The Jews had seen multiple demonstrations of God’s power. He had poured out His wrath upon the Egyptians: ten plagues, culminating with the death of the first-born. They had stood on the banks of the Red Sea and watched as Moses raised his staff, commanding the waters to divide (Exodus 14:21). Suddenly, a corridor like I-35 lay open before them. Later, they watched as that pathway was closed like a coffin, and the powerful Egyptian army was defeated, drowned in the frothing water (Exodus 14:28). Water bubbled up from the Rock, and at dawn, manna, the bread from heaven, a daily reminder of God’s great and gracious powers.
They weren’t blind. Surely, they weren’t that stupid. There was no excuse. But when Moses and Joshua had been on Mount Sinai for forty days, the once-enslaved Hebrews at the foot of the mountain “gathered around Aaron and said to him, ‘Come, make gods for us who will go before us because this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt—we don’t know what has happened to him!’ ” (Exodus 32:1, CSB).
Unbelievably, Aaron, Moses brother, replied 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 that were on their ears and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made it into an image of a calf. Then they said, ‘Israel, these are your gods, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!’ ” With his evil craftmanship complete, Aaron announced, “ ‘There will be a festival to the Lord tomorrow.’ Early the next morning they arose, offered burnt offerings, and presented fellowship offerings. The people sat down to eat and drink, and got up to party” (Exodus 32:2-6, CSB).
But get this! Moses heard the raucous sounds and returned to camp to confront the wickedness. Full of excuses, Aaron said, “You yourself know that the people are intent on evil. They said to me, ‘Make gods for us who will go before us because this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt—we don’t know what has happened to him!’ So I said to them, ‘Whoever has gold, take it off,’ and they gave it to me. When I threw it into the fire, out came this calf!” (Exodus 32:22-24, CSB).
Someone once said, “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay and cost you more than you want to pay.” I guess that’s true. “The wages of sin is death!” (Romans 6:23, CSB) so, “the Lord inflicted a plague on the people for what they did with the calf Aaron had made” (Exodus 32:35, CSB).
Joshua, a spectator to this whole hideous episode, must have made a decision... a decision that would guide his steps for the rest of his days. Joshua learned to hate sin and the brokenness and bitterness that it spawned.
Many years later, at the end of a long and faithful life, Joshua challenged the people of his beloved nation. (He also challenged me and you.) “Fear the Lord and worship him in sincerity and truth. Get rid of the (golden calves) your ancestors worshiped ... choose for yourselves today: Which will you worship... As for me and my family, we will worship the Lord” (Joshua 24:14-15, CSB).