Syncretism and Sexual SinOctober 7, 2015 at 12:43 pm | Posted in Exodus | 4 Comments
Tags: Aaron, Biblical worship, commentary on Exodus, Exodus 32, golden calf, pagan worship, parties, Sunday School lessons on Exodus, syncretism, worship
And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, To morrow is a feast to the Lord.
Aaron, pressured by the people and doubtful concerning the return of Moses, tried to straddle the fence. He built an altar before the golden bull, but he proclaimed that the next day’s worship activity would be a feast “to the Lord.” This is called “syncretism:” attempting to combine the worship of Yahweh with false gods. It is nothing less than idolatry. In God’s eyes it is exactly the same in terms of its sinfulness. It is the spiritual equivalent of adultery. Aaron’s attempt to lessen its offensiveness to God is analagous to a husband defending his adultery by saying, “At least I didn’t dump my wife; I just two-timed her.”
The next verse explains the reason for the altar.
And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.
Sacrifices were necessary to make the false worship seem legitimate. False worship will often have an element of truth in it. But the second half of the verse – “to eat and to drink, and rose up to play” – reveals the real selfishness at play in this show of “sacrifice.” When people make idols or construct false ideas of God, they are not trying to be accurate, and just falling accidentally into error. No, they are fashioning a god to please themselves. What would a young bull care if they wanted to get drunk, gorge themselves at a party, and have an orgy?
“To drink” denotes alcohol and “rose up to play” is probably (although not definitely) a euphemism for sex. Most commentators think the phrase has a sexual connotation not because the Hebrew word always means that. Hebrew language in the Bible tends to be modest, preferring euphemisms when possible (like saying that Adam “knew” Eve), but usually the context clarifies it. Here it doesn’t make it crystal clear. The word translated as “play” could be dancing, fighting, roughhousing, lesser forms of debauchery, or general partying. One of the reasons for the traditional belief that it here connotes sexual partying is that, in other instances when people engaged in this type of pagan worship it did involve drunken sex parties. In fact, that was one of the most prominent features of pagan worship, and, tragically, the people who worshiped the golden bull were almost surely imitating that.
The worship of Yahweh (conveniently just described for us in the details of the Tabernacle in the chapters preceding Chapter 32) was more somber, serious, holy, modest, and chaste. It was focused not on the flesh – although it did involve having an enjoyable meal – but rather on serving the Lord. Christian worship should likewise be spiritual, not carnal. This is one of the early instances in Scripture where this is highlighted for us. Worship of the real God is distinct from the worship of pagan idols, and the distinction should be obvious to a lost world, because our God is real, not an invented excuse to party like it’s 1999 (or in this case 1499 BC).