Exodus 32:1 the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said to him, “Up, make us gods that will go before us; for this Moses, the man that brought us out of the land of Egypt, we know not what has become of him.”
A Strange Story?
“Make us gods!”
Really? This is what it sounds like the Hebrews are saying at a first glance:
“Hey, Aaron, it’s great that our god has miraculously delivered us from captivity and all, but now that we’re free… we really miss the gods of our oppressors. We didn’t worship them before, but now that we’re gone, we think it’d be kind of nice. Can you build us some Egyptian gods to worship instead?”
Upon reading this verse (as translated) it seems that after praying to YHWH faithfully for centuries in Egypt, once He delivered the Hebrews from their bondage, they ran out of Egypt and, at the first sign of woe, immediately decided to turn their backs on Him and to worship false gods instead.
And doesn’t that strike you as being a bit unlikely and irrational? It should!
This strange understanding is the result of a simple translation error which will be explained below, and once the passage is explained correctly, it graduates from being just an interesting if not really WEIRD story to a profound revelation about worship!
The mistranslation here centers on a Hebrew word transliterated as “Elohim.” It is a plural word meaning “gods,” but it is also used as a title of YHWH.
So how did YHWH (the god who is ONE) come to be titled as “gods?” The nations surrounding the Hebrews were all polytheistic – they worshiped multiple gods. Israel was unique in this regard. They didn’t need many gods – YHWH was their ‘gods.’ It was like saying, “He’s all the gods we need.”
Man in the Middle:
Back to our story, the Hebrews coming out of Egyptian captivity had only really heard from YHWH through Moses. Once Moses came as the deliverer, the god they had worshiped in faith alone suddenly became real and active and alive! It appeared that what had been missing in their communion with YHWH… was a MEDIATOR.
Now, thinking Moses was dead and not coming back, they decided they needed another mediator between them and YHWH.
In ancient, proto-Canaanite writings, “God” was represented by symbols that resembled an ox (representing strength) and the staff of a shepherd (signifying authority). So for the Hebrews, a calf was the closest image they could think of to represent their Creator.
The Missing Key:
In other words, they were not trying to create or worship a strange god at all. They weren’t turning to Egyptian paganism for salvation.
The Hebrews were simply trying to worship YHWH in THEIR OWN way.
Of course, in retrospect, we know this was totally unacceptable, and the Hebrews were judged for that. But don’t we still maybe do the EXACT same things? Haven’t we always? There was a lesson to be learned from this story that we see man failing to heed throughout history, even to this day.
In the days of the kings, many sacrificed to YHWH and prayed to Him in the “high places” built and used by pagans to worship their gods.
(See our teaching titled “High Places” for more information)
Again, they were worshiping the same YHWH, but in THEIR OWN way, and it was a way that was unacceptable to Him. YHWH told His people exactly HOW He wants to be worshiped, and expressly forbade us from learning the ways of the people which surround us and worshiping Him the way they worship their gods.
Deuteronomy 18:9 When you come into the land which YHWH your Elohim gives you, you shall not learn to do after the abominations of those nations.
Jeremiah 10:2 This says YHWH: “Learn not the way of the unbeliever.”
Deuteronomy 12:30 Take heed to yourself that you are not snared by following them, after they are destroyed before you; do not inquire after their gods, saying, “How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise.”
Leviticus 19:26 You shall not eat any thing with the blood, neither shall you use enchantment, nor observe times (holy days of other gods).
Later during the Babylonian captivity, the Hebrew faith had ‘evolved’ to become the religion we know today as “Judaism.” Instead of relying on the Torah (Law of Moses) as their guide, they created a collection of their own traditions and laws found today in the Babylonian Talmud and began to worship YHWH in accordance with those doctrines.
When the Messiah came, He was not very impressed! He told the people to do what the scribes and pharisees taught FROM the seat of Moses, but to ignore their traditions and practices. From the “Seat of Moses,” Torah was read without interpretation or commentary. The Law of Moses was and still is the set of instructions by which YHWH wants His people to live.
Today, no Christian (honest and educated in his own religion) can deny that most of his faith and practice is based on extra-biblical tradition. Here are some examples:
Sanctifying Sunday, the first day (while ignoring the seventh day)
Observing times like Easter, Christmas, Lent
Teaching false plans of salvation like “The Sinner’s Prayer”
Worshiping a Trinity (instead of YHWH who is One)
Baptizing into the titles of Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Paying cash-tithes to non-Levites
Dividing men into denominations
Eating unclean meats
This dichotomy of faithful vs. religious people is really just a modern version of the story of Cain and Abel all over again. Both brothers worshiped YHWH, one in his own way, and the other in the way that YHWH demanded. Today, some of us carefully study the Bible to learn how to worship Him correctly, while others make excuses like, “He knows what’s in my heart,” and go on worshiping in whatever way is convenient to them or popular.
With so many examples of the same error being repeated for thousands of years, why do so many people still worship according to the traditions and commandments of men and their religions while ignoring completely the Word of YHWH?
If you are not worshiping YHWH in spirit and in truth (in His way), you are not worshiping YHWH at all. Worshiping Him in disobedience was rejected time and time again and from cover to cover of our Bibles. Has something changed that makes us believe things will be received differently in our generation?
The solution to this dilemma is simple. Read your Bible, obey the Creator, and walk as the Prophets and Apostles did – in obedience to the Word YHWH gave us.