Have you ever decided to leave a situation of what was undoubtedly not good for you only to find yourself wishing to be back in that place of familiarity? All of us have at one time or another. The danger of returning to what we once knew and had often found comfort in is that it often slows the progression of peace, joy, and righteousness down; for many, it will lead them back to some form of bondage. When people cry out for the familiar because the promise of new is taking too long, there will be consequences of that action, for a Christian it may lead to death.
In the book of Exodus, we read an account of Moses leading the people of God out of the bondage of Egypt. Several times during the journey to freedom we see the people complaining to Moses that he and God had brought them out so they would die. Every time things appeared difficult their fear would drive them back to the remembrance of familiarity. The desire to go back to what we once knew is often birthed out of a fear and a need to cope with a situation that seems out of control. We would rather go back to the old way of living where it may have been a time of bondage but it was a bondage we had grown comfortable with.
While these people were in Egypt for generations, they learned of Egyptian worship and customs, and without having a godly leader for many years, they would have likely found themselves worshipping the gods of Egypt, such as the ox-worship called Apis. The mythology behind this ox-worship states that Apis was believed to have been sacrificed and reborn, and the manner of conception was a “ray of light.” We can find all through ancient mythology both Greek and Roman, a twist on the conception, birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as well as the Trinity as it relates to God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit.
When Moses and the people arrived at Mount Sinai, he went up to the mountain to meet with God and during this time, 40 days and nights, God wrote on tablets of stone the commandments of the Lord. During this time the people were supposed to be under the care of Aaron, but they began to rebel against God and asked Aaron to make them a god that they could worship.
Let’s look at this request a bit more. I have often wondered why Aaron chose an image of a calf to represent the requested gods. As I began to do some research, I realized one potential reason why a calf may have been chosen. Remember they witnessed the Egyptians worship various idols and they put special care in Apis, a live bull that was kept in a temple. The bull represented a tangible, living, breathing expression of a god that could not be directly experienced in daily life. Since the people were afraid to speak to God and told Moses to speak for them, perhaps this “calf god” was less threatening to them.
The Egyptian worship of Apis included a belief that he is the calf of a cow impregnated by a ray of light and can never have another calf afterward. Apis also had to have distinctive markings on it described as black, with a white diamond on his forehead, the image of an eagle [the vulture goddess] on its back, the hairs on his tail double, and a scarab under its tongue. Once the Egyptians found this Apis, they would take him to Nilopolis for forty days of feeding during which time only women were admitted to see him, and they would stand facing him and expose their genitals, after this, they were never permitted to enter the temple again.
We can see the correlation between Jesus Christ who was conceived by the Spirit of God and a “ray of light” that impregnated the cow. We also know that Jesus was led out to fast for 40 days and of the calf was taken to a specific place and fed for forty days. Because the history of various kinds of idol worship included all kinds of sexual sins we can surmise there was potential for sexual worship as well because only women could visit this male calf and while visiting they “exposed themselves.”
Fear of Man in Leadership
4 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!" 5 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." 6 Then they rose early on the next day, offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. - Exo 32:4-6 NKJV
The Hebrew word translated to play means to laugh outright or scorn, perhaps the people thought they could make a tangible god as a stand-in for the real thing, saying “This [is] your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!” Then declaring a feast to the LORD. Of course, this isn’t God and we can see the mockery of God in the people’s words and actions, for He had expressly stated in His first commandment to have no other gods before Him nor make an idol or image of one. (Ex 20:2-4)
“21 And Moses said to Aaron, "What did this people do to you that you have brought [so] great a sin upon them?" 22 So Aaron said, "Do not let the anger of my lord become hot. You know the people, that they [are set] on evil. 23 "For they said to me, 'Make us gods that shall go before us; [as for] this Moses, the man who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.' 24 "And I said to them, 'Whoever has any gold, let them break [it] off.' So they gave [it] to me, and I cast it into the fire, and this calf came out." - Exo 32:21-24 NKJV
Fear of man was apparently an issue with Aaron, or he may have felt so outnumbered that he had lost all confidence and faith in what he had experienced on the journey to freedom. There are various opinions on why Aaron made his choice to please the people and not God, but it cost the people dearly. Three thousand men died that day and instead of being repentant for his actions Aaron lied about it or at the least omitted the full truth of his actions. The bottom line is that Aaron was left in charge of the people, he had experienced the supernatural grace and mercy as all the others had and yet when pressure came on him from the people to do something in the absence of Moses he folded! Moses catches the people in the act of idolatry and Aaron puts all the blame on them and even goes so far as to say “I cast it in to the fire, and this calf came out.” Wow! We read in verse four, “he received [the gold] from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf.” It didn’t “pop out” as an idol, it was made as such.
It is all too easy for some to forget the acts of God in their lives that brought them this far, brought them out of their personal Egypt’s, causing them to return to their previous lifestyles. When an individual has come to the saving knowledge of God through faith in Jesus Christ, that person will be required to give up an old way of living and begin a new one and that new life means not returning to the previous one. Jesus said to deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow Him, doing this daily.
All too often we make a one-time hand raising gesture and call it salvation but fail to have a true conversion of heart, thereby not seeing any fruit of salvation. Many Christians call on one man to lead them into the way of worship while avoiding the true living God, therefore, has no real commitment of their own. We can see this clearly when the people refused to draw near to God and have a relationship with Him. If we look closer at Exodus 32:1 we can see the possibility that the people had not known God or credited Him to the glories of their escape from bondage because of their language. When the people saw that Moses hadn’t returned and they didn’t know what happened they sought a new but familiar god.
The people said they didn’t know what happened to the man who brought them up. Their faith was in the “man of God” and not God Himself; this is evident by their quick return to worship something in place of God. When we have had an authentic encounter with the Spirit of the Living God and give the glory to the person He used to bring it forth, we are in serious danger and idolatry.
This is what happened when Paul and Barnabas were used to heal a crippled man in Acts 14. After the man leaped and walked the people, who witnessed the healing said, “the gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” They then credited the gods Zeus and Hermes as the healers and brought oxen intending to sacrifice to them.
There is a real danger of people being in the sin of idolatry when they put a man or women in place of God. This happens more often than we might know. I urge you today if you are relying on your pastor, prophet, or some other person or thing to supply the needs of your faith, today is a good day to repent and return to the One True God.
Heavenly Father, I thank You for the blood of Jesus Christ that made a way for me to approach Your holy throne for mercy and grace. Today, I confess my sin of idolatry in every area of my life. I have been slacking in turning to You, instead of other things that the world has to offer. I confess and repent of the sins of finding comfort in the familiar instead of trusting You to take me through the desert that I might enter the promised land You alone have given me. Help me to make the right choices and to be patient and wait on You knowing that You are not a man that should lie and You will bring to finish that what You have begun in me. In Jesus name, Amen