When the people saw that Moses was slow coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron, and said to him,
“Come, make gods for us
who shall go before us;
as for this Moses, the man
who brought us up out of Egypt,
we do not know what
has become of him.”
Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.”
So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron, who took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf.
The people said,
“These are your gods, O Israel,
who brought you up out of Egypt!”
When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before the and proclaimed, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.”
They rose early the next day, offering burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being. The people sat down to eat and drink, then rose up to revel.
My first response to this story, even when I was a kid, was: how could people be so stupid?
they see the clouds and lightening;
they have experienced the Red Sea parting;
they know who it was that coached them through the Plagues and led them out of Egypt;
yet here they are, asking Moses’ brother to make a god.
Moreover, the whole apparatus of the delusion is there for all to see:
Aaron is plainly going along to get along by making an idol;
and notice the repetition of WHY people follow Moses and now the golden calf:
for bringing them out of Egypt.
Yet, as we know from Proverbs, “without a vision, the people perish,”
and the people are clearly visionless here:
Moses has gone up the mountain.
The people don’t know how long he will be gone;
or if he will return.
Aaron, without Moses to tell him what to say, is directionless.
So, it’s time for a false god and a good party.
That’ll relieve the tension.
This passage is—unfortunately for us humans!—a profound examination of human nature. Too often, when we see some clouds and hear some thunder on the mountain, we get anxious and cry, “Lord, any!”