Voce mea ad Dominum

Random thoughts from an amateur theologist.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Golden Calf

The LORD said to Moses,“Go down at once to your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt, for they have become depraved. They have soon turned aside from the way I pointed out to them, making for themselves a molten calf and worshiping it, sacrificing to it and crying out,‘This is your God, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt!" - Exodus 32:7-9

Moses had left the Israelites with Aaron and climbed to the summit of Mt. Sinai to meet with God, but after and extended stay away from them, (I believe it was 40 days.) the Israelites became antsy and began to press Aaron to do something about it, so Aaron had them take all of their gold jewelry, and then he fashioned a golden calf which they acclaimed by saying, "This is your God, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt!"

So, was the big deal that Israel was worshipping a calf? I don't think so. I think the Israelite's had more sense than that (although God didn't seem to have a lot of faith in them as he was on the verge of annihilating them). Israel was worshipping God but transferring that worship of the unseen God to an image, the image of a cow. It would seem that the sin in this is fairly self-evident, but it is in reality a bit more insidious.

Moses was gone for too long. The people became restless. "Ach! Where is he, that scoundrel?! He shoulda been back by NOW!" By this point in time, the Israelites are well aware of the close relationship between Moses and God, so they know that he is up on Mt. Sinai talking with the Almighty. Instead of patiently waiting for Moses to come down from the mountain to relate God's message, the Israelites decided they couldn't and wouldn't wait for God any longer.

So, they fetched him. They essentially said, "Well if God won't come to us, we'll go and get him. Hey Aaron! Make us a statue!" That acclamation reveals that they were not worshipping a bull, but using that bull to worship God. It was their image of God, something which God had forbidden. This returns us to the Garden of Eden in that the Israelites caved to pride and suited their own need for God's presence by making an image and bringing God to them rather than patiently waiting for God to come to them.

So how is this different from sacred art which we find in our churches? Simple. The Israelites had no image of God, so the golden calf was their own desire for an image of God. It wasn't that images per se were the problem. Notice, the Israelites were allowed to put Cherubim on the ark of the Covenant which faced each other. This is because God revealed that image to them. Christians have something better than the cherubim. We have an image of God himself through his Son, Jesus, because Jesus according to St. Paul, is the image of the invisible God. He is God's own self-revelation of Love.


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