If you were to think of one special example, or a case study, of “worship gone bad” in the Old Testament where would you go? Well in chapter two of We Become What We Worship Beale take us to Exodus 32–Israel’s idolatrous rendezvous with the golden calf. But the worship of the golden cow is not merely an occasional, isolated episode of idolatry. Nope. The wilderness generation’s idolatry is the paradigm for rightly understanding Israel’s future idolatry.
As the chapter title (“Evidence Elsewhere in the Old Testament”) suggests, Beale traces Israel’s idolatry throughout the OT. But he does so by “focusing on Exodus 32 and its reverberations later in the Old Testament” (p. 77). What is most striking is how the idol worshipers in each scenario are described as becoming like their idols, just as that first generation of Israelites had become like the cow. Beale notes how Moses describes them in a way to suggest they’d become like wild calves or untrained cows (pp. 77-78):
- They became “stiffnecked” (Ex 32:9; 33:3, 5; 34:9) and would not obey, but
- they “were let loose” because “Aaron had let them go loose” (Ex 32:25),
- so that “they had quickly turned aside from the way,” (Ex 32:8) and they needed to be
- “gathered together” again “in the gate” (Ex 32:26),
- so that Moses could “lead the people where” God had told him to go (Ex 32:34).
Beale’s exploration into the cattle metaphors even includes an interesting discussion that suggests Exodus 34:29-34 should be translated “Moses face became horned” (instead of “shone”), as an echo and parody of the horns (an image of power) of the golden calf. In other words, while Israel was becoming unruly, stiffnecked, and spiritually stubborn like their calf god, Moses was becoming like and reflecting the true divine glory of YHWH God. Interesting and mostly convincing, but probably not going to make the next ESV revision.
The take-home is this: Moses and Israel are being transformed by what they worship. Moses resembles the glorious God. Israel resembles the pathetic cow.
“The first generation Israelites did not literally become petrified gold calves like the golden calf they worshiped, but they are depicted as acting like out-of-control and headstrong calves apparently because they are being mocked as having become identified with the spiritually rebellious image of the calf that they had worshipped. What they had revered, they had come to resemble, and that resemblance was destroying them. The reference in Exodus 32:7 that because of their idolatry the people had “corrupted themselves” further demonstrates the inner spiritual deterioration that had set in and had tranformed their inner beings.” (p. 82)
The rest of chapter two is like a progressive dinner, moving along from text to text, one meal but many stops. Beale follows the reverberations of Exodus 32 into Psalm 106:20, Hosea 4:7; 1 Kings 17 and Jeremiah 2:5, 11. Which brings me back to my sixth reason of my “7 Reasons Why I’m Reading” this book: #6 To Soak in Scripture. This 56-page chapter has caused me to linger long over, to think deeply about, and to meditate on God’s Word. I thank God for men like Beale who lead me to drink deeply from the well of Scripture and so become transformed into the image of Christ:
And we all, with unveiled face,beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18