Shattered Tablets and Broken Covenants

“When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. And he took the calf the people had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it. He said to Aaron, ‘What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?’ ‘Do not be angry, my lord,’ Aaron answered. ‘You know how prone these people are to evil. They said to me, “Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” So I told them, “Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off.” Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!’”—Exodus 32:19–24 (NIV)

Do you remember a few verses prior how Moses interceded on behalf of the people asking the Lord to show them mercy? That went down the drain when Moses saw with his own eyes what they were doing. “His anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them.” Then, he took the idol, melted it, ground it into powder, and made the people drink it. Wow!

I believe there’s something so fitting about Moses breaking the tablets of the covenant at Israel’s breaking of the covenant. Now, you may be asking, “They only broke one of the commandments. Don’t you think Moses overreacted?” Well, I would argue they actually broke all of them! I submit to you that when we break the first commandment, we’re in fact guilty of breaking all of them. How so? 

In doing what they did . . . 

  1. They worshipped a god of their own making in the place of the true and living God.
  2. They reduced the Almighty to a created thing that could be molded to fit our sinful desires.
  3. They misused His name by ascribing Him to this idol.
  4. They failed to rest in Him and instead put their trust in this idol.
  5. They dishonored their Father who had adopted them as His beloved children. 
  6. They committed violence and murder against their own souls.
  7. They committed adultery against God, who is always faithful.
  8. They stole offerings that belonged to God to make sacrifice to this idol.
  9. They gave false witness about who He is.
  10. They coveted the false sense of security their pagan neighbors had through the worship of handmade idols. 

All of this was a rejection of the first words spoken in the Law: “I am the Lord your God.” It was a rejection of God’s character, nature, and work, just like in the Garden. And just like in the Garden, Aaron deflects blame on the people when confronted by Moses. 

Moses asks Aaron what the people did to him to make him sin so greatly. Honestly, they didn’t do much. And it seems Aaron, the leader in this scenario, took it to the next level, as one commentator points out, because he “was flattered by the enthusiastic response of the people.” But instead of taking responsibility and repenting, he tries to lessen his and the people’s sin by saying, “You know how they are.” It’s like when people brush off sexual assault, saying, “Boys will be boys,” or premarital sex with “Well, it’s just the way of the world now.” No, friends . . . sin is sin. 

Aaron had no sense of the greatness of his sin. You see, when God entrusts to us a person or group of people to lead and shepherd, it’s a heavy responsibility. Whether it’s our kids, a small group, a church, or one person we’re discipling, there is never an excuse to condone, let alone facilitate sin! We’re called to lead by example and point people to the true and proper worship of the Lord. May we never approach these God-ordained leadership roles without the fear of God.

Pause: How does this passage give us a deeper understanding of the widespread dangers of idolatry? 

Practice: Ask the Lord to guide you and grow you as a leader in whatever capacity you lead people, so you may avoid the pitfalls of Aaron.

Pray: Father, I pray Your hand of protection, guidance, and provision over the areas in which You’ve called me to lead. Whether it’s one person, a small group, or thousands of people, may my driving force and motivation always be to draw people closer to You, to be used by Your Spirit to accomplish Your will, and to personally grow in intimacy with Jesus as I shepherd others. Help me lead with conviction in an age of compromise, teach me the truth in all things, and give me the boldness to speak the truth in love even in the most difficult of spaces. Amen.

About the Author

Danny Saavedra

Danny Saavedra is a licensed minister who has served on staff at Calvary since 2012, managing the Calvary Devotional and digital discipleship resources. He has a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. His wife Stephanie, son Jude, and daughter Zoe share a love of Star Wars, good food, having friends over for dinner, and studying the Word together as a family.