It was on this day, according to Jewish tradition, that all of those who worshipped the Golden Calf, died. It’s recorded in Exodus 32:27-28:
“Thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘Let every man put his sword on his side, and go in and out from entrance to entrance throughout the camp, and let every man kill his brother, every man his companion, and every man his neighbor.’ So the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses and about three thousand men of the people fell that day.”
What was it they were actually worshipping? Was it an idol of Egypt or were they adapting something familiar as a representation of the God Moses was speaking to on the mountain? Considering that Aaron crafted the Golden Calf and then announced, “Tomorrow is a feast unto the LORD,” hints that it was probably the latter. They took something profane they were introduced to in Egypt and mixed it with the Holy One of Israel saying, “This is your God, O Israel, that brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” It seems clear that they were mingling the holy with profane, the clean with the unclean.
Secondly, how did the Levites know who to put to the sword? When Moses destroyed the idol and ground it to powder, he cast the ashes upon the water and made the children of Israel to drink it. According to tradition, after drinking this, the bellies of those who were guilty swelled out; this is how the men of Levi knew who to slay. This was a precursor of what is known as the trial of bitter waters, whereby a woman who was accused of adultery was made to drink bitter waters. If her belly swelled, it was evidence that she was guilty. In other words, those Israelites who worshiped the golden calf were marked as adulterous and, consequently, suffered the penalty.
Being instructed to go through the camp and slay the guilty parties may seem cruel to some but we need to consider something important. From the very beginning, Israel’s downfall has always been a tendency to mingle things that are profane with things that are clean. This is the lure the Adversary used to seduce Eve in the garden and it is the same tactic he has used throughout history, even to this very day.
This strategy amounts to this; he coaxes God’s people to break God’s laws by seducing them with something that looks godly. People don’t necessarily build golden calves today, but people still try to conform God to their image of who and what He is rather than having their minds renewed and being conformed to the image of the Son of God. When we fall victim to this snare, the Body, at large, develops a cancer that we cant’ long afford to co-exist with – if the Body is going to live. For the sake of the Body at large, like a cancerous tumor, that which would destroy the body has to be cut out. Unfortunately sometimes, these unhealthy situations develop in our churches and fellowships and, sadly, those guilty of spiritual adultery have to be removed.
Everything that happens in the beginning is an example to those of us who are living in the end and, like Israel of old, His people today are moving ever closer to some kind of climatic event that will expose those elements within the Body that threaten its health. In time, those that have erected a golden calf will be exposed and those things that would threaten the Body will be cut out.
Therefore, we should be challenged to live our lives in such a way that, like the Levites of old, we will be found to be on the LORD’s side as opposed to the LORD being on our side. If we are on His side, then we will willfully conform to His ways. If we insist that He’s on our side, we might be trying to make Him fit into the image that we have of Him.
These are sobering words but we live in very sobering times. We must respond to the challenges of these last days, tear down the golden calves in our lives and answer the call to be on His side.