Aaron melted the gold, then molded and tooled it into the form of a calf. The people exclaimed, “O Israel, this is the god that brought you out of Egypt. When Aaron saw how happy the people were about it, he built an altar before the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a feast to Jehovah.” Exodus 32:4-5
Every time I read this account, I am astounded. How did they get from crossing the red sea on dry ground, to concluding that a calf made from their own earrings is now the god that brought them out of Egypt?
I am however just as quickly reminded that while modern idolatry may not require us to bow to graven images, it is not in fact different from what we see of the Israelites in this account. It is quite easy to get lulled into putting our trust in the things we own, and believing that it is our money for instance that has brought us through the things we have gone through in life.
We are so prone to this tendency that even after destroying the Israelites who committed idolatry in the wilderness, God warned those who came into the land of promise to look out for it. God told them, Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments, His precepts, and His statutes which I command you today, Lest when you have eaten and are full, and have built goodly houses and live in them, And when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all you have is multiplied, Then your [minds and] hearts be lifted up and you forget the Lord your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage – Deuteronomy 8:11-14
It is easiest to forget God in the time of ease, or to replace him with ourselves, accomplishments or possessions. Probably the likeliest thing to get us to forget God is economic prosperity, and one of Satan’s most effective deceptions is to swap God with mammon without us being the wiser. With the Israelites, Aaron took the gold and made it into a calf – which probably bore some economic significance for a tribe of herdsmen – built an altar to it, and declared, “Tomorrow there will be a feast to Jehovah.”
By some stroke of evil genius, a golden calf – a totem of prosperity – had become emblematic of Jehovah. This equating of Jehovah to prosperity is very much at the heart of some variants of the prosperity gospel today. Unless you pay close attention, you won’t know when you stray from Jehovah prospers to prosperity proves Jehovah.