The Golden Calf
1 The people saw that a long time had passed and Moses had not come down from the mountain. So they gathered around Aaron. They said to him, “Look, Moses led us out of the land of Egypt, but we don’t know what has happened to him. So make us some gods to go before us and lead us.”
2 Aaron said to the people, “Bring me the gold earrings that belong to your wives, sons, and daughters.”
3 So the people collected all their gold earrings and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took the gold from the people and used it to make an idol. Using a special tool, he shaped the gold into a statue of a calf.
Then the people said, “Israel, here are your gods! These are the gods that brought you out of the land of Egypt!”*
5 Aaron saw all these things, so he built an altar in front of the calf. Then Aaron made an announcement. He said, “Tomorrow will be a special festival to honor the LORD.”
6 The people woke up very early the next morning. They killed animals and offered them as burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. They sat down to eat and drink. Then they got up and had a wild party.
7 At the same time, the LORD said to Moses, “Go down from this mountain. Your people, the people you brought out of the land of Egypt, have committed a terrible sin. 8 They have very quickly turned away from what I commanded them to do. They made a calf from melted gold for themselves. They are worshiping that calf and making sacrifices to it. The people have said, ‘Israel, these are the gods that led you out of Egypt.’ ”
9 The LORD said to Moses, “I have seen these people, and I know that they are very stubborn. They will always turn against me. 10 So now let me destroy them in anger. Then I will make a great nation from you.”
11 But Moses begged the LORD his God, “LORD, don’t let your anger destroy your people. You brought them out of Egypt with your great power and strength. 12 But if you destroy your people, the Egyptians will say, ‘God planned to do bad things to his people. That is why he led them out of Egypt. He wanted to kill them in the mountains. He wanted to wipe them off the earth.’ So don’t be angry with your people. Please change your mind! Don’t destroy them. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. These men served you, and you used your name to make a promise to them. You said, ‘I will make your people as many as the stars in the sky. I will give your people all this land as I promised. This land will be theirs forever.’ ”
14 So the LORD felt sorry for the people. He did not do what he said he might do—he did not destroy them.
15 Then Moses went down the mountain. He had the two stone tablets with the agreement on them. The commandments were written on both sides of the stone, front and back. 16 God himself made the stones, and God himself wrote the commandments on them.
17 Joshua heard the noise from the party in camp. He said to Moses, “It sounds like war down in the camp!”
Moses answered, “It is not the noise of an army shouting for victory. And it is not the noise of an army crying from defeat. The noise I hear is the sound of music.†
19 When Moses came near the camp, he saw the golden calf and the people dancing. He became very angry, and he threw the stone tablets on the ground. The stones broke into several pieces at the bottom of the mountain. 20 Then Moses destroyed the calf that the people had made. He melted it in the fire. Then he ground the gold until it became dust and threw it into the water. Then he forced the Israelites to drink that water.
21 Moses said to Aaron, “What did these people do to you that would make you do this? Why did you lead them to do such a terrible sin?”
22 Aaron answered, “Don’t be angry, sir. You know that these people are always ready to do wrong. 23 The people said to me, ‘Moses led us out of Egypt, but we don’t know what has happened to him. So make us some gods to lead us.’ 24 So I told the people, ‘If you have any gold rings, then give them to me.’ The people gave me their gold. I threw the gold into the fire, and out of the fire came this calf!”
25 Moses saw that Aaron had let the people get out of control. They were being wild, and all their enemies could see them acting like fools. 26 So Moses stood at the entrance to the camp and said, “Anyone who wants to follow the LORD should come to me.” Everyone from the tribe of Levi ran to Moses.
27 Then Moses said to them, “I will tell you what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Every man must get his sword and go from one end of the camp to the other. You men must kill those who are against the Lord, even if they are your brothers, friends, or neighbors.’ ”
The people from the tribe of Levi obeyed Moses. That day about 3000 of the people died. 29
Then Moses said, “Take your role today as special servants of the LORD because you were willing to fight against even your own sons and brothers. You will receive a blessing for this.”‡
The next morning Moses told the people, “You have committed a terrible sin! But now I will go up to the LORD, and maybe I can do something so that he will forgive you for your sin.” 31
So Moses went back to the LORD and said, “Please listen! These people committed a terrible sin and made a god from gold. 32
Now, forgive them of this sin. If you will not forgive them, then erase my name from your book.§
33 But the LORD said to Moses, “The only people I erase from my book are those who sin against me. 34 So now, go down and lead the people where I tell you to go. My angel will go before you and lead you. When the time comes to punish those who sinned, they will be punished.” 35 So the LORD caused a terrible sickness to come to the people. He did this because they told Aaron to make the golden calf.