Further Reflections on Aaron, the Ancient Israelites, & the Golden Calf

Camels in the desert
Dark silhouettes of camels and riders against a background of lighter desert hills. Image licensed from Envato Elements.

Dissatisfaction is contagious. Can faith lead us in a different direction?


I find myself still thinking about the ancient Israelites and their journey through the wilderness. So often people tell me that the Bible, particularly the Hebrew Bible, isn’t relevant to modern life. Oh, but it is, especially when imagination is invoked.

Imagine yourself in the crowd of people who followed Moses out of Egypt. Feel the excitement and hope coursing through your veins when Pharaoh is unable to pursue you as the army is washed away in the sea.

Think about the sense of liberation as you escape centuries of enslavement. You and all your loved ones are on your way to the Promised Land, a land of abundance and safety.

Everything is great until the food and water become scarce and the monotony of trudging through the desert day after day brings exhaustion – and ambivalence. Wasn’t life better in Egypt with enough food and shelter?

Then comes the manna and the quail and water from a rock. It’s amazing and sparks a bit of hope. Maybe God is still present as Moses keeps saying. Maybe everyone will survive long enough to get to that land of abundance.

Even miracles become ordinary as the days add up. The longing for more than manna and quail and water begins to stir deep within. Dissatisfaction is contagious. Grumbling and doubts about this whole adventure seem more powerful than the God Moses proclaims.

After too many days a camp is set up for more than just a night or two. At first it feels good to rest and to leave things unpacked for a bit. Yet, where did Moses go? He’s been gone a while. Perhaps he took his God with him. Maybe there is a better way, a more hopeful way through the wilderness.

Somebody suggests making a god that can be seen and touched, a god whose presence isn’t a mystery. Aaron takes some convincing, though not as much as maybe he should have. Very shortly all the gold and silver is collected and Aaron fashions a golden calf. (Ever wonder how he knew how to do that?)

The golden calf is what most people see and remember of the idol that Aaron made. Though for some people it took a different shape – the shape of their fear, their greed, their need for control, their need to prove themselves, their desire for power…

What shape does that idol take for you?

For a time there was joy and sacrificing and dancing to honor this god made by human hands. Until the rumbles of thunder from the mountain top where Moses had been.

When Moses returned he was angry, though not as angry as God was. Moses preached a fiery sermon that day. How could we abandon God’s ways so quickly, in just a matter of days? How could we turn away from the God who liberated us from Egypt and had provided for our needs every day?

How could we choose an empty idol fashioned by human hands and desires over a Mystery whose love is truly never ending?

The good news is that in spite of themselves, the ancient Israelites made it to the Promised Land. The bad news is that they repeatedly turned away from God’s ways of love and abundance. However, God never withdrew from them.

Now tell me this story doesn’t ring true

Think about those times when you felt God’s absence. Was it God’s doing your human doing? And what drew you back to the ways of love and abundance?

No matter where we journey, God is already there just waiting for us to notice the love and abundance enfolding us.


About Rachael Keefe

Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe is the pastor of Living Table United Church of Christ. She was called to Living Table in 2015 after serving in many varied ministry settings since her ordination in 1992. She holds graduate degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Seminary at Yale (formerly Andover Newton Theological School). Her ministry and leadership often center around advocacy and accessibility. Her writing has been published by Chalice Press, The Christian Century, Red Letter Christians, Working Preacher, RevGalBlogPals, and others. She is grateful to be in ministry with Living Table today.

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2 thoughts on “Further Reflections on Aaron, the Ancient Israelites, & the Golden Calf”

  1. Oh my, patience is not my strong suit whatsoever. I’m sure I would have challenged the leadership of Moses and wanted INSTANT gratification. Manna would and quail every single day would not have cut it for me.


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