So the people of the covenant have escaped from Egypt, have evaded capture as they passed through the Red Sea, have been provided by God with food and water in the desert, have defeated a formidable army by the LORD’s blessing, and have finally reached Mt. Sinai.
What was the perspective of the people at this point? (Exodus 19-32)
– Moses has gone up the mountain to something religiousy.
– There seems to be a lot of heavy, dark cloud cover up there.
– Random lightning strikes and thunder claps are happening on top of the mountain.
– Moses said touching the mountain would result in death.
– Moses is probably dead.
– What now?
Though we know the story, and possess no doubt about the wellbeing of Moses, to the people of the covenant, all of this was new. With Moses supposedly dead, nothing stood between the people and the overwhelming and terrifying presence of God.
One theory suggests that the people weren’t trying to replace God with the golden calf, but were trying to replace Moses, their advocate. In this sense, the idol would have functioned as a go-between, insulating the people from the person and presence of God.
(On a side note, as Christians and particularly as Baptists, we often do the same thing. Our golden calf is made of leather and paper, and deep down we feel it keeps us safe from having to deal personally with the infinitely sovereign, infinitely holy, infinitely intimate God we cannot control.)
Moses was not dead. God was not amused. People were slaughtered.
For a Jewish perspective on these events: Check out this post.
For a Messianic Jewish perspective: Check out this other post.