For forty days, Moses had been on Mount Sinai meeting with the Lord. He had received all the laws and commands that would define Israel’s relationship with the Lord, along with detailed instructions about how they were to worship Him. Much of those instructions centered around Moses’ older brother, Aaron, who would serve as the lead priest of Israel.
As Moses descended the mountain, I imagine that he was excited to show Aaron the stone tablets on which God had engraved the Law. After all, Aaron’s name was written on them 37 times. He had much to learn and memorize about how to lead the nation in worship.
When Moses arrived at the base camp, he found his brother already leading the people — but in the wrong direction! The people had asked Aaron for idols, and he enthusiastically obliged them, making a golden statue in the form of a cow and organizing a little cult around it. Aaron was leading a worship service for a metallic cow! The people were actually praising the deaf-dumb-blind-unfeeling-unknowing-nonliving idol for delivering them from slavery in Egypt!
God knew it, and His anger “burned hot against them” (v.10). When Moses saw it, his anger “burned hot against them,” too (v.19). Before he said a word, Moses looked at the stone tablets in his hands — the ones that said the name of Aaron 37 times — and he threw them down, shattering them on the rocks below. It was a powerful statement.
Aaron must have panicked as Moses approached him, stomping in anger, nostrils flaring, fire in his eyes. Aaron blurted out an explanation, blaming the people and making the absurd claim that he threw the gold into the fire “and out came this calf!” (v.22, 24).
God punished His people that day with the swords of the Levites and with a plague (v.27, 35). But amazingly, Aaron was allowed to continue as a priest and a leader. God extended grace to the man when He could have exercised judgment. Shocking, isn’t it? Shockingly amazing grace.
And that is exactly what I see when I look in the mirror: a man, like Aaron, who was a fool, a sinner, an idiot, full of excuses and behaving inexcusably. But God was shockingly gracious to me, too. He forgave my past and gave me a future. He chose to use me and didn’t hold my sins against me. He is an awesome and holy God, but He is full of grace and second chances. What a Savior!