Posts Tagged ‘Exodus’

Failure in Leadership

How did Aaron get away with it? The man took gold from Israel “and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf.” (Exodus 32:4) He didn’t just standby and watch as they did it, he made the calf himself. But in the rest of chapter 32 he seems to get off pretty lightly and the judgement for all this idolatry comes down on the people (30-35). All Aaron gets is Moses asking “What did this people do to you that you have brought such a great sin upon them?” (21).

Considering who said what helps us makes some sense of it:

  • The people: “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” – verse 1
  • Aaron: “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” – Verse 2
  • The people: “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” – verse 4
  • Aaron: “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.” – verse 5

At that point there is a scene change and we move to the mountain with God telling Moses what is happening. But in this scene where the sin takes place, notice what Aaron never says. He never mentions other gods, the people do that. Aaron only mentions Yahweh and he never explicitly says that the golden calf is Yahweh. Meanwhile, the people never explicitly mention Yahweh’s name.

Aaron sinned by failing in leadership. He failed to keep the people devoted to Yahweh and so the people sinned by worshiping false gods. I think this why the whole fracas is summed up as “Moses saw that the people had broken loose (for Aaron had let them break loose, to the derision of their enemies)” in verse 25. Don’t get me wrong, Aaron violated the second commandment by making the idol and the people violated the first by calling it their god. While both are violations of the commands they’d heard God himself pronounced some 40 days earlier, the people’s sin was the worse because they abandoned Yahweh and so 3,000 of them died but Aaron didn’t (27-28).

God doesn’t expect his earthly leaders to be perfect and he’s not surprised by their sin. Failure in leadership can be forgiven. But if Aaron had joined the people in abandoning Yahweh, you can bet buttons to billions that he’d have been one of the first to get punctuated with a sword. We look at this and consider Aaron a failure for what he did, but neither Moses nor God really call him on it. What we need to be careful of are the ways in which church leaders might make the same mistake Aaron did. Are there ways we can cave to people in our congregations and while not necessarily joining in on the sin ourselves, we set up their idols nonetheless and stand by while they worship them? We might even try to inject Jesus into the mess but that won’t work. Direct confrontation does. There were 3,000 in the camp who were so hard sold on worshiping a golden cow they the Levites killed them. Those Levites weren’t up on the mountain with Moses, they were in the camp with Aaron. He had access to the same resources but he didn’t take decisive action.

This shouts a great warning at me.