So as has been covered before, Moses was up on the mountain getting instructions for forty days. And while he was gone, the Israelites started getting restless with the need to worship something. So they go to Aaron and complain that they need a god, and nobody knows what’s become of this Moses guy, so could Aaron please make them a new god? So Aaron, God’s chosen fucking priest, goes “Sure thing! Gather up your gold jewelry and I’ll see what I can come up with.”
“Ex: 32:3 So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’”
First of all: gods? It’s one fucking idol. How does it get to be multiple gods? Whatever. Chalk it up to inconsistent storytelling. Nobody really understands this shit anyway, and it’s not the most important thing about the scene.
But that brings me to the second point here: given the context, is this actually reasonable? If the story is to be believed, we have here all these people who have personally witnessed multiple miracles performed by Yahweh. Several of them have met him in person, and supposedly they’ve all heard his voice. He’s threatened death on multiple occasions for worshipping anything other than him, and they have seen him kill the shit out of thousands of people. Aaron himself has been directly carrying out the guy’s orders. Furthermore, they are standing in the shadow of the guy’s mountain where Yahweh has just been putting on a stunning pyrotechnic display, and is currently hanging out at the mountaintop in a perpetual cloud. Now… we’re supposed to believe that these people, having been witness to all of that, believe they can just whip up a god from whatever fucking jewelry they have lying around and think that it’s just as good?! REALLY?! Does that sound at all like something that ACTUALLY FUCKING HAPPENED?!
Say what you want about ancient people. They may have been ignorant, superstitious, and savage. But this scene asks us to accept that, on top of all of that, they were also dumber than a bag of hammers. Sorry, but I’m just not buying it.
If there’s any historical accuracy to this book at all, this event right here seems like a pretty strong hint that the God stuff is complete bullshit. Because in the minds of these people, there was no demonstrable difference between Yahweh and just any old god they had been accustomed to inventing out of thin air. Which means very likely that all the stuff that looks like explicit in-person manifestation of this Yahweh guy were either exaggerated versions of natural occurrences the author couldn’t explain (and so attributed to his favorite god), hallucinations, or completely made up out of whole cloth. That’s exactly how made-up gods work, and the Israelites couldn’t tell the difference between this god and any other made-up one.
But to get back to the story, after Aaron had made the golden calf and the people declared it their god, Aaron built an altar in front of it and declared that the next day they would have “a feast to the LORD.” Assuming the same substitution of “LORD” for “Yahweh” in the translation is in effect (and I don’t see why it wouldn’t be), that seems to imply that these ignorant folks thought the golden calf actually was Yahweh.
Meanwhile, up on the mountain, God tells Moses what is happening and tells him to go back down to the people. Then he adds that he wants to be left alone to nurse his rage at the Israelites for a bit before he just wipes them out and starts over on this whole scheme to give Abraham’s descendants a great nation using only Moses. But Moses pleads with God not to do it, basically arguing that God wouldn’t want the Egyptians going around saying he’d only taken the Israelites out of slavery in order to kill them. I guess God is vain enough to care what the Egyptians are saying about him, because he relents and agrees not to kill all the Jews.
Then Moses heads back down the mountain with his assistant Joshua and the stone tablets God carved for him with the laws of the covenant engraved on them. They hear the sounds of the people celebrating the feast day Aaron had declared for their new golden idol as they approach. when they come into view of the celebration, Moses flies into a rage and smashes the tablets. Then he takes the calf, burns it, grinds it into powder, scatters the powder in water, and makes the people drink it. I’m not exactly sure how one burns and grinds into powder a ductile metal like gold, but maybe it’s just a translation artifact. He could, I suppose, have melted it down, then shaved it into flakes, which would accomplish the same thing.
After this he turns to Aaron and demands to know what the people had done to him to make him commit such a sin. And Aaron turns into such a weasel you can actually picture whiskers sprouting from his face. He basically says “Hey, you know how evil these people are? They told me to make them gods. But all I did was throw the gold they gave me into the fire and out popped this golden calf!” I’m pretty sure Moses didn’t buy it, though. And Moses isn’t done expressing how pissed off he is, either:
“Ex 32:26 then Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said ‘Who is on Yahweh’s side? Come to me.’ And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. 27 And he said to them ‘Thus says Yahweh the god of Israel, “Put your sword on your side each of you, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill his brother and his companion and his neighbor.”’ 28 And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And that day about three thousand of the people fell. 29 And Moses said ‘Today you have been ordained for the service of Yahweh, each one at the cost of his son and of his brother, so that he might bestow a blessing on you this day.’”
Now firstly, it may be worth noting that although Moses said these were orders from Yahweh, the Bible doesn’t actually record God giving the order. So it’s rather ambiguous whether God wanted this done or not. But he certainly shows no disapproval of the action.
Secondly, although it says that all the sons of Levi responded to this order, that can’t really be what happened. After all, “sons of Levi” literally means that these people were descended by blood from Levi. So you couldn’t possibly have “all the sons of Levi” killing their literal brothers, since that would mean everybody responding to Moses’ order was simply killing each other and nobody would be left for him to bless at the end of it all. So the wording here is ambiguous at best.
Thirdly, this is a slaughter roughly equal in magnitude to the 9/11 attacks. Only carried out up close and personal with swords instead of anonymously with airplanes, against people the killers knew and cared for personally and who knew and cared for them in return. Just to put things in perspective.
Lastly, think about the situation here. You have an angry god. You have followers of that god killing people in order to propitiate the god and/or earn a blessing from him. There is a term for this behavior. Can you beat me to it? Do you know what it is? I know it’s one that Christians love to shy away from when it comes to their god, so it might not spring readily to the mind of any believers who read this.
Now don’t go jumping to conclusions: I’m not just spinning this in the worst possible light in order to toss out that nasty phrase. There will be more explicit examples in later posts, so you’ll eventually see how this is a justified claim even if it isn’t immediately obvious now.
Anyhow, after this act of barbarism Moses tells the people that he has to go up to the mountain again and meet with God to atone for their horrible sin (because killing three thousand people wasn’t atonement enough, I guess). So he goes up and begs God to forgive their sin, or else “blot me out of your book,” which I presume to mean destroy him utterly. But God tells him he will blot out whoever has sinned against him, but for now Moses should go lead the Israelites to the land he promised them. Then he sent a plague to the people and told Moses it was time to depart from Sinai. Lastly, he told Moses that he wouldn’t travel among them anymore because, basically, the Israelites were so stubborn and disobedient that if he was forced to put up with their company constantly he’d just kill them all.
Yeah… this is the same god that they keep describing as slow to anger, and full of steadfast love for his people. I think that’s kind of in the same spirit in which Celtic pagans sometimes referred to clearly malevolent faeries as “the Good Folk,” in the hopes that kissing a little ass would convince them to be a little less evil.
From that point on the Israelites stripped themselves of their jewelry. Although the Bible says “from Mount Horeb onward,” despite the fact that these events took place at Mount Sinai. Gasp! Could that be an error?!
Anyway, this seems to have gone on long enough for today. I’m pretty sure that the next post will manage to close out Exodus. As always, take care and be well!