DON’T be IMPATIENT: the CONSEQUENCES can be DEADLY: Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, "Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him." (Exodus 32:1)
Starting from the above passage, the next three chapters in Exodus (32–34) is a narrative about both apostasy and renewal in Israel. One thing that we need to understand is that redemption does not bring immediate sanctification! Although the Israelites were redeemed and had an eternal relationship with God, sin continued to dominate in their lives. Impatience and dissatisfaction with Jehovah God led to murmuring, which then advanced to disobedience, and, finally, to idolatry that ultimately proved to be deadly for about 3000 Israelite men (32:28).
While Moses was on the top of Mt. Sinai receiving the covenant revelation (31:18; 24:12–18), the Israelites at the foot of this mountain almost immediately began to break its stipulations, especially the first two commandments (32:1–6). They persuaded Aaron to lead them away from Jehovah God (breaking commandment # 1) and to make a gold idol instead (breaking commandment # 2).
How did this gross dereliction of the basic covenant preamble (the Ten Commandments) even happen? This infamous story began on a very human level. The people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain. The extended absence of Moses (24:18) and the terrifying setting into which he had disappeared (24:9-17) led the people to think that he might never return. The people were the redeemed of Israel (12; 14:31), but in their discouragement they wandered to other gods. Moses was gone for only forty days, but the people ran out of patience before then. Being impatient at Moses’ delay in returning back, the people asked Aaron to make an idol for them. He meekly complied by converting their golden earrings into a golden molded calf, an act that was expressly forbidden by God (Ex. 20:4), and this resulted in disastrous consequences.
Actually, what was going on was a spiritual warfare where unseen forces worked to encourage evil among God’s people. Stephen alluded to this event when he said that the fathers “turned back to Egypt” (Acts 7:39, 40). Not only were the Israelites impatient due to the lengthy absence of Moses, but that they had cast off their allegiance to Jehovah God and their hearts had departed from Him totally. Instead of being loyal to Jehovah, their vision was narrowed to a molded golden calf as their hearts were already divorced from God. This calf clearly represented the impatience of the Israelites, which ultimately led to God’s judgment on them.
Despite all that God had said and all that the Israelites had promised to do in return (19:8), the Israelites did not know how to live by faith. Moses had been gone for just forty days (Deut. 9:11) but the people had already become impatient. They still had the fire and cloud to assure them of God’s presence over the mountain, but that was not enough as they wanted another visible representation of Jehovah to encourage them. It was unbelief in Jehovah that was displayed in the behavior of the Israelites, for “whoever believes will not act hastily” (Isa. 28:16).