Tired of waiting for Moses, the people asked Aaron to make another god to lead them. What would Aaron, Moses’ brother, the high priest of Israel do? I want him to stomp his foot in the dust and declare, “Wake up! God is here and he will carry you on eagle’s wings if you trust in him!” But the one called to spiritual leadership was cowed by the crowd. In the absence of his brother his faith was weakened. Surrounded by murmurers, he was too discouraged to take a stand. It’s also likely Aaron was offended. Instead of him, Moses took Joshua. Now they were atop the electric mountain getting all the attention. Why was he left behind to do all the dirty work?
Aaron was a gifted man. He was an eloquent communicator, recruited early to be Moses’ spokesman. He was also a capable artist and sculptor. God had entrusted him with these gifts for his glory. But discouraged and offended, he called everyone to bring their gold earrings. He melted the precious metal and with a special instrument he used his God-given talents to make a golden calf.
The idea for a holy cow came from Egypt. In the ancient Egyptian pantheon, there were several bovine gods. The most popular was Apsis, believed to be a manifestation of the creator god. This sacred bull lived in a palatial barn, and could only be viewed by the rich and powerful from behind a particular window. When it died, it was mummified and given a royal funeral. Images of Apsis were believed to bring strength and power (See Phil Ryken’s commentary, Exodus Saved for God’s Glory, 972).
Like a dog returning to its vomit, or a washed pig jumping back in the mud, Israel went back to their old ways. They were impressed with Aaron ’s handiwork. They felt a rush of empowerment. Here was a god they could see, touch, and control. They made the official announcement, “Here are the gods who brought us out of Egypt!” Aaron, encouraged by their approval, cleared his throat and announced, “Tomorrow we’ll have a festival to the Lord!”
Exodus 32:6 says, “So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” No pressing the snooze button. When the sun came up, they were out of their tents with their best offerings in hand. After presenting their gifts of worship, they began to party. The more they drank the wilder the party became. Soon they were letting it all hang out.
In Exodus 32:25, when Moses finally came down, he saw the people had broken loose. This is a nice way of saying they were butt naked and engaging in sexual immorality. Notice how the King James Version renders it, “And when Moses saw that the people were naked; (for Aaron had made them naked unto their shame among their enemies).”