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Moses and the Golden Calf

Moses and all the Israelites escaped from mean old Pharaoh, and Moses led them into the desert. They had to cross the desert, hot and dry, in order to get to the Promised Land, the place where they could live in peace and freedom.

They walked and they walked, day after day, for three whole months, until at last they reached Mount Sinai. They decided to camp there for a while, so they set up their tents.

Moses climbed up Mount Sinai, up to the very top, and while he was up there, the god sometimes known as Yahweh spoke to him. This god said to Moses, "All of you Israelites are going to be my special, chosen people. I will take care of you, and all you have to do is promise to obey me over all the other gods and goddesses."

Moses agreed, and went back down Mount Sinai to tell the Israelites. All the Israelites had to do was to obey the god Yahweh, and Yahweh would take care of them. It's always good to have a god looking out for you, so the Israelites agreed to obey this god.

Moses went back up Mount Sinai to report to the Yahweh. "They all promised to obey you," Moses reported.

"Well, just to make sure," said the god who was now the god of the ancient Israelites, "I'm going to appear at the top of this mountain as a dense dark cloud, filled with thunder and lightning. You come back up the mountain, I'll talk with you, and then all the Israelites will know that I talk to you directly. That way they will trust you and listen to you."

So Moses went back down Mount Sinai, and sure enough, the god of the Israelites appeared at the top of the mountain as a dense cloud. Moses went back up the mountain to talk with the god of the Israelites. All the other Israelites watched from the foot of the mountain.

Moses climbed up and up, and at last entered the dense cloud at the top of the mountain. The god of the Israelites started telling him about all the rules and laws the Israelites would have to obey. First of all, the god of the Israelites made ten laws against stealing, against murdering people, against lying. There was also a law saying the Israelites weren't allowed to worship any other god or goddess. These first ten laws are sometimes called the "Ten Commandments." Most of these laws still make sense, even today. And Moses went back down the mountain bringing those first ten laws to the Israelites.

Next day, Moses climbed back up the mountain for more laws. Yahweh gave him lots of laws. Some of these other laws sound strange to us today, like the law that said if one ox hurts another ox, the owner of the first ox has to sell it and divide the money with the owner of the second ox, and the owner of the second ox has to butcher it and divide the meat with the owner of the first ox. Yahweh had lots and lots of laws and rules for Moses to bring to the Israelites. Moses had to climb up and down that mountain quite a few times.

Then came a time when Moses stayed on top of the mountain for a really long time. The rest of the Israelites finally deicded Yahweh had abandoned them, and Moses wasn't coming back. The Israelites decided to make a new god. They took gold and made it into the shape of a calf -- a golden calf. They thought their new calf looked pretty cool, and they invented new worship services for their new religion, and had a big party to celebrate.

Just as the party was really getting going, Moses came back down the mountain with more laws.

"What's going on here?" Moses said. "Don't you remember that you promised not to worship any other gods? And here you all are, having a party, and worshipping some new god. You guys broke your promise!"

The Israelites looked a little shamefaced at first, but then some of them pointed out that Moses had been gone for a long time. For all they knew, Moses's god had given up on the Israelites and gone somewhere else with Moses.

"Who's on my side?" said Moses angrily. "If you still like Yahweh better than the golden calf, come with me!" A few people joined him. Moses made sure they all had swords, and then told them to go and kill anyone who was still worshipping that golden calf.

And they did.


What a strange story. Moses had already told everyone that killing was against the laws of his god. So why did he tell his friends to kill the people who worshipped the golden calf? That means he and his friends also broke the laws of his god. This does not make sense to me.

I'm not exactly sure what this story means, but here's what I learn from it. You have to listen carefully to what other people try to tell you. When Moses told them to kill other people, his friends should have said, "Maybe we broke our promise by worshipping the golden calf, but we're not going to kill anyone -- you already told us that's against the law and that would be breaking our promise all over again!"

To put it another way: don't do something just because someone else tells you to do it. Instead, be someone who loves your neighbor as you love yourself.

Source: Exodus.