Christian Churches of God
Rebellion Against God’s Laws
(Edition 2.0 20040801-20061211)
So all the people took off their earrings and handed them to Aaron and he made an idol cast in the shape of a calf. This paper has been adapted from Chapters 27-30 of The Bible Story Volume II by Basil Wolverton, published by Ambassador College Press, and The Golden Calf (No. 222) published by CCG.
Christian Churches of God
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(Copyright ã 2004, 2006 Christian Churches of God, ed. Wade Cox)
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Rebellion Against God’s Laws
We continue here from the paper Moses and the Israelites Move on to Sinai (No. CB40).
What was the Covenant?
Adam and Eve were instructed in the Laws of God and they were offered the Tree of Life (Gen. 2:16-25). They failed because they sinned and were removed from their relationship with God. As time went on the generations of Adam became very wicked, so God destroyed the Earth under Noah by the flood. God then prepared to make a covenant with a people He could use as an example to the nations.
He made a covenant with Abraham that was later passed on to his son Isaac, and then his grandson Jacob. Jacob was renamed Israel and he had twelve sons, the generations of whom became known as the Israelites. The covenant was made with Israel because God honours His promises. These promises were to be passed on down through the generations.
The covenant or agreement made at Mount Sinai was between God and Israel. It was a binding promise that God would always take care of Israel, who would always be faithful and never have anything to do with the false gods of other nations.
The rules of the covenant were the Ten Commandments and the civil laws later given on Mount Sinai. The terms were that Israel was to remain faithful by obeying God’s Laws to ensure happiness, good health, many children and prosperity. Unfaithfulness would mean misery, disease, and poverty.
However, Israel was unable to keep its agreement with God and broke the covenant. Most of the people failed in the wilderness. They did not obey God or believe what He said. As punishment, they were allowed to die in the wilderness and only their children went into the Promised Land.
Centuries later, when Jesus Christ came to Earth, he drew up terms for a renewed agreement with spiritual Israel. This covenant was extended to include all of the nations of the world. Jesus became the mediator of a covenant that was of a new and higher system. In the same way, Moses was the agent or go-between of the old covenant. However, there were not two separate covenants, but two elements of the one covenant.
Many religious denominations teach that because a new covenant was made, the Ten Commandments are dead and do not have to be obeyed. Nothing could be further from the truth. Belief in that lie has caused much misery to mankind. Those ten spiritual Laws are meant for all men in all nations down through time. The breaking of the covenant didn’t lessen their effect. God’s Law existed before the covenant was made with Israel. Jesus had to die because the rules were broken. After the early covenant agreement to remind the Israelites of their sins, the ceremonial and ritual laws were not part of the Ten Commandments (Jer. 7:22 and Gal. 3:19).
Moses talks with the Angel of God
As he neared the summit, Moses could sense the powerful presence.
"Stay where you are, Moses," a strong voice called out.
Startled, Moses halted and looked around.
"You will remain here while I tell you more of what to say to the Israelites and other things you are to do," the voice continued.
During the next forty days Moses spent many hours listening closely to God’s instructions through His Angel. While there Moses fasted, which means he ate no food nor drank any water (Deut. 9:9).
Among the things Moses learned he must do was to remember the instruction for building a portable Tabernacle in which contact with God could be made during the trip to Canaan. He learned that Aaron and his sons were to be the chief priests, whose duties and equipment were explained (Ex. chapters 25-31).
See the paper The Tabernacle in the Wilderness (No. CB42) for details of these instructions given to Moses.
Sabbath command repeated
God stressed the importance of Sabbath observance, referring to both weekly and annual Sabbaths. Say to the Israelites, "My Sabbaths are holy. They are a sign forever between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy. It is an everlasting agreement that your people will be blessed as long as they obey me in respect of my holy days. Those who refuse to obey will die" (Ex. 31:12-17).
On the fortieth day near the top of the mountain, the Angel of God ended the meeting by producing two slabs of elegant stone, on both sides of which were beautifully engraved the Ten Commandments (Ex. 31:18 and 32:15-16).
"Leave here now!" the Lord commanded Moses. "Hurry back to your camps."
Puzzled at this request for such a hasty departure, Moses firmly gripped the stone slabs and strode swiftly down the trail. As he hurried on, the voice followed him with the startling information that the Israelites below were at that moment breaking the covenant by indulging in riotous behaviour around a metal idol. Moses was so dismayed that he dropped to his knees to beg God to be merciful to the people.
"I know your people," the Lord thundered. "They are unruly and stubborn! From you, who have been a faithful servant, I can still produce a great nation. As for most of the Israelites, I should wipe them out with a shower of fire in the valley" (Ex. 32:7-10).
"In your mercy you have brought them this far. Please don’t give the Egyptians reason to say that you used your power to deliver them from Egypt only to slay them at Mount Sinai," Moses pleaded. "Remember your promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. You told them their offspring would number as the stars. You promised Canaan to their children. How can they receive it if you destroy them?" (vv. 11-13).
"You deal with those who have committed idolatry today," the Lord told Moses. "Seek them out and punish them. If you fail, I will destroy them."
Moses hesitated only long enough to express his gratitude. In a short while he reached the spot where he had left Joshua forty days previously. When Joshua asked what had happened and what he was carrying, Moses hardly heard him.
"I’ll explain matters later," Moses told Joshua. "We must hurry down to the valley to stop a terrible thing happening there."
The Golden Calf
Meanwhile, at the camp, the people wondered why Moses was taking so long to come back. They became restless without their leader. But they should have remembered their agreement to obey God in all that Moses had told them.
Regardless of all the miracles God had performed for Israel in their time of trouble, some of the people desired to cling to the habits of idol worship they had acquired in Egypt. Even while fire and smoke on Mount Sinai proclaimed God’s presence, these people complained that Moses’ absence showed God had forgotten them.
The people gathered around Aaron and said, "We need a leader to take us to a better place!" The more rebellious ones declared, "And we need a god we can see and who will do more for us!" Within only a few days the complainers had created such confusion in the camps that thousands were stirred up to an angry pitch (Ex. 32:1).
Aaron answered them, "Take off the golden earrings you are wearing and bring them to me." So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt" (Ex. 32:2-4).
In the absence of their leader the people were quick to go back into worshipping the foreign gods that they had become used to in Egypt. Aaron, as the High Priest, did a very wrong thing here. He should have taken control of the situation and led the people in the worship of the One True God, instead of pleasing them by making an idol. The calf was made in the symbol of the earrings that the people wore in their ears. Both the earrings and the calf were referred to as gods. The calf was a religious symbol of the Moon God that was worshipped by the Egyptians. In the Middle East the Moon God was called Sin, which is where our word sin comes from.
Aaron then ordered a large altar built in front of the tent in which the calf image stood. When it was finished, he sent out messengers to all the people to proclaim that the next day would be a feast day to God (Ex. 32:5). He was using pagan practices in an attempt to worship the One True God.
Early next morning people started thronging toward the calf idol, bringing animals for burnt offerings and peace offerings. Afterwards they sat down to eat and drink and to indulge in revelry (Ex. 32:6). This was a pagan feast, despite the people thinking that they were worshipping God.
The upturned horns of the golden calf represented the crescent moon, which can be seen. It was thus a visible symbol of a pagan god. On the other hand, the One True God is invisible and has never been seen by any man (Jn. 1:18; 1Tim. 6:16). He is represented by the conjunction at the New Moon, which is invisible. This practice of worshipping statues and other visible icons has been passed on down through the centuries and is still very common today. The pagan system set up by the people while Moses was away with God can be compared with the false religious systems today in the absence of Messiah.
Moses had stayed up on the mountain for forty days and forty nights. This was to symbolise the forty Jubilees (2,000 years) that Christ was to be away, from his first coming to his second coming. Jesus also fasted forty days and forty nights in the desert (Mat. 4:1-2).
The return to camp
Moses turned and went down the mountain with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of the Angel of God, engraved on the tablets (Ex. 32:15-16). The two tablets represented two aspects of the one covenant, two Messiahs (who were one person) and two aspects of the nation (spiritual and physical Israel).
When Joshua heard the noise of the people shouting, he said to Moses, "There is the sound of war in the camp." Moses answered and said that it was not the sound of defeat or victory that they could hear, but the sound of singing (Ex. 32:17-18).
When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned. He threw the tablets out of his hand, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. And he took the calf they had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it (Ex. 32:19-20). By breaking the tablets Moses was testifying against Israel that they had broken the covenant.
Moses then said to Aaron, "What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?"
"You know how prone these people are to evil," Aaron said. He told Moses about the people grumbling and complaining and how he asked for their gold earrings. "Then they gave me their gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!" he said. Aaron was saying it was not his fault; that he was only doing what the people asked him. Here we see the High Priest making excuses for breaking God’s Law. We see the same excuses today when the priesthood should know better yet, as one example, they still keep a calendar that is wrong. To continue with an incorrect calendar is to continue in wrong worship of the One True God.
Moses considered that a poor answer from Aaron. He saw how the people were running wild and that Aaron let them get out of control. Moses stood at the entrance of the camp and said, "Whoever is for the Lord, come to me." And all the Levites rallied to him (Ex. 32:25-26).
Moses said God expected the covenant breakers to be punished. He would do it through the swords of these dedicated Levites. The Levites were the sons of Levi, a son of Israel, who were to be the priests and officers of the Tabernacle and the system of worship in Israel.
Then Moses said to them, "Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbour." The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died (vv. 27-28).
Moses used the loyal priesthood to kill the disloyal priesthood. They stood up for the Lord at the cost of the lives of their sons, brothers and neighbours. Here we see the priesthood being sanctified by the actions they took, and from which action three thousand men had to die. This process was symbolised at Pentecost in the first-century Church when three thousand were baptised and added to the Church in one day (Acts 2:41). To understand this we need to remember that when we are baptised and immersed in the water, we die to the world and are then raised to the priesthood of Melchisedek.
Moses returns atop Sinai
Next day, during mourning for the dead, Moses said to the people, "You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin" (Ex. 32:30).
So Moses went back to the Lord and said, "Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! Please forgive their sin – but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written" (vv. 31-32).
Here we see Moses was offering himself as a sacrifice instead of the people. In the same way Messiah gave up his life for all our sins. Just as Moses returned to the mountain to seek atonement for the sin of the people, so too Messiah returned to his Father in heaven after he was resurrected from the dead. He ascended to heaven as the Wave Sheaf Offering. For more information on this see the paper God’s Holy Days (No. CB22).
The Angel of the Lord then spoke God’s words to Moses, "Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book. Now go and lead the people to the place I spoke of and my Angel will go before you. However, when the time comes for me to punish, I will punish them for their sin." Then the Lord struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf that Aaron had made (Ex. 32:33-35).
Again the Angel of the Lord spoke God’s words to Moses, "Leave this place, you and the people you brought out of Egypt, and go to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I will send an angel before you to drive out your enemies but I will not go with you because you are a stiff-necked people, and I might destroy you on the way" (Ex. 33:1-3).
The people were unhappy at learning God was going to remove Himself from them somewhat. To show their regret for the idolatry that had taken place, they denied themselves the use of their jewellery and ornate clothing, having been instructed by Moses that they should show humility (Ex. 33:4-6). This was a sign of mourning and repentance for their sin.
The Tent of Meeting
In past weeks, Moses had gone to a special Tent outside the camp when he needed to talk to God. People would know when he was doing this, because the guiding cloud would descend over the Tent. But after God decided not to be so close to the Israelites, Moses had the Tent moved away quite a distance before the Angel of God would meet him in the cloud. The people noticed this, and were perturbed, but they were thankful that Moses and God didn’t leave entirely.
Moses and the Glory of the Lord
In one of his visits with the Angel, Moses boldly inquired how he should go about getting the Israelites started again toward Canaan. Moses was pleased by the welcome news that the Angel of the Lord would continue in helping to guide the Israelites.
Moses had a sudden strong desire to see what this being looked like, so he said, "Now show me your Glory." The Lord said, "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, but you cannot see my face, for no one may see me in my glorified state and live. However, stand here on this rock beside me. And when my Glory goes by, I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed. Then I will remove my hand and you shall see my back, but not my face" (Ex. 33:12-22).
New stone tablets
Moses was told to chisel out two new stone tablets like the first ones. Next day he took the tablets and went up Mount Sinai early in the morning. At the same time the cloud floated down to cover the peak of the mountain.
Then the Lord came down in a cloud and stood there with Moses and proclaimed His name, the Lord.
And he passed in front of Moses proclaiming, "I am merciful and gracious, I am slow to anger, loving and faithful. My love for thousands is not to be swayed. I forgive men of their sins, but I will punish those who continue in their guilt. I will bring punishment on their children, their grandchildren and even their great-grandchildren " (Ex. 34:5-6).
Moses bowed to the ground and said, "If I have found favour with you, forgive the sins of my stubborn people", Moses exclaimed. "Dwell with us! Don’t cut us off from your protection and blessings" (vv. 7-9).
Then the Lord said, "I am making a covenant with you. I will do great and marvellous things for your people that have never been done before."
The Angel went on to repeat the commandments he had already disclosed during Moses’ previous forty days and nights on the mountain. Moses stayed again for the same time, fasting and being sustained by divine power. When at last Moses returned to camp, he was happy to find no trouble there and pleased to bring the new tablets and the promise of a renewed Covenant. So for the second time the Ten Commandments were written on stone (Ex. 34:27-28; Deut. 10:1-5).
On reaching the slopes of the mountain, he was startled because the first people to meet him stared and backed away in fright.
"Look at his face!" they muttered fearfully.
"Why are you people staring?" Moses asked. "Don’t you recognise me?" No one answered. The onlookers silently kept backing away from him. As Moses increased his pace, the crowd retreated faster. Suddenly Moses spotted Aaron, and beckoned to him. Even Aaron seemed hesitant to approach.
"Why is everyone backing off?" Moses asked Aaron.
Soon it was evident to both men that closeness to the Glory of God had caused Moses’ skin to shine with such a divine radiance that his facial features were hardly discernible. It was necessary for him to cover his head to prevent onlookers from becoming alarmed.
Next morning he gathered the elders to tell them what had happened. Because his skin still glowed brightly, he kept a veil over his face. This was necessary, especially later when he addressed crowds, to keep children from becoming upset. When he talked to all the people, he reminded them again that they should faithfully and carefully observe the Sabbaths (Ex. 35:1-2).
How men misrepresent God’s Law
Many men posing as ministers of God say that it isn’t possible to obey His eternal spiritual Laws, and those who try to do so are placing themselves under a curse. They say that Jesus nailed the Ten Commandments to the cross (stake). But the Law was not removed by this act.
The Ten Commandments weren’t nailed to the cross. Christ was nailed on a stake to pay for people’s sins by dying. Because the Messiah was the supreme sacrifice, the temporary laws having to do with the sacrifices are no longer necessary. They were given in Moses’ day to remind man of his sin and of his coming Saviour. Since Christ has already come, we don’t need them today (Gal. 3:19 and Heb. 10:3-4). But the Ten Commandments are everlasting. They’re spiritual, not ceremonial.
Eternal life, a gift from God, can’t be earned, and God won’t give it without obedience to Him. There must be repentance of sins, which is a deep regret for wrong things done. Every human being has sinned by failing to obey God’s sacred Laws.
On repentance, God is pleased to forgive and remove sin by blotting out all past mistakes. But to gain everlasting life, one must live from then on by the Creator’s rules, which are for happiness, good health and success. Often they are difficult to obey. However, through His Holy Spirit God gives us the ability to overcome and a growing hope of becoming a spiritual son of God (Mat. 10:22).
Unfortunately, most so-called Christian Churches teach the opposite of many things God shows through the Bible.
Having warned the people of the importance of observing the Sabbath, Moses outlined for them the wonderful plan for a place in which God could be with them as they moved toward Canaan.
"Even though we have sinned greatly, our God has promised to stay in our midst as long as we obey Him," Moses told the Israelites.