“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.’ 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” (Exod 32:4-6).
Characteristics of this pagan worship offered by God’s people:
• Instantly gratifying: The people were impatient with Moses’ delay.
• Idolatrous: The people worshiped another god alongside the true God.
• Sincere: The people sincerely believed that they were worshiping Jehovah (LORD).
• Pagan and sensual: “Rose up to play” (KJV, NASB, ESV) has sexual overtones. The Hebrew verb “play” is tsachaq, which variously means “to sport, play, make sport, toy with, make a toy of.” It is also used in Genesis 26:8-9: “When he had been there a long time, Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out of a window and saw Isaac laughing with Rebekah his wife” (ESV). Various translations say Isaac was “caressing” (Holman, NASB, NIV), and even “fondling” (NLT, NRSV) Rebekah. This is why other translations use “indulge in revelry” (NIV), “pagan revelry” (NLT), “revel” (NRSV, Holman), and “orgy” (God’s WORD) for Israel’s pagan worship. Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary interprets tsachaq as “with lascivious dancing, singing, and drumming round the calf.”
Paul makes clear that the Israelites’ golden calf worship involved pagan sexual revelry, “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.’ We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did” (1 Cor 10:6-8).
• Worldly: Where did they get the idea of worshiping a golden calf and indulging in sexual revelry? From the Egyptians and Canaanites, no doubt. From the world’s godless practices.
• Creative: New idol, new leader, new “celebration.”
Just as it was then, so it is now.