As I read about the golden calf that the Israelites made to worship (Exodus 32), the word ‘sneaky’ came to mind.
Golden calf is defined in the Collins dictionary1 as
the pursuit or idolization of material wealth
The golden calf in Exodus 32 is associated with idolatry worship and turning aside from God – God said so himself.
They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.Exodus 32:8 (KJV)
Why Idolatry can be Sneaky
I think of the golden calf as sneaky because it came out suddenly and deceptively became an object worshiped as god. It also reminded me how easily the golden calf can sneak up on the best of us, especially under these circumstances which the Israelites in Exodus 32 experienced:
- When there was a delay (Exodus 32:1) – Moses was up in the mountain for forty days and the people couldn’t wait. They grew impatient and flustered, and needed to do something.
- When we needed something tangible to hold on to (Exodus 32:4,5) – The people were not used to worshipping a God that could not be seen. During that time, the golden calf was a symbol of virility and strength associated with the Canaanite god El2. Simply said, they did not have faith.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.Hebrews 11:1 (KJV)
3. When there was much change in our circumstances – The Israelites had left Egypt, crossed the Red Sea, fought battles, experienced manna from heaven and everything that they experienced was new. While this was no excuse to worship idol and directly disobeyed God’s commandments, it was an unsettling time for the Israelites.
How the Golden Calf looks like Today
The modern day golden calf could be anything that we idolize and even sacrifice to, and they could deceptively not be seen as ‘golden calf’. I could think of a few sneaky golden calves in my life:
- Delay in seeing how my business would take off, and instead of turning to God and the bible, I frantically googled and started following all the gurus and life coaches faithfully
- Fearful that doing God’s work is futile or even financially draining, I impulsively read up on the latest stock trades and double-checked my bank account balances
- Feeling terribly unsettled by the lack of likes on my Instagram account, I started to spend hours researching ‘Instagram Success’
The golden calf could therefore take the form of our money, our fame or our popularity, and requires the sacrifice of our time & energy. And it is sneaky because these are all justifiable or even seems wise since we all need money to survive, we need our business or profile to be known in order to spread any form of message to the world.
Guarding against the Golden Calf
- Our heart needs training
Our heart is said to be the hardest working muscle in our body, and we don’t just take care of our heart physically, we also have to train its spiritual muscle. I’m bad at this, often frantic and turning to google or gurus for answers, but possibly we can try to:
- Practice Pausing – when we are tempted to turn aside to something other than God, pause. This can be a good time for deep breaths and meditation.
- Practice Praying – it feels like praying needs practice to me. Instead of rattling off my wish list or to-do list, I feel that it helps if I journal my prayers. It forces me to slow down and dig a little deeper into the real prayer needs.
- Practice Partnering – partnering with God feels abstract but it is one of my spiritual goals. I’m trying out taking a step out in faith, then praying and waiting to see how God guides in the next step. Somedays this felt real, somedays I wonder if I have too good an imagination – well, I’m a work-in-progress!
Our Community Needs Building
If the community has more faithful people who voiced opposition to the idea of fashioning a golden calf, or a more faithful leader who does what is right and not what’s popular, things would be different. We have to seek out a physical or online community that can help steer us away from golden calves, and not towards.
We should also take responsibility for our golden calves, rather than feebly dismiss it – read how Aaron tried to brush off the matter.
And I said unto them, Whosoever hath any gold, let them break it off. So they gave it me: then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf.Exodus 32:24 (KJV)
While Aaron’s reaction understated the severity of the matter, it seemed like something that anyone of us would do when confronted. Character takes time to build, just as Moses had matured much as a leader since he was first called by God.
Guarding against the Golden Calf
Exodus 32 Journaling Prompt
What have you been spending your time & attention on, and is this in line with your values?
How can you step up to be a better member of your faith community?
God, help me to focus on You even when I cannot see You. Guide me each day to learn of your heart’s desire for me as I read the bible, pray and fellowship.
Books on Faith
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1 Collins English Dictionary. Copyright © HarperCollins Publishers https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/golden-calf
2. Jean-Pierre Isbouts. “Why Moses’s brother worshipped a golden calf” National Geographic, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/people-in-the-bible/aaron-brother-moses-worshipped-golden-calf/. Accessed 12 Feb 2021