How Aaron Made a Golden Calf and
What Became of It
Exodus xxxii: 1,
to xxiv: 35.
Moses was in the mountain alone with God, a strange
and wicked thing was done in the camp on the plain.
At first the people were alarmed when they saw the
mountain smoking, and heard the thunder. But soon
they grew accustomed to it, and when day after day
passed, and Moses did not come down, at last they
said to Aaron:
"Come now, make us a god that we may worship, and
that we may have to lead us. As for Moses, the man
who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not
know what has become of him."
Aaron was not a man of strong will, as Moses was.
When his brother Moses was not by his side Aaron was
weak, and ready to yield to the wishes of the
people. Aaron said:
"If you must have a god that you can look at; then
break off the gold earrings that are in your ears,
and in the ears of your wives and children, and
bring them to me."
Then the people brought their gold to Aaron; and
Aaron melted the gold rings into one mass, and
shaped it with a graving tool into the form of a
calf, and this he brought out and stood up before
the people. Then they all cried out:
"This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of
the land of Egypt."
And Aaron built an altar before the image, and he
said to all the people, "To-morrow shall be a feast
to the Lord."
Perhaps Aaron thought that if the people could have
before them an image that they could see, they might
still be kept to the worship of the Lord God. But in
this he was greatly mistaken. The people came to the
feast, and offered sacrifices; and then they began
to dance around the altar, and to do wicked deeds
together, as they had seen the people of Egypt doing
before their idols. And all this time the mountain
was smoking and flashing with fire, almost over
And the Lord, up in the mountain, spoke to Moses,
"Hasten, and get down to the camp; for your people
have done very wickedly. They have made for
themselves an idol, and they are worshipping it now.
I am angry with them, and am ready to destroy them
all, and to make of your children a great nation."
And Moses pleaded with the Lord for Israel, and God
did not destroy the people; but he sent Moses down
to them, holding in his hands the two stone tables
on which God had written the Ten Commandments. As he
went down the mountain Joshua joined him, and said
"I can hear noise of war in the camp. It is not the
sound of men who are shouting for victory, nor is it
the cry of those who are beaten in battle; it is the
voice of singing that I hear."
And in a moment more, as they stood where they could
look down upon the camp, there was standing the
golden calf, and around it were the people making
offerings, and feasting, and dancing and singing.
Moses was so angry when he saw all the wickedness
and shame of his people, that he threw down the two
tables out of his hands, and broke them in pieces
upon the rocks. What was the use of keeping the
tables of stone, he may have thought, while the
people were breaking the laws written upon them?
Moses came straight into the midst of the throng,
and at once all the dancing and merry-making
stopped. He tore down the golden calf, and broke it
in pieces, and burned it in the fire, and ground it
to powder, and threw it into the water; and he made
the people drink the water filled with its dust. He
meant to teach the people that they would suffer
punishment like bitter water, for their wicked deed.
Then Moses turned to Aaron:
"What led you to such an act as this?" said Moses.
"Why did you let the people persuade you to make
them an image for worship?"
And Aaron said, "Do not be angry with me; you know
how the hearts of this people are set to do evil.
They came to me and said, 'make us a god,' and I
said to them, 'give me whatever gold you have.' So
they gave it to me, and I threw the gold into the
fire, and this calf came out!"
Then Moses stood at the entrance to the camp, and
"Whoever is on the Lord's side, let him come and
stand by me!" Then one whole tribe out of the twelve
tribes of Israel, the tribe of Levi, all sprung from
Levi, one of Jacob's sons, came and stood beside
Moses. And Moses said to them:
"Draw your swords, and go through the camp, and kill
every one whom you find bowing down to the idol.
Spare no one. Slay your friends and your neighbors,
if they are worshipping the image."
And on that day three thousand of the worshippers of
the idol were slain by the sons of Levi.
Then Moses said to the people, "You have sinned a
great sin; but I will go to the Lord, and I will
make an offering to him, and will ask him to forgive
And Moses went before the Lord, and prayed for the
people, and said:
"Oh Lord, this people have sinned a great sin. Yet,
now, forgive their sin, if thou art willing. And if
thou wilt not forgive their sin, then let me suffer
with them, for they are my people."
And the Lord forgave the sin of the people, and took
them once again for his own, and promised to go with
them, and to lead them into the land which he had
promised to their fathers.
And God said to Moses, "Cut out two tables of stone,
like those which I gave to you, and which you broke;
and bring them up to me in the mountain, and I will
write on them again the words of the law."
So Moses went up a second time into the holy mount;
and there God talked with him again. Moses stayed
forty days on this second meeting with God, as he
had stayed in the mountain forty days before. And
all this time, while God was talking with Moses, the
people waited in the camp; and they did not again
set up any idol for worship.
Once more Moses came down the mountain, bringing the
two stone tables, upon which God had written the
words of his law, the Ten Commandments. And Moses
had been so close to God's glory, and had been so
long in the blaze of God's light, that when he came
into the camp of Israel, his face was shining,
though he did not know it. The people could not look
on Moses' face, it was so dazzling. And Moses found
that when he talked with the people, it was needful
for him to wear a vail over his face. When Moses
went to talk with God, he took off the vail; but
while he spoke with the people, he kept his face
covered, for it shone as the sun.