While Moses “remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights” (Exodus 24:18), the Israelites grew weary of waiting. They must have imagined that poor Moses was lost or dead. In one of the most infamous moments in Israelite history, the nation selfishly demanded action... Now!!
How quickly they forgot that God had lovingly liberated them from Egyptian captivity. How quickly they forgot that God was providing water from a dry desert rock and bread from heaven. How quickly they forgot that Moses had been ordained by God to lead them to this place for this purpose and that he had been invited by God to visit the Mountain of God.
“When the people saw that Moses delayed in coming down from the mountain, they 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).
Aaron, Moses’s older brother, was too quick to accommodate their impatience and distrust. “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters and bring them to me,” Aaron commanded. “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” (Exodus 32:2–4).
In Egypt, the calf was a symbol of power and fertility, so it’s not surprising that the Jewish people responded, “ ‘Israel, these are your gods, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!’ When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of it and made an announcement: ‘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 32:4–6).
Meanwhile, on the Mountain, “the Lord spoke to Moses: ‘Go down at once! For your people you brought up from the land of Egypt have acted corruptly. They have quickly turned from the way I commanded them; they have made for themselves an image of a calf. They have bowed down to it, sacrificed to it, and said, “Israel, these are your gods, who brought you up from the land of Egypt” ’ ” (Exodus 32:7–8).
As they scurried down the steep mountainside, Moses and his side-kick, Joshua, “heard the sound of the people as they shouted.”Joshua said, “there is a sound of war in the camp.” Nope, Moses replied, “It’s not the sound of a victory cry and not the sound of a cry of defeat; I hear the sound of singing!” (Exodus 32:17–18).
Sin has consequences. In fact, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). “Moses stood at the camp’s entrance and said, ‘Whoever is for the Lord, come to me.’ And all the Levites gathered around him. He told them, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says, “Every man fasten his sword to his side; go back and forth through the camp from entrance to entrance, and each of you kill his brother, his friend, and his neighbor.” ’ The Levites did as Moses commanded, and about three thousand men fell dead that day among the people” (Exodus 32:26–28).
Let me close with this. Patience is hard. Waiting on God is challenging, but God’s timing is always best. “Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31). “Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer” (Romans 12:12). “Let us not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up” (Galatians 6:9).