Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Oct 15th)

Pastor's Summary of Exodus 32:1-14

The people of Israel have received the Ten Commandments verbally,  but Moses is still up on Mount Sinai receiving them in writing. To the people, he is "delayed" (or shamefully late, per another translation). They ask Aaaron to "make gods", thus breaking the first (and second) Commandments. Why is "gods" plural? Either Aaron compromises by only making one calf, or (more likely) the story as handed down orally mentioned only one. Then, when it was written down, the plural was used. But why? After Solomon's death  (in 930 BC), Israel split into two kingdoms. To avoid people visiting Jerusalem (which was in the south), the king of the northern kingdom, Jeroboam, had two golden calves made, and had one set up at each of two alternative places of worship (see I Kings 12:28-30). The writer had two objectives (which to us conflict here): (1) to record history, and (2) to teach that Jerusalem was the only proper center of worship.  In our reading, the people willfully rebel against God. (Modern Jewish translations consider Elohim, god or "gods", to be singular, thus implying that Judasim has always been monotheistic.)

In v. 7, by telling Moses that Israel is "your" people, God threatens Israel. He says that they have "acted perversely" or succumbed to moral decay. (The word translated "revel" in v. 6 has connotations of immorality.) God threatens his "wrath" (v. 10); he even offers to make Moses the founder of a new "great nation". But Moses does not give in to this temptation; rather he stands by Israel. He pleads with God: you have looked after us so far, so why quite now? Won't the Egyptians be able to claim that you are evil: that you led the people of Israel out into the desert in order to kill them? (v. 12) Please God, don't go back on your promises to the patriarchs!

In v. 14, God does change "his mind" or lets himself be sorry, but in vv. 15-35 Moses gets angry with the people, smashes the law tablets, burns and grinds up the calf, and makes the people drink water polluted with the resulting gold powder. Aaron offers a weak excuse for his actions (the people made me do it; the fire formed the gold into a calf) and the Levites, as ordered by God through Moses, put some of the people to death, as punishment.  Moses wins pardon for the people, but God punishes all with a plague.