More Insights about the Golden Calf Incident

August 7, 2013

Scripture provides explicit information about the Golden Calf incident in 59 verses in six passages (Exod. 32:1-35; Deut. 9:8-21; Neh. 9:18; Ps. 106:19-23; Acts 7:39-41; 1 Cor. 10:7). Various considerations make clear the profound importance of this information for New Testament believers.

(To profit fully from this article, please be sure that you have read my previous article Toward Fully Understanding the Golden Calf Incident before reading this one.)

Great Men of God Teach Us about This Incident

At least five great men of God (Moses, Nehemiah, Luke, Stephen, and Paul) were directed by God to consider this a vital event in the history of God’s people.[1] Just this fact by itself shows that we should study it thoroughly to learn all that we can from it.

In the two longest passages (Exod. 32; Deut. 9), Moses provides 49 of the 59 explicit verses about the incident. Moses thus highlights this event in the Pentateuch in a noteworthy way.

The unknown writer of Psalm 106 gives us five verses about the incident. Luke records for us three verses about the Golden Calf incident from Stephen’s message that rebuked the high priest and many others about their sinfulness (Acts 7).

Nehemiah and Paul provide us with one verse each. As we will see later, the Golden Calf incident plays a far more important role in First Corinthians (and the NT as a whole) than the fact that there is only one explicit verse recorded about it in the book.

From Moses to Nehemiah to Paul and Luke

Around 1000 years after Moses had written about it twice (c. 1405 B.C), Nehemiah prayed and wrote about the incident (c. 425 B.C.).[2] Psalm 106 was probably written at an unknown time (c. 1410 – 430 B.C.) after Moses wrote his two accounts and before Nehemiah wrote about the incident.

Somewhere around 486 years or so probably elapsed from the reference in Nehemiah 9 to the writing of both the statements in the NT about the incident (1 Cor. [c. A.D. 54-56]; Acts [c. A.D. 61]). Approximately 1470 years thus separate the writing of the first account (Exod. 32) from the last account (Acts 7).

This chronological data shows that God directed writers of Scripture to inform His people explicitly about the Golden Calf incident on at least three key occasions in their history:

(1) Before their entering Canaan after the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness (Ex. 32; Deut. 9); (2) at the renewing of the covenant after the walls of Jerusalem had been  rebuilt (Neh. 9); and (3) during the strengthening of the NT Church through their receiving the writings of Paul (1 Cor. 10) and Luke (Acts 7).

We will see later that Paul’s use of the Golden Calf incident actually climaxes divine revelation about the incident in a profound way.

The First Explicit Record of Idolatrous Worship among God’s People

Although a few previous references point to the presence of idols in the households of some of God’s people (cf. Gen. 31:19, 32), the Golden Calf incident is the first explicit record in Scripture of idolatrous worship among God’s people. It is also the first record of their eating meat that was sacrificed to idols (Exod. 32:6; cf. Acts 7:41).

Having just been redeemed from Egypt by an incredible display of God’s miraculous works (Ps. 106:21-22), their doing so in a feast that was supposed to be “a feast to the Lord” (Exod. 32:5) immensely magnifies the sinfulness of what they did on this occasion. In an exceedingly appalling way, the Israelites intensely provoked God in the Golden Calf incident (Exod. 32:10; Deut. 9:18; Ps. 106:23).

A careful examination of First Corinthians 10 will reveal the profound significance that all these points about the Golden Calf incident have for NT believers.

(See the rest of the articles in this series under point 11 here.)

[1] We do not know who wrote Psalm 106. If neither Moses nor Nehemiah was its author, we may have six great men of God who teach us about the importance of this incident.

[2] Approximate dates for the OT books are from charts in The New Open Bible: Study Edition; for the NT books, they are from New Testament Introduction (BJU Seminary).

Copyright © 2011-2024 by Rajesh Gandhi. All rights reserved.



Copyright © 2011-2024 by Rajesh Gandhi. All rights reserved.