The golden calf and the Trinity
While Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving God’s commands the Israelites feared that he was gone for good so they took action to ensure that they had someone to lead them.
When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. 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.”
So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.”
So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”
When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.”
And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play. (Exodus 32:1-6)
Their request was, “make us gods who shall go before us.” After Aaron had made the calf he said to them, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” In both of these statements the plural “gods” was used and yet there was only one calf. Perhaps the explanation for this is found in Aaron’s proclamation, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.” When the word LORD is written in all capital letters it refers to the name Yahweh, which is the personal name of God. The Israelites didn’t intend to reject God. They just wanted an image to represent him in the same way worshipers of other gods made images of their gods. The use of the plural to refer to the one God is simply recognition of the fact that God is a trinity, consisting of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
This answers one question but brings up another. Isn’t the Trinity a New Testament teaching? How could those living at least 1200 years before Christ know about it?
The gospels only record one time in which Jesus mentioned the Trinity.
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
You would think that he would have spent time teaching his disciples about this important doctrine but if so there is no record of it. Perhaps the reason for this is that they already knew this. There is evidence for this in the visit by the Wise Men after Jesus was born.
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem,saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1,2)
The fact that they came to worship Jesus shows that they understood that he was God. You might say that because they didn’t have the Old Testament they were mistaken in this belief. The response by King Herod and the Jewish scholars shows they were not.
When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared.And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” (Matthew 2:3-8)
Before they sinned Adam and Eve certainly learned what God was like and must have passed that knowledge on to their children. In the Old Testament there is no explicit explanation of the Trinity because it was general knowledge among the readers so there was no need to explain it.
As people scattered throughout the world after the flood they gradually forgot the truth that had been revealed to them, and yet some traces of that truth remained. Many religions believe in a triad of gods that are their leading deities. This belief is what remains of their ancestral belief in the Trinity. Wikipedia has an article that lists some of these triads.
(This isn’t the only truth that has been preserved. Many cultures have legends of a worldwide flood.)
But what about the fact that Jews today reject any idea that God is a trinity or that the Messiah could be divine? That is explained by one incident in their history.
Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” (John 19:15)
They rejected their king and God judged them.
Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. (Romans 11:25)
Because they are now blind to the truth we cannot use current Jewish beliefs as a guide to what Jews believed in the time of Jesus. However this blindness is temporary.
And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,
“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;
“and this will be my covenant with them
when I take away their sins.” (Romans 11:26,27)
When Jesus returns their blindness will be removed and they will finally acknowledge him as their Messiah and king.