Testing the Spirits: Exodus 32 and the Golden Calf


This didn’t happen recently, but is something I’ve been wanting to get out in writing: I had neglected to test the spirit of a particular sign I was seeing in the spiritual realm, and it turned out to be really harmful. I had assumed God was speaking to me through this sign, but instead, it was a former familiar spirit trying to win me back.

Reading the passage in Exodus 32 about the golden calf, I realized the seriousness of my error. In this passage of scripture, the Israelites are in the desert after having been delivered from Egypt. (Did you catch that? They were delivered! The blood of the lamb on their door frames had saved them from the angel of death.) But then, they were in the desert, and they became confused. It seems they did desire to connect with God, but on their terms; and Moses (their mediator with God) had gone up to the mountain and was delayed in his return. They gather together and say to Aaron, “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.”

It’s hard to imagine that a delivered people could project their worship on a physical object that they had just created. But they do. They declare: “‘This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!’ So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, ‘Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord.’ 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.”

What is Aaron seeing? The biblical text doesn’t tell us. The first it is italicized because it doesn’t exist in the original Hebrew: it reads more like, “when Aaron saw, he built an altar before it [the calf].” Aaron had just created the calf with his own hands, so it doesn’t seem likely that he would immediately forget what he had done and declare the calf is god–especially not the same god who delivered them from Egypt. It’s more likely he was seeing something spiritual. It’s much harder to describe seeing or perceiving the spiritual realm, so if Aaron saw something there, he may not have understood what he was seeing. Probably, he saw something spiritual, assumed it was a spirit of God, and assumed God was blessing the calf with His presence. Because Aaron connected the spirit of God to the golden calf, it became an object worthy of devotion. If he had considered his actions, he may have realized his error; but it seems he was acting without much thought.

This is, at least, what I recognized I had done. I didn’t intend to do it. I was seeing something I couldn’t describe. I’d mentioned it to several Christians who–without seeing it for themselves or having any experience with it–had encouraged me that God was showing me this seemingly positive sign as evidence of His favor and blessing in my life. And meanwhile, I was becoming increasingly physically ill and emotionally tired–and seeing the supernatural sign an average of four times a day, each time thanking God that He was blessing me. And I didn’t once consider that I should ask God regarding it. At one point, I was researching something completely different and came across an article that the thing I was seeing meant spiritual distortion and chaos, but I was so convinced by my initial assumption that I disregarded the evidence without a second thought. It is amazing, looking back, how quick I was to be confused–all because I had neglected to test the spirits, or ask the Lord what I was seeing and what it meant. It is a blessing I was eventually able to discover the truth and reconsider (and repent for) my mistake.

1 John 4:1 says: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” And to the church in Corinth, Paul warns that the devil disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14). The stakes are too high not to test every spirit, every sign, and every supernatural experience. Every good thing comes from God, but not every attractive thing is good.