Just imagine if you were the bride at a wedding and the groom went to a private room to discuss the details of the service. The meeting goes a little longer than expected and when the groom returns the bride has married the best man and all of the guests are celebrating in the reception. Think about what would be going through the groom’s mind at that moment when he arrives in the reception hall – the swirl of hurt, anger, and emotional turmoil that he would be experiencing all at once. The groom confronts the bride who responds with the words, “You took longer than we thought you would so I, in fear, decided to marry the best man today. But, don’t worry! We will celebrate tomorrow as if it was our wedding that took place.”
This is almost exactly the event that took place in Exodus,
“Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said to him, “Get up, make us gods who will go before us. As for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what’s become of him!” So Aaron said to them, “Break off the golden rings that are in the ears of your wives, your sons and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people broke off the golden rings that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. He received them from their hand, and made a molten calf, fashioned with a chiseling tool. Then they said, “This is your god, Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. Then Aaron made a proclamation saying, “Tomorrow will be a feast to Adonai.” They rose up early the next morning, sacrificed burnt offerings and brought fellowship offerings. The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to make merry.” (Ex. 32:1-6)
Just think about it. Moses is up on the mountain receiving the covenantal tablets personally from G-D. In Judaism, this time of covenant-making between G-D and Israel is pictured as the ketubah (wedding contract) and the cloud above the mountain being the chuppah (wedding canopy). So, the scenario above is not far fetched from the reality of the event and the betrayal no less dramatic.
While this scene is difficult for people of faith to imagine taking place, especially after all of the miracles G-D had performed on behalf of the Children of Israel, first in Egypt and now in the wilderness, anyone who has experienced fear knows that real fear can, in many ways, disconnect ability to distinguish between our rational and irrational thoughts. While it is very difficult for us to understand how the Children of Israel could so quickly turn their hearts from G-D to idolatry, it is an equally, if not greater, mystery to understand how G-D could so quickly forgive Israel after the golden calf incident.
However, it is precisely this event that allows us today to walk in the full confidence of the forgiveness of G-D through the atonement of our Messiah Yeshua. You may ask yourself what the golden calf has to do with Yeshua’s sacrifice. The answer is everything and nothing. Nothing because the golden calf was an idol and as we know has no power at all. Yet, it is everything because the golden calf is one of the greatest symbols of forgiveness in the Bible. It is directly after the golden calf event that we find G-D placing Moses in the cleft of the rock and showing him what we read in Exodus 34:23 in English:
“Then I will take away My hand, and you will see My back, but My face will not be seen.”
The Hebrew the word translated as “back” is ah-chor-eye, which comes from the root word אָחוֹר (achor), which can mean back, but also can mean, and I believe does mean in this verse, past or history. Moses was not shown G-D’s rear end while he was hidden in the cleft of the rock. Rather, G-D showed Moses His history. What history you might ask? The history from creation until that very day. Not the history of man, but rather the history of G-D. Why is this so important and what does it have to do with the golden calf or Yeshua, for that matter? It is because the history shown was the history of G-D continuing forgiveness of man starting with Adam and completing in the forgiveness of the Children of Israel for making and worshiping the golden calf. Remember the Israelites had been in Egypt for 430 years and had just been delivered from slavery. They built a golden calf out of fear and because the perspective of G-D would have been based largely on the pagan gods of Egypt, they would have had no context to understand a G-D of true forgiveness and love. So, G-D takes this moment to show Moses His history of forgiveness and love for His people.
Moses then responds in the same way each of us should respond when we get an understanding of G-D’s forgiveness provided for us even though we have been idolators. Exodus 34:8-9 says,
Then Moses quickly bowed his head down to the earth and worshipped. He said, “If now I have found grace in Your eyes, my Lord, let my Lord please go within our midst, even though this is a stiff-necked people. Pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for Your own inheritance.”
Moses’ response once he saw G-D’s history of forgiveness and love was to ask G-D to forgive the rest of Israel. You see, every time we are forgiven, we become a part of the history of G-D’s forgiveness that can be shared so that others will understand and accept that He can and will forgive them and they then will also become part of that history. Or, as it says in 2 Corinthians 3:1-3,
“Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. It is clear that you are a letter from Messiah delivered by us—written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.“