Cuba War Veterans. Capitol, San Antonio.
Tuesday, 17 May 2022
And they made a calf in those days, offered sacrifices to the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands. Acts 7:41
Note: You can listen to today’s commentary courtesy of our friends at “Bible in Ten” podcast. (Click Here to listen)
You can also read this commentary, with music, courtesy of our friends at “Discern the Bible” on YouTube. (Click Here to listen), or at Rumble (Click Here to listen).
Included among other words in the previous verse, Stephen quoted the people of Israel saying, “Make us gods to go before us.” He continues with that now, saying, “And they made a calf in those days.”
The word translated as “they made a calf” is found only here, moschopoieó. It is not used in the Greek Old Testament. It comes from moschos (a calf, heifer, or bull) and poieó (to construct or make). Stephen coins a new word to show the disdainful nature of what occurred. The event is recorded in Exodus 32 –
“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!’” Exodus 32:2-4
The reason for making this calf is not perfectly evident without understanding the symbolism. It said in Exodus 32:39 that “their hearts turned back to Egypt.” Vincent’s Word Studies explains how the calf is so intimately connected to Egypt –
This was in imitation of the Egyptian bull-worship. Several of these animals were worshipped at different places in Egypt. Apis was worshipped at Memphis. Herodotus says: “Now this Apis, or Epaphus, is the calf of a cow which is never afterward able to bear young. The Egyptians say that fire comes down from heaven upon the cow, which thereupon conceives Apis. The calf which is so called has the following marks: He is black, with a square spot of white upon his forehead, and on his back the figure of an eagle. The hairs in his tail are double, and there is a beetle upon his tongue” (iii., 28). He was regarded by the Egyptians, not merely as an emblem, but as a god. He was lodged in a magnificent court, ornamented with figures twelve cubits high, which he never quitted except on fixed days, when he was led in procession through the streets. His festival lasted seven days, and all came forward from their houses to welcome him as he passed. He was not allowed to reach the natural term of his life. If a natural death did not remove him earlier, he was drowned when he reached the age of twenty-five, and was then embalmed and entombed in one of the sepulchral chambers of the Serapeum, a temple devoted expressly to the burial of these animals.
Another sacred bull was maintained at Heliopolis, in the great Temple of the Sun, under the name of Mnevis, and was honored with a reverence next to Apis. Wilkinson thinks that it was from this, and not from Apis, that the Israelites borrowed their notions of the golden calf. “The offerings, dancing, and rejoicings practised on the occasion, were doubtless in imitation of a ceremony they had witnessed in honor of Mnevis during their sojourn in Egypt” (“Ancient Egyptians,” 2 sen, vol. ii., p. 197). A third sacred bull, called Bacis, was maintained at Hermonthis, near Thebes. It was a huge, black animal, and its hairs were said to grow the wrong way. Other bulls and cows did not hold the rank of gods, but were only sacred.
With this symbol of Egypt now before them, Stephen next says that the people “offered sacrifices to the idol.”
Sacrifices were made as offerings of devotion, for appeasement, for atonement, for fellowship, and so on. In offering sacrifices, they were aligning themselves with this idol as a representation of the Lord (YHVH). Aaron stated this explicitly. This was in violation of the covenant they agreed to when the Lord spoke out the Ten Commandments. Rather than obtaining favor, they were bringing wrath down upon themselves. Stephen then finishes the verse with “and rejoiced in the works of their own hands.”
The thought of this and the previous clause are found in Exodus 32 –
“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.” Exodus 32:5, 6
The thought of rejoicing in the work of their own hands means that they fashioned their own god, and they were thus participants in their own supposed reconnection to the divine. This is what Adam and Eve did when “they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings” (Genesis 3:7). They were attempting to reestablish the connection to God that had been lost, covering over their sinful state in order to restore a propitious relationship with Him. But the Lord rejected that. It is not through our effort, but through His that a covering is provided and restoration is realized.
Israel made the same mistake, rejecting the Lord and attempting to obtain their own path to appeasement, atonement, and fellowship.
Life application: The same concepts come up again and again in Scripture, attempting to help us think through what is going on. In the case of salvation, Paul says that it is by grace through faith. It is not of ourselves, but rather it is the gift of God.
If you ask almost any teacher or preacher if that is so, they will immediately agree with it. They could do no less. The words are clear, precise, and unambiguous. And yet, no sooner do many avow that this is true, then they immediately turn around and inject their own works back into the equation. They may do it by saying you can lose your salvation. They may do it by saying you must submit to the law of Moses or certain precepts from it. They may say that you need to give up your sin before you can be saved, and so on.
Such things either directly contradict the notion of salvation being a gift that comes by grace through faith, or they put the cart before the horse by claiming you must do something before receiving the gift (which is contradictory as well).
Be sure to keep simple what is simple. Don’t allow anyone to rob you of the very basics of theology and be sure not to rob others of them as well. Grace! Grace! We are saved by God’s grace! Why should we take such a pure and simple message and tarnish it? Hold fast to the grace of God that is found in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Lord God, forgive us for always trying to fashion our own path to salvation by rejecting the simple message of grace that Your word speaks of. Help us to never add to the glory of what You have done through the giving of Jesus. His cross! His death! His burial! His resurrection! What could we ever add to that? Only after receiving it will we attempt to please You with lives lived in holiness. Amen.