The gold calf
1 The people realized that Moses had been on the mountain for a long time. So they went in a group to Aaron. They said to him, ‘Do something! Make some gods for us who will lead us. This man, Moses, brought us here out of Egypt. But now we do not know what has happened to him.’
2 So Aaron said to them, ‘Take the gold rings from the ears of your wives, your sons and your daughters. Then bring the rings to me.’ 3 So all the Israelites removed the rings from their ears. They brought them to Aaron.
4 Aaron took the gold rings from the people. He melted the gold and he used a tool to make an image of a calf. Then the people said, ‘Look, people of Israel! This is our god who brought us up out of Egypt!’
5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the gold calf. He told everyone, ‘Tomorrow, there will be a feast to worship the Lord.’
6 So the next day, the Israelites got up early. They killed animals as burnt offerings on the altar. They also brought peace offerings. After that, they sat down to eat a meal and they drank wine. Then they had a wild party.
7 The Lord said to Moses, ‘Hurry back down the mountain! The people that you brought out of Egypt have done a wicked thing. 8 They have already turned away from my commands. They have made for themselves an image of a calf. They have bent down low to worship it. They have made sacrifices to give it honour. They are saying, “This is the god of the Israelites, the god who brought us out of Egypt!” ’
9 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘I have seen these people. They are proud and they do not obey me. 10 I am very angry with them and I will destroy them. Do not try to stop me. I will make your descendants into a great nation, instead of them.’
11 But Moses asked the Lord his God to be kind. He said, ‘Lord, please do not be so angry with your own people! You used your great power and authority to bring them safely out of Egypt. 12 If you destroy them, the Egyptians will say, “God led the Israelites out of our land so that he could completely destroy them. He wanted to kill them in the mountains.” So please stop being angry. Change your mind. Please do not bring this great trouble on your own people. 13 Remember your servants, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who are our ancestors. Remember the serious promise that you made to them. You said, “I will give you many descendants. They will be as many as the stars in the sky. I have also promised to give this whole land to them. It will belong to them as their home for ever.” ’
14 Then the Lord changed his mind. He did not bring the great trouble on his people as he had said he would.
15 Moses left the Lord and he went down the mountain. He carried in his hands the two flat stones with God's special commands on them. God had written his commands on both sides of the stones. 16 This was God's own work. He himself had written the words on the stones.
17 Joshua heard the noise of the Israelites as they were shouting down below. He said to Moses, ‘I can hear the sound of war in the camp!’ 18 But Moses said, ‘It is not the noise that soldiers make when they have won a battle. It is not the sound of soldiers who are crying because their enemy has won against them. I can hear the sound of people who are singing.’
19 Then Moses arrived at the camp. He saw the gold calf. He saw that the people were dancing. He became very angry. He threw the two flat stones that he was carrying on to the ground. He broke them into pieces there at the bottom of the mountain. 20 Then he took the image of the calf that they had made. He burned it in the fire. He beat it into powder. He mixed the powder with the people's water. Then he commanded the Israelites to drink it.
21 Moses said to Aaron, ‘Why did you agree to do this? What did the people do to you? You have made them guilty of a great sin.’ 22 Aaron answered, ‘My lord, please do not be so angry with me. You know how quickly these people decide to do wicked things. 23 They said to me, “Make us some gods that will lead us. This man Moses brought us here out of Egypt. But now we do not know what has happened to him.” 24 So I said to them, “Everyone who has any gold rings must remove them.” So they gave the gold to me. I threw it into the fire. Then this image of a calf came out of the fire!’
God punishes the people
25 Moses saw that the people were running about everywhere. Aaron had not been able to control them. If their enemies could see them, they would see how foolish they were. 26 So Moses stood at the edge of the camp. He said, ‘Everyone who decides to serve the Lord must come here to me.’ Then all the Levites went to stand near Moses.
27 Then Moses said to the Levites, ‘The Lord, Israel's God, says this: Each one of you must take his sword in his hand. You must go everywhere in the camp, from this side to the other side. You must kill everyone, even your brothers, your friends and your neighbours.’ 28 The Levites obeyed Moses' command. About 3,000 Israelites died on that day.
29 Then Moses said to the Levites, ‘You have shown today that you want to serve the Lord. You have become his special servants because you have obeyed him. You have agreed to kill even your own sons and brothers. God has blessed you because of this.’
30 On the next day, Moses said to the people, ‘You have done a great sin. But now I will go back up the mountain. I will speak to the Lord. Perhaps I can do something so that the Lord will forgive your sin.’
31 So Moses returned to the Lord. He said to the Lord, ‘Please listen to me. These people have done a very great sin. They have made a gold idol to worship as their god. 32 But now I ask you to forgive them for their sin. But if you will not do that, then please remove my name from your book.’
32:32This was a book where God had written the names of his people.
33 The Lord answered Moses, ‘I will only remove the names of the people who have turned against me. 34 Now go! Lead the Israelites to the place that I have told you about. My angel will go in front of you. But on the day for punishment, I will certainly punish them for their sin.’
35 The Lord did send a bad illness to punish the people. He punished them because they had caused Aaron to make an image of a calf.