A Lesson from the Golden Calf for Christians

February, 2011

An early document from the Assembly (church) in Jerusalem, Derek D'kehilla, said that everyone should read from the Torah every Sabbath so that in one year we would complete all five books of Moses. This week our portion brings us to the story of the golden calf in Exodus, and it contains a very important message that I think is often missed. Before we get started, I would just like to open this article with a word of prayer...

Heavenly Father, you are so gracious. Despite our shortcomings you are always there for us to turn to with humble hearts. I just ask now that your Spirit would be upon us as we dive into your word and that you would help us to discern the message that is brought through the Scriptures today. Father help us to understand; bring us to a place where we can grow closer to you and see clearly your will so that we may walk in it for your greater glory. May you take hold of our hearts now and put aside any of our pre-conceived notions or influences that would hinder our understanding of your word. Father let us hear from YOU today and you alone. In the precious name of Yeshua we pray, ameyn.
Often when we read the story of the golden calf, we look at the Israelites as an impatient people who needed to create their own god because of the delay of Moses up on Mount Sinai. It's quite difficult for us to imagine that even after all those miracles that HaShem (the L-RD) did to redeem Israel out of Egypt, they were still so quick to forget Him. But when looking at the story of the golden calf that's not the impression I'm left with. In fact, I don't think they created a new god for themselves at all. Let's review the account from Exodus 32,

"Aaron said to them, "Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me." Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. He took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool and made it into a molten calf; and they said, "This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt." Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, "Tomorrow shall be a feast to the L-RD." So the next day they rose early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play. Then the L-RD spoke to Moses, "Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. They have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and have sacrificed to it and said, 'This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!'" (Exodus 32:2-8 NASB, emphasis added)
There are three things that have been highlighted in the above passage which should be carefully considered. First, upon making the golden calf they do not say "here is your new god that will lead you into your promised land". On the contrary, they proclaim "this is the one who brought you out of Egypt!" Second, Aaron then makes an altar and instead of saying that they will now worship some new deity, he proclaims that tomorrow they will have a feast to HaShem/the L-RD! This is the key passage of our text because this title in all capitals has been inserted in our English translations in place of the Divine Name of our Creator spelt Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh in the Hebrew, and for the sake of reverence and personal halacha will be from here on referred to as HaShem. Although the use and pronunciation of the name is disputed, we know that it is the very personal name of our Heavenly Father which proclaims His eternal nature and forever represents Him as a memorial for all generations (see Exodus 3:14-16). As Aaron proclaims that they will be serving HaShem while worshipping their created idol, we can see that this golden calf was not in fact a new deity but rather, an attempted depiction of the true Creator of heaven and earth that brought the Israelites out of Egypt (also see Nehemiah 9:18).

Now let's consider the context here. Israel had been enslaved in Egypt for roughly four hundred years and had been progressively losing touch with the G-d of their fathers. Egyptian culture and customs must have had a profound influence on the Israelites as they were raised in a world that had lost touch with the true Creator. It wasn't until they cried out from the bondage of their slavery that HaShem heard their voice and appeared to Moses in the burning bush shortly thereafter. So it's no surprise that coming from a world of idolatry they wanted to depict HaShem in the form of an idol.

But what does HaShem think about this? Already He had given a summary of Torah in the form of the Ten Words/Commandments which explicitly explained that He was their G-d and they were not to serve or worship the likeness of ANYTHING on heaven or earth (for an in-depth study of this commandment please click here). In a world of idolatry this was a revolutionary commandment. Truly HaShem wanted to set-apart (or make “holy”) a nation for Himself. But in holding on to those aspects of idolatry from the pagan culture they were raised in, they “turned aside from the way which I commanded them” (Exodus 32:8a). Not knowing what had happened to Moses, the Israelites were zealous to worship HaShem and thought they could do so on their own by doing what they were accustomed to (i.e. making an idol). But the anger of HaShem burned against them and three thousand men died because of it (Exodus 32:28).

Now I often have Christians ask me about my obsession with the Torah. They say “why the Torah? Isn’t it just one way to worship G-d? Isn’t it only for the Jews?” Well, not exactly. At the foot of Mount Sinai you didn’t just have the tribe of Judah (from where the Jews come from) but you had eleven other tribes, plus the mixed multitude of everyone else who realized that HaShem was the one true G-d and decided to come and serve Him. HaShem called out a people for Himself to worship Him according to His Torah. Torah, often translated law, is more accurately expressed as “instructions in righteousness” and it is literally THE way to worship and serve Him! Turning against this way as we read in Exodus 32:8 was a very serious act of rebellion and it’s a lesson that I think we all could learn from. You see, these things were written as an example for us because in the exact same way, those who come to faith in Messiah are called out of the world which is depicted in Scripture as a spiritual Egypt/Babylon,

“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! ... Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues;” (Revelation 18:2b, 4b NASB, emphasis added)
In the Greek New Testament, the word Ekklesia, mistranslated as “church”, actually means a called out people/assembly. Just like from out of Egypt, this called out people is also a mixed multitude (compare Exodus 12:38 to Revelation 7:9). We often think that things have changed since “the cross”, but the newer covenants build upon the older ones, they don’t replace, and without the Torah at Mount Sinai, the Bride of Messiah would never be ready for her Groom.

So, am I suggesting that, like the Israelites with the golden calf, worshipping G-d not according to His commandments, the Torah, is wrong? Am I saying that we all must follow Torah? Yes, that is hands down absolutely what I am saying. I must say however that I am not proclaiming Torah as a means to get “saved”, it is rather what you do because you are saved. Israel was saved from the bondage in Egypt FIRST, and THEN they received the standard for being set-apart and worshipping G-d so that they would know how to live as a redeemed people. So now that you know I’m not here to make this into an issue of salvation, please carefully consider what I am about to write and if I am in error, I beg you for correction. In fact, as part of the Body of Messiah it is your duty (Galatians 6:1).

So, first off we read that those called out ones, the Ekklesia, are not only they who have faith in Messiah, but also they who keep the Commandments of G-d,

“And the dragon was enraged against the woman; and he went to make war upon the remnant of her seed who keep the Commandments of El-him and have the testimony of Y’shua.” (Revelation 12:17 AENT, emphasis added)
Torah is very clearly the Commandments of G-d and the latter writings of the Scripture are quite straight forward on following the Commandments (see Matthew 5:17-19, 7:21-23, 28:20, Luke 6:46, John 14:15,21, 15:10, James 1:22-25, Jude 1:3-4, Romans 3:31, 1 Corinthians 7:19b, 1 John 2:3-6, 5:2-3, Revelations 14:12, 22:14, etc.). So if we take the Ten Commandments and turn them into the nine suggestions (eight if you’re a Catholic), then we change the very word of G-d. To put in perspective how serious this is, to change or nullify the Torah (which includes both laws and appointments/times) is actually to fulfill the will of the false Messiah or Anti-Christ (See Daniel 7:25 and 2 Thessalonians 2:7-12). Therefore, this issue is by no means meant to be taken lightly.

But what about the whole culture issue? We’re not Jews, so we should be able to worship G-d how we want, right? I ask you to seriously consider the example of the golden calf again (expanded on here), because I believe that the three thousand of that mixed multitude who died that day would beg to differ. This isn’t an issue of culture; this is an issue of obedience (see the first two sections of John Bevere’s book “Under Cover” for an excellent case on obedience to G-d). Now I ask you, if it was okay to worship G-d however we wanted instead of being a called out people as the Scripture says in all the covenants, then why are we commanded and reminded time after time the exact contrary?

“Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, 'I am the L-RD your G-d. You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt where you lived, nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statutes. You are to perform My judgments and keep My statutes, to live in accord with them; I am the L-RD your G-d.” (Leviticus 18:2-4 NASB, emphasis added)

“Moreover, you shall not follow the customs of the nation which I will drive out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I have abhorred them.” (Leviticus 20:23 NASB, emphasis added)

“take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, 'How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.' You shall not worship the L-RD your G-d in that way,” (Deuteronomy 12:30-31a ESV, emphasis added)

“Thus says the L-RD, "Do not learn the way of the nations,” (Jeremiah 10:2a NASB, emphasis added)

“Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15 NASB)
The one true G-d cannot contradict Himself and He does not change (Malachi 3:6a), so how do we explain these things? If you’re thinking about the New Covenant, we need to return to the Scriptures and see just who this New Covenant was made with,

“Behold, days are coming," declares the L-RD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah,” (Jeremiah 31:31 NASB, emphasis added) Was it made with Rome? Greece? The United States? No. HaShem does not make covenant with any pagan nation or culture, only Israel and those who would join its olive tree (Romans 11) or commonwealth (Ephesians 2) and then be able to appear EXACTLY the same before HaShem as those of native Israelite blood (Numbers 15:15-16, Acts 10:28). For more information on the Gentile believer who comes to faith in the G-d of Israel and His Messiah, please click here. Before we move on though, please consider this: we read in Scripture that,

“the Law will go forth from Zion and the word of the L-RD from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3c)
Notice how the Law and the word come forth from Zion/Jerusalem. It does not pop up randomly in other places and cultures; it can only be brought there by someone who can trace their faith back to Israel (see the great commission of Matthew 28 where Messiah tells His Jewish disciples to go out into the nations). If you think otherwise, you better re-check the Scriptures because there is nothing to indicate this. This is an important truth to realize not just because it protects us from pseudo new-age/latter day religious ideas, but because it also puts into context the prophecy which states that all nations will all be blessed through the descendants of Abraham (Genesis 26:4) and how all nations will be coming to Jerusalem and joining Israel to learn about and worship the true G-d in the last days (Isaiah 2:2-3, 56, 60:1-5, 66:16-23, Jeremiah 3:17, 16:19, Micah 4:1-2, Psalm 86:9, etc.) In fact, Zechariah says that everyone will be grasping the garment of a Jew and be coming to Jerusalem for the feast days (Zechariah 8:22-23, 14:16-19). This is of course because Israel has the irrevocable calling (Romans 11:26-29) of being a light to the nations (Isaiah 42:6). I won’t get too heavy into the subject now, but it is something that everyone should be thinking about.

Despite the above however, we Jews and Gentiles indeed come from different cultural backgrounds, don’t we? Well, if you want to talk about an issue of culture, then let me now take this opportunity to explain the difference between Jewish culture and following the Torah. I will illustrate this difference by using an example from Deuteronomy 6 where Moses says,

“These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart … You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:6, 9 NASB)
In Jewish culture they take actual Scripture and put it inside a little wooden box called a Mezuza which is then posted on all their doorframes. This is a cultural expression of the commandment. Do you have to do this, especially as a non-Jew? Of course not! If you read the entire passage Moses is using a lot of figurative language which is basically telling us that we should dwell on and carry out the Torah/Word of G-d in everything that we do. As a Believer in Messiah should you be doing that? Well of course you should. In Jewish Culture they use the Mezuza to fulfill the commandment of writings the words on your doorposts and gates, but you could instead have something showing the Ten Commandments, or have the actual words of Deuteronomy 6:4 printed on a picture. Do you see the difference between a cultural expression and following the commandments here? A cultural expression is a traditional means of carrying out the commandment. Yet, this means is not something we should be ritualistically bound to. All that matters is that we still keep what HaShem commands us as recorded in the Scripture (though for the sake of unity there’s no need to purposely try and be different). But let’s take the Sabbath as another example. No Believer whether coming from a Jewish or Gentile background has to light the candles on the eve of the Sabbath. That is a Jewish cultural expression of welcoming the Sabbath, a mere suggestion. But we all must keep the Sabbath because it is a commandment, and a commandment is never a suggestion.

At this point it needs to be emphasized that Jew and Gentile are one people in Messiah (Galatians 3:28-29, Ephesians 1:12-13, 19, Colossians 3:11). A single, unified people do not have two sets of rules (and there has never been separate rules either; see Exodus 12:39, Leviticus 24:21-22, Numbers 9:14, 15:15-16, etc.). As already mentioned, we can express our obedience to the rules freely according to the Spirit, but we cannot change the rules like the Anti-Christ. Now besides the fact that there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile in Messiah we can see elsewhere that the Torah is by no means just for Jews…

“The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear G-d and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13 NASB, emphasis added)
I apologize if I am becoming redundant, but the importance of Torah Observance cannot be overstated! In Scripture it is proclaimed as the way, the truth and the life…

"Blessed are the perfect in the way, who walk in the Torah of [HaShem];" (Tehillim [Psalm] 119:1 ISR with Name edit, emphasis added)

"Your righteousness is righteousness forever, and Your Torah is truth" (Tehillim [Psalm] 119:142 ISR, emphasis added)

"The Torah of the wise is a fountain of life, turning one away from the snares of death." (Mishle [Proverbs] 13:14 ISR, emphasis added)
Furthermore, the Torah (which means teaching, instruction or law if you're checking other translations) is proclaimed as a LIGHT,

"For the command is a lamp, and the Torah a light, and reproofs of discipline a way of life," (Mishle [Proverbs] 6:23 ISR, emphasis added)
Sound familiar? Now you have a little bit of an idea why Messianics call Yeshua the “Living Torah”. He is the way, the truth, the life and the light of world. The WORD (which is synonymous with Torah in Scripture) was made flesh and that's part of the reason, prophetically speaking, why Yeshua walked out Torah perfectly (note also how we are called to walk as He walked - 1 John 2:6). Consider too that if HaShem’s Torah is truth (Psalm 119:142) and we are called to worship in spirit and in TRUTH (John 4:24), what does that tell us about how to worship? Just because the atoning death of Messiah pardons our sins doesn’t mean that the very standard of being Set-Apart (holy) has changed. We are still called to holiness,

“but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, "YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY." (1 Peter 1:15-16 NASB)
Peter is quoting from Leviticus 11:44 which, when read in context, is talking all about kosher eating. Was Peter therefore quoting Scripture out of context, or are we still called to eat kosher and observe the rest of Torah to be Holy as HaShem is Holy?

Although people have always twisted Paul’s letters into an excuse to abandon Torah (see 2 Peter 3:15-17, focusing especially upon this word), Paul is abundantly clear that grace is no excuse to sin (Romans 6:1-2a, 15). And just so everybody would be clear on what sin is, John gave us a very straightforward definition in his epistle,

“Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.” (1 John 3:4 NASB, emphasis added)
In the Complete Jewish Bible this verse is paraphrased nicely to make the point clear,

“Everyone who keeps sinning is violating Torah - indeed, sin is violation of Torah.” (1 Yochanan 3:4 CJB, emphasis added)
Let’s make no mistake here: sin is transgression of Torah. Compare the above to such passages as Matthew 7:21-23 and Hebrews 10:25-26 and we can see once again that this issue is no light matter. I am not emphasizing these things just because I’m Torah Observant and want to prove myself right. Further, I’m not saying that those who are not fully Torah observant have been willfully sinning or that their hearts haven’t been right with G-d (you can only do what you sincerely know, right?) No, I’m rather emphasizing this because we are living in the last days where knowledge has increased (Daniel 12:4) prophecy is being fulfilled, and we can’t have pride, tradition or theology standing in the way of the will of G-d. Torah Observance for Christianity is not a deletion of two thousand years of history and a return to the first century, but it is rather very much an end-times event where G-d is making known His truths for His people as Daniel prophesied He would. So I’m asking everyone who reads this to prayerfully consider some of the points brought up here. Talk to G-d, search the Scriptures for yourself and dwell on the word! I only ask that if you are going to do this, please use an accurate translation of the Scriptures. Stay away from paraphrases and dynamic equivalence translations which have translator bias and commentary inserted directly into the text (the best example I can give is the NLT). The word of G-d is only trustworthy if it has been undefiled, so please use a literal / formal equivalence translation (KJV, NKJV, NASB, etc.), or at the very least, an essential-literal translation like the ESV. I ask this out of sincere love because it pains me to see deception by way of faulty translation.

When we accept Messiah Yeshua as our Master and Savior, we become grafted into the commonwealth of Israel, no longer strangers to all of these covenants (Ephesians 2:12). We are also, upon being born of the Spirit, citizens of heaven who are sojourning in the world but no longer part of the world. We are an "Ekklesia", a called out people. This means we leave the things of this world behind us as we are born again of the Spirit. Now the mark of the beast (Revelation 16:2, 19:20) is following the ways of the world, but the mark of HaShem (the one true Creator) are His appointed times/Sabbaths and His Torah (Exodus 31:12-14, Deuteronomy 6:6-8, 11:18). I urge you in love, sincerity and truth once again to consider the revelations of these latter times.

Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.” (Revelation 22:14 NKJV, emphasis added)
If you are looking for a nice introduction to the Torah Observant movement among those who believe in Messiah, then I recommend starting with the book “Restoration: Returning the Torah of G-d to the disciples of Jesus” by Thomas Lancaster. He is an excellent, sincere and loving author. Let’s close in prayer,

Father I thank you for this time to explore your word and seek out the difficult issue of Torah Observance among those of the Christian faith. Father, help us all to understand this movement and the role it is playing in your greater plan and your greater will. As your perfect plan comes to fruition we are sometimes blinded by our own desires or traditions that we hold so dear to us, but Father, help us to separate ourselves and be willing vessels to serve you. Nothing else matters than to fulfill your will here on earth as in heaven. Be patient with us Father as you know how resistant we can be to change or further revelation. Give us hearts to discern the truth in these latter times where there is so much information abounding all around. Let us not fall into the same sins as Israel did at the foot of Mount Sinai or later when they chased after the deities of other nations. Keep us close to your word and close to your heart. Let us flee from all idols and distractions in this life which keep us from worshipping you the way that we should. Only you know the truth and we are counting on your Spirit and those who have been appointed by you to guide us. We thank you Father that amidst the confusion of the world you sent your only Son to die for our sins and pardon our transgressions, allowing us to approach you when we confess and repent from our sin. We thank you for your grace and we just pray that we would be able to use your grace to live a life that is acceptable and pleasing to you. We ask for all of this in the name of Yeshua haMashiyach, our Life-Giver, amen.