Why Did They Turn to Idolatry? | Part Three

Again, thank you for all the prayers while I recovered from my exceptionally long work week and head cold.

Although I am still feeling some physical tiredness along with some lingering symptoms from the head cold, I am much stronger today than I was a week ago.

It is fascinating how the fact that I had to pause between each part of this “Why Did They Turn to Idolatry” series aligns with the series.

One reason I feel this way is that it has reinforced the concept of patience we first looked at in part one.

Another reason I feel this way is that it allowed me to share how the LORD encouraged me during an exhausting week through both His Word and songs written by fellow believers about Him.

Each of these examples was exceptionally timely for my need, just as the LORD provided for the Israelites exactly what they needed in part two of this series.

But now we need to answer the question, “Why did they turn to idolatry?”

Before the application questions in part two, we considered the following verses.

17 Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18 Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights. [1]

During those forty days and forty nights, the LORD continued to provide additional instructions to Moses to give to the people of Israel. (Exodus 25-31)


When the people saw that Moses 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. 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.”[2]

What reason do the Israelites give Aaron for their request?

Remember, Aaron had also been on the mountain with Moses receive instructions from the LORD. Some of which was,

And God spoke all these words, saying,
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
“You shall have no other gods before me. [3]

Compare the instructions given by the LORD with what the Israelites asked Aaron to do while Moses was gone.

Do you grasp the audaciousness of the Israelites’ request of Aaron given all they had experienced and witnessed of the LORD’s power and provision? Why or why not?

Remember, the Israelites had promised to obey the LORD’s instructions multiple times. (See Exodus 24:3-7)

Further, Moses was not the only one who saw God when the agreement, or covenant, between the LORD and the Israelites was agreed upon. (See Exodus 24:9-11)

Now consider how Aaron responds to the Israelites’ request.

So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 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.[4]

Remember Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders had not only seen the LORD but ate and drank with Him in Exodus 24:9-11. All of them, including the Israelites who were requesting Aaron to make gods for them to follow, had agreed to the following instructions from the LORD.

You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or 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. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Yet, after intentionally fashioning an image of gold, Aaron and the Israelites did the following.

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 a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play. [5]

How is it possible that after having witnessed the LORD accomplish so much for them, they could, in a mere forty days and nights, do something so atrocious?

The Israelites had experienced

  • The plagues in Egypt
  • The parting of the Red Sea
  • The destruction of Pharoah and his army
  • The pillar of fire by night and cloud by day
  • The provision of water more than once
  • The provision of manna and quail
  • The instruction of the Ten Commandments

Yet, because the LORD delayed Moses, they forgot all of this and asked Aaron to make them a god to go before them.

Is this the only reason the Israelites turned to worshipping an idol instead of the LORD?

Is it truly a matter of their impatience? Or is there something deeper happening here?

Why Did They Turn to Idolatry? | Personal Application

Consider Paul’s words about humanity in the book of Romans.

They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever![6]

When the Israelites first arrived at Mt. Sinai, it had only been three months since they had left Egypt. (Exodus 19:1)

While there, they had heard the LORD speak to Moses out of Mt. Sinai. (Exodus 19:9)

Paul also says this in Romans about humanity.

What can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.[7]

The Israelites and us today are prone to exchanging the truth about God for a lie and worshipping idols.

Our idols may not be physical objects like the golden calf Aaron fashioned in response to the Israelites’ request.

It could be our security, identity, approval, fulfillment, or satisfaction in anything other than the LORD that we put our trust, faith, and hope in.

The challenge for us is to make sure we are worshipping and serving the LORD on His terms and not our own.

How can remembering that you are made in the LORD’s image keep you from falling into idolatry like the Israelites did?

How has today’s culture replaced or reduced the LORD today?

What does it look like for you to worship and serve the LORD as He truly deserves in your daily routines?


Barbara Lynn

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ex 24:17–18.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ex 32:1.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ex 20:1–3.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ex 32:2–4.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ex 32:4–6.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 1:25.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 1:19–20.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *