And as soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses' anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. He took the calf that they had made and burned it with fire and ground it to powder and scattered it on the water and made the people of Israel drink it.
This is the more unsavory part of the Exodus story. Moses has just spent forty days on the mountain with God. He comes down from Sinai with the law of God, represented in the tablets of stone, in His hand. And he comes down to find Israel in complete pagan idolatry. We know from Paul’s New Testament commentary that sexual idolatry was taking place. Israel was ruining the precious relationship with God even as Moses had just spend forty days establishing the terms of the covenant that would make that relationship unique.
Moses’ response was one of anger (he was a hothead after all). He stormed into camp, reduced the calf idol to powder and humiliated their New Age spirituality by forcing the people to consume the gold dust that had been their “god”. The remnants of calf worship literally ended up in the latrines of the Israeli camp. This was not just symbolic. It made the point of the pointlessness of idolatry. Then Moses rallied the troops and the Levites sided to him. They were commissioned to take down the worst of the idolaters, and 3000 men died by the edge of sword for their sin.
Then Moses confronted Aaron… the priest of Israel. He sheepishly acted as if he had played only a passive role in this sin. He mixed paganism with the worship of God (Exodus 32:4-5). And he was going to pay the price. Moses quickly returned to God on the mountain to intercede with the people. God withheld immediate punishment, but did not relent from “visiting” this sin on them in the future, which came immediately with a plague of sickness on the camp. (Exodus 32:34-35)
Sin has its consequences. Even if it is playful sin. Just ask Israel who sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play. Sin has consequences, even if it is partial sin. Just ask Aaron who mixed a little bit of paganism with a little bit of truth. Sin has sin, even if it is personal choice. Just ask the three thousand families who lost their fathers to a commitment to idolatry. Sin has consequences, even after you have turned from it. Just ask the Israelites who got sick from the plague of judgment that fell on their idolatry. Sin has consequences. Say it. Believe it. Know it. Fear it. Turn from it.