“When the people saw that Moses was delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, ‘Up, make us gods who shall go before us’…So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made proclamation and said, ‘Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.’”
Exodus 32:1, 3-5
“Where there is no word from God, people are uncontrolled…” (Proverbs 29:18). People need leadership, specifically godly leadership. This is because we make wrong decisions when left to our own devices.
Exodus 32 shows us how true this is. Here we read of the colossal leadership failure of Aaron, the older brother of Moses and soon-to-be high priest of Israel. Aaron had the privilege of being a leader in the absence of Moses, who was receiving the ten commandments on Mount Sinai. Yet Aaron failed as his actions and inactions led to derision and death. He made many mistakes.
For one, he failed to step up (Exodus 32:1). Sometimes great leaders hesitate to take on the mantle of leadership, which is not always bad because it could indicate their humility and their realization of the awesomeness of the task. Yet, hesitant humility must rise to become courage or it will sink to timid fear. Aaron may have headed off any idea of idolatry had he concerned himself with reminding the people about how God delivered them from Egypt. The church needs men who will step up to right wrongs and lead.
Aaron also gave in to pressure (vs. 1-2). A true leader is not one who depends on the whims and desires of those he ostensibly leads to choose his course. A leader knows which way to go and inspires the people to follow him.
Another mistake Aaron made was that he didn’t require the people to repent (vs. 5-6). He apparently tried to lessen the sinfulness of making and worshiping this golden calf by mixing it with the worship of God. A leader doesn’t compromise truth with error to placate the people. He requires repentance when there is sin. Nothing else – no compromise, no coddling – will do but to manfully call for those in the wrong to change and do right.
He also made excuses (vs. 22-23). “Those evil people, they made me do it,” he said. Godly leaders realize that suffering, loss and even death are preferable to unfaithfulness to God. Aaron had shown fortitude before. He had stood before a king and said, “Let my people go!” He had obeyed God’s command and saw the Nile turn to blood. Where was that man now?
He erred also by trying to avoid responsibility (v. 24). “I threw the gold into the fire and out came this calf!” It would be funny were it not so serious. When a leader has made a mistake or sinned, he must own up to it. Spare the lame excuses or ridiculous explanations. Spare the “If I have offended anyone” apologies that put the blame on the “misunderstanding” of the offended. A leader must be able to say, “What I did was wrong.”
Finally, Aaron was permissive (v. 25). This verse says that the people “had broken loose for Aaron had let them break loose.” A leader must be a man who will stand in the gap and say, “This far and no farther.” He must be a man who knows God and His Word. He must be a man who knows both the liberties and the limits God has set.
Perhaps you are a leader…a leader in the church, or at home, or at school or in the workplace. Do any of these mistakes apply to you? If so, learn from Aaron and become the leader that God would have you to be.