Exodus 32 and Acts 15...The Golden Calf and Idolatry

In Exodus 32 we see the people of God engaging in a favorite activity of man...honoring God through honoring an image. But the living God is against this activity.  Maybe it has something to do with the perversion of man shaping the living God rather than the living God shaping man.

In the New Testament Jesus gives the commands of the kingdom but they don't seem too workable as a baseline ethic...even for those embracing his authority. Rather, his ethic is one that must be pressed toward out of loyalty to him.  Worldly governments do pretty well at having baseline ethical standards. A baseline ethical standard is what God provided for national Israel within the Mosaic law.  But in Acts 15 it is very clear that Gentiles, who are joined to the Israel of God by faith, are not given the baseline ethic of the Mosaic law...perhaps that will be left to the nations in which they happen to sojourn.  So at this point (Acts 15) the apostles do send out a bare essentials, baseline ethic, for the adopted gentiles.
The gentiles will fare well if they keep to these "essentials" as a baseline ethic, no matter what earthly law they may be subject to in the empire and beyond. The four item list of essentials has a history of difficult translation and interpretation that would be interesting to discuss in another post but one element of these essentials is to abstain from the pollution of Idolatry.  Here are a few excerpts from a document linked to at the left on the topic of Idolatry.

“How could they do it?” and “I promise I would never treat God that way.”  These were my thoughts as a child; thoughts provoked by a story taught in Sunday school about the children of Israel and their golden calf.

“How could they do it?”

    We should maintain a sense of indignation for the Israelites readiness to rationalize the revealed will of God out or their minds.  As more mature Sunday school students, however, we must confess that we are very much like them.

“I promise I would never treat God that way.”

    In as much as this child-like response to the story of the people’s idolatry represents naive presumption, it should be corrected. Not being naïve children, we should not think of ourselves to highly as if we could swear an oath not to sin. In as much as this response represents a sincere desire to please God and obey His Word, we should cling to it.  Christian persons and churches should guard themselves from the sort of hardness of heart that many of the Israelites experienced and were slain.  For even when Moses came to them with the written Word of God and called out “who is on the Lord’s side,” not all of them were willing to repent.

To read more on this topic see the documents at the left "The Golden Calf: Still a Problem?" and "Image-Honor: The Perennial Use of Man's Art"