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A Quick, Compelling Bible Study Vol. 132: Golden Calf Story - Details You Forgot

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Author's Note: Readers can find all previous volumes of this series here. The first 56 volumes are compiled into the book "Bible Study For Those Who Don't Read The Bible."  Part Two, featuring volumes 57-113, will be published later this year.


Thanks for joining our study about the famous Golden Calf. A violent story recorded in Exodus 32 of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. A “bumper sticker” summation is: “You make God angry - you suffer.” My interpretative subtitles try to enhance the paraphrasing and Scripture quoting. And so begins this fateful saga when:

God’s people were impatient and lacked trust.

Remember that God miraculously delivered the Israelite people from Egyptian bondage — commanded by Moses, God’s chosen leader. Shortly after, Moses climbed Mt. Sinai to meet with God and received the Ten Commandments. 

Meanwhile, the people were waiting in the desert and grew impatient for Moses to descend the mountain — “forty days and forty nights,” according to Exodus 24:18. Long enough for the Israelites to lose faith in Moses and God. Thus, the people complained to Aaron, the high priest and brother of Moses, saying: “ ‘Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him’ ” (Exodus 32:1).

Aaron was a weak leader who did not stand up for God or his brother Moses and encouraged idol worship.

Aaron responded: “ ‘Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.’ ” Aaron “took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool.” Then the people said, “ ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt’ ”(Exodus 32: 2-4).


But Aaron did not condone the people or the idolatrous calf. Worse, “he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “ ‘Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord’ ” (Exodus 32: 5- 6). Aaron hosted a debaucherous hoedown to celebrate the calf and worship a false god. 

God fumed with anger as He watched. (Yes, God watches everything.)   

“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go down, [the mountain] because your people whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf ..” The Lord continued, “I have seen these people and they are a stiff-necked people” (Exodus 32: 7-9). 

God is enraged and says to Moses: “ ‘Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation’ ” (Exodus 32:10). (Yikes! Don’t mess with God.)  But fortunately...

Moses was a skilled diplomat who reasoned and negotiated with God - Part 1.

“But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand?’ ” (Exodus 32:11).

Moses warns of international embarrassment to change God’s mind.

Bravely, Moses reminds God what the Egyptians would think about Him if He destroyed the Israelites after bringing them out of Egypt. Moses asks God: “ ‘Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people’ ” (Exodus 32-12). (Imagine telling God why He is wrong!)


Then, Moses reminded God of His promises.

“ ‘Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’ ”

Mission accomplished for Moses: “Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened”  (Exodus 32:14).

Time for Moses to see his people.

Moses descends the mountain holding the “two tablets” of the Ten Commandments written in the hand of God. When Moses “saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned, and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain.” Then Moses burned the calf, “he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it” (Exodus 32:15-20). (Also, don’t mess with Moses.)

Moses confronted brother Aaron.

He asked Aaron: “ ‘What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?’ ” Aaron tap danced lame excuses, including, “ ‘You know how prone these people are to evil.’ ” However, “Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control..” (Exodus 32: 21-24).

In the name of God, Moses unleashed violence.  

At the camp entrance, Moses says, “ ‘Whoever is for the Lord, come to me.’ ” The Levites responded. Then Moses said: “ ‘The God of Israel says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’ ” The Levites killed “about 3000” people.


Later, Moses said to the killers: “ ‘He [the Lord] has blessed you this day.’ ” Next, Moses unveiled his action plan. He told the people: “ ‘You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin’ ” (Exodus 32:26-30).

Moses negotiates with God - Part 2. 

Back up the mountain, Moses asked God: “ ‘Please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book [of life] you have written.’ The Lord replied to Moses, ‘Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book’ ” (Exodus 32:31-32).

That was a critical exchange and foreshadowed Jesus. Moses offered to sacrifice himself for the sins of his people, but God rejected his offer. Then later, on the cross, Jesus sacrificed Himself for the sins of his people. (Difference: Jesus is the Messiah, Moses was only God’s servant.) 

God gives Moses his mission. 

God says, “Now go, lead the people” to the promised land, “my angel shall go before you.” Then God sent a plague for the sinners who “made the calf” (Exodus 32:34-35).

Oy vey, what a story! We learn that God does not tolerate idol worship. And today, “idols” can mean money, drugs, gambling — whatever you worship more than Him. 

Finally, trust the Lord, don’t be impatient. He watches you sin, and there are consequences. 

Myra Kahn Adams is a conservative political and religious writer with numerous national credits. Her book, "Bible Study For Those Who Don't Read The Bible,” reprints the first 56 volumes of this popular study. Myra is also Executive Director of, a ministry dedicated to education about the Shroud of Turin. Contact:  or Twitter @MyraKAdams.


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