The Adoration of the Golden Calf - Nicolas Poussin
We are at the base of Mount Sinai and will be here for almost an entire year. The main purpose of our stay here is to establish a constitution and a sanctuary of Tabernacle and other equipment.
While reading the laws given by God, we will come across the word 'atonement'. In Old Testament, atonement refers to the forgiving or pardoning of sin. An atonement was required for everything ranging from heinous crimes of idolatry to petty lies. There are various types of atonement which we will see soon. The way an atonement was performed was by means of a solemn fast, a Sabbath on which no food or drink could be consumed, and on that day all work was forbidden. Sacrifices would be offered by the high priest as a penance for himself and for the people. Jewish people continue to observe this as Yom Kippur.
Chapter 29 talks about the law concerning the consecration of Aaron and his sons to the priest's office, which was to be done with a great deal of ceremony and solemnity. The word “consecrate” means to dedicate for a particular purpose. The priests were not allowed to serve the Lord in the capacity of priests until these steps were taken. We will go over this procedure again in Leviticus 1 - 7. For now, just read your Bible.
Moving on to chapter 30, we continue with those instructions related to the construction of Tabernacle such as altar of incense, atonement money, basin for washing, anointing oil, and incense.
The Altar of Incense
Dimensions - half meter long, a half meter wide, one meter tall, with horns built into it, made of acacia wood, overlaid with pure gold.
To be carried with poles—made out of acacia wood, overlaid with gold, as with other equipment.
To be placed in front of the curtain, which was before the ark of the Covenant, where God met with the High Priest.
The High Priest (Aaron in this case) was to burn fragrant incense on this altar every morning, and every day at twilight.
They were not to offer any other offerings, nor any other incense, on this altar, other than this specific burning of incense.
Once a year, the High Priest was to make an atonement on the horns of this altar, made with “the blood of the atoning sin offering.”
God instructed Moses to start taking census, and during the process of census, every Israelite twenty years old or more was to pay a half shekel as an offering to the LORD. A “half shekel” is about six grams of silver. This offering was to be given by everyone; the rich were not to give more, and the poor were not to give less. The money collected from this offering was to be used for the service of the Tent of Meeting. A plague would come over those who did not pay this.
When we read these pages, one can notice specific mention made between the rich and the poor. When it came to atonement money, both the rich and the poor were to give a “half shekel”, no more, no less. Seems like it was a lesson both for the rich and the poor - i.e., both were alike in the eyes of God. Unlike how we can get things done in the world by influence or bribe, there is no way we we can buy our way into righteousness - simply because God doesn't really need our money - all of it is His anyway.
Basin for Washing
There was to be a bronze basin, filled with water, where the priests were to wash their hands and feet - no specifications here. Prior to the priest entering the tent of the meeting or presented offerings to Lord, they were to wash their hands and feet - failure to do so would result in death.
In Old Testament, cleanliness was often associated with righteousness, and in both the Old and the New Testaments, uncleanliness is associated with sinfulness. Notice the failure to wash hands and feet prior to entering the altar would result in death. We will soon see an example of this.
Hence, the difference between that which was “clean” and that which was “unclean” was vital to the devout Jew.
It was to be made to be used for anointing the Tent of Meeting, the ark, and numerous other implements used in worship.
The oil was to be made out of:
- six kilograms of liquid myrrh
- three kilograms of fragrant cinnamon
- three kilograms of fragrant cane
- six kilograms of cassia
- four liters of olive oil
Once consecrated, they would be “most holy”, and anything that touched them would become holy. Aaron and his sons were also to be anointed with this oil, so that they could serve God as priests. This oil and even this recipe for oil was to be considered sacred by the Israelites.
They were not to use it for any other purpose, and were not to make any other oil using this formula. Anyone who made a perfume like it, or put it on anyone other than a priest, was to be “cut off” from the Israelites.
Cut off means isolated and driven out of the community. The Israelites due to their large number even had people with leprosy, who were not allowed to mingle with others and were instead asked to stay outside the camp. Those cut off would not be allowed even to stay in these camps, rather expelled from the society and driven away. However they would not carry a death penalty.
The incense for burning on the altar of incense was to be the work of a perfumer using fragrant spices. It was to be a fragrant blend of gum resin, onycha, galbanum, and frankincense, all in equal amounts, ground into powder.
As with the anointing oil, this recipe for incense was to be considered holy to the LORD. No other incense was to be made with this formula, and anyone who made incense for his own enjoyment was to be "cut off" from the Israelites.
Bezalel and Oholiab
After the elaborate design, God also provided people for the task. God chose Bezalel, the son of Hur, who was Moses' nephew. He was filled with the Spirit of God, wisdom, understanding, knowledge and all kinds of skills, to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship required for the Tabernacle.
Oholiab was selected to assist Bezalel. Further, the ability to build all those were given to all skilled workers.
God told them to observe the Sabbath for generations to come - in a serious manner. Anyone who treated it with disrespect was to be put to death. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day was to be put to death.
The Golden Calf
While God was speaking to Moses, people felt his absence and became anxious and nervous. There were numerous Egyptians who had joined the children of Israel during their Exodus. A small group of such Egyptians created a rumor saying Moses was not returning from the mountain. This rumor caught up like wildfire and they demanded another leader - to be an intermediate between God and them.
They approached Aaron and Hur (Miriam's son), who were put in charge by Moses as temporary leaders. They now demanded to make an idol for them in place of Moses - they were afraid to face God directly. Hur resisted their idea and had heated arguments with them. In the end, the angry mob put Hur to death.
Aaron was in a state of confusion. He knew that Moses would arrive soon and at the same time was responsible for this entire 2.5 million people and wanted to buy time. In a desperate attempt to buy some time from them, asked everyone to bring their gold to him - he thought they would not part with it very easily. The women showed some resistance, but in general the men parted with it quite easily.
He took the gold jewelry they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”
Aaron, under pressure, built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.” So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. This was followed by a huge party - Bible calls it revelry.
On Mount Sinai, Lord had finished speaking to Moses, and He gave him the two tablets of the covenant law, the tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God. God also told Moses about what was going on with the people - God was about to destroy them due to His anger. Moses pleaded with God not to destroy them, and finally God agreed.
Now Moses took up this anger upon him and climbed the mountain down, to meet up with Joshua, and together they approached the camp. In despair, he threw the Tables of Commandments to the ground, shattering them into small pieces - for he thought these people do not deserve this treasure from God. He then took the golden calf, ground it to dust and spread the dust over the water, which he made the people drink.
Moses then stood at the entrance of the camp and called out for whoever was with God. The entire tribe of Levi came towards him. He then asked them to go kill all those worshipers of the golden calf, regardless of their relationship with them. Three thousand men were killed on that day as punishment towards idolatry.
Moses then went up to God and asked for forgiveness on behalf of his people. This time around, he stayed there for another forty days and forty nights. During this time, people mourned for their dead and atoned for their sin.
Let's wrap up our tour for today here.
This is believed to be the remains of the altar Moses built at the foot of Mount Sinai.
Remains of the 12 stones representing 12 tribes
The rock on top of the mountain appears to be scorched. In Exodus 24 we read that the mountain burned with fire when the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai.
Remains of calf altar with calf petroglyphs.
Calf Petroglyphs on Rock Altar near Mt. Sinai
Moses with the Ten Commandments - Champaigne Philippe de