The story in Deuteronomy 9 has always intrigued me. While Moses is on the Mountain receiving the commandments, the Israelites create a golden calf to worship. God tells Moses that the Israelites are stubborn and threatens to destroy them. He goes so far as to tell Moses that he will create a new nation out of Moses. Moses, in a stunning act of humility, repents for his people and asks God to fulfill the promise to Israel.
This was part of my Lenten reading today, so I thought I’d memorialize my thoughts a bit. In full disclosure, some of the ideas come from Bob Dylan’s song, “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”
While Moses was on the mountain thinking about the government Aaron was in the basement mixing up the medicine. We’ve always had those distractions—golden calves and fifths of gin. We are forever poised on the edge of some great blasphemy, a reckless abandonment of our irrational but tangible belief in the supremacy of our creator.
Aaron took the people’s loot, and face full of black soot he smelted out that little golden god. Yahweh looked down, saw his people worshiping their art. The spark of creativity given them was misused; they had bastardized that part of God’s image given them. People have this notion that God is dead, even when they can see him etching commandments into the side of the mountain.
Moses could have watched them melt with the graven image. He could have said the word and Yahweh would have turned the people into cinders along with that calf and a new nation would have risen from the ashes. Mosesites has a nice ring to it. Instead, Moses moved into the midst of the orgy, became a human shield against the wrath of God. He ground it all up—the commandments, the calf, their revelry—and he made the people drink it. Slowly. The bitterness of gold and stone doesn’t make a very good cocktail. All these years later, we still haven’t figured that out.
Moses bowed for forty days, repented for the people. He asked God to renege on the promise of the Mosesites, to keep the Israelite promise. Maybe it was an act of humility. Maybe Moses knew his descendants wouldn’t turn out any better. In the end, frailty is a human certainty. In the end, we all need saving from our own idolotry.
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