While Moses is meeting with God on Mount Sinai the Israelites get fed up of waiting for him to come back and ask Aaron to make them a God they can see. Aaron makes a statue of a golden calf and the people bow down and worship it. When Moses returns and sees what they are doing he smashes the two stone tablets that God has given him with the Ten Commandments written on them.
“Call that a cow? It doesn't even go moo! It's rubbish!”
“You're right there Dan,” said his brother Asher, “it's not like any cow I've ever seen.”
And it wasn't. It wasn't like any cow you or I have ever seen either. In fact, it wasn't a real cow at all, it was a statue of a cow and it was made from gold.
“What's it for?” asked Dan
“I don't know,” Asher told him, “but I heard Aaron say that it's God.”
“God?” said Dan, “Does God look like a cow then?”
“I don't think so,” replied Asher, “Let's hide here and wait and see what happens.”
So Dan and Asher climbed into a pile of rocks and crouched down out of sight. As they waited, Asher thought about everything that had happened since they'd left Egypt. It had been a long journey through the desert, but God had sent them bread from heaven to eat and made water pour out of a rock when Moses hit it with his staff. After three months they'd finally made it here, to Mount Sinai, the mountain of God.
Asher remembered how on the third day after they'd arrived he'd been woken up by the sound of thunder. He'd pushed back the flap of his tent and looked up at the mountain. Thick clouds were swirling around the top of Mount Sinai and bolts of lightning flashed across the sky. Suddenly a sound like the blast of an enormous trumpet had boomed out from the mountainside and echoed around the camp. That woke Dan up. Then Moses had told all the people to gather at the foot of the mountain but not to go past the line that he had marked on the ground.
By the time everyone had finally arrived, Moses had already gone up the mountain and was on his way back down. As he approached them he called out, “God has told me to warn you again, don't cross the line!” And then, from out of the cloud that covered the mountain, came the voice of God:
“I am the LORD your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt where you were slaves. Worship only me. Do not bow down to statues. Be careful how you use my name. On the last day of every week stop working and rest. Respect your parents. Do not murder. Do not cheat on your husband or wife. Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not waste your life wishing for things that others have.”
As God spoke these Ten Commandments, the people began to back away from the mountain, trembling with fear. “Enough!” they told Moses, “We're scared! You go and speak to God, then tell us what he says and we will listen.”
So Moses went back up the mountain, leaving his brother Aaron in charge, and the people returned to their tents. Hours passed, then days, then weeks and still there was no sign of Moses. When more than a month had gone by the people had begun to worry, maybe Moses wasn't coming back, maybe God had forgotten them, maybe God wasn't there at all. They'd all moaned and grumbled to Aaron and told him to make them a God they could see.
“Asher, listen!” It was Dan, holding a hand to his ear, “I can hear people coming.”
Dan and Asher peeked around the edges of the rocks and saw a crowd of people walking from the camp towards where the golden cow stood near the foot of the mountain. At the front of the crowd was Aaron, the brother of Moses. The people gathered around the statue and Aaron raised his arms to silence them, then he pointed to the cow and said in a loud voice,
“See, see everyone, here is your God, the God that rescued you from Egypt.”
“Er, Asher” whispered Dan.
“What is it?” asked Asher.
“Er, I don't remember being rescued from Egypt by a cow” said Dan.
“That's because we weren't,” said Asher.
“And I don't remember a cow standing in the middle of the Red Sea and holding back the waves with its hooves. That's the sort of thing you don't forget. And I don't remember a cow sending us bread from heaven or making water pour out of a rock and I don't reckon a cow told us the Ten Commandments!”
“That's because a cow didn't do any of those things,” said Asher crossly.
“And didn't God tell us not to make statues and bow down to them?” asked Dan.
“Yes,” said Asher, “it's the second commandment.”
“Well they must have forgotten already – look what they're doing!”
The people in the crowd were bowing down to the golden statue of the cow. Then they brought the cow presents and they made a huge feast and began to dance around. It was like they were trying to make the cow happy!
Suddenly there was a loud crash and everybody froze. It was Moses. He'd come back down the mountain carrying two pieces of stone that God had given him. On the stones God had written down the Ten Commandments that he had spoken to all the people. When Moses had seen what the people were doing, he'd thrown down the stones in anger and they had shattered on the ground.
“I think they're in trouble now,” said Dan. And he was right. When Moses had finished telling everyone off, he melted the statue of the cow in a fire, then he crushed up the gold until it was powder, mixed it with water and made all the people drink it. Then Moses went back up the mountain and God wrote down the Ten Commandments again on two new stones. When he returned, Moses made all the people listen as he read God's rules to them again. They made a special box from wood which they covered with gold and they put the two pieces of stone inside so that wherever they went they would always have God's laws with them.
“Now pack your bags,” Moses told them, “It's time to get moving.”
Dan looked at Asher and grinned. “We're going home,” he said, “at last!”
“Yes,” Asher agreed, “to the land that God gave to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, long before our people were slaves in Egypt. Israel, here we come!”