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THE GOLDEN CALF.
HOWEVER much controversy may be needed for the preservation of the faith once delivered to the saints, it is at best a sorrowful necessity; it not only endangers the spirit of those engaged in it, often clothing self-glorying under the garb of zeal for the Lord, but it extends its influence beyond the immediate actors. The age itself may assume a controversial character, so that everything is viewed through a controversial medium. At the era of our Lord's ministry, the age was characteristically religious; but at the same time so controversial, that one ignorant as the woman of Samaria had caught the spirit; and the effect on her was to hinder any exercise of conscience before God. The present age presents too just a parallel to the one mentioned. It is also characteristically a religious age, and at the same time so systematically sectarian, that the truth of God is only viewed through controversy; and it thus fails of reaching the conscience, and hinders very effectually the ascertainment of the state of souls, individually, before God. There is a remarkable impatience of resolving things into their principles, so that some of the most important truths fail to affect the conscience, because that which embodies them is supposed to be attacked; and in this manner a great deal of the most searching truth is deprived of its point. It is even difficult to apply principles to the consciences of Christians so as to avoid the appearance of controversy, for time has sanctioned so much evil which is not suspected to be evil, that principles have never been tested. Now if, as individual Christians, we know that the principle of every manifested evil is to be found in our own hearts, so as to induce the need of self-judgment and constant watchfulness (for grace alone maketh us to differ), so is it equally true that all the corporately manifested'evil in Christendom has arisen from some wrong desire working unsuspectedly in the hearts of real Christians; so that there is quite as great need to watch against the working of those principles among Christians
corporately, which eventually lead to the worst form of evil, as for an individual Christian to watch against the principle of hatred which, if cherished, might lead to actual murder.
The principle embodied in the golden calf is one which most readily insinuates itself among real Christians. It
may indeed be recognised when it has received a gross and tangible form, but spiritual wisdom is able to detect the working of the principle before it becomes embodied in form. The golden calf is one of our figures.”
. (1 Cor. x. 6, margin). Its history has been recorded for
our admonition.” Israel, outwardly and typically redeemed, serve to show, in a great variety of ways, those who are eternally redeemed to God through the blood of the Lamb, their peculiar dangers. That which "happened" to Israel is " written for our admonition." And thus their failures become beacons to us, and at the same time 66
figures” of those forms of error to which, as redeemed, we are liable. It is important, therefore, to seek to ascertain the germinant principle of evil which led to the setting up of the golden calf.
The people had sung the song of redemption on the banks of the Red Sea. They had murmured—but their murmurings had only been answered by the grace of God, in supplying their need. They had fought with Amalek,
. and prevailed through the uplifted hands of Moses. After all this, they receive the law by the “disposition of angels,” and by the hand of the Mediator. The covenant between Jehovah and Israel is solemnly entered on and ratified by blood—the people on their part with one voice, saying "All the words which the Lord hath said will we do." Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, go up to the mount with seventy of the elders of Israel, and were permitted to see the God of Israel on the mount, and to eat and drink; but Moses is called up into the mount of God, with this express injunction to the elders—“Tarry ye here for us, until we come again unto you; and behold Aaron and Hur are with you; if any man have any matters to do, let him come unto them." The people had seen the glory of the Lord at a distance" and the sight of the glory of the Lord was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel." Here we have brought before us the position of the several parties (see Exodus xxiv).
Moses, hidden from the sight of the people, was still occupied with God for the people. He was at that very time receiving instructions from Jehovah for the construction of the beautiful tabernacle, and the ordering of their needed priesthood. He was still blessedly serving them, although they did not see him.
The evil commences with the people; but is consummated by means of the very leader, in whose charge they are left, during the absence of Moses
. The people do not mean to disown Moses—they fully recognise him as the man who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt-but he was not then present to their sight. This was their need some present visible prop on which they might cast themselves so as to be relieved from dependance on that which was invisible. They said to Aaron, “Up, make us gods which shall go before us." Their desire was urgent, and to be gratified at any cost. Without a murmur they bring their golden ornaments to Aaron. How deeply rooted is this principle in the human heart; that which men pay for, they think they have title to use for their own ends; and if it promises relief from dependence on God, they will purchase it at any cost. That which the people demanded received its shape and form from Aaron. He received the gold “at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf.” It is remarkable, how little definiteness there was in the mind, either of the people or of Aaron, as to what would be the result of their gratified desire. The people said, “ These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.” How soon is Moses forgotten in this new and present object. At first they only desired gods to go before them, to carry on that which Moses had begun to do, even to complete their deliverance out of Egypt, by leading them into Canaan. But now they regard these gods, and not Moses, as having brought
them out of Egypt. How deeply, how solemnly instructive is this. One departure from the fear of God may lead to incalculable mischief.
The feelings of Aaron are different from those of the people. “When he saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, To-morrow is a feast to Jehovah." How subtle is sin. Aaron, on being remonstrated with by Moses, excuses himself on the plea of simply humouring the people in what he did. knowest the people, that they are set on mischief. For they said unto me, Make us gods which shall us: for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him. And I said unto them, Whosoever hath any gold, let them break it off. So they gave it me: then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf.” Alas! what amount of evil may not a good man occasion by acting unfaithfully in a case of emergency. Aaron was left in charge of the people, to meet any difficulty which might arise; but the leader falls in with the desire of the people, and unintentionally leads them into idolatry. He himself had no idolatrous object in that which he did, neither was idolatry the intention of the people. In vain was Aaron's proclamation, “To-morrow is a feast to Jehovah.” The calf, and not Jehovah, had the homage of their hearts (see Acts vii. 41). “And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt-offerings, and brought peace-offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” On this is grounded the solemn warning to us, “ Neither be
“ Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them” (1 Cor. x. 7).
We must now turn to the thoughts and judgment of God Himself on this scene. And at the very outset, we are instructed in a solemn and searching truth—that God does not measure things by the intention of human agents, but by His own glory. The thoughts of God
our thoughts, neither are his ways as our ways.” Our simple and plain duty is to acknowledge Him in all our ways. There is no such thing before God as innocence of intention, when
man presumes to prescribe for himself the mode in which he thinks
are not as
God can be honoured, or the work of God can be furthered. In such instances, the means employed are quite as important as the end intended. God is to be honoured in the means we use, “ for to obey is better than sacrifice." And it is in the acknowledgment of God, by waiting upon Him in His own appointed way, that we shall find the most searching test of our obedience to Him, and the uprightness of our heart before Him. And may it not with truth be asserted, that the deepest corruption, both in Israel and the church, can alike be traced to some individual or corporate acta, the only fault of which was, that it was unauthorised by God. But this is a fatal fault. It is the introduction of the will and wisdom of man into the very sphere, where the will and wisdom of God are pre-eminently displayed in carrying out his own work.
We must now transfer our thoughts from Aaron and the people, and their feast below, to Moses standing in the presence of Jehovah himself, within the cloud of glory on the top of the mount. And well would it be for us frequently to do this practically, so that we might form a godly judgment of our own ways. We should then be enabled, when inclined to rejoice in the work
own hands, to detect the danger of secretly departing in our heart from God.
* And the Lord said unto Moses. Go, get thee down, for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto and
a It would be interesting to trace this from the Scriptures; but here it can only be briefly glanced at.
" And Gideon made an ephod thereof [i. e. of his share of the Midianitish spoil], and put it in his city, eve in Ophrah: and all Israel went thither a whoring after it: which thing became a snare unto Gideon, and to his house." There is nothing which our hearts will not use to displace God. The brazen serpent itself was so used by Israel. And Hezekiah “ brake in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan. He trusted in the Lord God of Israel.”