Grades 3-6 Lesson for Sunday School:
Moses: The Golden Calf
Teacher’s Notes: Last week, we took a careful look at the Ten Commandments: what each one said, and how we can apply them to our lives, today. This week, we’re going to see that Moses brought these laws down to the Israelites, then went back up Mount Sinai for further instruction from God. And while he was gone, the Children of Israel began to doubt Moses, and his leadership. So they made for themselves another god to worship. This time, God’s and Moses’ patience was pushed to the limit, and there were dire consequences for the Israelites.
If you have a little extra time, try this experiment at the beginning of class, to give your students a little insight into what they might do without a leader close by. Tell the class you need to leave for a just a moment. Go somewhere that they cannot see you, but return quickly. Then do it again, only this time stay away a little longer. When you return, apologize for the interruption, then begin your lesson by asking them about last week’s lesson. (this experiment will continue later)
Last week, we went through each of the Ten Commandments, and learned how they apply to us, today. Let’s see how many we can name:
1 – no other gods before Me
2 – no graven images
3 – not take the Lord’s name in vain
4 – remember the Sabbath
5 – honor parents
6 – not kill
7 – not commit adultery
8 – not steal
9 – not bear false witness (lie)
10 – not covet
Now, if you’ve been trying the experiment, tell the class you need to leave, again. But that you’re going to put someone in charge while you’re gone. Then select one of the students, and ask them to be “in charge” while you’re gone. Try to stay away, this time, long enough for the class to begin getting restless. Stay close enough to hear what they’re saying and doing, if possible. Then return as soon as they start getting louder.
When you return to the class, ask the student in charge how the class behaved while you were gone. Did everyone act as they would have if you’d been there? Did anyone suggest that the class do something you would not have permitted?
Now that the Israelites had God’s law, they knew what God expected of them. They knew what they should and should not be doing. But what happens when a leader disappears for awhile?
(If you did not do the above experiment, ask your students if they’ve ever been in a place, perhaps a classroom at school, where the leader or teacher had to leave for a time. And ask what happened in the classroom while the teacher was gone. Usually, after a little time goes by and the teacher does not return, the students get louder, as everyone begins to talk about where the teacher might have gone. Then eventually, someone will often suggest that the class do something to entertain themselves till the teacher comes back. Sometimes the suggestion is a good one. But oftentimes, the suggestion will be something the teacher would not permit if he or she were there.)
In today’s lesson, we’re going to see what the Israelites did when their leader left, and they thought he might not be coming back. Do you think they’ll follow the laws that God had just given to them? Let’s find out. And here’s a hint…they didn’t follow today’s memory verse.
Memory verse: (Have the children repeat this verse with you several times, until they are able to say it themselves. And encourage them to repeat it to others several times during the week, so that it’ll have a place in their hearts.)
“Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart;” Ephesians 6:6
Explain that “eyeservice” is doing something only when someone else is looking. This verse is saying that we should be obeying God, and doing good, all the time because that should be what’s in our hearts. It isn’t good enough to just be doing the right thing when our boss, or teacher, or parent is watching us. Remember, God is always there, and watching!
Opening prayer: Lord, thank You for each student who’s here, today. And thank You for the many lessons we can learn through studying the examples of Moses and the Israelites, in Your Word. Please help us today, Lord, to have ears ready to listen and hearts ready to learn about You. Amen.
This Week’s Lesson: (Moses: The Golden Calf from Exodus 32)
Where did we find Moses, last week, when God gave him the Ten Commandments? Yes, he had gone up Mount Sinai, into the thunder and lightening, and smoke, to meet with God. We don’t really know how long Moses was up there the first time, before he came back down to share God’s instructions with the Israelites. But we do know, from chapters 20 – 32 of Exodus, that he came down and went back up Mount Sinai several times; a lot like the example we talked about earlier, of the teacher who left the classroom.
But on one of his trips, Moses was gone for quite a long time. Exodus 24:18 says, “And Moses went into the midst of the cloud, and gat him up into the mount: and Moses was in the mount forty days and forty nights.” Moses was not just gone for a few minutes, a few hours, or even a few days. Moses was gone from the Israelite camp for more than a month! That’s a long time for a group to be without their leader, especially when they’re out in the middle of the wilderness, relying on him for guidance. Can you imagine how you might feel if your mom or dad told you they needed to go talk to God, then didn’t come back for forty days? What might be going through your mind? Do you think you might start to wonder if they got lost; or worse…if perhaps some criminal or wild animal got to them? You might begin to think that they are never coming back.
(the Israelites’ response)
The first verse of our passage, today, tells us what the Israelites were thinking, when Moses took so long to come back down the mountain: “And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.” (Exodus 32:1)
The Israelites had gotten tired of waiting for Moses. Perhaps they wondered why they should follow a leader who wasn’t even around much. Perhaps they wondered why they should obey a God who kept taking their leader away from them. Whatever it was, we know they had gotten tired of waiting, and were ready to take matters into their own hands.
Now, Moses had not left them without a plan. Earlier verses tell us that Moses took Joshua part of the way up the mountain with him. But he left these instructions for the elders of Israel: “And he said unto the elders, Tarry ye here for us, until we come again unto you: and, behold, Aaron and Hur are with you: if any man have any matters to do, let him come unto them.” (Exodus 24:14) Who had Moses left in charge? (Aaron and Hur) What do we know about these two men? Did Moses have good reasons to trust their leadership? (remind the class of Moses’ experience praying on the hill during the battle, while Aaron and Hur helped support him by holding up his hands) Aaron and Hur had been faithful helpers when the army was battling the Amalekites. So Moses must have thought that of all people in the Israelite camp, these would be the men he could most trust to lead the people in his absence.
But as we read on, we’re going to find that Aaron’s faithfulness was very short-lived. And he quickly caved-in to the pressure the Israelites put on him. Before we see what the Israelites asked him to do, let’s think back to our example of the teacher who left the classroom. Did everyone sit quietly in their seats, waiting for the teacher to return? Or did someone come up with an idea to entertain the class?
In the Israelite camp, someone very quickly came up with an idea. We read it just a moment ago. Does anyone remember what the suggestion was, since Moses was taking so long to come back? In verse 1, the people said, “Up, make us gods, which shall go before us.” Does anyone know what the word “fickle” means? A fickle person changes their mind frequently. And the Israelites were proving to be very fickle people.
Do you remember what they had said when Moses prepared them for God’s visit to the mountain? They had said these very words, “All that the LORD hath spoken we will do.” (Exodus 19:8) Then, when Moses came down from the mountain the first time, and told them all that God had said, they again said, “All the words which the LORD hath said will we do.” (Exodus 24:3) And then once more, after Moses had written down the instructions from God, and read them to the congregation of Israel, these were the words they said, “All that the LORD hath said will we do, and be obedient.” (Exodus 24:7) But as soon as Moses was gone for a little longer than they had expected, the Israelites were ready to make new gods, and follow them.
Are you ever like that? Do you say one thing when mom and dad, or the teacher is around, then as soon as they’re gone, say or do something completely different? That’s what today’s memory verse is all about. The Israelites were acting only as “Moses-pleasers” instead of God-pleaseres. Then, as soon as Moses was out of sight, they became self-pleasers. For that is what was involved with the pagan worship they were about to participate in. And they were led into it by none other than the leader Moses had appointed…his own brother, Aaron.
Aaron didn’t appear to waste any time following the suggestion of the people. He did not argue with them, or defend the God they were rejecting. He didn’t remind them of the laws that Moses had just given them; including “thou shalt have NO other gods before Me” and “thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.” Listen to what Aaron did, instead:
And Aaron said unto them, Break off the golden earrings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them unto me.
3And all the people brake off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them unto Aaron.
4And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.
5And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, To morrow is a feast to the LORD.
The passage doesn’t tell us why Aaron made the decision to give the people what they asked for. It only tells us that he did. And there’s no sign that he even hesitated. He asked the people to give their precious gold to him. Then he used it to make a graven image of a cow. Where do you think he might have gotten such an idea? Do you remember when we talked about the different kinds of animals that were worshipped in Egypt? Cows were in that list. And if you were to look at pictures of ancient Egyptian gods, you would see that their creator-god is often depicted as a bull.
It almost seems like Aaron is trying to combine what he remembered from pagan Egyptian religion with what he now knew of the LORD. Did you notice anything confusing about the last verse that was read? Let’s read it again: “And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, To morrow is a feast to the LORD.” Aaron’s mouth said they would be worshipping the LORD, but his hands had made a god of gold in the image of an earthly animal. This was in direct disobedience to the laws he had just been given.
This is a common trick of Satan. He likes to confuse people, so that they believe they are worshipping God, when in fact the god they are worshipping is no more real than the calf Aaron had made. There are many people in this world who pray to images of “saints” instead of praying to their Heavenly Father. While the people they are fashioned after did live on earth at one time, they were only human, and are no more capable of answering prayer than a calf made of gold. Satan has convinced them that because they are people who loved God and did great things, that they are like gods that we can pray to. But the Bible does not support this idea. The Bible says we are to have only one God, and that is the LORD!
(the consequences of idolatry)
So when Moses came down the mountain to find a scene of absolute pagan idol worship, how do you think he reacted? (allow the students to consider what Moses might have said or done) And what do you think God said? (again, allow the students to discuss God’s possible response) Let’s read on in our passage. We’ll find God’s reaction, first.
7And the LORD said unto Moses, Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves:
8They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.
9And the LORD said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people:
10Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation.
Up until now, God had shown a great deal of patience with the Israelites, as they’d grumbled and complained their way through the desert. But God has said that He’s a very jealous God. And for the Israelites to have turned their backs so quickly to worship this image that Aaron had made was more than God could tolerate. So He told Moses He was ready to destroy them all, and start a completely new nation with Moses.
And while Moses may have been flattered by such an offer, it was not in his heart to see them all consumed by God’s wrath. So…
11…Moses besought the LORD his God, and said, LORD, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand?
12Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people.
13Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever.
14And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people. (Exodus 32:11-14)
In his love and compassion for his people, Moses begged God to spare them, for His own name’s sake. But that was before Moses went down the mountain, and saw for himself what the Israelites were up to.
Let’s find out if his mind changed once he saw what God had seen.
15And Moses turned, and went down from the mount, and the two tables of the testimony were in his hand: the tables were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other were they written.
16And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables.
17And when Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said unto Moses, There is a noise of war in the camp.
18And he said, It is not the voice of them that shout for mastery, neither is it the voice of them that cry for being overcome: but the noise of them that sing do I hear.
19And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses' anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount.
What did Moses and Joshua hear, as they came down the mountain? (singing) What do you think they expected to see when they got closer to the camp? Do you think they expected to see a golden idol being worshipped with singing and dancing? From Moses’ reaction in pleading to God on their behalf, it doesn’t seem like he had any idea that he would find them in such a state.
But when Moses realized exactly what was going on, did you notice that his reaction was then the same as God’s? They both “waxed hot” in their anger. He was so angry that he threw down the stone tablets that were in his hands. The very tablets that contained the commandments God had given, and that had been etched by God’s own hand. Now Moses understood why God had such a strong reaction, why He was ready to consume them all. They had done the unthinkable. And Aaron, himself, was leading them in their sinful worship.
Now it was Moses’ turn to react to the horrible scene. This was not something that could just be overlooked and forgiven. He knew something had to be done so that the Israelites would recognize the seriousness of their sin, and never want to do the same thing, again. So here’s what Moses did:
And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and strawed it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it. (Exodus 32:20)
The Bible doesn’t tell us if it made the people sick, to drink this gold-powdered water. But we can be sure that it was not a pleasant experience. And it’s not likely that any of the Israelites wanted to have that taste in their mouths, ever again.
Then, it was time for Moses to confront Aaron, to find out why he let God and Moses down, and led the Israelites down such an ungodly path. How do you think Aaron responded? Do you think he immediately repented of this great sin? Let’s see:
21And Moses said unto Aaron, What did this people unto thee, that thou hast brought so great a sin upon them?
22And Aaron said, Let not the anger of my lord wax hot: thou knowest the people, that they are set on mischief.
23For they said unto me, Make us gods, which shall go before us: for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.
24And I said unto them, Whosoever hath any gold, let them break it off. So they gave it me: then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf.
25And when Moses saw that the people were naked; (for Aaron had made them naked unto their shame among their enemies:)
26Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the LORD's side? let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him.
What did Aaron do? He put the blame on the Israelites, and lied about where the calf had come from. But Moses was not fooled, and God certainly was not. And with so many unrepentant hearts in the camp of Israel, God knew He must take drastic measures to be sure that His children truly understood how important it was to obey Him. It was time for them to choose if they would truly follow Him. So Moses told the people that it was time to choose sides. Those who decided to follow God from now on were to stand with Moses.
Then came God’s instructions, to bring the consequences of the willful decision not to follow God upon those who stood apart from Moses. God could no longer be patient. The people had chosen.
27And he said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour.
28And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men.
What a sad day that must have been in the camp of Israel. But God needed to be sure that the Israelites understood what He expected of them, and what the consequences would be for those who would oppose Him. Remember that God is a loving God, but also a holy God. And He expects the same from His children.
(conclusion: a punishment and a promise)
Now, in case you are completely downhearted, thinking that God might have lost His love for these rebellious people, let’s read the last two verses of our passage.
34Therefore now go, lead the people unto the place of which I have spoken unto thee: behold, mine Angel shall go before thee: nevertheless in the day when I visit I will visit their sin upon them.
35And the LORD plagued the people, because they made the calf, which Aaron made.
God left the Israelites, at this point, with one more punishment, but also with a promise. While there is no more detail given, we are simply told that the people were plagued because of the calf they had made.
But we’re also told that despite this great sin that the entire nation had committed, God still loved them enough to promise He would send His Angel to go before them, as they continued their journey toward the Promised Land. That is a God of true mercy and grace.
And that is the God that we still worship today. He still wants our love and obedience. He still disciplines us when we choose to disobey Him. But He continues to love us, in spite of our sinfulness. And He’s ready and waiting to forgive us when we come to Him. Are you one of His children that can come to Him as your Father, and know that He loves and forgives you? If not, you can be…even today. We all must choose which side we’re on. I hope you’ve chosen God’s side!
Closing Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for loving us so much that You would be willing to forgive, each time we come to you in repentance. And if there’s anyone here, today, who has not yet made that decision…which side they’re going to choose, let it be today. And let it be You! Amen.
Class Discussion/ Activity:
Keep in mind that God often gives second chances. He did with the Israelites on many occasions. But we can’t always count on getting another opportunity when we’re faced with the decision of whether or not we’ll choose the LORD. Don’t delay…choose Him, today!
Fill in the Blanks
True or False
1. The Israelites did not know what had become of Moses. (true)
2. The people continued to worship God, as they waited for Moses to return. (false – they asked Aaron to make new gods for them)
3. Aaron claimed that the golden calf had just come out of the fire. (true)
4. God said He wanted to consume all the Israelites, and start a new nation with Moses. (true)
5. God did not punish the Israelites for their idol worship. (false – many were slain by the swords of the Levites, others were plagued)
“Thou shalt not” was soon forgotten
By the nation God had begotten.
But His love and mercy flowed,
As ‘twas grace that God bestowed.
Still, the time comes…we must choose:
God’s life to gain, or ours to lose.
Lisa DeVinney, June 2015