I think one of the most interesting things about chapter 32, is the first sentence: “When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain” (NLT). Moses had been on the mountain for 40 days, see 24:18, and the people were getting restless. They had just said to Moses “We will do everything the Lord has commanded in chapter 24, but the second their chaperone goes away, they fall back into their old habits. They start worshiping idols and engaging in “pagan revelry.”
Now I know in our society, we don’t see ourselves dancing around idols…or maybe you do, but we were designed to worship something. The most obvious way that I repeat the Israelites actions, is that I go to Church on Sunday and worship God then act like I have no idea who He is during the week. I fall back into my old habits of focusing too much on school work and not enough on spending time with the Lord. I spend more time watching t.v. than I do with my wife. I get frustrated and bitter when things don’t go my way. While I may not be worshiping a golden calf, I am worshiping my shrine. A shrine to self.
We see that God wasn’t very pleased with the Israelites, but Moses pleads for their lives and only 3,000 are killed. While this may seem extreme, we know that sins have to be punished. In the Old Testament, blood had to be shed to pay the penalty for sins. Sin offerings were temporary and had to be done periodically to pay for new sins. This system was done away with when Jesus Christ lived a perfect life and then died on the cross. He died so that we could have a permanent offering for our sins! Now all we have to do is confess our sins and have faith that He did die for our sins and we can have a relationship that will last for an eternity with the God who loves us.
We see in the last few verses that there were punishments for the sins. Some people died immediately, and others received some sort of physical ailment. Hebrews 12:6 says that the Lord disciplines those He loves. As Christians, as God’s children, when we mess up and go astray, He disciplines us to help us remember what is important. When you begin to worship idols in your life or the “unholy trinity:” my needs, my wants, my desires, you can be sure that God will get your attention. Have you examined your heart lately to root out any idols? Pray that God would point out anything in your life that you hold to as more important than Him.