Moses disappeared in the cloud that engulfed Mt. Sinai and Israel did not know when he would return. He had been gone less than a month when the people grew impatient. “Aaron, make us gods to lead us,” they cried.

Aaron happily complied. When Israel approved the gold cow he created, Aaron seized the opportunity to lead the nation in worship again. “This gold cow is the god that delivered you from Egypt,” announced Aaron. “Tomorrow we will hold a feast to Jehovah.”

Israel and their leaders desired to worship the God who delivered them from Egypt. They possessed a good desire, but a desire to do something good is not enough. To truly worship God, we must wait for his instructions and obey him. When Aaron stopped waiting and tried to produce a revival through human effort he led God’s people astray.  

Exodus 32:6

So the next day the people rose early (they are eager to go to church and worship God) and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings.  Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.

 Paul writes about the same incident in 1 Corinthians warning us not to make the same mistake that the church in the wilderness did,

 1 Corinthians 10:7

7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them [not all of them, some of them] were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.”

 For many years I read these scriptures thinking Israel ate a meal and then every one participated in an orgy. The Living Bible even says they sat down to “feast and drink at a wild party, followed by sexual immorality.”[1] But the Living Bible is a paraphrase not a literal translation, and I have doubts that the immorality was sexual, at least not the flesh kind.

Webster’s Dictionary defines revelry as a noisy party. The Hebrew word translated revelry (or play in the King James Bible) is tsachaq (tsaw-khak). It means to laugh outright in merriment or scorn, to mock. In the New Testament, the Greek word Paul used paizo (paheed’-zo) that was translated “pagan revelry” means to play as a child, to play as in dancing and making merry, to mock.

Teenagers’ may indulge in sexual activity, but children don’t and I do not believe that this church in the wilderness was indulging in public or even private sex during worship Aaron led. They were doing something worse. They were children mocking their father’s instructions.  The church in the wilderness was not the first to commit this sin. Abraham, the father of our faith, committed this sin, which gives us hope because he repented and became an example of faith that pleases God and so can we.

Tsachaq translated revelry in Exodus 32:6 is the same Hebrew word used in

 Gen 17:17 KJV

Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed (tsachaq/mocked), and said in his heart, (in his heart, God desires a pure heart) Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? And shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?  

 Tsachaq is the same word used in

 Gen 18:12 KJV

Therefore Sarah laughed (tsachaq/mocked) within herself, (in her heart, her heart isn’t pure either) saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?

 They were not laughing with God. They were laughing at God. Both of them expressed unbelief that God could do what he said he would do. They mocked God in their hearts.

The church in the wilderness never failed to practice their religion. They assembled for worship, sing praise songs, had fellowship, and offered sacrifices to God. The congregation believed they were worshipping the God who delivered them from Egypt. They sinned when they went to church and mocked God’s way of doing things. Stephen told us what they really did!

 Acts 7:40-41

40        They told Aaron, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who led us out of Egypt– we don’t know what has happened to him!’ 41 That was the time they made an idol in the form of a cow. They brought sacrifices to it and held a celebration in honor of what their hands had made.

 They had a noisy celebration but they were not celebrating what God had done. They celebrated what Aaron had done. They rejoiced in what human hands had made. They told the Pastor what to do and he did it, now they could stop waiting. The people never stopped worshipping? People who want nothing to do with God are not destroying the society we live in. Leaders in the church who teach God’s people to worship a lie, because they don’t want to wait on the Lord make us salt that has lost its ability to preserve the societies we live in.

 Romans 1:21-23

21For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

 Aaron knew God. God sent Aaron to Moses. Aaron traveled to Mt. Sinai and Moses told him what God planned to do and that God had a place for him. They returned to Egypt where God used Aaron to do great miracles and then God lead them back to the mountain where Moses had persuaded Aaron to return to the faith of their fathers. Aaron accompanied Moses on his fourth trip up the mountain, so God could warn him about the danger that lay ahead. Aaron attended a dinner party with God on Mt. Sinai.[2] Aaron had been on Mt. Sinai with Moses in the presence of God not less than three times. Aaron knew God.

Even though Aaron knew God he did not glorify him as God nor was he thankful for the part God had given him. Therefore his thinking became vain and his foolish heart was darkened. He did not understand what God was doing even though he was in the middle of everything God did from the very beginning. Although Aaron thought he was wise, he was just a fool that that spread error about the Lord[3] and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an image made to look like an animal. If Moses had not confronted Aaron in his sin, I do not doubt that this sin would have produced a sin of the flesh, probably a sexual sin.

Aaron thought he could lead worship when it was God’s will for him to settle disputes because he thought he was smarter than God. In his mind it was a waste of his talents to be sitting in a tent listening to people argue and complain when he could be on the platform with all eyes on him teaching people how live, how to worship, how to be serve God. But you can’t teach people how to worship God if you don’t. If Aaron had worshiped God he would have treasured and obeyed every word he was privileged to hear God speak whether it was spoken directly to him or not![4]

To understand how grievous Aaron’s sin was you have to remember what Moses did before he disappeared into the cloud. Moses wrote down a copy of the covenant that they agreed to obey and read it to them. At any time, the leaders of Israel could have consulted their copy of the agreement, their Bible, while Moses was gone. If they had, they would have read “don’t make a graven image” and that should have been enough to tell Aaron put your tools away. In addition to that Moses built an altar of earth at the foot of the mountain before he left. They could have gone to that altar and God would have blessed them. They could have found that information in their Bible too, if they would have read it before they decided they knew what needed to be done to get their church moving again.

The young men of Israel had already offered burnt offerings and fellowship offerings at the altar Moses built. Israel had an altar where God’s name was honored that they could go to and be blessed. The altar stood in plain sight of all the people, so why did they build another altar? Why! The same reason we do it today. We don’t want to wait for God to make his next move, and we don’t have to wait, if we can find an Aaron to cling to. Unfortunately, Aarons are not hard to find. Those who follow Aaron won’t be worshipping God. All they will do is indulge in Pagan revelry and walk out of the church truly believing they worshipped the God who delivered them. When the blind lead the blind both fall in a ditch.

The church is full of frustrated Aarons who have genuine callings on their lives that will do anything to satisfy their desires to serve God instead of trust God for the right time and place. It’s not easy to wait, so don’t be angry with Aaron.

Aaron was eighty-three years old. He knew all of his life he had a calling and all of his life he desired to fulfill his calling. The last time Moses disappeared, he was gone for forty years. Moses had disappeared again, and they were not sure Moses would return because they believe God’s fire would kill them. If Aaron didn’t do something quick, he would die before he became the pastor of pastors he was called to be. Aaron was so close to fulfilling the call burning in his heart, but he just could not wait a few more weeks. His impatience produced a misery for everyone.

It would be better to go to your grave without  fulfilling your calling then take things into your own hands and teach people a lie just so you can satisfy your desire to be what God called you to be. Isn’t that what Jesus did? He was born to be Lord, King and High Priest. He died a teacher, rejected and despised by other teachers. He did not receive in his lifetime on earth the things God promised to him before he was born. Don’t we believe that God is eternal and that he will give us eternal life? Don’t we believe that the place we are going is better than the place we presently are? If we truly believe God will give us eternal life, why are we in a hurry? If God has not ordained what we are doing, we are not fulfilling our calling anyhow, so why not WAIT for the real thing.

One church I attended was desperate for revival. Before the pastor came, the Lord told him that he was sending him to New Orleans for revival and that is all we heard about and prayed about for several years. Every time an evangelist visited we were in great anticipation that this would be “it”! We ended one of those “revival meetings” with a modern day Aaron claiming there had been a mighty move of God and the church held a special water baptism for all the new converts. At first I was perplexed and then a bit amused that I knew all of the converts. All but one of them had been attending the church for ten years.

During another revival, many prophecies were spoken and God’s presence was very real. A child claimed to have a vision of a rock hitting a mountain and water pouring out over a desert causing a garden to spring up. The pastor and evangelist discussed extending the revival because they thought this would be another Brownsville. They were so intent on getting a revival, they did not listen when God spoke. I knew extending the revival would be pointless because one of the prophecies plainly told us what we experienced was only a taste of what would come. Ultimately, their impatience for God to act wounded so many people; I left the church hating the word “revival” and even the thought of praying for one. 

Whenever we pray the first thing we should pray for is our leaders because whatever they do affects all of us. Where was Hur when Aaron was fashioning a gold cow? Moses left Aaron and Hur in charge of things until he returned. Nothing was said about Hur, which tells me one of three things: Hur was part of the problem. Hur was too weak to confront Aaron in his sin, Hur confronted Aaron but could not stop him because Aaron was not acting alone.

How else could Aaron get away with telling people their God is a cow when seventy elders went to the mountaintop with Aaron and had dinner with God? The Bible says you cannot see God’s face but it also says when they had dinner with God they saw him.[5] They saw some kind of form or image and it wasn’t the form or image of a cow because the Bible also says we are made in the image of God. They saw the form of a man, therefore, when Aaron told the people the gold cow was the God who delivered them from Egypt why didn’t seventy elders speak up?

Israel paid a heavy price not only for Aaron’s sin but the elders sin who could have exposed Aaron before things got out of control.  We don’t have a problem calling a minister into account when they commit obvious sins like, adultery, theft or drunkenness. Yet we allow ministers who commit spiritual sins run amok through the church as though love and truth does not matter to God. We are taught so little about spiritual sins it is difficult to discern them and even more difficult to convince others that something is seriously wrong!

We will look at the price Aaron paid first. In the next chapter, we will examine what it cost the rest of the church.

 Exodus 32:7-10

7 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. 8 They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a cow. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.

 We need to listen when God talks. Even though God delivered the people he did not call them “my people”, he called them “Moses people”. This church was eager to worship, have fellowship, offer sacrifices, and they were not shy about it because they were having a noisy party. Yet God said they are corrupt. The source of that corruption was the leaders of the church who deceived them into thinking they were worshipping God when they were not.

 The first thing Moses did when he came down from the mountain was get rid of the cow. The second was demand an explanation from Aaron.

 Exodus 32:21

He said to Aaron, What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?

 Even though God used Aaron to do great things in Egypt his heart was not right. He used his God given authority to satisfy himself and in so doing created misery for the people he was supposed to cover and protect. The people would not have sinned if Aaron had not led them into sin. He deceived the people because he was deceived by the desires of his own heart and choose to believe a lie, so his desire to minister could be fulfilled. He knew God didn’t look like a cow. He had a good desire and it was God’s plan for Aaron to lead people in worship but it was not God’s time. Aaron wanted to worship the true and living God that Jehovah is but like Pharaoh in Egypt he wanted to be in control of when, where and how.

 Exodus 32:22-25

22 “Do not be angry, my lord,” Aaron answered. “You know how prone these people are to evil. 23 They said to me, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.’ 24 So I told them, ‘Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off.’ Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this cow!” 25 Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control (they are out of control because Aaron is out of control) and so become a laughingstock to their enemies.

 Is it any surprise that a liar would teach people to worship a lie or that an evil man would judge others to be evil? The people are not the only ones prone to evil. In a attempt to justify himself Aaron said, “I just gave them what they wanted. When I threw their gold into the fire a cow jumped out. Don’t be angry with me Moses I led them to the fire. God sent this cow. It was supernatural, so how could I resist it?” Even as they talked Aaron was kicking the tools that he used to fashion the under his bed hoping Moses is too angry to notice.

Aaron had no character because a man with no character blames his failure on the people he led into error. When the people are not worshipping God the way they should be worshipping God, it is the leaders who bear the greater responsibility. Let not many of you presume to be teachers, James warned us, because those who teach will be judged more strictly.[6] Aaron will pay the same price the people paid for indulging in this sin but the elders did not.

Aaron let the people get out of control because he did not want to wait until Moses returned any more than the people did. Aaron gave them what they wanted so Aaron could have what he wanted, to be the one God used to lead the way instead of being stuck in a tent settling disputes. Aaron was too foolish to realize only peacemakers can led men into the true worship of a real God. Moses had left him exactly where God needed him to be so he could be fully prepared to fulfill his calling. Unfortunately, Aaron  cut the training process short.

Aaron acted shamefully and God was mad enough to kill him. There was only one reason he did not die for what he did. When Moses ended the conversation with Aaron he 

 Exodus 32:26

26        …stood at the entrance to the camp and said, “Whoever is for the LORD, come to me.” And all the Levites rallied to him.

 Moses was a good leader who did not divide the flock into those who are for me and those who are not. His only concern at this point was who is for the Lord. The only people to answer that call were the Levites and Aaron was a Levite. Aaron not only led the people into sin, he set an example of what to do when you sin. When Moses told them to choose the Lord or Aaron’s cow Aaron repented and choose the Lord. When Aaron repented Moses prayed for him and God spared him.[7] Then at God’s command all of the Levites, which would include Aaron, strapped a sword to his side and killed 3,000 people who refused to repent for worshipping the cow. That sounds like a lot of people until you consider that there was a million, some commentators say two million people, in this church.

 Well that was easy, if we sin and make a big mess all we have to do is say, “sorry!” Yes and No! This is far from over because the consequences of Aaron’s actions affected the whole church! Yes, Aaron escaped death because he repented and Moses prayed for him. Yes, Aaron will not lose his place as High Priest, but he did lose the respect of the people. How would you feel if the man who taught your brother, friend or neighbor a lie showed up to kill them for believing that lie when they refused to repent. It hardly seems fair, that one man can create so much misery for others and still keep his job.

It doesn’t seem fair to us because we think God overlooked our pain and was partial to Aaron when he let him keep his place. Aaron didn’t get away with anything. He will not lose his job, but he will not escape drinking the gall he made others drink. God assured Moses “when the time comes for me to punish I will punish them for their sin.” Aaron’s actions cost God three thousand of his sons. Therefore, when Aaron’s sons committed the same sin their father did there wasn’t time to repent.  Aaron owed God for the misery and heartache he created in the lives of others and now God owes his people a just compensation, because God is the one who gave Aaron the authority he abused.

According to the Reese Chronological Bible God told Moses “when the time comes to punish I will punish” on July 18, 1462 BC. Nine months later on April 8, 1461BC the sin conceived in the heart of Aaron gave birth to death.[8] When the right time came for God to pay his people for what Aaron did to them, God did not fail in his obligation to maintain justice. God could not do what Aaron deserved at the time Aaron sinned because it would not have been right to kill sons who have done nothing wrong.

All of the Levites repented, that would include Aaron and his sons. When Aaron set the example of repentance, he preserved what he owed God from justice but his sin also removed a hedge of protection. The power of life and death is in God’s hand but he is not a murderer, there must be a just reason to kill a man and there was no justifiable reason to kill Aaron’s sons at the time they worshipped a cow and repented.

The nation spent nine months building the tabernacle and organizing the camp to travel and conquer. When the construction was finished Aaron and his sons were consecrated to be the High Priest of God’s Holy Tabernacle. Their family alone would enter the Holy of Holies. God finally gave Aaron what he desired and longed for. He was the nations official High Priest, the priest of priests, to lead people in the worship of God. Aaron had special clothes only he could wear. He had special cologne that let everyone know the High Priest was walking by. There is a special weeklong ordination ceremony for Aaron and his four sons who would succeed him in the office of High Priest. On the eight day of the ordination ceremony, Aaron lifted his hand to bless the people and the glory of the Lord appeared. Fire came out from the presence of the Lord consuming the offering, a sign of God’s approval. What a great day for Aaron and his family! If only he had not gotten impatient for this day it would have held sweet instead of bitter painful memories!

 Leviticus 10:1-3

Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Moses then said to Aaron, This is what the Lord spoke of when he said; Among those who approach me I will show myself holy in the sight of all the people I will be honored.  Aaron remained silent.

 “When the time comes to punish I will punish” God said. Sounds like God was biding his time for a good time to slap Aaron upside the head in anger for making such a mess nine months ago, but he wasn’t. What happened to Aaron’s sons did not have to happen. If they had not committed the same sin their father committed, they would not have died. Aaron was the one who taught Nadab and Abihu to offer unauthorized fire before the Lord contrary to his command. That is what Aaron did when he melted gold, taught people their God is a cow and led them in worship contrary to God’s command. God did not desire to kill Nadab and Abihu. He already expressed to the people that it is his will that it would go “well with us and our children forever.” Nadab and Abihu were not innocent! They saw the result of their father’s sin nine months earlier, when the blood ran and people mourned in agony on the graves of their loved ones, yet they still walked in the same steps of their father’s sin. They approached God but they did not honor him because they did not believe God would keep his obligation to do what is right.

The second generation is always worse then the first. Aaron did not ascend the mountain into the presence of God to offer unauthorized worship. Nadab and Abihu entered the tabernacle where God’s glory appeared with their unauthorized worship. It was the same sin but a bit more brazen. Aaron had noone to blame for this bitterness but himself. God loved the three thousand men Aaron led into error that resulted in their death just as much, probably more, then Aaron loved his sons. In fact Aaron’s sons are God’s sons. Why was it wrong that the man who deprived three thousand parents of their children be deprived of his children when his children proved they would have taught the people to worship God contrary to Gods command just like father did?

Justice was satisfied that day. Everyone will drink his or her own gall because it teaches us humility. God is to be feared! We must not approach God’s presence thinking we can make others drink gall but we don’t have to.

This is one reason it is wrong to complain about leaders who keep their place even though they are fools who spread error about the Lord and wound many. We complain because we don’t believe God will do what is right. Don’t think they kept their place because God shut his eyes to their sin. The church in the wilderness had a just grievance against Aaron but Aaron paid for his sin. When Israel tried to overthrow Aaron nothing they did against Aaron prospered.  God is a great God who is able to preserve us through the consequences of our sin.

[1] Exodus 32:6 The Living Bible

[2] Exodus 19:24, 24:1

[3] Isaiah 32:6

[4] See CH 9 Recipe for Disaster by Teena Myers

[5] Exodus 24:9-11

[6] James 3:1

[7] Deuteronomy 9:20

[8] James 1:15

About Teena Myers

Teena Myers is the Chairman of Southern Christian Writers, a freelance writer and author of three books.
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