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The Golden Calf Effect

Aaron, Moses, Golden Calf, Mt. Sinai, Ten Commandments, Idols, tablets of stone, Testimony, ark of the covenant, arc of the covenant

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The episode of the Golden calf (Ex. 32) interrupts the lofty events that shortly followed the confirming of the Sinai covenant. Israel goes from the special treasure of their Creator to the focus of His anger. The intention was that Israel would represent their Creator to the world.

"And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." (Ex 19:6a)

Now Moses is told basically to get out of My way so I can turn them into toast.

"Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation." (Ex 32:10)

The relationship had changed. Moses had to plead for their lives. Although he was mostly successful, many died. The tribe of Levi answered Moses call (Ex 32:26) for righteous judgment and evidently executed the main people responsible. Unfortunately, irreversible damage was done. The original intent was that the Creator would live with His people.

"And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them." (Ex 25:8)

He did this to an extent, but when the Tabernacle was ready to be occupied He directed that the Levites camp between Him and the rest of Israel. The average Israelite was not to come near the Tabernacle. Before this there had been no distinction between the tribes. Now each tribe was to take its place either in the north, south, east or west quadrant (Num 2) except the tribe of Levi.

"but the Levites shall camp around the tabernacle of the Testimony, that there may be no wrath on the congregation of the children of Israel; and the Levites shall keep charge of the tabernacle of the Testimony." (Num 1:53)

God wanted to keep a buffer between Himself and the rest of Israel. The nation as a whole had disqualified itself from being His priests. Only Levi was now in that position. This is a change from the intention of the Sinai covenant. Our sins separate us from God (Isa 59:2). This appears to be what God is illustrating in the positioning of the tribes.

In Jeremiah God claims that He did not command sacrifices when He brought Israel out of Egypt.

"For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices. 23 "But this is what I commanded them, saying, "Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people. And walk in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well with you." (Jer 7:22-23)

However Leviticus 7:38 indicates the offerings were commanded on Mount Sinai.

"...which the LORD commanded Moses on Mount Sinai, on the day when He commanded the children of Israel to offer their offerings to the LORD in the Wilderness of Sinai."

We have to understand that Israel was camped around Sinai for almost a year. The Sinai covenant had been confirmed probably within the first two weeks of their arrival at the base of the mountain. Moses made two trips up the mountain after the confirmation of the covenant. The above quote along with Leviticus 26:46 and 27:34 all use the exact phrase that is used in Exodus 34:32.

"Afterward all the children of Israel came near, and he gave them as commandments all that the LORD had spoken with him on Mount Sinai." (Ex 34:32)

This would place the command of offerings during Moses second forty-day stay on Mount Sinai, immediately after the episode of the golden calf. But one cannot add to a covenant (Gal. 3:15). Jeremiah 7:22 above clearly indicates that our Creator did not intend to require sacrifices and offerings. They were an attempt to burn into the minds of Israel the price of bad conduct. Israel could not be trusted and error required death.

"Oh, that they had such a heart  in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!" (Deu 5:29)

Moses fell on his face and fasted forty days for Israel (Deu 9:18).  So at Moses pleading (Ps 106:23), our Creator made a second set of terms. in an attempt to help them maintain a relationship with Him. The tribe of Levi, that stood with Moses after the golden calf would be permanently assigned to stand between Israel and God. They were to teach, lead and judge Israel according to the combined law.  They were not officially anointed until the tabernacle was complete. (Ex 40:17, Num 1:1, 8:5-19)  This was about seven months after the episode of the golden calf, nine months after the Sinai covenant was confirmed.

" But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. " (Gal 3:23).

The law was intended for the protective custody of Israel. The tribe of Levi became the officers of that law. For a more thorough explanation of this see The Long Term Affect of the Golden Calf.

Does that law still apply to Christians?