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Though the Bible text that talks about the making of the gold calf in the desert seems to indicate that this was the personal handiwork of Aaron, the next verse implies that he had likely authorized someone else (skilled craftsmen) to do the actual work.
For, notice that the account says he didn’t build an Altar to it until after he saw the idol.
So, the reason why he was spoken of as ‘making’ the calf, was because he was responsible for building it, and that’s why we have rendered these texts as we have… to clarify that point.
He likely didn’t have the necessary craftsmanship skills to do the work.
Also notice that the calf was supposed to represent Jehovah; so, the people didn’t really think of themselves as worshiping another god. They just wanted something that they could SEE to worship, like the gods they could see in Egypt… ‘memory aids.’ And since a calf was often the first (and most valuable) sacrifice that they offered to God, this might have been the reason for the idol being carved into that shape.
However, remember that God had already forbidden their making or using idols, and that is why He was so displeased. They shouldn’t have needed anything to see as proof that He was there, because of all the miracles that they had been witnessing, such as His Bringing them through the Red Sea, or the column of clouds that led them during the day or the column of fire that was with them during the nights!
Then, why wasn’t Aaron held more to blame for his part in building the idol?
Apparently, God still saw some good in Aaron.
Remember that the previous few Chapters in the Exodus told of what God was saying to Moses while he was on the mountain… and though He knew what was going on down below, God still spoke of the honor that was to be shown to Aaron and his sons.
This situation may be very difficult for many to understand, because of the knowledge that we have accumulated about God down to this day. However, what most people don’t realize is how rudimentary the knowledge and ideas about God must have been at the time… even for Aaron. For until they had been delivered from Egypt, there had been little contact with the true God for four-hundred years!
So the proper ways of serving Him had likely been forgotten.
And as the result, God had to start from scratch in building and shaping a nation of worshipers…
And they had to be taught some very hard lessons along the way, which often resulted in their deaths, because people had to understand that this was a life-and-death matter.
Notice too that when Moses asked,
‘Who is on Jehovah’s side?,’
and he assembled a small army to slaughter the unfaithful;
‘The Sons of Levi’ (which likely included Aaron and his family) came to Moses and took their stand for Jehovah.
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