The Biblical Examiner
An Examination of Biblical Precepts Involved in Issues at Hand
(Originally Published in 1993)
God's Glory & the Development of Sin
While Moses was 40
days on the mount before the Lord, the people below
built a calf to represent the Lord and to go before
them as the Lord had done. In v. 7, the Lord told
Moses to go down to the people who had corrupted
themselves (Ja 1:14).
Although He could have, the
Lord did not send Moses down in time to prevent the
sin; in His sovereignty, God had a purpose in allowing
the sin to mature. Thus, the Sovereign God of the
Universe, Who can stop sin at any time, is the One
allowing sin to mature. Furthermore, no one can fault
His actions, Rom 9:15ff (19, 20). The world is not out
of control today any more than it was when Moses was on
the mount and the people were building the calf. The
Lord not only can restrain sin as He pleases, but He
also makes sin serviceable to the praise of His Own
glory. Hence, all things move
according to God's predetermined counsel to fulfill His
perfect will. (Cf. Acts 2:23; 4:28 & Rev 17:17. Also,
Rom 11:36; 2 Cor 4:15; 1 Pe 2:9; 1 Pe 4:11; Rev 4:10,
11; 19:6, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent
Though this seems to be a
strange thought from an idolatrous situation, let us
look at the good from the calf. There were several
things accomplished for God's glory when He permitted
the golden calf:
I. God brought Israel here
to prove them: Exo 20:18-21.
Here at the foot of the
mount, the Lord proved their heart. He proved that: A)
their words did not reflect what was in their heart; B)
the law could not change the heart; C) their confidence
in God's servant, Moses, was very superficial; D) God's
people were still Egyptian at heart: "Circumstances do
not make us what we are, they reveal what we are," and
E) God (and only God) can take hardened, Egypt-filled
sinners and make of them a people that will serve Him
and bring glory to His name. Israel was thus an
unmistakable picture of the Church, Eph 3:8-12.
The Lord, by His sovereign
grace, takes whom He will, makes of them what He will,
and no one will say to Him, What doest thou? (Dan 4:35;
cf. Ro 11:33, 36; 1 Co 2:16.)
Assuredly, the Lord will
prove what His people are made of, the proof will be
before the whole world and the test will come at the
most unexpected time. He will prove a number of
things, eg. to whom is our loyalty, God or man? what is
our attitude toward His law and toward men He has
raised up to places of authority? The list of things
proved by the Lord is endless, for only the Lord knows
what evil lies dormant in the heart of man, Jer 17:9.
The Lord knows the heart; He will providentially
command situations to prove what wickedness lies
therein that it might be brought into subjection unto
Christ, Jer 17:9; Ph 3:15.
And as pastors, the Lord
will bring to pass things in the lives of our people so
we will know what areas need strengthening, Eph 4:12.
II. The calf proved to the
people their corruption and distance from the Lord's
demands upon them. Moses will return and give a great
many ordinances concerning the tabernacle and
sacrifices. The people will be unable to protest
anything in the law, for the memory of the calf and the
3000 people who died will be heavy upon them. As Moses
gives the many stringent and sundry laws, the people
will have on their conscience the guilt of their sin
here in the shadow of the mount, under the glorious
cloud of God's presence.
III. The calf proved who
was on the Lord's side, 32:26. The calf identified
the repentant among God's people: 3,000 refused to
repent and were executed. (Evidently, the 3,000
continued in their "pagan festivities" after Moses
appeared & called Levi to take up the sword of God's
vengeance against the sin, v. 29 [consecrate, "fill
your hands" with the sword]. Thus 3,000 out of the
600,000 who came out of Egypt, openly mocked God [Who
will not be mocked], God's law and God's man.)
IV. The calf was the first
proof of God's intolerance of sin among His covenant
people: 3,000 men were executed for their wickedness.
Note: 1), it was not the former Egyptians who desired
to mix the worship of Jehovah with paganism. Rather, it
was the men of Israel. The mixed multitude fell
to lusting in Num. 11, but that was after the calf. We
can justly condemn the mixed multitude for
leading in lust for the good things of Egypt in Num 11,
but the men of Israel led the way to lust in Exo 32.
We can safely assume the mixed multitude was
involved with the calf, but the blame was not placed
upon them. 2), men, there is no mention of women
slain, although obviously the women had participated,
32:28. Thus the Lord emphasizes the tremendous
responsibility placed upon men. 3), the people see
that their God is not after their own imagination. Up
to this time, the Lord had "winked" at their sin. No
more! The people had sinned at the waters of Marah (Ex
15), the giving of the manna (16:18) and the waters of
Massah and Meribah (17:7), but no one had yet lost his
life over sin. Only a few weeks prior to the calf, the
law had been given in the hearing of all the people,
and with the law entered death (cf. Ex 20 & Romans
[7:7]). With the calf, the Lord starts to slay those
who presumptuously disregard His law, Num 11; Heb 12,
&c. Now the people start to see that, unlike Egypt's
gods, their God is a jealous God and One to be feared.
Those who mock God and His law now face certain death.
V. Undoubtedly, out of the
whole situation, Aaron holds the most hope for us.
A) Aaron would be very
humbled by this experience. Consider what was going
through Aaron's mind as Moses dressed him in the high
priest's garments after the affair with the calf. How
well we "remember" past sins which are now
embarrassing, and stand amazed in the presence of the
Lord that He could use us in His service. Massive
failures like Aaron's with the calf tend to keep one
humble. Major problems develop when we forget from
where the Lord delivered us, Isa 51:1. Did Aaron ever
forget from where the Lord brought him? The Lord can
use the godly memory of ungodly activity.
B) Aaron shows us that God,
more often than not, uses people in spite of
themselves, not because they are good. God's choice of
Aaron as His high priest was not based upon his good,
firm character or because he was such a good man: Aaron
quickly and willingly followed the people into
idolatry. Aaron had an extremely week personality; he
was easily led astray by his sister against Moses
later, yet God chose him and his line to be the high
priest for the Most High God.
Hence, Aaron proves that God
is not restricted by man's weakness and frailties.
God's grace is sufficient to forgive sin and "make a
silk purse out of a sow's ear." What the Lord did
through Aaron, though he sinned with the calf, assures
that God can use anyone, Pro 28:16. God reminds us
throughout His word that He, by His sovereign will
alone, chooses people, and no person is set apart by
the Lord because of anything special in himself.
VI. Levi was the only tribe
to join Moses. Unknown to Israel and Levi at this
time, Levi was going to be the priestly tribe. The
story of Levi their father, would have been well known
in Israel. Dinah, the only daughter of Israel named in
Scripture, had been violated. Simeon and Levi, in their
wicked, uncontrolled anger, took it upon themselves to
avenge the evil. They turned their back upon
godliness, chose blood over God, lied, digged down a
wall, slew Hamor, Shechem and all the male inhabitance
of the city of Shechem, took the spoil unto themselves
and caused Israel to stink before the surrounding
nations, Gen 34:30. Simeon's and Levi's ungodly zeal
is cursed by their father, Israel, Gen 49:5-8.
Levi mocked God and
godliness because of a blood relationship, so before
Levi's sons could be established as God's
representatives to the nation of Israel, Levi had to
show proof of "conversion." Will the sons of Levi be
willing to place God's honour and glory over blood?
When presented with the choice in Ex 32:26, all the
sons of Levi sided with Moses and the Lord against the
rest of Israel. Levi's commend, vs. 27, 29, is quite
similar to the one in Deut 13:1-11. Without exception,
the Lord required the execution of all who openly
served false gods and/or attempted to influence others
away from the true God. Moses tells Levi that blood
relationship cannot hinder obedience to the command-
word of God; Levi willingly and completely obeys God,
becomes a sweet savour before the Lord and God
bestows a blessing upon him.
Before Levi could be
established as God's representatives in the people's
eyes, his love for the Lord above his family had to be
tested and proved, v. 29. The calf proved that Levi's
heart and personality had been changed by the Lord
(cf., Ph 2:13), and he now loved and honoured God.
Levi passed the test, was blessed of the Lord and
established as the chief godly tribe.
Note in passing that God
presents absolutely no opportunity to blame one's
parents for his own sin. If the tribe of Levi had not
stood with Moses ("I am a sinner because of my dad's
sin, so I don't have to be responsible"), God would
have raised up another tribe and Levi would have been
slain as were the others, cf. 1 Pet 1:18. (Every man
is drawn away of his own lust...)
VII. Moses was proved,
32:10 (cf. Num 14:12).
Could Moses have succumbed
to God's offer? Notice that the Lord gave Moses the
choice before Moses saw the people's actions. Would he
have made the same choice after he saw the evil of the
people? The answer to these questions would be
pointless [God-forbidden abstract theology]. We do
know that the Lord takes the unqualified and qualifies
them, 2 Cor 3:5, 6; we know that the Lord will not
suffer His people to be tempted above that which they
are able to endure, and will, with the temptation, also
make a way of escape. He will not place upon them more
than they are able to bear, 1 Co 10:13. In other
words, the Lord called Moses and qualified him for
God's calling, part of which was faithfulness on Moses'
part. Note: Moses' face did not shine after the first
giving of the law but after the second. Thus it was
after Moses passed his test that his face shown. God's
people are glorified through, not apart from, testing.
God puts the fate of the nation into the hand of
Moses, that he may remember his mediatorial
office, and show himself worthy of his calling...
[W]ould [Moses] be willing to give up his own
people, laden as they were with guilt, as the
price of his own exaltation[?] ...The
preservation of Israel was dearer to him than the
honour of becoming the head and founder of a new
kingdom of God... Keil.
How many leaders, both
religious and civil, have sacrificed their people for
the prospect of self-exaltation? How many Christians
have sacrificed their "Christianity" on the altar of
self? Moses stood the test! He chose God's glory over
his own glory. Would we?
Furthermore, God's offer to
Moses shows us that God's will shall be done on earth
as it is in heaven. The Lord will either accomplish
His will through us or find another through which to
work. No person, people, or group of people (church,
denomination, race or nation) has a corner on God.
Hardness in sin may well cause the Lord to lay aside
someone, but He will find another to replace the
VIII. The calf proved the
grace of God in the OT. Moses, as well as later men of
God, would tell the people that it was not for any good
on Israel's part that the Lord called them unto
Himself, but He called them because of His promise to
their fathers. The calf would sharply remind them that
Moses was not stretching the point; if anything, he
understated inherent evil. (Cf. Deut 7:7, 8; 9:5; Eze
36:22, 32; 1 Kgs 9:53, 58, &c.)
All the ensuing prophets of
God had to do was point back to the calf to prove that
the Lord delivered Israel by His loving grace alone.
Moreover, notice Ex 25:2:
while the people are building the calf, the Lord is
commanding Moses to take a freewill offering of the
people to build His "dwelling place" (tabernacle) of
tremendous value. Their memory of their great sin with
the calf, the wrath of God (3,000 died) and the
forgiving mercy of God in renewing the covenant would
cause them to give freely the great amount needed to
construct the dwelling place of the Lord among them.
Their gratefulness for the mercy and grace of God
caused them to willingly give over and above the needed
wealth to the Lord, 36:5-7.
IX. The calf proved that
the Lord is not restricted by man's sin, for neither
Aaron's nor the people's sin could change God's plan.
He had chosen Israel as His holy nation; He had
appointed Aaron and his sons as His head of the nation,
and sin did not force God to change His plan.
Moreover, God chose Aaron (and Israel) knowing his
weakness. No doubt we restrict God far too much. Sin
never has and/or never will thwart God's plan, for
abundant sin only means more abundant grace, Ro 5:20.
X. The calf proved the
power of prayer and God's willingness to show mercy.
Moses prayed and the Lord showed mercy to Aaron and to
a people hardened in sin. Note: A), even though the
Lord showed mercy, the people did not avoid the results
of their sin. The people had to drink of their sin (v.
20, cf. Pro 14:14). B), there is a "point of no
return," Jer 15:1. Israel's hardness in sin resulted
in their refusal to enter Canaan and their death in the
wilderness. Has America reached that "point" with its:
faithless Christianity (which has no power to influence
society), open sodomy, unlimited murder (abortions),
breakdown of Godly authority in the home, and
replacement of godly law with psychology?
Yet on the positive side, we
see a glorious promise of the Lord doing for and
through the children what the parents were unable to do
because of their "Egyptianization." This is our hope
today! Our present generation is so "paganized" that
there is little hope for them, but their children can
be raised up with a godly, "Christianized Worldview."
My! how we need men today to
stand in the gap and pray for a people hardened in sin,
for who knows the mind of the Lord or the limits He has
placed upon sin? Cf. Gen 18:22, but Abraham stood
yet before the LORD.
XI. The calf and the NT
grace of God, Rom 11:6; 1 Cor 4:7; 2 Tim 1:9; Titus
Observe: the calf proved
that: A) OT Israel's deliverance was totally by the
grace of God; B) the Lord, not the people, is the One
Who made Israel different from the Egyptians; C)
Israel's call unto the Lord was an holy calling, not
according to their works, but according to the Lord's
own good pleasure, purpose and grace, and D) God, not
man, controls history, and all history moves according
to God's predetermined counsel to fulfill His purpose.
XII. Many hundreds of years
after the calf, Paul would write that the law could not
change or make man holy before God, Rom 3:20.
Remembering the calf built after the giving of the
Commandments, any argument against Paul's words is
groundless. Certainly the law points out sin, but the
law cannot change man's attitude toward sin; only the
life-changing grace of God given through faith in the
finished work of Christ can change man's attitude, Rom
He gives to human freedom room enough for self-
determination, that He may test the fidelity of
His servants. No human speculation, however, can
fully explain the conflict between divine
providence and human freedom. Keil.
If we say that we have the
faith of the Lord Jesus Christ, James assures us that
it will be "proved."
Strangely enough, the sin of the calf at the foot
of the mountain in the shadow of the glorious cloud of
the Lord's presence holds as much hope for redeemed,
though fallen, man as does any situation in the
Scripture: God, for His Own purpose and praise, is the
One Who permits sin to blossom; God's righteousness
justifies His annihilation of sinful man, but His
loving mercy provides the grace for man to continue on
in service of the King.
['The Biblical Examiner']