Whenever I read the Old Testament, I am always annoyed by the highs and lows of Israel’s rollercoaster relationship with God. He provides for and fulfills His promises to His people over and over, but Israel is led away by her own lust and desires to worship false
gods, wooden and golden images she created herself. Throughout Israel’s history God forgives and gives Israel a hundred second chances because of His great loving kindness (Micah 7:18).
The story of Israel that most makes me scratch my head and wonder, “Seriously?” is the account of the golden calf the people had Aaron make while Moses was talking with God up on the mountain for forty days. The Lord had already revealed Himself to Israel through the ten plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, rescuing His people from slavery, providing them with manna, water, and meat, and guiding them day and night by smoke and fire. He even promised to give Israel the best land in the world. Who wouldn’t trust God at this point?
The Israelites had already complained to Moses about the manna, the lack of meat and water, and being led out into the desert to die. Clearly forty days was too long without asking the Israelites to wait even more. They “tore off the gold rings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron.” (Exodus 32:3). Aaron then made a golden cow for the people to worship. I can’t wrap my mind around how anyone could watch someone craft and mold a cow out of jewelry, and then claim that this was the god who “brought them up from Egypt” (v. 4). The part that really gets me is that the Israelites gave their jewelry over to be made into a god. This means that the god was really an extension of themselves. The Israelites were worshiping their own jewelry and gold – essentially, themselves.
This adultery happens over and over again. Israel prostitutes herself to gods she created with her own hands, because these gods don’t require any change of heart or behavior. What an easy god to follow! Far removed from the time and place of the Old Testament, I can see how incredibly simple it should have been for the Israelites. God told them over and over, “If you follow me and keep my commandments, I will bless you. If you don’t follow me and turn to other gods and worship them, things won’t go well for you. You’ll lose in battles, your crops won’t grow, and you’ll have problems at home.” (Deuteronomy 4:40, Leviticus 26). And history happened exactly as God promised. Over and over. Why was staying committed to God so hard for the Israelites? And why is it so hard for us?
Aren’t the things we fill ourselves with other than God essentially just as extension of ourselves? Do our relationships reflect a desire to grow closer and lead others to God, or are they merely rungs on a social ladder? Does our desire to get a good job and Christian spouse and big house in a nice suburb reflect our desire to glorify God, or a desire to appear as the “perfect Christian” who has it all together? I personally struggle with trying to fill myself with academic honors and achievements because it’s what makes me feel good – for a few days – not necessarily because they honor God. And my striving so hard for academic achievement is just as utterly ridiculous as the Israelites worshiping a golden calf or a wooden Asherah pole. God has provided for me over and over. He has proven His unconditional love through sending His only Son to buy me back from the grips of Satan. Who wouldn’t trust God at this point?
What is the golden calf of your life? Always needing to have a boyfriend? The best clothes? The right relationships with the social elites? I encourage you to dig deep into yourself and figure out what you put before God and from what you get your value and worth. That’s what a false god is – something that you think gives you more value than God does. Find the golden calf of your life!