It’s here that the people start to forget about everything that has occurred for them. They begin to lean on their own understanding. We have seen how easily and quickly Pharaoh fell back on the old lies of the world and the people of God do as well. To their credit, they want God. To their discredit, they want him when they want him. On their terms and timetables.
The people go to Aaron and ask for something to be done. So he sets up a feast for “The Lord”. And they build a calf. You may have heard of it. But the calf wasn’t actually God. It was the place were God was supposed to sit. The people think they can build this thing and get God to appear when they call. Poof! Here he is! This is the problem the people had at the tower of Babel. Their motives weren’t bad… they wanted to be together, they wanted to be near God but they wanted it on their terms too. They want to be in control.
Well, God sees what is going on at the base of the mountain and he is none too pleased. In fact, he changes his tune about the people, which is his right under the terms of the covenant, which they are breaking. So this is when God gets a little humorous. All of a sudden, these are now Moses’ people who Moses brought out of Egypt. Oh, and he wants Moses to walk away for a bit so that he can kill them all and start over with Moses and his descendants. Yeah, he was not happy.
It doesn’t say but you have to wonder how much thought Moses gave to the offer. He would now be the patriarch of the people, not Abraham. You gotta figure he was at least tempted a little bit. Well, he doesn’t give into that temptation and decides that this is not a wise path. I love that Moses had a close enough relationship with God to be honest and frank with him. I think that often we don’t think we can talk to God that way. Moses asks God to slow down. Asks God to repent of this plan. Moses reminds God of his promises to Abraham. He also tells God that it will look bad to the other people of the earth if he does this. It was be bad for his reputation. The reputation of God is something we should be aware of when we decide to throw our doctrines and opinions in the faces of those with whom we disagree.
So God repents. He turns away from that course of action. He turns away his wrath. But there were still consequences for what the people had done. It would not have been in their best interest to just let their idea of who God is and their relationship to him exist in error. And 3000 people die that die. Following God is a matter of life and death. There is no way to get around that fact. We can’t just follow a little bit. We can’t just love the world a little bit. That’s not how it works.