{This is a lesson prepared by Jan Olowski}

Two fascinating things about Aaron’s life:

1. God spoke to Aaron. “The LORD said to Aaron, ‘Go into the desert to meet Moses.'” Ex.4:27. “The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, ‘When Pharoah says to you, ‘Perform a miracle,’ then say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh,’ and it will become a snake.'” Ex. 8:1. God wrought plagues through Aaron: God had Moses summon the miracles and Aaron performing them. At times, Aaron had an even stronger relationship with God than did Moses himself. “Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.” Ex. 40:35. Aaron and his sons were the first priests, so they could enter the Tent of Meeting with God.

2. But in spite of all this, Aaron made the golden calf. “He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool.” Ex. 32:4. He even lied to Moses about it: “Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!” Ex. 32:24. When I read this, I was surprised. I thought, “how could Aaron, for whom God had such a special plan, who had performed God’s miracles, who, with hundreds of thousands of Israelites, had literally been saved by God, have such weak faith that he would make the golden calf just because Moses wasn’t around?”

But although Aaron’s relationship with God seems special, it really isn’t. All of us have the same faith that Aaron did. We know that God exists, that he favors (loves) us, that he’s works miracles through us, and, of course, that God saves us all. So the difference between our faith-experience and Aaron’s is merely superficial. Aaron saw certain things that we didn’t, but Aaron’s knowledge is the same as ours. In spite of this knowledge, Aaron was weak. He failed to rectify the sins of the Israelites (“‘You know how prone these people are to evil.'” Ex. 32:22), and then the peer pressure caused him to sin with them.

If we were in Aaron’s shoes, we would have reminded the Israelites of what God had done for them so that they would cease demanding false idols. If we were in Aaron’s shoes, we would not have joined in the sinning by building a golden calf. But of course, since our knowledge is the same as Aaron’s, we ARE in Aaron’s shoes. We know God. Yet we witness sinning and idol worship and few of us ever do anything to resist it. We even join in this sinning and idol worship under the peer pressures of society. So we should do what we can to avoid repeating Aaron’s mistakes. Thus we should do socially appropriate things to quell sinning and idol worship in our society.

Opportunities routinely come up in polite conversation when we can remind those around us to respect God’s name, His rules, and for us to be a witness to the miracles God performed through us. When the Israelites were pleading for new gods, they were crying out for help, like a depressed person attempting suicide. The Israelites felt abandoned by Moses and so they had a crisis of faith. Yet while Aaron could have helped the Israelites through it by reminding them about God‘s grace, Aaron instead made things worse by giving them a golden calf (like giving a gun to the depressed person who has attempted suicide). Likewise, when our friends come to us in crisis, we should remind them that faith in God is the best way to persevere. We should not allow their crisis to deepen by missing the opportunity to remind them of God’s glory.

For if, like Aaron, we fail to remind our peers that they should trust in God, then, like the Israelites, they will pursue false idols (greed, lust, avarice, etc., depending on the crisis) and they will drift farther away from God. (Obviously, though, there is a political difference between us and Aaron. Aaron was the Vice President of Israel: he was in charge when Moses went to the mountain. Thus it was his duty as leader to enforce morals. We, on the other hand, do not have political authority, so it would be inappropriate for us to react to idol worship as if we were the boss of other people. So we have to be tactful and mindful of our humble position in society when we go about nudging people away from idol worship.)

Aaron’s second sin, after having failed to stop the Israelite’s idolatry, was to join in that idolatry by making the golden calf. Aaron caved in to peer pressure. When we feel tempted by sin, we should do a gut-check to ascertain the source of that sin. If it’s our own internally-generated desire to sin, then we’re in a bind and we should pray and seek guidance through fellowship. But if we can identify an external social source for our desire to sin–some kind of peer pressure, perhaps hedonism or a blasphemous fad like Yoga, Harry Potter, or ‘The Secret’–then we should identify our dilemma as that of Aaron. Everyone around us is disrespecting God: do we hold the fort, or do we join the fray? Aaron failed: he joined the fray and made a golden calf. Hopefully, when we’re faced with peer pressure, we won’t fail. In fact, we might hold onto our faith even harder. Granted, it’s hard to resist peer pressure. Even Aaron failed to resist peer pressure. Thankfully, though, because Aaron failed, we can learn a lesson that will prevent us from failing in the future. (Though even if we do, it’s nice to know that if Aaron was forgiven for building the calf so soon after God saved Israel, then we might be forgiven, too, for our peer-pressure generated sins.)