When the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. They said to him, "We don't know what has happened to this Moses, who led us out of Egypt. Make gods who will lead us."
Aaron said to them, "Have your wives, sons, and daughters take off the gold earrings they are wearing, and bring them to me."
So all the people took off their gold earrings and handed them to Aaron.
After he had worked on the gold with a tool, he made it into a statue of a calf. Then they said, "Israel, here are your gods who brought you out of Egypt."
When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of it and announced, "Tomorrow there will be a festival in the LORD's honor."
Early the next day the people sacrificed burnt offerings and brought fellowship offerings. Afterward, they sat down to a feast, which turned into an orgy.
The LORD said to Moses, "Go back down there. Your people whom you brought out of Egypt have ruined [everything].
They've already turned from the way I commanded them to live. They've made a statue of a calf for themselves. They've bowed down to it and offered sacrifices to it. They've said, 'Israel, here are your gods who brought you out of Egypt.'"
The LORD added, "I've seen these people, and they are impossible to deal with.
Now leave me alone. I'm so angry with them I am going to destroy them. Then I'll make you into a great nation."
But Moses pleaded with the LORD his God. "LORD," he said, "why are you so angry with your people whom you brought out of Egypt using your great power and mighty hand?
Don't let the Egyptians say, 'He was planning all along to kill them in the mountains and wipe them off the face of the earth. That's why he brought them out [of our land].' Don't be so angry. Reconsider your decision to bring this disaster on your people.
Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. You took an oath, swearing on yourself. You told them, 'I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. I will give to your descendants all the land I spoke of. It will be their permanent possession.'"
So the LORD reconsidered his threat to destroy his people.
Moses turned and went down the mountain carrying the two tablets with God's words. They were written on both sides, front and back.
The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was God's writing inscribed on the tablets.
Then Joshua heard the noise of the people shouting. He said to Moses, "It's the sound of war in the camp!"
Moses replied, "It's not the sound of winners shouting. It's not the sound of losers crying. It's the sound of a wild celebration that I hear."
When he came near the camp, he saw the calf and the dancing. In a burst of anger Moses threw down the tablets and smashed them at the foot of the mountain.
Then he took the calf they had made, burned it, ground it into powder, scattered it on the water, and made the Israelites drink it.
Moses asked Aaron, "What did these people do to you that you encouraged them to commit such a serious sin?"
"Don't be angry, sir," Aaron answered. "You know that these people are evil.
They said to me, 'We don't know what's happened to this Moses who brought us out of Egypt. Make gods for us. They will lead us.'
So I told them to take off any gold they were wearing. They gave it to me. I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!"
Aaron had let the people get out of control, and they became an object of ridicule to their enemies. When Moses saw this,
he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, "If you're on the LORD's side, come over here to me!" Then all the Levites gathered around him.
He said to them, "This is what the LORD God of Israel says: Each of you put on your sword. Go back and forth from one end of the camp to the other, and kill your relatives, friends, and neighbors."
The Levites did what Moses told them, and that day about 3,000 people died.
Moses said, "Today you are ordained as the LORD's priests. God gave you a blessing today because each of you fought with your own sons and brothers."
The next day Moses said to the people, "You have committed a serious sin. Now I will go up the mountain to the LORD. Maybe I will be able to make a payment for your sin and make peace with the LORD for your sin."
So Moses went back to the LORD and said, "These people have committed such a serious sin! They made gods out of gold for themselves.
But will you forgive their sin? If not, please wipe me out of the book you have written."
The LORD answered Moses, "I will wipe out of my book whoever sins against me.
Now, go! Lead the people to the place I told you about. My Messenger will go ahead of you. But when I punish, I will punish them for their sin."
So the LORD killed people because they had Aaron make the calf.