Read: Exodus 32

[The people] said to me, “Make us gods, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” So I said to them, “Whoever has gold, take it off”; so they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf! (Exodus 32: 23-24, NRSV).

Aaron gets mostly positive press in the Bible. He’s Moses’ brother, after all, as well as God’s hand-picked priest. But then there is this story—the one about the golden calf. It is anything but flattering. Not everyone, evidently, was a fan.

But let’s circle back to the beginning of the story. Moses has left Aaron to babysit the newly liberated people of God while he goes up the mountain to hobnob with God and fetch the ten commandments. He is gone a long time, and the people get restless. “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us,” the people say to Aaron. “As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”

It’s hard to know what to be shocked about first in this statement. The people don’t seem to feel much loyalty to “this Moses.” But they have even less loyalty to the God who had engineered the exodus in the first place. Never mind. Out of sight, out of mind. Make us some gods we can keep an eye on.

What were Aaron’s feelings at this point? The Bible is stubbornly silent about that. If anything, his quick response gives the impression that he didn’t agonize much over it. He seems to have had a pretty detailed plan on hand for just such an eventuality. After passing the plate for everyone’s gold jewelry, he takes the gold from them, forms it in a mold, and casts an image of a calf.

Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but most people don’t just “happen” to have a calf mold lying around. The fact that Aaron’s got one, makes the whole thing sound premeditated.

So, why—when Moses comes back down the mountain and confronts him—does Aaron make it sound like the calf just popped out of the kiln of its own accord?

Most of us are pretty good at prevaricating. We learn it as soon as we’re old enough to get caught with our hand in the cookie jar. Maybe that’s why this story is in the Bible. It’s to give us a glimpse of how dumb we look when we try to “spin” our way out of taking responsibility for our sins.

The story also reminds us that we’re only fooling ourselves. The last line of the chapter is pretty matter-of-fact about it. “Then the LORD sent a plague on the people,” it says, “because they made the calf—the one Aaron made.”

So much for spin!

Ponder: When was the last time you tried to spin an excuse to make yourself look better? Did it work? How did it make you feel afterwards?

Pray: Help us to own up to our mistakes, O God, for our own sake and everyone else’s.