Dr. Willis Newman, Esmeralda Newman, bible-teaching-about.com

Aaron's golden calf: why was he not punished? On Ask Dr. Newman

QUESTION

In Exodus 32-33, Aaron made a golden calf.  Many died for this sin, yet he did not / did not seem to be punished.  That doesn't seem 'just'.  Any comments?

Linda


ANSWER

 Great question. Let me have a crack at it. This is the story of great mercy on the part of God, as well as the effectiveness of a great prayer on the part of Moses. In Deuteronomy 9:20 we read, in speaking of the same incident, “And the Lord was angry enough with Aaron to destroy him; so I also prayed for Aaron at the same time.”

Back in Exodus 32:10 it says that God wanted to destroy the whole nation. However, Moses talked God out of it, basing his prayer on three principles. First, it would not be fair for God to deliver Israel, and then destroy them. Second, the Egyptians would think that they had won after all. It would hurt God’s reputation. Third, the covenant that had been established long ago with Abraham was still in effect, and how could God go back on His promise? His honor was at stake.

The appeal by Moses was to God’s mercy, forgiveness, faithfulness, honor, and grace – not justice. God did not change His mind as such, but knew all along what He was going to do. He wanted to draw Moses in on the project so as to display the power and influence of prayer and His mercy. The incident also brought out the character of Moses, and teaches us the power of prayer. We humans are in much more dire need for mercy than justice, because of our corrupted downright sinful and evil nature (cf. Mark 7:20-23; Romans 3:9-20).

There were, however, severe consequences brought down on the people. 

Probably the bigger problem in this passage is God changing His mind (Exodus 32:14). This expression is known in theology as an, “anthropomorphism,” or “anthropopathism.” These are descriptions of God’s actions and feelings in human terms and perspective. God never changes His mind, plan, or character (Psalm102; 33:11; Malachi 3:6; James 1:17).

As a final thought, Moses on a secondary level did appeal to God’s justice. The thought goes like this, “God, if you go against your promise to Abraham, then you would be breaking your promise, which would be a lie, which is an unjust action.”

Linda, I thank you for your involvement, and I hope this helps.

All the best, and God bless,

Dr. Newman


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