To whom our fathers would not obey, but thrust him from them, and in their hearts turned back again into Egypt, Saying unto Aaron, Make us gods to go before us: for as for this Moses, which brought us out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him. And they made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifice unto the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands.
Stephen was very specific with the particular instances from Israel’s history that he shares with the men who would eventually put him to death. This moment showed the state of Israel’s heart after their miraculous deliverance from Egypt. They were still longing for it. They wanted to give up on this path and go back. Their hearts were still there even if they didn’t physically turn around. So they brought Egypt to them. They sought sin instead of obedience. They sought false gods instead of the one true God. They sought their own way regardless of the circumstances. And that desire built up in their hearts until it came to fruition in the form of the golden calf.
And the Jews’ response to Jesus kind of paralleled the people’s response to Moses when he ascended up for a time into the mountain. They basically said, “We don’t know who this man is. Just give us the desires of our hearts. Give us our power and our way, and let’s not bother with that chosen one. Let us fulfill that longing for Egypt and forget about the consequences and the implications.”
It was the works of their own hands that they reveled in instead of God. The Pharisees may not have resorted to making a golden idol, but they were trusting in those works they could do to make them righteous. An idol is something to have and to hold. It makes us feel good about ourselves because we control it and we understand it. And so what does an idol, or an idolatrous attitude, do at its core but erase God. It removes Him, and then ultimately it is we who are left standing in His place.
Jesus came to Earth and secured our deliverance. He set us free from sin, and then He went back to His place at the right hand of the Father, waiting to come again. In the meantime, where are our hearts? Are they rejoicing in the God who brought us out of bondage and gave us new life? Are they looking eagerly for His return? Or are they so caught up in the world that we forget about Him and seek only the best that this world can offer us, a path of disobedience away from what He wants for us? Are we turning back to the works of our hands instead of loving and worshiping God with our whole heart?