The Error of Aaron
Robert Wurtz II
And Aaron said to them, “Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf. Then they said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!” So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow is a feast to the LORD.” (Exodus 32:2-5)
“I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.” (Isaiah 42:8 ESV)
Our passage in Exodus is one of the more disappointing segments of the Old Testament. The children of Israel were just getting started in their walk with the Lord when compromise reared its ugly head. They witnessed the incredible demonstration of God’s glory and power at Mount Sinai, but this did not detour them from desiring to change God into the likeness of one of the gods of Egypt.
One of the great challenges for humankind is accepting their Creator as He is without trying to change Him. God can’t be changed, but this doesn’t stop people from reimagining God as something less than He truly is. People want a god that is more agreeable to them and is non-threatening. They don’t want a God who is also a consuming fire.
In ancient times, idols were focal points for deities that people worshipped. To bring this about, pagan worshippers conducted a ceremony to open the idol’s eyes, ears, or mouth. The people believed that the deity or the demon came to live inside the idol they made. When the people worshipped the idol, they worshipped the demon inside the idol or the demon that identified with it. The children of Israel needed to realize that God could not be worshipped in this way.
A lot can be lost in 400 years. The children of Israel lived in Egypt for so long that nobody remembered how to worship God properly. So He planned to instruct them as they passed through the wilderness. This process had barely started when Aaron, under pressure from the people, reverted to the worship practices of Egypt and applied them toward God. The error of Aaron caused incalculable confusion and reinforced the deception that God could be changed to resemble the gods of the land.
Aaron instructed the people, including the sons, to break off their gold earrings. He melted them down and fashioned a calf with them. The sons, like the Ishmaelites, wore earrings in Egypt, which became the substance of their idolatry. One compromise almost always leads to another.
The people wanted to worship according to the style to which they were accustomed. It was customary in Egypt, but now it’s in Israel’s camp. Though the Egyptian army and Pharaoh drowned in the Red Sea, he and his culture influenced them from his watery grave. The Israelites took the gold and the worship techniques from their Egyptian captors. God cannot be glorified by worshipping Him after the pattern of Egypt, a type of this present evil world.
An Ancient Strategy
At the start of the Cold War in 1950, the United States Government warned that the leadership of the Soviet Union believed they could dominate the world once they took over (or entirely influenced) important strategic nations. They could impose their will “without firing a shot” (1). Such is how the enemy has infiltrated many of our churches through the high-speed evangelistic techniques normalized by the 1950s. We woke up one day, and the enemy, through masses of carnally-minded people, was in the camp, changing our worship and preaching, and nobody heard a single shot fired, as it were.
As with the Israelites who refused to turn from Egypt in their hearts, what we’ve experienced in the last several decades is all too familiar. God tests every generation to see if they will serve Him with reverence and Godly fear, and most have not. Did the Israelites, fresh out of Egypt, fear that Golden Calf? Clearly not. It was lifeless and powerless. It was no consuming fire.
God’s pattern is to demonstrate His power and presence among people to establish His reverential fear in them. It happened in Exodus 20:20 to start the Old Covenant and numerous times to start the New Covenant. Peter experienced this fear-inducing manifestation of God when Jesus told them to cast the net on the other side of the boat and gained a miracle fish catch. His reaction was similar to the people of Israel, who were afraid of God at Mount Sinai. “He fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” (Luke 5:8)
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and instruction. Humankind must fear God because He is the Creator of all things. He is all-knowing and all-powerful. He is the judge of all the earth. No one can stay His hand or ask Him what He’s doing. The Israelites witnessed a demonstration of God’s awesomeness at Mount Sinai, and it was more than they were willing to handle. So they told Moses to go up and speak to God for them and then were afraid when he returned with his face glowing. These demonstrations of power and glory were very different than the contrivances of Janees and Jambrees, who withstood Moses with their Egyptian magic.
Understand that the people wanted a harmless god they didn’t have to fear. People are averse to the idea that God should be feared or referenced. They want a god more like a lifeless Golden Calf to which obedience was optional. They didn’t want a demanding god who made demands, had expectations, and will someday judge them.
A Lack of Reverence
Aaron was among the first leaders to diminish God in the eyes of the people. For centuries, humankind thought of deities as idols they could fashion. In Exodus 20, God commanded the Israelites not to make a graven image to worship. But this was all they knew, and they were in no mood to change their minds about how gods are worshipped. So when Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, Aaron compromised and led the people into a terrible sin. He made a golden calf with which to play. Shockingly, he declared a feast unto the LORD and used that idol to direct their worship of The One True God. They wanted the playful style of worship they knew in Egypt, but God angrily rejected it.
But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “THE PEOPLE SAT DOWN TO EAT AND DRINK, AND ROSE UP TO PLAY.” (1 Cor. 10:5-7)
In this context, the meaning of the Hebrew word for play is to jest or make light of something serious. In Exodus 32:6, it could imply sexual or licentious behavior. People want a god they can change, not the God that can change them. The pattern is as old as Israel. People want a god that will let them sin and play when they worship it: a god they can misbehave around rather than behave properly.
In Joshua, God told Israel to clear the Promised land of pagans and their paganism because He knew it would influence His people to adopt their worship methods and lifestyle. Sadly, they disobeyed and ended up worshipping the very gods they were supposed to eradicate. As a result, another generation who knew not the LORD or the works He had done in Israel arose. In time, none remained who remembered the way things used to be; they had all passed away. Imagine a generation that believed the LORD (YHWH) could be worshipped in the same way as Baal, Asteroth, or a Golden Calf?
Perhaps the most dangerous misstep is adopting a form of worship that draws attention to the singers, musicians, and the worship experience itself. As a result, the worship gets divided between the group and God. Moreover, the “experience” can be so moving and emotional that God’s manifest presence could be absent but unnoticed. And because none now live who remember God’s presence bringing conviction of sin, the message continues that God “loves you just the way you are,” which is more Billy Joel than Jesus. We come to God as we are, but we cannot stay that way.
Isaiah 42:8 reminds us that our God is the LORD (YHWH), and His glory He will not share nor give His praise to carved idols. Yet the enemy has used carnally minded people to attempt to do precisely that in many modern churches. The Russians believed they could take America without firing a shot. The strategy was to make almost imperceptible changes to the American mind until they had us right where they wanted us. We see this happening today. It used to be the Soviets who squashed free speech or persecuted Christians. Now it is happening in the West, and nobody heard a shot fired.
The older people in America and the West know how things used to be, but the younger generation only knows their modern experience. The same is true in the churches. The older people remember when worship was focused entirely on God, or at least that was the goal. The objective was to worship God and Him alone. As people demand a worldly style of worship, the error of Aaron is at the doors once again. We need leaders who recognize compromise and refuse to bow to the crowd’s demands. While we await Jesus’ return “from the Mountain” (as it were), may we remain faithful to God and preach and teach Him as He truly is, not how carnal minds attempt to fashion Him.
Check out these articles:
(1) U.S. Government Printing Office, American Foreign Policy, Basic Documents, Volume 2, 1950, P. 1945
(2) Sarah Raymond Cunningham, Dear Church: Letters From A Disillusioned Generation, 2006, P. 38
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