Beginning of the End


Israel Worships a Golden Calf

This chapter is based on Exodus 32 to 34.

While Moses was away on the mountain, it was a time of waiting and suspense for Israel. The people waited eagerly for his return. In Egypt they had become accustomed to material objects representing deity, and it had been hard for them to trust in an invisible being. They had come to rely on Moses to sustain their faith, but now he was taken from them. Week after week passed, and he still did not return. It seemed to many in the camp that their leader had deserted them or that he had been consumed by the devouring fire. BOE 153.1

During this period of waiting, there was time to meditate on the law of God which they had heard and to prepare their hearts to receive any further revelations that He might make to them. If they had been seeking a clearer understanding of God’s requirements and humbling their hearts before Him, they would have been shielded from temptation. But soon they became careless, inattentive, and lawless—especially the “mixed multitude.” They were impatient to be on their way to the land flowing with milk and honey. That good land was promised to them only on condition of obedience, but they had forgotten this. Some suggested they return to Egypt, but whether forward to Canaan or backward to Egypt, most of the people were determined to not wait any longer for Moses. BOE 153.2

The “mixed multitude” had been the first to indulge in complaining and impatience, and they were the leaders in apostasy. Among the objects the Egyptians regarded as symbols of deity was the ox or calf. At the suggestion of those who had practiced idolatry in Egypt, a calf was now made and worshiped. The people wanted some image to represent God and to go ahead of them in the place of Moses. The mighty miracles in Egypt and at the Red Sea were intended to establish faith in God as the invisible, all-powerful Helper of Israel. The people’s desire for some visible display of His presence had been granted in the pillar of cloud and of fire, and in the revealing of His glory on Mount Sinai. But with the cloud of the Presence still in front of them, in their hearts they turned back to the idolatry of Egypt. BOE 153.3

In Moses’ absence, the judicial authority had been delegated to Aaron, and a vast crowd gathered about his tent. The cloud, they said, now rested permanently on the mountain; it would no longer direct their travels. They must have an image in its place. And if, as some had suggested, they should return to Egypt, they would find favor with the Egyptians by carrying this image ahead of them as their god. (See Appendix, Note 3.) BOE 154.1