Moses and Aaron

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for 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.” (Exo 32:1)

  1. Children of Israel in the wilderness travel to Mt. Sinai where Moses receives the Ten Commandments from Jehovah.
    1. Moses comes down the mountain to instruct the people while there are ominous thunderings and lightnings on the mountain behind him.
      1. The Ten Commandments are accompanied with lengthy illustration and applications, also from the mouth of the Lord.
    2. Moses is then called back up the mountain to hear more rules, specifically the instructions for constructing the Tabernacle. Accompanied by Joshua (who waits somewhere below), he is gone a long time, and the people become impatient.
      1. The people approach Aaron and ask him to makes gods for them to take the places of Moses and Jehovah, who have apparently abandoned them.
      2. Aaron collected the jewelry from them (the same jewelry that they had “borrowed” from the Egyptians?) and molded and engraved a statue of a calf.
        1. The people then identified the calf as the god that brought them out of Egypt!
        2. When Aaron sees how the people respond to the calf, he built an altar before it and proclaimed the next day as a feast to Jehovah – present with them as the golden calf.
          1. Apparently a mixing together of the things they had admired in Egypt with this new God Jehovah, first introduced to them by Moses when he returned to Egypt after his time in Midian.
          2. It seems that it was Aaron’s judgment that these new externals were appropriate forms for worshipping Jehovah.
    3. Warned by Jehovah that the people are out of order, Moses rushes down the mountain. Joshua, who has been patiently waiting for him on a lower part of the mountain, meets him, expressing concern that there has been shouting from the camp, but it doesn’t sound like a battle.
      1. When Moses actually sees the people worshipping the calf, he throws the tables down, breaking them.
        1. An important visual symbol: The people were breaking the first commandment, and in so doing, they were breaking them all.…
      2. He destroys the calf by grinding it into a powder, putting it in the water, and requiring the congregation to drink it.
      3. When Aaron is challenged on his part in this, he tries to make sound like he was powerless, the people made him do it, and the calf miraculously formed itself from the molten gold as it cooled.
    4. Aaron, by himself, had been unable to restrain the passions of the people, and the people had brought shame upon themselves as a result.
  2. Egypt and the Ancient Church
    1. the Egyptians, more than all others who constituted the representative Church after the time of the Flood, possessed a knowledge of the religious observances of the Church (AC 7779:4)
    2. They … began to think, as one finds at the present day, that the Church consisted entirely in knowing the kinds of things that have to do with the Church, and no longer in a charitable life. Thus they turned the whole order of the Church upside down; and once this had been turned upside down truths which are called the truths of faith were inevitably falsified. (AC 7779:4)
  3. Let the calf-worship among Egyptians serve to illustrate this.
    1. They knew what a calf represented, namely the good of charity. As long as they knew this and had this in mind, then when they saw calves, or when they prepared calves at charitable feasts, such as the ancients held, or later on when calves were used in sacrifices, they thought in a way that was sane and at the same time in company with the angels in heaven since a calf is for them the good of charity. But when they began to make calves of gold, place them in their temples, and worship them, they thought in an insane manner and at the same time in company with the hells. In that way they turned a true representative into a false one. (AC 7779:5)
    2. The reason why the children of Israel made the golden calf for themselves and worshipped it in place of Jehovah, was that Egyptian idolatry persisted in their heart even though they professed belief in Jehovah with their lips. (AC 9391:7)
      1. This illustrates the importance of having Moses and Aaron together; of having the internal present in the external forms. The people were associated with Jehovah and very grateful to Him on an external level, but they had not yet come to any kind of internal worship – so when the internal tried to express itself Jehovah became, to them, a golden calf. The external form was twisted so that it could carry something of the true internal.
        1. This revealed that their true internal was still stuck in the ways of the past, in Egypt.
        2. This also explains why, in the letter, they kept telling Moses that they wanted to go back.
        3. This show what can happen to our external forms, even when they are orderly, if the internal life is not in accord with them.
    3. If we are wondering why the external worship that they selected had to do with a golden calf, rather than one of the many other symbols that were available to them from the Egyptian culture, the Heavenly Doctrines provide the following insight:
      1. Visible images symbolizing this good and that truth which the natural man possesses took the form in that land of calves and heifers made of gold. (AC 9391:7)
      2. Calves’ are accordingly that kind of good which is not in itself good, only delight such as exists with the natural man separated from the spiritual man. This delight, which is in itself idolatrous, is what the children of Jacob indulged in, as they were allowed to reveal and prove in their adoration of the calf. (AC 9391:10)
    4. When Moses and Aaron are together, worship/life are genuine because the spiritual is within the natural. The idolatrous dancing is an illustration of a merely external worship/life – amusing for the moment, but leads to unhappiness and punishment.
  4. Moses and Aaron.
    1. For by Moses is represented the Lord as to the Divine truth which proceeds immediately from the Lord; … By Aaron, the Divine truth which proceeds mediately from the Lord, and which is the doctrine of good and truth. … The truth which Aaron represents is truth which can be both heard and perceived by man; hence Aaron is called the “mouth,” (AC 6998)
    2. Moses = the Lord as to law, Aaron = the Lord as to doctrine. (AC 7104:)
    3. Moses = the interior of the Spiritual Church, Aaron = the exterior. (AC 7231e)
    4. Moses = inward law, truth accommodated to angels; Aaron = outward law, truth accommodated to men in the world. (AC 7381:2)
    5. Moses = truth Divine proceeding immediately from the Lord; Aaron = truth Divine proceeding mediately. (AC 8404)
    6. Aaron = the external of the Word, of the church, and of worship, separate from the internal. (AC 10397)
  5. Using the letter without the spirit to justify actions that arise out of the proprium.
    1. Moses = inward law, truth accommodated to angels; Aaron = outward law, truth accommodated to men in the world. AC 7381:2
    2. When we look only for what is practical, what seems to work in the short term, we get Aaron’s solution.
    3. We have to keep the team together – look for things that work, things that are practical in the world of work, but at the same time are expressions of higher laws and eternal goals.
      1. The way for us to avoid the problems of the children of Israel is to examine our motives to see whether Moses or Aaron is leading our thought.
        1. If one thinks of the thing they want to do first, and then seeks to justify doing it from the Word, the possibility exists that the internal and the external will not match, leading to spiritual confusion and conflict.
        2. If one thinks about the principles and reasons for doing something first, and then looks for ways to bring those into being, then Moses and Aaron are acting together, even though there may be an infinite number of ways of expressing that principle or eternal goal.
    4. To live only for the externals, to live for sensual delights, to look to the things of the world for guidance in all aspects of your life, to disregard the teaching of the Word because they seem remote and difficult to read, are all ways that we, today, can get caught up in the same things that led the children of Israel to worship the golden calf.
    5. On the other hand, to be patient while waiting at the foot of the mountain, to look to the Lord for guidance in your life, to think about the eternal consequences to yourself and those around you, are the ways that we can embody the ideal form of worship.
      1. Moses and Aaron together, leading the congregation of Israel on their way to the promised land of Milk and Honey.

And God spoke all these words, saying: {2} “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. {3} “You shall have no other gods before Me. {4} “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; {5} you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, {6} but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. (Exo 20:1-6) Amen.


1st Lesson: Exo 32:1-20

Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for 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} And Aaron said to them, “Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” {3} “So all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. {4} And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf. Then they said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!” {5} So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow is a feast to the LORD.” {6} Then they rose early on the next day, offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. {7} And the LORD said to Moses, “Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. {8} “They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them. They have made themselves a molded calf, and worshipped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!’” {9} And the LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people! {10} “Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation.” {11} Then Moses pleaded with the LORD his God, and said: “LORD, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? {12} “Why should the Egyptians speak, and say, ‘He brought them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’ ?Turn from Your fierce wrath, and relent from this harm to Your people. {13} “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” {14} So the LORD relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people. {15} And Moses turned and went down from the mountain, and the two tablets of the Testimony were in his hand. The tablets were written on both sides; on the one side and on the other they were written. {16} Now the tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God engraved on the tablets. {17} And when Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a noise of war in the camp.” {18} But he said: “It is not the noise of the shout of victory, Nor the noise of the cry of defeat, But the sound of singing I hear.” {19} So it was, as soon as he came near the camp, that he saw the calf and the dancing. So Moses’ anger became hot, and he cast the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. {20} Then he took the calf which they had made, burned it in the fire, and ground it to powder; and he scattered it on the water and made the children of Israel drink it. Amen.

2nd Lesson: AC 10397

And the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron. That this signifies that they turned themselves to the externals of the Word, of the church, and of worship, separate from what is internal, is evident from the signification of “gathering themselves together,” as being to turn themselves; and from the representation of Aaron, as here being the external of the Word, of the church, and of worship, separate from the internal. This is here represented by Aaron, because during the absence of Moses, he was the head of that nation, and by Moses, who was absent, is represented the Word (from which the church and worship are derived) in both the internal and the external sense (see the places cited in n. 9372). That such is the representation of Aaron is plain also from each and all things related of Aaron in what follows; namely, that it was he who made the calf and proclaimed a feast and made the people lax, all of which coincides with the external of the Word, of the church, and of worship, separate from the internal. He who separates the internal of the Word, of the church, and of worship from the external, separates from it the holy Divine. For the internal of these is their spirit; but the external is the body of this spirit, and the body without the spirit is dead; and accordingly to worship what is dead is to worship an idol, in this case to worship the golden calf and to proclaim a feast to it, and so to make the people lax. From all this it can be seen what is signified by “Aaron” in this chapter. Amen.


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