After that, he turned to Aaron. “What did the people do to you?” he demanded. “How did they ever make you bring such terrible sin upon them?” “Don’t get upset, sir,” Aaron replied. “You yourself know these people and what a wicked bunch they are... So I told them, ‘Bring me your gold earrings.’ When they brought them to me, I threw them into the fire—and out came this calf!” — Exodus 32:21-22, 24
Even presidents have been known to avail themselves of the chance to duck responsibility. President Nixon left office insisting, “I am not a crook.” President Clinton responded to his accusers by saying, on one hand, “It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is,” and, on the other hand, making a vague admission of guilt—“Mistakes were made.” Both men could reasonably have stood up and said, “I did it. I was wrong. I’m sorry. I accept full responsibility for my actions.” Sadly, if men insist that they are not responsible for their actions, they often fail to see that they are making themselves nothing more than helpless victims in a cruel world. Not a very admirable posture!
Aaron and Moses present us with a stark contrast in this regard. When confronted concerning his behavior in the golden calf episode, Aaron responded, “Don’t get upset, sir... You yourself know these people and what a wicked bunch they are” (Exodus 32:22). In other words, while Aaron didn’t quite say, “The devil made me do it,” he effectively said, “The people pushed me into it!” It was not Aaron’s fault; it was the fault of that “wicked bunch”! But his ingenuousness took a leap forward when he added, “So I told them, ‘Bring me your gold earrings.’ When they brought them to me, I threw them into the fire—and out came this calf!” (32:24). Out came this calf, indeed! So it was the fire’s fault!
Surely Aaron must have known that he had folded under pressure when he owed the people leadership. And surely he knew better than to expect anyone to believe that a fire produces, unaided, a golden calf. Unless, of course, he wanted to suggest that the calf made itself! Aaron’s dissimulation simply compounded his failure, when a simple acknowledgment of culpability and acceptance of responsibility would have paved the way for healing and restoration.
Moses went to the opposite extreme! He returned to the Lord to plead the case of the people. He did not minimize the depth of their sin, and he did not deny the need for judgment. But he said to the Lord, “Please forgive their sin—and if not, then blot me out of the record you are keeping” (32:32). Was Moses tacitly suggesting that he believed he bore some responsibility for the failure of the people and should therefore shoulder some of the blame? We don’t know, but we can certainly see the difference between a man who will not admit his own failure and one who will go the extreme of taking the failure of others upon himself. We have no difficulty recognizing the real leader!
For further study: Exodus 32:15-35
Content taken from The One Year Book of Devotions for Men by Stuart Briscoe. Copyright ©2000. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.