Moses spends too long up on the mountain for the people’s liking and they come to Aaron and make two massive mistakes. First they say Moses brought them out of Egypt. This goes against everything they’ve been told and all that they’ve seen since this began. God has repeatedly said “I am the God that brought you out of Egypt” but they’re now giving the credit to Moses, and so if Moses is gone then anything goes now. And that leads to the second mistake; they fall back on their Egyptian idolatry and ask that Aaron make them gods to worship, and so he takes the gold they got from the Egyptians and fashions a golden calf. This probably was supposed to be Apis who was worshiped in the image of a young bull, or Hathor who was worshiped in the image of a cow.
They see this golden idol they’ve fashioned with their own hands and then proclaimed it to be the god that brought them out of Egypt. This only makes sense if they are worshiping it as an image of one of the gods they worshiped in Egypt, because if it’s a new god how could it bring them out of Egypt before it even was a thing?
Verse 6 seems to mean that Aaron knew this was all no good so he built an altar and proclaims the next day to be a feast unto the Lord. It’s important to note that the word “Lord” in all capitals in the Bible is the name of God YHWH that was revealed to Moses at the burning bush, but due to reverence for the Name, Jewish scribes would write the word that we translate as Lord. So when you see LORD in the Old Testament it would’ve originally been YHWH. So knowing this, Aaron is calling for a feast to the One God in an attempt to tamp down the people’s idolatry to mitigate it and possibly buy time for his brother to return. This explanation makes sense if you consider that Aaron is spared from the sword and plague that is punishment for this incident.
God tells Moses what is happening back at the camp and he refers to Israel as “your people” which is a way that shows he’s disowning Israel after calling them his people multiple times before. He offers to make Moses the patriarch of a new nation and destroy this idolatrous people. Moses declines this offer, and begins to intercede on behalf of the people and begs God’s mercy. His pleading works and God’s wrath is stayed, but there will be consequences for this event.
As Moses is coming down he meets his faithful lieutenant, Joshua, who had accompanied him halfway up the mountain and stayed there the whole time. Moses knows what is happening down below but Joshua is still unaware, and he hears shouts so he assumes a battle is taking place. But it’s really revelry and a debauched party. When it says they “got up to play” in verse 5, this most likely is a euphemism for the type of cultic prostitution that took place with the worship of many ancient Near Eastern gods.
When they reach the camp, they can clearly hear the singing, see the dancing, and most importantly they can see the golden calf. And so Moses throws the stone tablets that were written on by the very hand of God, breaking them in the process. This is a dramatic visual for the Israelites and they had broken the covenants that they just recently made with God.
Moses takes the golden calf and destroys it, he then grinds it up into powder and makes the people drink it mixed with water. Aaron is confronted by his brother, and he tells a ridiculous story that the people forced him to make them a god, and when he threw the gold into the fire it miraculously became a golden calf idol. He refuses to take any responsibility for this on himself and points the finger at others.
Moses calls for those who are on God’s side and willing to stand against this idolatry to come to the gate of the camp. The tribe of Levi, Moses’ own tribe, answers the call. He instructs the to go through the camp slaying the idolaters. They killed 3000 people and for their willingness to stay on the side of God they are given the priesthood. Prior to this, all firstborn sons were priests, but now it’s restricted to the tribe of Levi only.
This event is mirrored in the book of acts by the events in Jerusalem on Pentecost. Before becoming a Christian holiday that celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit, it was a Jewish pilgrimage festival that celebrated the giving of the Law to Moses. But unlike at the first Pentecost in Sinai, the one in Jerusalem that’s recorded in Acts sees 3000 people come to be baptized and have new life, as opposed to the 3000 that died in their sins. See https://nowthatimcatholic.com/2016/05/20/pentecost-in-sinai-and-jerusalem/
Moses goes to God and offers to take the responsibility and die if needed to atone for their sins. This is another point of comparison between Jesus and Moses, but Jesus being the greater than Moses actually does die for the people, and not just one nation but all the nations of the world. God agrees to hold back his anger and not destroy the whole people, but he says a later date will be when the punishment is meted out on them. He also sends a plague for what they done, but no description is given for what kind of plague or how severe it was.
God comes back to Moses and says that he’ll send the angel of the Lord ahead of them and lead them to the promised land, but he himself won’t go with them. The people are distraught at this, although they had no problem casting off God and worshiping an idol made of gold just moments ago, but maybe it’s because the ringleaders of that apostasy are dead.
Moses enters into intercessor mode again and pleads with God to be with his people and not abandon them. There’s also a story interjected between the beginning and end of chapter 33 that shows how close of a relationship Moses enjoyed with the Lord, this is possibly to show the reason for how effective he is at pleading with God for mercy on the people.
God relents and agrees to continue on with the people on their journey to Canaan.
Mark’s gospel opens with a line that is so full of meaning that it was the subject of a 9 minute long video by Bishop Barron that is a great introduction to this book (Video here)
Mark is commonly believed to be the first gospel written, and was written primarily for a gentile audience, unlike Matthew’s gospel that was directed primarily at Jews and Jewish converts to Christianity. This can be seen by how he regularly explains Jewish customs, whereas Matthew mentions them without explanation. Mark was also not an apostle, so like the gospel of Luke it is written from experiences that were relayed to him by eyewitnesses. He is also thought to be the John Mark that is mentioned as Saint Peter’s companion in other parts of the New Testament, and so is probably basing most of his written work here on testimony of Saint Peter himself.
This gospel opens with John the Baptist preaching repentance in the wilderness and drawing quite a crowd, so much so that he also drew the unwanted attention of the authorities, and that ultimately led to his martyrdom at the hands of Herod. Mark doesn’t record John’s protest of unworthiness when Jesus approached and requests to be baptized, but he includes the epiphany of the voice from heaven claiming Jesus as the Son of God. Jesus didn’t need to be baptized by John for forgiveness, but submitted to baptism to show us an example and to purify the waters of baptism for all in the future.
Jesus goes into the desert for 40 days of fasting and doing battle with the devil through temptations. Mark doesn’t recount these temptations like in other gospels though.
Mark then goes on to tell of the calling of the first apostles to follow Jesus and them setting up in Capernaum, where Jesus and the twelve would be headquartered for the duration of his ministry.
Jesus goes into the synagogue in town and preaches so compellingly that those present marvel at how he teaches with authority, and he also casts out a demon from a man that was possessed with just a word. This was much different from how exorcisms were done in second temple Judaism and even more proved the authority he had over the spiritual world.
The chapter finishes with Jesus healing multiple people, including Saint Peter’s mother in law and a leper at the end of the chapter. An interesting thing about the leper is that he says to Jesus that him willing it is enough to heal him, and that is quite the statement of faith, but Jesus doesn’t just tell the man that he wills it, he also reaches out and touches him.
This man was unclean by the standards of the law in a ceremonial sense, and touching him would render anyone else unclean too, but ceremonial uncleanliness doesn’t translate to Jesus, because he came to heal. Rather than becoming unclean, he cleansed the man in that moment and shows us that he came to not just save, but to cleanse us as well, because we’ve been stained and sullied by sin.