Apostasy in the Mosaic Covenant

What happened to Esau in his desire to satisfy his hunger also happened to Israel is Exodus 32, as they sought to satisfy their desire for another mediator while Moses was on Mount Sinai. Israel had come out of captivity and knew that they were the LORD’s elect, being kept for God’s covenant. Yet in Exodus 32 they chose to come into corporate apostasy, making the golden calf, in which Aaron led them. Though Israel corporately apostatized many times throughout history, it was this act in the wilderness right after being brought out of Egypt that was the beginning of their continual falling from God.

In Exodus 32, Aaron leads an act of apostasy from God—the same God who had made a covenant with them just previously in Exodus 20. However, it is not that Aaron himself became an apostate as Cain, Ham, or Esau did, but it was his sinful act that would lead the people of the wilderness into apostasy at the given time, and for their future in the Mosaic covenant. Dr. Gary Knoppers (mentioned before) makes light of Aaron’s act of apostasy since his event was cut short and ended quickly, therefore not affecting the people of Israel. However, this is not true; for the people in the wilderness would wander for the next 40 years in the wilderness until those that were apostates died off. After the people made themselves a calf to bow to, Moses pleads on the people’s behalf. Here the intent of Aaron was deliberate, which can be seen by the way Moses treats the calf as a cult symbol. Here one sees a swift resolution as Moses’ plea for Aaron and the act of Aaron’s sin is dealt with right away. But for the people of the wilderness in Exodus 32:21-35, they never asked forgiveness for their sins—never repented—and as a result, fell away from the covenant that their LORD made with them.

“And Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you have brought such a great sin upon them?”And Aaron said, “Let not the anger of my lord burn hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil. For they said to me, ‘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.’ So I said to them, ‘Let any who have gold take it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.” And when Moses saw that the people had broken loose (for Aaron had let them break loose, to the derision of their enemies), then Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said, “Who is on the LORD’s side? Come to me.” And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. And he said to them, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel, ‘Put your sword on your side each of you, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill his brother and his companion and his neighbor.’” And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And that day about three thousand men of the people fell. And Moses said, “Today you have been ordained for the service of the LORD, each one at the cost of his son and of his brother, so that he might bestow a blessing upon you this day.” The next day Moses said to the people, “You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” So Moses returned to the LORD and said, “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.” But the LORD said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book. But now go, lead the people to the place about which I have spoken to you; behold, my angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them.” Then the LORD sent a plague on the people, because they made the calf, the one that Aaron made.”

Like the people that made the calf and did not repent, it was only the beginning of the constant corporate apostasy of Israel against their LORD throughout the Old Testament.

When speaking of the people in the wilderness, not many remember that the Epistle of Jude made a short, yet important, mention of them, which brings even more light to the corporate apostasy that Israel made in the wilderness.  Jude states in the verses of 4-5:

“For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.”

I make mention of the previous verse before Jude mentions the people in the wilderness because of Jude’s focus and warning against false teachers. Jude’s whole letter refers to the false teachers during the New Testament church, and here he immediately makes mention of those in the wilderness that were apostates. In verse four he speaks of false teachers and how their teachings come about, then moves into the reminder of those in the wilderness during the time of the Mosaic covenant who had fallen into apostasy. Jude brings the New Testament back to remember Israel—who knew the God of the covenant and knew that it was God that brought them out of Egypt, yet did not live accordingly. Israel had been brought into the covenant promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, yet fell into apostasy. Jude reminds his readers of the dangers of this; making mention that Israel’s apostasy had placed upon them a judgment, which kept them from reaching the Promised Land because of their disbelief and their apostasy.

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