In response to these comments
Before I begin let me thank you for taking the time and the energy to write these lengthy responses. It is through discussions like these that we can all grow in our understanding of the truth.
First let me demonstrate why your Biblical interpretation is not rooted in a sound analysis of Scripture.
You argue that the motive of the people (in worshiping the golden calf at Sinai) was to replace both Moses and God out of full knowledge of rejection of both of them when the Scripture clearly says that it was only Moses who they were missing and that the motivation was panic (Exodus 32:1). The word that Scripture uses for god is a word that is explicitly associated with Moses himself (Exodus 7:1) and does not necessarily mean that they were looking for a replacement for God Himself. Furthermore, in Nehemiah (9:19) we are told that the pillars of cloud and fire were still with them, another indication that they were not looking to replace God Himself.
You argue that the people’s declaration that these were the gods that took them out of Egypt proves that they credited the calf with everything that God and Moses had done for them is untenable simply because it makes no sense. How could anyone think that a calf that just arrived on the scene took them out of Egypt several months before?
The more likely explanation is that they understood that Moses was a medium through which God had operated in order to take them out of Egypt and they believed that the power that was manifest in Moses would henceforth be manifest in the calf. But this was not a new power. They understood that the power originated with God whether in Moses or in the calf.
Your interpretation that has people running around naked has no root outside of your own imagination. The Hebrew word “parua” never means “naked.”
You argue that when the Scripture says that they made the calf “for themselves” this indicates a rebellion against God. Your argument is non-Scriptural. The expression “for themselves” or “for yourselves” is used in relation to bringing offerings to God Himself (Exodus 12:3,21; 30:23; Numbers 19:2). This expression does not indicate conscious rebellion against God.
The fact that Aaron tells the people that the festival will be for God (Exodus 32:5) tells us that the people had not forgotten about God. Your explanation that Aaron only said these words to cover his back in case Moses returns is untenable simply because Aaron does not repeat these words when he tells Moses the story.
You argue that the Scripture says that they worshiped “it” and not God. That is precisely my point. They might have thought that with this worship they are serving God but the Scripture is teaching is that in reality they were serving the calf.
You argue from the fact that they made a new altar that this was a replacement of the worship initiated by Moses. This argument is inconclusive because Moses himself did not use this altar when he ultimately built the Tabernacle. It seems that the first altar that Moses made was of temporary nature. Furthermore, it could well be that they felt that a different altar is needed for this new mode of worship without consciously realizing that this worship was a rebellion against God.
You argue that the people were warned not to make an idol and that their worship of the calf was described as disobedience.
Again, this is precisely my point. Look at the Catholics who believe in the Jewish Bible yet flood their Churches with graven images without realizing that they are in violation of the direct command of God. They are reading the text exactly the way you are. They are magnifying the sin of the Israelites in order to deflect the accusation from their own sin.
Your analysis of Jeroboam’s calves is nothing more than a translation of a selection from Scripture and you completely ignored my questions. (Why does Elijah never rebuke Ahab for the golden calves? Why are Jehoram and Jehu commended for destroying Baal worship if they were still engaged in worship of the golden claves?)
I recognize that the motive of Jeroboam to make the calves was completely political and cynical but what did he tell the people? What did the people in future generations think about his calves? My understanding is that they believed that this was worship of the true God and they forgot the message of the prophet who warned Jeroboam. Perhaps they ignored his message because he was ultimately punished by God (1Kings 13:24) making the same mistake that the Christians make; namely – arguing that if the witness is not sinless then even if he was appointed by God then we can ignore his testimony.
Your analysis of Judges 17/18 simply ignores 17:13 and 18:6. 17:13 tells us that Micah felt that the very priest that he appointed for his image was favored by God. This does not sound like he saw the image as a worship that is unrelated to God. In 18:6, the priest that was appointed to serve the image responds to a question that was posed to him in the name of the true God. Again, all indicators show that this worship was a confused mixture of worshiping God together with an image.
You also failed to explain Deuteronomy 4:15.
Your approach to Scripture is to ignore what is inconvenient for your theory and overinflate what you see as supportive of your theory. Your interpretation does not arise out of a careful read of the text. I encourage you to reread the relevant texts and do not develop any theory before you have all the relevant Scriptures in front of you.
Now let us approach the root of our argument.
Your position is (and correct me if I am wrong) that if one is not worshiping the idol out of a conscious rebellion against God then it is not the idolatry prohibited by Scripture.
It seems that we our positions are the polar opposites of each other. You seem to believe that the Scriptures magnify the sin of Israel to demonstrate that it is only the extreme level of rebelliousness against God that is considered a sin by God. My position is the exact opposite. I believe that the Scriptures magnify the sin to demonstrate that even a sin rooted in confusion is really a rebellion against God. Thus your attempts to magnify the sins recorded in Scripture is actually an attempt to limit the sin of idolatry to cases of open rebellion while my interpretation posits that one is still committing idolatry even if there is some confused justification to assuage one’s conscience.
If you want to see which of us is right, just look at Joshua 7. One man sins and all of Israel is held guilty. Look also at 1Kings 13:21. A sin is committed out of confusion yet it is described as rebellion and open disobedience.
I encourage you to look at the example of Christianity. These men and women are not conscious idol-worshipers. They mistakenly believe that their worship is worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But their actions and attitudes belie this belief of theirs. Yes, I know that there are many sincere people who follow Jesus innocently thinking that they are following God but, as a rule, their lives are Jesus centered and not God centered. Their worship is not based on the debt that every creature owes to its Creator but rather it sits on the imagined power of the activities of one human body. Their theology attempts to exalt the activities of that body and tend to look away from the fact that the body that they focus on together with every other body under the heavens never did anything with strength that belonged to them.
But these sincere people do not realize their rebellion against God. And this lack of realization is aided and abetted by the disdain for God’s commandments taught to them by the masters of persuasion. Of-course they do not label their attitude as “disdain for God’s commandments” but after everything is said and done, a large part of their time is devoted to “demonstrating the ineffectiveness of observing God’s Law.” They spend none of their time seeking God’s commandments, studying them in order to fulfill them on a practical level.
Seek God’s commandments and you will find the salvation that God has in mind for all humanity (Psalm 119:155).
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal