When Moses did not immediately return (Ex. 32:1), the children of Israel turn to Aaron to make them a god, a leader to go before them:
“And he received it at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, and made it a molten calf; and they said: ‘This is thy god, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt” (Ex. 32:4).
Israel needed a visible leader, and in their fear of being leaderless, they returned to what they knew: idolatry. With the calf before them, and in their midst, they found a short term, and a tragic form of comfort.
How easy it is for us, in our times of desperation, to turn once again to what we have been delivered from. The familiar is comforting, comfortable, but unfortunately those things that once ensnared and controlled us, do so once again when we turn to them rather than the Lord.
The Lord resolved to destroy the very people He has just delivered when the sin is revealed. Yet, Moses passionately intercedes on their behalf, and the Lord relents. What does Moses say?
שׁוּב מֵחֲרוֹן אַפֶּךָ וְהִנָּחֵם עַל־הָרָעָה לְעַמֶּֽךָ
זְכֹר לְאַבְרָהָם לְיִצְחָק וּלְיִשְׂרָאֵל עֲבָדֶיךָ
“Turn from Thy fierce wrath, and repent (reconsider) of this evil against Thy people. Remember Abraham, Isaac and Israel Your servants” (Ex. 32:12-13).
The Torah then records: וַיִּנָּחֶם, יְהוָה, “the Lord repented” (Ex. 32:14). He turns away from His wrath for the sake of the fathers (Ro. 11:28), and the comfort ministered to Him.
What is the message here? The word translated as “repent” or “reconsider” above is from the root נָחַם/nāḥam meaning comfort, comforter, consolation, or to sigh.
The children of Israel turned to an idol for comfort, and did not seek counsel from Aaron in their time of need. They reconsidered their circumstance and found immediate, but tragic comfort from an inanimate object: the Golden Calf.
In the Lord’s anger, Moses intercedes – literally standing between the Lord and Israel – pleading on their behalf: Lord, Moses is saying, turn from your wrath to comfort. The intercession of Moses was a persuasive comfort to the Lord, and He turned away from judgment.
As I have taught many times, the Tabernacle (Ex. 25-31) was the cure sent before the illness of the Golden Calf (Ex. 32). The Lord would show the way of reconciliation when we fail so terribly so as to believe that we are forever disqualified from His love and presence. He also established a visible minister, in the high priest, who would make intercession for His people.
Still, this was all modeled on what Moses witnessed in heaven, as He saw the intercession of the great High Priest Yeshua/Jesus. Moses would then, through many types and shadows, teaches the hope of the coming Comforter (Deut. 18:15).
Comforter is an important concept in messianic theology. He is promised in the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writing, we find a beautiful example in Isaiah 40:1: נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ, עַמִּי–יֹאמַר, אֱלֹהֵיכֶם, “Comfort, comfort My people says the Lord.” Then Messiah promises to send another Comforter (Jn. 14:16) in the person of the Holy Spirit Who would remain with us until His return. Yeshua by saying “another” reminds us of His position as Comforter.
The Lord, Who had every right to be wrathful at His people, reconsidered, relented and was comforted, not for His own sake or good, but ours. The Father was showing us the good that comes when we change our minds by listening to the comforting words spoken to us. Comfort changes our attitude, our disposition, and our outlook.
We may not have a Moses or Aaron with us today, but, hallelujah, we have someone greater. The Holy Spirit ever present and walking with us. Ministering comfort to our hearts as needed, and inspiring others around us to speak words of comfort as well. He is ever with us. Yeshua, our Savior, Redeemer and Lord, is ever with us. They are the only comfort we need. Idols of immediate remedy will fail us. Returning to what has ensnared us will only lead to greater guilt, shame and remorse.
This is why we must turn away from the golden calf of our own making, and listen to His healing and comforting words of intercession: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you” (Jer. 31:3).
Be well. Shalom.