The people saw that a long time had passed and Moses had not come down from the mountain. So they gathered around Aaron and said, "Moses led us out of Egypt, but we don't know what has happened to him. Make us gods who will lead us."
Aaron said to the people, "Take off the gold earrings that your wives, sons, and daughters are wearing, and bring them to me."
So all the people took their gold earrings and brought them to Aaron.
He took the gold from the people and formed it with a tool and made a statue of a calf. Then the people said, "Israel, these are your gods who brought you out of the land of Egypt!"
When Aaron saw all this, he built an altar before the calf and announced, "Tomorrow there will be a special feast to honor the Lord."
The people got up early the next morning and offered whole burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. They sat down to eat and drink, and then they got up and sinned sexually.
Then the Lord said to Moses, "Go down from this mountain, because your people, the people you brought out of the land of Egypt, have ruined themselves.
They have quickly turned away from the things I commanded them to do. They have made for themselves a calf covered with gold, and they have worshiped it and offered sacrifices to it. They have said, 'Israel, these are your gods who brought you out of Egypt.'"
The Lord said to Moses, "I have seen these people, and I know that they are very stubborn.
So now do not stop me. I am so angry with them that I am going to destroy them. Then I will make you and your descendants a great nation."
But Moses begged the Lord his God and said, "Lord, don't let your anger destroy your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with your great power and strength.
Don't let the people of Egypt say, 'The Lord brought the Israelites out of Egypt for an evil purpose. He planned to kill them in the mountains and destroy them from the earth.' So stop being angry, and don't destroy your people.
Remember the men who served you -- Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. You promised with an oath to them and said, 'I will make your descendants as many as the stars in the sky. I will give your descendants all this land that I have promised them, and it will be theirs forever.'"
So the Lord changed his mind and did not destroy the people as he had said he might.
Then Moses went down the mountain, and in his hands he had the two stone tablets with the Agreement on them. The commands were written on both sides of each stone, front and back.
God himself had made the tablets, and God himself had written the commands on the tablets.
When Joshua heard the sound of the people shouting, he said to Moses, "It sounds like war down in the camp."
Moses answered: "It is not a shout of victory; it is not a cry of defeat. It is the sound of singing that I hear."
When Moses came close to the camp, he saw the gold calf and the dancing, and he became very angry. He threw down the stone tablets that he was carrying and broke them at the bottom of the mountain.
Then he took the calf that the people had made and melted it in the fire. He ground it into powder. Then he threw the powder into the water and forced the Israelites to drink it.
Moses said to Aaron, "What did these people do to you? Why did you cause them to do such a terrible sin?"
Aaron answered, "Don't be angry, master. You know that these people are always ready to do wrong.
The people said to me, 'Moses led us out of Egypt, but we don't know what has happened to him. Make us gods who will lead us.'
So I told the people, 'Take off your gold jewelry.' When they gave me the gold, I threw it into the fire and out came this calf!"
Moses saw that the people were acting wildly. Aaron had let them get out of control and become fools in front of their enemies.
So Moses stood at the entrance to the camp and said, "Let anyone who wants to follow the Lord come to me." And all the people from the family of Levi gathered around Moses.
Then Moses said to them, "The Lord, the God of Israel, says this: 'Every man must put on his sword and go through the camp from one end to the other. Each man must kill his brother, his friend, and his neighbor.'"
The people from the family of Levi obeyed Moses, and that day about three thousand of the Israelites died.
Then Moses said, "Today you have been given for service to the Lord. You were willing to kill your own sons and brothers, and God has blessed you for this."
The next day Moses told the people, "You have done a terrible sin. But now I will go up to the Lord. Maybe I can do something so your sins will be removed."
So Moses went back to the Lord and said, "How terribly these people have sinned! They have made for themselves gods from gold.
Now, please forgive them of this sin. If you will not, then erase my name from the book in which you have written the names of your people."
But the Lord told Moses, "I will erase from my book the names of the people who sin against me.
So now, go. Lead the people where I have told you, and my angel will lead you. When the time comes to punish, I will punish them for their sin."
So the Lord caused terrible things to happen to the people because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made.
Scripture taken from the New Century Version. Copyright © 1987, 1988, 1991 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.