What a sorry, sad state of affairs was the golden calf episode! It’s one of those stories, I think, that we hate to read, not only because it is such a dark moment in Israel’s history but, also, because it reminds us of how easily we can turn to idols of various sorts. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that “an idol has no real existence, and that there is no God but one” (1 Corinthians 8:4). He adds, a couple chapters later, “let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12) and instructs, “my beloved, flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14).
Herein lies our discomfort with this story about Israel and the golden calf: We are weak, and we know it. We realize that we, also, can fall into idolatry of one sort or another. On the other hand, we have this great promise and encouragement: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). God is on our side! He will strengthen us against the temptation; we only need to ask. Furthermore, as with Israel, God is gracious toward us. Though a great reckoning took place, that day, with many idolaters losing their lives, the Lord stayed his hand from complete destruction of Israel and said to Moses, “Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give it’” (33:1). Even with Israel’s so great a sin, the promise remained! God is faithful to his word, and that is our great hope!
Remembering the promise of 1 Corinthians 10:13 (just above), we sing:
Lord for tomorrow and its needs
I do not pray;
Keep me, my God, from stain of sin
Just for today.
Help me to labor earnestly,
And duly pray;
Let me be kind in word and deed,
Let me be slow to do my will,
Prompt to obey;
Help me to sacrifice myself,
Let me no wrong or idle word
Set Thou a seal up on my lips
Through all today. -- Samuel Wilberforce & Mary Xavier (1877)