Let’s begin with the Ten Commandments, specifically the second Commandment.
“You shall not make for yourself a carved (graven) image – any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth…” Exodus 20:4
The Hebrew word for ‘make’ has several synonyms including ‘work’ and ‘carved,’ while ‘likeness’ means ‘shaped’ or ‘fashioned.’
God gave Moses more details on His requirements and Moses conveyed all what he was told to the people.
“So Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the judgments. And all the people answered with one voice and said, ‘All the words which the LORD has said we will do.’” Exodus 24:3
Then the children of Israel sacrificed burnt and peace offerings to the LORD.
“And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you according to all these words.’” Exodus 24:8
Everything appeared to be very well for the children of Israel. God had given His commandments and statutes to the Israelites and they agreed full obedience. Then the agreement (covenant) was ratified with the blood of the sacrificed animals.
Not long after that, Moses was called back up the mountain where God would give explicit instructions for the construction of the Tabernacle where He would reside in the midst of the Israelites during their time in the wilderness. God would also provide tablets of stone with the original 10 Commandments inscribed thereon.
Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.
Due to the delay in Moses’ return the people became restless.
“Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, ‘Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for 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.’” Exodus 32:1
Aaron had little control over the people and he succumbed to their wishes. He asked for a collection of golden earrings…
“…And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf.” Exodus 32:4
Then the people said that the calf was their god that brought them out of the land of Egypt. Aaron responded by building an altar and proclaiming a feast day.
“Then they rose early on the next day, offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” Exodus 32:6
However, the Almighty, omniscient God knew their thoughts and words from the mountain and informed Moses what was going on below.
“They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them. They have made themselves a molded calf, and worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!’” Exodus 32:8
Note how the children of Israel broke the 2nd Commandment in specific detail.
Remember, ‘You shall not make…a carved image – any likeness of anything…’ and ‘make’ means to build or carve an object with a tool to be worshiped.
Aaron ‘made’ the golden calf (image) and fashioned (shaped) it with an engraving (graven) tool. Then the people proclaimed the calf to be Israel’s god that delivered them out of bondage.
Upon hearing God’s words Moses went down the mountain with the two tablets of the 10 commandments. As Moses approached the people he saw the calf and the people dancing.
“Then he took the calf which they had made, burned it in the fire, and ground it to powder…” Exodus 32:20
God gave immediate instructions to handle the unrepentant offenders.
“Let every man put his sword on his side, and go in and out from entrance to entrance throughout the camp, and let every man kill his brother, every man his companion, and every man his neighbor…and about three thousand men of the people fell that day.” Exodus 32:27-28