When the people realized that Moses was taking forever in coming down off the mountain, they rallied around Aaron and said, "Do something. Make gods for us who will lead us. That Moses, the man who got us out of Egypt - who knows what's happened to him?"
So Aaron told them, "Take off the gold rings from the ears of your wives and sons and daughters and bring them to me."
They all did it; they removed the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron.
He took the gold from their hands and cast it in the form of a calf, shaping it with an engraving tool. The people responded with enthusiasm: "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up from Egypt!"
Aaron, taking in the situation, built an altar before the calf. Aaron then announced, "Tomorrow is a feast day to God!"
Early the next morning, the people got up and offered Whole-Burnt-Offerings and brought Peace-Offerings. The people sat down to eat and drink and then began to party. It turned into a wild party!
God spoke to Moses, "Go! Get down there! Your people whom you brought up from the land of Egypt have fallen to pieces.
In no time at all they've turned away from the way I commanded them: They made a molten calf and worshiped it. They've sacrificed to it and said, 'These are the gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt!'"
God said to Moses, "I look at this people - oh! what a stubborn, hard-headed people!
Let me alone now, give my anger free reign to burst into flames and incinerate them. But I'll make a great nation out of you."
Moses tried to calm his God down. He said, "Why, God, would you lose your temper with your people? Why, you brought them out of Egypt in a tremendous demonstration of power and strength.
Why let the Egyptians say, 'He had it in for them - he brought them out so he could kill them in the mountains, wipe them right off the face of the Earth.' Stop your anger. Think twice about bringing evil against your people!
Think of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants to whom you gave your word, telling them 'I will give you many children, as many as the stars in the sky, and I'll give this land to your children as their land forever.'"
And God did think twice. He decided not to do the evil he had threatened against his people.
Moses turned around and came down from the mountain, carrying the two tablets of The Testimony. The tablets were written on both sides, front and back.
God made the tablets and God wrote the tablets - engraved them.
When Joshua heard the sound of the people shouting noisily, he said to Moses, "That's the sound of war in the camp!"
But Moses said, Those aren't songs of victory, And those aren't songs of defeat, I hear songs of people throwing a party.
And that's what it was. When Moses came near to the camp and saw the calf and the people dancing, his anger flared. He threw down the tablets and smashed them to pieces at the foot of the mountain.
He took the calf that they had made, melted it down with fire, pulverized it to powder, then scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it.
Moses said to Aaron, "What on Earth did these people ever do to you that you involved them in this huge sin?"
Aaron said, "Master, don't be angry. You know this people and how set on evil they are.
They said to me, 'Make us gods who will lead us. This Moses, the man who brought us out of Egypt, we don't know what's happened to him.'
"So I said, 'Who has gold?' And they took off their jewelry and gave it to me. I threw it in the fire and out came this calf."
Moses saw that the people were simply running wild - Aaron had let them run wild, disgracing themselves before their enemies.
He took up a position at the entrance to the camp and said, "Whoever is on God's side, join me!" All the Levites stepped up.
He then told them, "God's orders, the God of Israel: 'Strap on your swords and go to work. Crisscross the camp from one end to the other: Kill brother, friend, neighbor.'"
The Levites carried out Moses' orders. Three thousand of the people were killed that day.
Moses said, "You confirmed your ordination today - and at great cost, even killing your sons and brothers! And God has blessed you."
The next day Moses addressed the people: "You have sinned an enormous sin! But I am going to go up to God; maybe I'll be able to clear you of your sin."
Moses went back to God and said, "This is terrible. This people has sinned - it's an enormous sin! They made gods of gold for themselves.
And now, if you will only forgive their sin. . . . But if not, erase me out of the book you've written."
God said to Moses, "I'll only erase from my book those who sin against me.
For right now, you go and lead the people to where I told you. Look, my Angel is going ahead of you. On the day, though, when I settle accounts, their sins will certainly be part of the settlement."
God sent a plague on the people because of the calf they and Aaron had made.
Published by permission. Originally published by NavPress in English as THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language copyright 2002 by Eugene Peterson. All rights reserved. (The Message Bible Online)