punishment like bitter water, for their wicked deed.
Then Moses turned to Aaron: "What led you to such an act as this?" said Moses. "Why did you let the people persuade you to make them an image for worship?" And Aaron said, " Do not be angry with me; you know how the hearts of this people are set to do evil. They came to me and said, ' make us a god,' and I said to them, ' give me whatever gold you have.' So they gave it to me, and I threw the gold into the fire, and this calf came out!"
Then Moses stood at the entrance to the camp, and called out: "Whoever is on the Lord's side, let him come and stand by me!" Then one whole tribe out of the twelve tribes of Israel, the tribe of Levi, all sprung from Levi, one of Jacob's sons, came and stood beside Moses. And Moses said to them: "Draw your swords, and go through the camp, and kill every one whom you find bowing down to the idol. Spare no one. Slay your friends and your neighbors, if they are worshipping the image."
And on that day three thousand of the worshippers of the idol were slain by the sons of Levi. Then Moses said to the people, "You have sinned a great sin; but I will go to the Lord, and I will make an offering to him, and will ask him to forgive your sin." And Moses went before the Lord, and prayed for the people, and said: "Oh Lord, this people have sinned a great sin. Yet, now, forgive their sin, if thou art willing. And if thou wilt not forgive their sin, then let me suffer with them, for they are my people."
And the Lord forgave the sin of the people, and took them once again for his own, and promised to go with them, and to lead them into the land which he had promised to their fathers.
And God said to Moses, "Cut out two tables of stone, like those which I gave to you, and which you broke; and bring them up to me in the mountain, and I will write on them again the words of the law."
So Moses went up a second time into the holy mount; and there God talked with him again. Moses stayed forty days on this second meeting with God, as he had stayed in the mountain forty days before. And all this time, while God was talking with Moses, the people waited in the camp; and they did not again set up any idol for worship.
Once more Moses came down the mountain, bringing the two stone tables, upon which God had written the words of his law, the Ten Commandments. And Moses had been so close to God's glory, and had been so long in the blaze of God's light, that when he came into the camp of Israel, his face was shining, though he did not know it. The people could not look on Moses' face, it was so dazzling. And Moses found that when he talked with the people, it was needful for him to wear a vail over his face. When Moses went to talk with God, he took off the vail; but while he spoke with the people, he kept his face covered, for it shone as the sun.
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