By: William Jackson
When reading Exodus 32, many of us see Israel trying to replace YHVH (God) with the idol of a golden calf. Can you imagine that, after all He did for them! Hashem the protected them through the plagues, delivered them from Egyptian oppression, and what about the miracle of the red sea, and now these people turn to a god of their own design? What was the reason… “impatience!”? It boggles the mind. But maybe that’s not the exact story. Let’s examine the text to understand what was truly happening.
It’s true, what appears to have inspired the Israelites to create a mini-god, was in fact the Israelites impatience. Actually a better way of say it is their lack of faith and hopelessness. Yet, in verse 1 it seems like the Israelites are more focused on their leader Moses not returning from Sinai (Exodus 32:1) then in Hashem forgetting them.
In their uprising, the Israelites approach, of all people, Aaron for help. Why would they approach Moses’ second hand man? Remember Aaron, like Moses, was a Godly person, destined for the high priesthood (1). It seems that if this was a true rebellion the defiant Israelites would have chosen their own leader. Interestingly enough, Aaron accepts. After fashioning this idol, Aaron tells them in verse 5 that they are going to have “a festival for the Lord“. “Lord” in this verse is YHVH; which is the proper name of the God of Israel. So in a weird way they are creating this idol to be part of a festival for YHVH. It seems that they want this relationship with YHVH; but are using an idol as a transponder.
So why not communicate straight with YHVH? Why create an idol transmitter? Torah answers this by explaining that the Israelites where afraid of direct contact with YHVH. We see in both Exodus 20:16(19), and Deuteronomy 18:16, that the people where fearful of YHVH. They asked Moses to be their spokesman and now that their spokesman was gone, presumably died. They needed someone or something as a replacement. So this golden calf would function as the conduit of YHVH’s presence among them, just as Moses had functioned previously (2).
The technical term for this is “Corporeal Intermediary“. To break it down Corporeal means something physical or tangible (3) and Intermediary is something that serves as a link between sources. The Israelites were trying to find a replacement for Moses; but in doing so, they violated YHVH’s law by creating an idol (4).
As much as we think we can’t relate to those unruly Israelites almost 3,500 years ago, we actually can. Think about religion in general (yours and others). Has there ever been something or somebody you prayed through to get to YHVH?* Is something your Corporeal Intermediary, when you should just be going to HaShem in prayer and seeking His word the Tanakh?