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Worship That God Has Not Prescribed

One of the key passages in Scripture that illustrates deviant worship is found in Exodus 32:1-10:

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “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.” 2 So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.”

People often assume that the children of Israel were attempting to worship a pagan god in this instance. However, closer examination will show that they were simply trying to worship Yahweh using means He had not prescribed.

In verse 1 the people say, “Come, make us [Elohim]…” The same term is used in verse 4 when they say, “These are [this is] Elohim, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” Translators render this word, elohim, as “gods,” because it is a plural reference to deity, and because they assume the people of Israel are seeking to worship other gods. However notice what Aaron says in verse 5: “Tomorrow shall be a feast to [Yahweh].” There is no doubt here that the people are attempting worship Yahweh, who they say brought them up out of Egypt. The name Elohim is often used to refer to Yahweh. The plural form signifies majesty and honor. This point is made even more clear when Moses relates this incident in Deuteronomy 9.16:

And I looked, and behold, you had sinned against the LORD your God. You had made yourselves a golden calf. You had turned aside quickly from the way that the LORD had commanded you.

Moses says that they sinned against Yahweh Elohim. And He severely punished them. Why? Because they were attempting to worship another god? No. Because, as Moses says, they had “turned aside quickly from the way that the LORD had commanded [them].” They had introduced elements into the worship of Yahweh that He had not prescribed.

Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

2 Responses to Worship That God Has Not Prescribed

  1. The issue here is not that "they had introduced elements into the worship of Yahweh that He had not prescribed" (a somewhat regulative understanding), but that they had introduced elements into the worship of Yahweh that He had expressly forbidden (Ex. 20:4). Worship + Error (e.g. disobeying God's direct commands) = False worship.

  2. That's a valid point. I actually think it was a mix, though. There was certainly some synchronism going on that God had not specifically addressed.

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