glory of Israel. But this revelation they did not rightly value, but, at the first opportunity, bartered it away for a material god, of sensual character, who was served by the licence of self-indulgence. In this they were not merely disobedient; they showed their incapacity for high things, their unfitness to become the agents of God's most gracious designs for the human race. The sin was a fourfold one.
I. IT WAS THE SIN OF DISOBEDIENCE TO COMMAND. It should be clearly shown that Israel was bound to obedience to Jehovah before the Decalogue was given. The scene of Sinai is improperly called the giving of the Law; it is properly the formulating of the Law. The people owned allegiance to the God of their fathers, to the God who had delivered them from Egypt; and their willingness to obey was actually pledged afresh before Moses ascended the mount (see Exodus 19:7, 8). They were bidden wait to receive a communication from God; they disobeyed, and acted without direction. Disobedience is often due to the restlessness that cannot wait.
II. IT WAS THE SIN OF UNFAITHFULNESS TO TRUST. The spirituality of God was the supreme national trust. Neither Abraham, Isaac, nor Jacob ever saw God, but he was a real Power in their lives. In Egypt God was never seen, but he did mighty deeds. Put fully, the unity, spirituality, and holiness of Jehovah were committed to the care of the Abrahamic race, and that race was to preserve these truths while the rest of the world freely experimented on constructing religions and deities for itself. To make idolatrous images of God, the spiritual Being, was unfaithful to trust.
III. IT WAS THE SIN OF "FOLLOWING THE DEVICES OF THEIR OWN HEARTS." Or self-willedness. They asked what they liked, as if they were independent; not what God liked, as if they were dependent on him. The essence of sin for a creature is self-will. Triumph over self-will is the supreme aim of religion. That golden calf was a self-willed thing; as such there could be no religion in it. Through, and by means of, that golden calf the people did but worship themselves; what they personified was their own will, not God. Men deceive themselves when they fashion their own gods; they can only rightly take God as revealed to them.
IV. IT WAS THE SIN OF DISHONOURING GOD. The symbol they chose was an insult. True, their associations in Egypt suggested no other; and perhaps the ox was in some sense their national symbol. So their god was the personified nation. The spiritual Jehovah is degraded in men's minds when associated with a mere beast. - R.T.
They made a calf in Horeb, and worshipped the molten image.
Homilist.I. THE IDOLATRY OF MAN (vers. 19, 20).
1. The strength of the religious instinct. Man must have a God. If he loses the true one, he will create a false one.
2. An unrighteous compliance with a popular demand. The preacher who ministers to the prejudices and tastes of his people, commits the same sin as Aaron did when he made the "golden calf."
3. The force of early habit. Before his figure they had been wont to bow in Egypt, and by the instinct of habit they cried out for his figure now in the wilderness. To see God everywhere is one thing; to make everything God, is another. The one is right, binding, and useful; and the other is wrong, sinful, and pernicious.
II. The INDIGNATION OF HEAVEN (ver. 23). All this idolatry and forgetfulness were offensive to Him, and lie determined on their destruction. Why did He not strike the fatal blow at once? "Moses His chosen stood before Him," etc. See here the marvellous efficacy of prayer. The Bible teaches that "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much," and gives us many instances of this; but how it affects God I know not. Let us grasp the fact and live accordingly.
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