Following the Example of Moses (Exodus 32)


In life, we learn from the people around us, sometimes intentionally through the lessons of history and the examples of our leaders, and, other times subliminally through those whom we come into contact with through the week.  We learn from the success people have in their life and almost as important their mistakes.  The bible is full of examples that we as Christians can learn from, mostly it is full of mistakes that we are meant to read, see and then take a different path.  The passage I want to look at is one I have written extensively about but I want to take a slightly different angel and look at the example of Both Moses and Aaron and what we can learn from their successes and failures, rather than what the passage speaks to us about God.

Exodus 32 presents two pictures that I believe we can learn from, two pictures that speak to us today about what it means to be a follower of Jesus and how it should shape every part of our life. In one brother, we see the devastating effects of sin and caving to the sinful will of man: in the other we see the powerful effects of Gods covenant of Grace on their life as they move to deal with the effects of sin and Idol worship.


Chapter 32 is one of the most difficult chapters in the book of Exodus, it speaks to the destructive effects that idol worship had on Israel’s Covenantal relationship with Yahweh, as a mirror and example of how our relationship with God is damaged through sin (idol worship) thus it is God’s right to do with us as he would please.  Yet, it also speaks hope; because, we see a God who is patient, merciful and loving.  That even though man may daily choose to worship idols, God shows them Grace and offers them an alternative.  The passage is in a wider section of the book that deals with Israel destroying the covenant they have just made with God. Yet, God is just and merciful and chooses to renew the covenant regardless of anything Israel (or today) we can do.[1] I Let’s look quickly at what this passage teaches us through the examples of Both Aaron and Moses

The Passage

You ask someone and they will likely have heard the name Moses, he is one of the most prominent figures in the Old Testament.  Recently, he was portrayed rather poorly in the Hollywood Blockbuster “Exodus: God and Kings” as a sort of warrior General who lead a Guerrilla warfare campaign against the Egyptians.[2]

Moses was chosen by God to bring about Old Covenant redemption to his chosen people.  He was chosen to lead them out of Slavery under the bondage of Egypt to freedom in the promised land.  In Exodus two we see Gods control, when Moses is born In the height of a great persecution his Mother sets him upon the river and the Daughter of Pharaoh.  Meaning Moses would be protected and brought up in the knowledge of the Culture which was oppressing his people.  We know very little about the first part of Moses life, bar the times he tried to play hero and it failed: Resulting in the death of an Egyptian and then his realisation that his crime was known, whereby he fled to the land of Midian and then rescued Zipporah the Daughter of Jethro, who then granted Moses her hand in Marriage.  Moses is then called back to the land he fled by God speaking through the burning bush, leads the Exodus and journey through the wilderness.  Thus, Moses life could be divided into roughly 3 periods of 40 years.  The first 40 in the Egyptian court where the young man learned the customs of his adopted nation; then another 40 years in Midian where the wild and ill-tempered man would become calm and learn the ways of a simple life.  Finally, and the bit that the bible captures most his final 40 odd years of leading the people to the promised land.  It is throughout this period that we Moses live a life that is a shadow of Christ, never perfect but pointing to the saviour to come.

Aaron was the long-lost brother of Moses who would be appointed as first his spokesperson to his own people group and then to Pharaoh.  He was also an instrument of God during the plagues used to bring about the Miracles that would lead to the release of his brothers and sisters.  Finally he would become the first high priest of Israel of first importance in national history and  the first to wear the Royal Priestly Garments that would come to symbolise and define Israel’s worship of Yahweh for years.

Aaron: A Bad Example

At the very beginning of the text Moses has been up the mountain in the presence of the Lord for quite some time. The people are getting stressed because he has been away longer than they thought he would.  Moses is up the mountain and the people are without a leader, without the man whom they seen preform signs and wonders and then God single handily used him to defeat the greatest empire that the world had seen until that point.  They people were without a leader and a Godly example to follow, soon their own desires and passions would feed their thought’s and shape their future. Moses was their intercessor and while he was in the presence of God on their behalf they had lost their connection to God, perhaps feeling abandoned they needed something to help them in their worship.

We first encounter Aaron as the people address him in verse two; “up, make us gods who shall go before us.”[3] These are the same people who some thirty days previous had stood at the same spot and worshipped Yahweh – the God of the universe and creator of all things –  for the giving of the law, now they stand in a tumultuous manner before Aaron and demand from him, they he satisfies their fears.  They have moved into Idolatry because the Glory of God had been hidden they think that God is no longer with them. Their faith was week because they required something to see, something to direct their worship to. Aarons response? He collapses under the pressure of those around him and indulges them in their sin.

In the next section of verses Aaron preforms the opposite of what would be his priestly role:  Instead of leading the people in true worship of Yahweh; he leads them into Sin.  He directs that they take off the gold that God had provided for them as they left Egypt. Gold that hung on the bodies of the women and children.[4] The people had their hearts set on sin.  No sooner was he asking for the gold on their bodies had the people stripped it off and placed everything that they can find at the feet of Aaron.  Still as a man of God, he had the opportunity to repent[5] to speak truth and turn them from their sins, He had the opportunity to act yet, he melted under the pressure; gathered the gold at his felt, melted it down, found a graving tool and crafted before them an idol for their worship.[6] Instead of standing for truth, he collapsed and lead them into sin. As the passage progresses he leads the people further and further into sin as he builds and alter for the people on which thy offer sacrifices to their Golden Calf.[7], the same scarifies that only a few chapters before they had offer to Yahweh the God of the universe they now offered to a relic.

Moses stands firm in a place of presence (7-11)

Suddenly there is a shift and in verse 7 we move up the mountain to a contrasting scene. Where Aaron faced pressure from the crowd, now, Moses faces’ a different pressure.  Where the people spoke, and made demands now Yahweh speaks: informing Moses of their sin.  He described them as, “your people.” And rightfully demands that he be left alone so that his wrath may burn against them.  When the people spoke, Aaron faced the pressure of a powerless people with a sinful heart and he withered, Moses stands before God who speaks truth in describing the sin of the nation, makes a rightful demand that he be left alone, yet Moses Stands firm in the presence of God because he knew his heart and character. The example of Moses show us that Christians should be comfortable in the presence of God because they know the heart and Character of God.  How? Because they spend time with God in his word as the Holy Spirit works in them to make them more into the image of Christ and in doing so reveals more of God’s truth.

Moses Intercedes and God shows Compassion (12-14)

Even when faced with such a situation where God is rightfully positioned to enact his will.  Moses is not bowed, instead he bows his knee and intercedes on behalf of the sinful people. He asks God to remember his covenant with them; the one that he made with Abraham & Isaac.  He appeals and reminds God to think of How Egypt would speak of him: that he only saved them for evil.  See the contrast: Where Aaron bowed under the pressure for a confused people, Moses stood before the God of the universes and boldly interceded for mercy.  Then we see the heart of God as he shows the people Mercy.  Those who are in Christ, will stand firm when they need to stand, will pray when they need to pray because they know the heart of the Father.  Real men of God fear God more than man. The example of Moses shows us the importance of intercession, praying for those who are in our life – on their behalf that they would know the compassion of the father.

Moving from Presence and intercession to deal with Sin (15-21)

Next, we see Moses go down the mountain to confront the reality of what is going on.  We are drawn to the picture of what Moses is carrying:  Two stone tablets engraved by the finer of God with all the laws of God.  They symbolise to us the gravity of what Israel had done through their actions.   In verse 19, when the eyes of Moses take sights of what is happening he is overcome with anger – It is anger that mirrors that of God in verse 10 – He is so disgusted that he throw’s the stone tablets to the ground and we are presented with the picture of them shattering into 1000’s of pieces.  An image that symbolises the current state of the covenant.  The anger that has overcome Moses, is not sinful it is righteous and it is an example to all Christian’s and how they should feel towards sin.  The sin in their own lives and the sin in the lives of people around them, sin that is destroying relationship with God.

Contrast the picture presented of Moses the who throughout this passage mirrors God at every point to Arron. As he comes back into the narrative he is presented as weak, unable or unwilling to admit his part in the process, his role in the sin. Where Moses took ownership, Aaron washes his hand and appears in complete contrast to Moses: He presents the sin of the people and their heart truthfully, yet he minimises his own role and removes himself from all sequences of events.  He removes himself from the equation suggesting that when he had gathered all the gold he simply threw it into the fire and out jumped this golden calf.  Where Moses is angered by sin in the same way God is Aaron makes excuses.

Then we see Moses do what Aaron would not, he took ownership of the situation. He acted in accordance with the will of God.  We must act in accordance to the will of God when.  It can seem like quite a dark scene as Moses gathers the Levites at the gates of the camp and seems to move through the camp killing at Random.  It is one of those passages that sometimes gets pulled out as a picture of the vengeful and wrathful God of the Old Testament and not the loving God of the NT.  Yet it is a scene that Mirrors the Cross, because sin requires payment. It is a scene that must be properly understood and seen as a surgical strike lead by Moses against those within the camp who would not repent of their sin, those who still wanted to live and worship the false calf. What can we learn from the example of Moses and the Levites at this point? Two things: Firstly, as Christians we are loyal to God above all else, event when it makes no sense. God commanded the Levites and Moses to strike at their brothers and sisters who if not dealt with could lead the nation further into sin.  God called them to be Loyal to him above all else, because eventually everything else would fail them. So then now what are we loyal to instead of God? Secondly, we learn and see that we must act against sin even when it hurts.

After Action comes intercession (30-35)

Finally, we see Moses act in the way all people of God should act. After dealing with the reality of sin, he again moves back to the presence of God to seek the face of God on behalf of his sinful people.   The passages close with Moses in the same place he is introduced to us: before God, interceding for his people.  In the last five verses of this passage we see Moses as the shadow of Christ, the intercessor before God pleading their case despite their sin. Moses attempts to intercede before the Lord as a covenant mediator in the same way Jesus Christ mediates for us today.  Furthermore, we see Moses mirror Christ in that when he is before God he flatly rejects the offer God made him in verse 10.  Moses identifies with the sin of Israel and asks that God to forgive them, but if God cannot forgive him then he offer the same fate to Israel.  Moses intercedes on behalf of his people and he gets alongside them.  Whereas Aaron judged the people and washed his hands, Moses interceded for the people and puts his hands in their filth, in the same way Jesus bore our likeness.  Moses was willing to get alongside those for who he was interceding and we should be willing to do the same today.  We must be a people who pray and relate.


In Summary, we learn from Moses that Christians must be people who are comfortable in the presence of God, on the mountain top – yet we must be people who are not willing to remain there bu want to go back down into the Chaos of the world and deal with the sin in it.  People who move down empowered by the holy Spirit to shine the Gospel light into every situation.  We must be people who are Loyal only to God, even against our own families, friends and nation. Even when it makes no sense.  We must be a people who are willing to act, but never act alone constantly seeking to move back into the presence of God – which today is his word and prayer.  The question for all of us today is are we more like Aaron or Moses?

[1] I have written an extensive post on this passage within its wider picture:


[3] Exodus 32:2 (ESV)

[4] I wonder was Aaron appealing to the human love of material and hoping that such was their greed, their love of their Gold that when presented with the cost of the idol they would abandon the road they had set themselves on.

[5] (turn around and head in a different direction),

[6] Probably the calf was shaped or influenced by the image of the Egyptian Deity Apis, who was fashioned and worshipped in the shape of a cow and he chief deity of the Egyptians, worshipped at Memphis under the form of a live ox, three years old

[7] Scenes that mirror the earlier chapters when the Covenant is confirmed. Scenes that are meant to show us how far the peoples have strayed under Aarons leadership.

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