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What the Bible says about Golden Calf
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Genesis 46:1-7

By their own choice, the family of Israel went into a self-imposed exile, from Canaan to Egypt. We see in verse 3 that God Himself wanted this to occur. He had plans for Israel, and the Israelites had to go through this period of Egypt as part of that plan. They did not realize at the time that this voluntary sojourn in Egypt would lead to their forced slavery. Several generations would pass until the time they would be put under bitter bondage, when the Pharaoh would go so far as to call for all the sons of Israel to be killed after their birth.

It was only by God's mighty power in the Exodus that they were ever able to leave Egypt; they could not have done it on their own. In their minds, they were half-Egyptian by that time, perhaps even more. They really did not want to leave. Sure, they loved the idea of freedom, but as soon as they left Egypt, they wanted to go back.

It is ironic how hard it was for them to return to Canaan because they had forgotten that their real homeland was in the land of Canaan, not in Egypt. They had taken the place of their exile as home. They had become so enmeshed in the culture of Egypt that they considered it their own. We see this when, only a month out, they forced Aaron to bring some of that culture back into their lives in the form of a Golden Calf.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
How to Survive Exile

Exodus 32:1-5

Exodus 32:1-4 illustrates how one can twist something into idolatry that is not directly connected to worship. On the surface, the Israelites were not really seeking a change of gods, but a change of leaders. Some did not like Moses, and besides, he had disappeared. In their impatience, they moved to entrust their leadership to one who could introduce them to a god similar to what Moses had done. However, they immediately regressed to a god of Egypt because that was all they really knew.

Nevertheless, God and Moses were highly offended because, to them, making the Golden Calf was an Israelite attempt to define God's nature and to control Him according to their desires. A man wrote in an email that he did not care whether the Bible said not to worship as the pagans do through the use of Christmas and Easter. He was going to do it anyway because it was his way of praising God. He is worshipping a god of his own design. He is doing the same thing the Israelites were, except that he carries his false image in his mind.

In a similar way, the pope takes the people's ornaments of gold, silver, ivory, and precious stones, makes a crucifix or Madonna, and says it is only to keep God in mind. The principle, however, is exactly the same. It will not be long before people associate the image directly with God, and they need it to perform their prayers of praise and request. In this, the first and second commandments are directly broken.

The carnal emailer wrote, "It is my way of praising the Lord" (emphasis added). The carnal Israelites in Moses day proclaimed "a feast to the LORD" (Exodus 32:5). Both justify themselves based on a false image of God's nature. In contrast, the spiritual God declared that the Israelites were corrupting themselves by worshipping the Golden Calf, and He showed His displeasure by destroying them. People corrupt themselves by defining God's nature to their own ends.

Mark 7:6-7 defines this travesty further: "This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men." Jesus joined battle with manmade supplements to God's Word, the works of men's hands. People keep traditional religious holidays in God's name, but He is not in them. Despite the outward appearance of sincere piety in keeping them, they are a lie because they simply are not true to God's nature. Celebrating them contradicts a Christian's commitment to truth.

The traditions of which Jesus spoke directly distorted the law of God and thus the image of God. The law is a description of God's character, the image He wants us to carry in our minds and follow in our conduct. Christ repudiates every addition, subtraction, and distortion elevated to a specious "divine" authority.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Second Commandment

Exodus 32:2-10

The Israelites' lack of faith while Moses was on Mt. Sinai made them feel insecure. Moses was gone less than 40 days when the Israelites fashioned a calf of molded gold to substitute for the invisible Creator God. In their own minds, they had reduced God to something they could control and call upon when convenient. Those who repented were ashamed at what they had done.

Martin G. Collins
The Second Commandment

Exodus 32:6

What happened to the God that brought them out of Egypt? Burnt offerings and peace offerings are symbols of worship. They started worshipping the calf. They started giving it honor, reverence, and respect.

"...And the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play." This does not have an innocuous connotation. "They sat down to eat" indicates gluttony. "They sat down to drink" suggests over-imbibing and drunkenness. "And they rose up to play" refers to fornication and sexual "play" beyond the pale of marriage.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Nature of God: Elohim

Exodus 32:7-10

God was not faking His anger. To say He was mad is to underestimate the intensity of His anger. God does not mislead people by feigning a reaction. He was truly upset by what the Israelites had done. As this occurred early in their journey, it shows the concept of God's nature that they brought with them out of Egypt. They conceived His nature—His very Being—to be something no greater than an uncomprehending, dumb beast that had nothing in common with them, except that it was alive and a mammal.

In our Western cultures, we tend to see God very narrowly, which is quite different from the Bible's approach to His nature. What or who a nation worships is very important to the quality of life within that nation. It will determine the nation's morality, its kind of government and its operation, its educational system, and its economics. It will determine much of its entertainment, music, literature, architecture, art, clothing fashion, and its vision of the future.

What an individual worships will determine what he will do with his life, how it will be lived, and what will be important to him.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Nature of God: Elohim

Leviticus 16:1-2

Even as the instructions in Leviticus 16 follow a significant failure on the part of the priesthood, we can also credibly link the Day of Atonement with an infamous failure of the whole nation, the Golden Calf incident. By piecing together the dates and spans of time from the scriptural record, a significant possibility arises. Notice these time markers:

» Israel left Egypt on the fifteenth day of the first month (Exodus 13:3-4).

» Sometime within the following week—between the sixteenth and the twenty-second day—the fifty-day count to Pentecost began.

» It is generally accepted that Pentecost occurred when God gave the law to Israel from Mount Sinai. No verse directly says this, but the text puts Israel at Sinai in the general timeframe of Pentecost. Exodus 16:1 shows that Israel was already near Sinai on the fifteenth day of the second month. Israel was still camped at Sinai “in the third month” (Exodus 19:1), when Pentecost occurs.

» After giving the law, Moses was on the Mount with God for forty days and nights to receive the tablets of stone (Exodus 24:18; Deuteronomy 9:9).

» When Moses came down and saw Israel worshipping the Golden Calf, he broke the stone tablets and spent a second period of forty days and nights beseeching God not to destroy Aaron and the rest of the nation (Deuteronomy 9:15-20).

» Moses returned to the mountain for a third forty-day period to receive a new copy of the stone tablets (Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 10:10).

The three forty-day periods mean that there were 120 days between Pentecost and the new copy of the tablets. Adding the fifty-day count to Pentecost brings us to 170 days. The count to Pentecost began between the sixteenth and twenty-second days from the beginning of the year, so the time between Abib 1 and the new copy of the tablets was between 186 and 192 days. This span of days is significant because the Day of Atonement falls on the tenth day of the seventh month, 187 days into the Hebrew calendar.

The Day of Atonement, then, may have occurred when Moses returned with his face reflecting God's glory (Exodus 34:29-32). It may also have been the day when he gave the law to Israel a second time, after their blatant sin. Again, this timeline is not definitive, but we are in the ballpark.

If this timeline is valid, then the Day of Atonement contains a reminder of a colossal failure, such that the law had to be inscribed a second time by the finger of God. God does not waste effort, and He does not repeat Himself or duplicate things unnecessarily. Thus, the Day of Atonement could well provide a reminder that the whole nation was on the brink of destruction, and it was through God's mercy and Moses' intercession that the people and high priest were not all blotted out.

It is no wonder that the Day of Atonement is such a solemn day! It is tied to the failure of Aaron's sons, and perhaps to the more widespread failure of the nation, resulting in the addition of the sacrificial law. It may also have been when the Creator had to repeat His holy law. The law defines sin, and breaking it requires atonement. When the author of Hebrews 10:3 writes that the sacrifices were a reminder of sins each year, he may have had some highly significant national failures in mind.

David C. Grabbe
Who Fulfills the Azazel Goat— Satan or Christ? (Part Four)

Leviticus 16:29

On the Day of Atonement, God requires that absolutely no work be performed (Leviticus 16:29; 23:28-31; Numbers 29:7), symbolizing that human effort is completely useless in making the proper atonement needed to keep living after sin. The Israelites could do nothing but observe what occurred at the Tabernacle, watching as the young goat was led away with all their sins. Likewise, we can do absolutely nothing to add to Christ's atoning work. Thus, it is a day without work for us as well.

Israel's works nearly condemned the nation to obliteration. In particular, the Golden Calf was a work of Aaron's hands (Exodus 32:4-5). No matter how he tried to pass it off, he deliberately fashioned an idol out of gold, something he had to work at. Similarly, the work of Nadab's and Abihu's hands included offering profane fire (Leviticus 10:1). In Haggai 2:14, God remarks on Israel's spoiling of everything she puts her hands to: “'So is this people, and so is this nation before Me,' says the LORD, 'and so is every work of their hands; and what they offer there is unclean.'” The works of men always contain defilement, so on the day when God removes the filth, no work can be done, lest more corruption be introduced.

The only work permitted on the Day of Atonement was performed by the high priest and by the man who led the azazel away, and both had to have an atonement made for them. For us, it is a day of solemn remembrance of the perfect work of our High Priest, who gave us precious access to the Father and removed our sins.

Atonement is also a day of afflicting one's soul. This requirement could serve as a reminder of the fasting Moses did during his interactions with God. There is overwhelming gravity in all that was involved when he fasted for forty days on back-to-back-to-back occasions. Two of those times involved meeting directly with God, receiving a pattern for life from His incomparable mind. The middle period of fasting reflects how seriously God regarded the sins and the enormity of what was at stake due to Aaron's and the nation's transgressions.

David C. Grabbe
Who Fulfills the Azazel Goat— Satan or Christ? (Part Four)

1 Kings 12:26-33

The religion of Israel began with a man, Jeroboam I, who changed the true worship of God.

• He established a feast in the eighth month to replace the true Feast of Tabernacles in the seventh.
• He may have replaced the Sabbath with Sunday worship.
• He replaced the Levitical priesthood with men of his own choosing.
• Lastly, he replaced God with golden calves in Bethel and Dan.

A religion with such a beginning was doomed to fail, bringing the nation down with it.

When religion is ungodly, its power is destructive, and every institution in the nation suffers. For instance, Amos 2:7 describes a deliberate act of ritual prostitution in a pagan temple: "A man and his father go in to the same girl, to defile My holy name." What was the rationale behind this perverse, immoral act?

Because Baal was neither alive nor a moral force, his worshippers felt they could communicate with him only by ritual actions that portrayed what they were asking him to do. Since Baal was, like almost all ancient deities, a fertility god, the human act of intercourse demonstrated that they wanted Baal to prosper them. But what was its real effect on the participants and the nation? Ritual prostitution only served to erode the family, eventually leading to the destruction of the nation.

Baal was different from his adherents merely in that he was above them. God's difference from us is that He is holy; He is moral and we are immoral. After we accept His calling, He commands us to become moral as He is.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part Two)

Psalm 69:32

Seeking God makes the heart live. How many times have we seen heart, spirit, mind, and thoughts in the same context? Is that not what we want in this relationship with God? We want our heart to live. What is it that makes it live? It is the Spirit of God energizing it because of the close communion.

A biblical example of this is when Moses went up on the mount to be with God for forty days and forty nights. While he was gone, the Israelites made the Golden Calf. When Moses came down from that close association with God, he came down with his face glowing, shining, reflecting the glory of God through close communion with Him all those days. This situation is a form of what the psalmist means about the close communion with God. Seeking Him, dressing and keeping the relationship, and submitting to Him are what make the heart live because His Spirit is flowing into it. When that happens, we are living the life He lives, what the Bible calls "eternal life." Eternal life is to live as God lives.

We are seeking to have a relationship with One who is not far from us. He is close to us—in us by His Spirit—and He delights to pour Himself into our hearts and minds. We seek Him through desire. Do we really want this One to be our Husband? Do we really want to be like this One we are to marry? If we do not desire Him, He will not reciprocate with any zeal, and the relationship will just sputter. We seek Him by turning our thoughts to Him by communion in prayer and in Bible study.

The desire to be like Him in every way drives our submission to Him in obedience. We are in the midst of a courtship. Can there be any passing of spirit when one is so far from the other that desire is completely absent? Desire rises when we know Him so well that we are constantly thinking about all His wonderful attributes.

This is not a "cure-all" for every spiritual problem. As Christ's letters to the Ephesian and Laodicean churches show, it was so important to Him that He threatened both groups with destruction. One had lost their first love, and the other was complacent. Neither was close to Him.

Are we attracted enough to Him to be affectionate toward Him?

Spending time in fervent communion with God in prayer, Bible study, meditation, and occasional fasting all lead to a pure submission to Him. It enhances the closeness. It is essentially the same process that brings human beings together—talking and experiencing things together as we go through life.

A fervent attitude of sincerely wanting to be like God will bring a positive response. The principles are simple and are as old as the hills. They work because that is how spirit is transferred to create oneness. That is why people marry one another. The same principle and process work in our courtship with Christ.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part Seven)

Amos 9:1-6

The vision in Amos 9 is different from the four visions in chapters 7 and 8. There is no conversation between God and the prophet. The time for talk is over; God simply acts. The situation has moved beyond Amos' ability to intercede—God's time to act has come, and He will not relent.

The background of this final vision is interesting. To make his rule more secure, Jeroboam I devised what the Bible calls "the sin of Jeroboam," the use of religion in the service of politics. Using the system in place in Judah, he counterfeited the holy days, the priesthood, and the temple ritual. On his altar his priests offered sacrifices to the two golden calves, and the king stood by the altar to burn incense (I Kings 12:26-33; 13:1). It apparently became a custom for the king to stand at the right-hand side of the altar at his counterfeit feast in the eighth month.

Who is standing beside the altar in Amos 9? Not Jeroboam, but the Lord! Instead of officiating, God is destroying everything in sight!

Amos also draws on the story of Samson destroying the temple of Dagon by toppling the supporting pillars. If a man tries to pull a house down with his bare hands, he has to undermine it from the bottom, but God is not restricted like a man. He strikes the house down from the top! God, as the Supreme Omnipotent One and the Sovereign Lord, has every right to crush the house of Israel. Since the people had ignored all the numerous warnings He had sent for them to repent, He is now fulfilling His promise.

In the type, the temple of Dagon fell on everyone's head; no one survived (Judges 16:30). The same holds true in this destruction. No matter where the people of Israel flee in the day of calamity, they will not find any rest, ease, safety, or security (Amos 9:2-6). They had tried to get security by building multiple homes for themselves, but God will wipe away this assurance by smashing their houses to bits. Anything that they thought would provide them security in the day of punishment God will destroy.

God is omnipotent. When He decides to judge His people in this very painful way, there is no escaping it. He reminds His people of the covenant they made with Him, that He called them to His service, yet He is also the God of all the earth and Lord of every nation (verse 7). In other words, He has the same responsibility to judge and punish them as He has to the other nations of the world. The Philistines and Syrians, by the way, are two of the nations He judges in Amos 1. God is judging Israel in the same manner.

We find a manifestation of Israel's problem—false reliance that the covenant would save them—in modern-day "Christianity." Many professing Christians believe in eternal security, commonly called "once saved, always saved," a devastatingly subtle deception of Satan the Devil. It is a belief that one can never fall out of favor with God, no matter what one's behavior or attitude.

As members of the true church, we need to beware lest we bring this false idea into the church with us. When God called us, chose us, and granted us repentance, we were baptized. But that does not exclude us from His scrutiny. He is no respecter of persons; He will judge us as justly as He does anyone else on earth.

That we chose to follow God's way of life is good, but having that fact on our spiritual resumé is not enough. God is not interested in past actions but in present performance. What is happening today? Are we living righteously each day? Or, have we fallen from our past performance and profession? What God did in the past to give us the opportunity for salvation does not absolutely bind Him to work everything out to our benefit, if we do not produce the corresponding good works, character growth, and obedience He expects (Ezekiel 18).

He wants us to see that we should not make the same mistake ancient Israel made—that is, take His salvation for granted. We can rely on Him and trust Him, but we also have a responsibility to submit to and obey Him. We must strive to produce the best character possible and be a light so He can say of each of us, "That's My son! He looks and acts like Me! He is definitely part of My Family."

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part Two)

Zechariah 3:1-5

Zechariah 3 shows a future fulfillment of the Day of Atonement. This book was written after Judah's return from Babylon. Even after that national chastening, the people were still carnal, just as Israel is today. Here, the prophet receives a vision of the high priest, Joshua. Notably, the chapter contains the same elements and sequence as Leviticus 16. It starts with the cleansing of the high priest and ends with the cleansing of the nation. What is missing is the sacrificial animals, and this is because, here, God is providing the atonement through a different means.

The essential function of the high priest was to represent the nation to God, which is part of why the Golden Calf incident was so appalling—the nation's representative was directly involved in the sin of idolatry. Similarly, in Zechariah 3:3, the high priest is depicted in filthy garments, yet in verse 4, the filth and iniquity are taken away. The high priest receives rich robes, symbolic of righteousness from God Himself (compare Revelation 19:8).

Verse 5 mentions the high priest's turban. Exodus 28:38 reveals that the purpose of the turban was to bear iniquity, so the high priest symbolically carried iniquity throughout the year. Then, on Atonement, the iniquity was symbolically transferred to the goat of departure and sent away. In Zechariah's vision, the priestly garments are filthy, and a clean turban is needed. The high priest's defilement shows that the nation had been completely unclean. But God restores the high priest, giving His explanation in verses 8-9:

Hear, O Joshua, the high priest, you and your companions who sit before you, for they are a wondrous sign; for behold, I am bringing forth My Servant the BRANCH. For behold, the stone that I have laid before Joshua: Upon the stone are seven eyes. Behold, I will engrave its inscription, says the LORD of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day.

Zechariah makes no mention of animal sacrifices. This removal of iniquity can only come through the Messiah, the Branch mentioned in verse 8 (see also Isaiah 4:2; 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15; Zechariah 6:12).

Leviticus 18:28 speaks of the land becoming defiled and vomiting out its inhabitants. The Day of Atonement is an annual type of bearing away of sin, out of the land, so the land and its people become clean before God. This national cleansing of land and nation, however, did not happen at Christ's first coming. Though the means of that true cleansing was created through His sacrifice, it has not yet been applied. God's cleansing of the land and people of Israel is still future.

The beginning of this vision (verses 1-2) contains another significant factor. Note that God rebukes Satan before He cleanses the nation. There is a possible connection here with Satan's binding (Revelation 20:1-3): In other instances of God rebuking a party, it typically goes beyond divine words and involves divine action (see Psalm 9:5; 68:30; Isaiah 17:1-3). God's rebuke may find its fulfillment in Satan's binding, and Israel's cleansing follows it.

The critical point is that atonementexpiation, satisfaction of the legal debt—can come only through Christ's removal of guilt, not through anything that happens to Satan. The nation is cleansed by God removing the iniquity, not through rebuking the accuser. In this vision, if Satan were only rebuked—and in parallel, if Satan were just bound—the nation would remain in its defiled state, still separated from God, unatoned.

David C. Grabbe
Who Fulfills the Azazel Goat— Satan or Christ? (Part Four)

Romans 4:19-21

There was nothing vague about God to Abraham. His relationship with God was of such intimacy that he thoroughly understood His character and purpose. He knew that he could trust God to act and react within clear parameters. Abraham added up what he knew about God and about His promise that Isaac was the promised seed, reached a conclusion, and acted. He knew God would have either to resurrect Isaac or to provide a substitute. He chose to trust the One he knew has the power and is faithful.

What if, like most Americans, Abraham had just guessed, based upon vague remembrances of a Sunday school class, movies, fiction works, and paranormal inspirations? We can assume that he would have worshipped the idols of his father Terah. A right concept of God is a Christian necessity because a wrong notion of Him is the very foundation, the starting point, for idolatry. In brief, the essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him.

God makes this clear at Mount Sinai after making the covenant with Israel and giving them His law. In Exodus 32, Aaron, confronted by the sinful pressure of his peers, became carried away and made a stupid Golden Calf to rescue them from their perceived dilemma. Aaron and the Israelites revealed that their false concepts of God remained. God had the idol immediately destroyed. Israel sinned in attempting to determine the nature of God based on their own reasoning, and many died in a punishing demonstration of the true God's wrath at this egregious sin.

The Israelites of today are still at it; modern Israelites are fantasizing about God. The idolater simply imagines a conception of God and then acts as though his conceptions are true. He is deceived and certainly does not know the true God as Abraham did.

God seeks out those with whom He desires to make the covenant. At that time, all they understand about Him is in broad terms. They are then to seek Him out to know Him more precisely. Those who make the New Covenant with God are required to seek out intimate details regarding His nature, purpose, and character.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Seeking God (Part One): Our Biggest Problem


 




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