When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, 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.”
Poor Moses. Gave his all for his people, but whenever the testing time came, they turned their backs on him in the worst way posible. In a sense, it was perhaps the only thing they could do against him at that point in time – they should have just stood up and left if they were impatient with waiting for their leader; but they didn’t have what it takes to leave without Moses, without God. They didn’t know where to go, and they didn’t know how to leave. Other things you can do against a leader? Replace him. Aaron and Hur were in charge while Moses were gone, but they were obviously on the side of Moses, and as important as they were to Moses, they weren’t exactly great leaders like Moses. But, of course, they didn’t have what it takes to replace Moses either – they simply did not have a man capable of holding the fort and leading the people. In this study we will examine the circumstances that surrounded the people that led them to such a heinous act of sin.
When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain – The Bible didn’t tell us how long was ‘so long’ in this case, but it must have been a considerable amount of time. To be honest, what is 40 days compared to the 40 years that they ended up waiting in the wilderness? Their lack of foresight, their lack of faith and their impatience, which showed time and time again throughout the 40 years, but most evidently in this instance, ultimately costed them an entire generation of people and delayed God’s great blessing and deliverance that was already prepared for them.
they gathered around Aaron and said – Of course they picked Aaron. As the brother of Moses, who had been aiding him since the days in Egypt, he was known to be a smooth-talker [Exodus 4:14], and he was perhaps a people-pleaser. Left in charge of the people, it may read as if he agreed easily to their requests for him to make them some gods – even when Moses confronted him, he didn’t attempt to defend himself or try to argue that he had tried to appease the people[Exodus 32:22-24]. It should be noted that the people had, in this instance, ‘gathered around Aaron‘. It was likely that they had spoken to Aaron before separately, or perhaps in groups, but when an entire nation of people gathered together and demand something, it would be very hard to appease them.
Come, make us gods who will go before us – The people weren’t foolish, and certainly didn’t think that anything made by their hands would be a god, but perhaps that spoke of their desire to have a god that they can see, and a god that they can to some extent, control. When they said they wanted ‘gods who will go before us’, what they really wanted was a symbol or a representation of the divine Being to lead them and continue moving, much like the cloud that has gone before them previously in their exodus, but that has stopped moving for quite a while. Often, we just lack that little bit of faith to believe in what our eyes cannot see. Our faith gets wavered when we look at other tribes, other nations, other cultures, other religions; having a physical god to worship to. This is especially the case when the going gets tough. And perhaps it is irony, isn’t it, that on the tablets that Moses carried from the top of the mountain, one of the ten commandments said this – You shall have no other gods before me [Exodus 20:3].
As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt – The people remembered that it was Moses who led them out of Egypt. They remembered that, but they sound far from grateful at this point. They do not recall their debt to him in fondness, nor do they worry about his safety after his long departure. Of course, why should they be grateful to Moses! If they knew they would have had to suffer this much, they would rather have stayed in Egypt [Exodus 16:3]! Woe to the one who brought them out of Egypt! Did Moses bring them out just to torture them? Did Moses bring them here just to abandon them? Moses was their leader, who continuously pleaded on their behalf in front of God – and yet here they simply call him ‘this fellow Moses’! What a statement of disregard!
we don’t know what has happened to him. – They certainly did not know what had happened to Moses. Their leader had left, and left them behind without much instructions for the future. There was no backup plan. There was no ‘if I don’t return, do this and go there.’ The Israelites were left in a limbo. They were honest in saying that they did not know what had happened to Moses, for they had no way of knowing. Yet, in their honesty, their lack of regard for Moses was also revealed. Rather heartlessly, they did not care what happened to Moses. It mattered not to them. They wanted to continue on with life, with or without Moses. They were not worried about Moses, but rather concerned about the spot that Moses had placed them in. In life, we don’t know a lot of things. It’s human nature to attempt to take control when things are out of your control. But having things out of control is never an excuse for sin. Moses being away is not an excuse for the Israelites to become ill-disciplined. The leader being absent is not an excuse for the followers to go astray. But more often than not, mankind is like that, no? Remove the head, and the body cannot function as usual.
God blessed Israel with an amazing man and an amazing leader in Moses. When God told Moses about the Israelites’ rebellion, the first thing Moses did was to, as he does so well, appease God in a reverse-psychological manner. Seriously, nobody in the entire Bible could talk to God like that. Even when he was let down, he still thought of his people first. What a man! But because they couldn’t wait out the 40 days, because they allowed their faith to waver, because they lost control, the Israelites (including Moses) had to pay a huge price later on. In their impatience their faith wavered. In their weakened state of faith, they turned to other gods. In doing so, they incurred the divine wrath of God. In doing so, they made their lives harder and their goals further away.
If God sends us a leader, let us learn to appreciate him or her. He may not be a ‘Moses’, and may not have to lead us on an exodus, but let us not be the Israelites and use the absence of our leaders as an excuse to sin. This story clearly tells us: even if Moses isn’t looking, God is.