When Aaron saw this (the golden calf), he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, "Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD (YHWH)" (Exodus 32:5).
Israel’s golden calf debacle is well known to any familiar with the Bible. The account shows how the Israelite’s had become so accustomed to life in bondage that they adopted the pagan rites of Egypt as their own. Any believer should readily accept its valuable lesson to steer clear of idolatry. But what has been overlooked is the festival that Israel connected the celebration to. The casual reader may have missed that point so let me quote the verse for you. The Israelites said to Aaron “Tomorrow there will be a festival to YHWH”.
Were the Israelites so religiously confused that they mingled another aspect of paganism into their worship? I used the scriptures to determine that there were exactly 96 days (around three and a half months) between the day of the exodus and the golden calf incident. So whatever the festival was called, they were celebrating it during the third week of July. I spent a considerable amount of time researching the timing of the ancient pagan festivals of region to determine what celebration it could be, but all my efforts turned up nothing.
I later decided to solve the mystery from another angle. I decided to build a timeline to lay out the chronology of the entire 96 day period. It would have been nice if Moses told us what day of the week they left Egypt. But unfortunately he only mentions the following “At the end of the 430 years, “to the very day” all the LORD's divisions left Egypt” (Exodus 12:41). To find out what day of the week they left Egypt would require an extra step of research.
But thankfully that would not be too hard to determine. You see there is a day each year when the people of Israel count to remind them of all these things. “Shevuot” celebrates the seven week period between the outgoing of Israel from Egypt to the day YHWH pronounced His instructions to them from Mount Sinai. That day it is commanded to be celebrated will always fall on the first day of the week (Sunday). Here is the scripture “From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to YHWH” (Leviticus 23:15-16).
If you count backwards 49 days on your calendar from the first day of the week (Sunday) you will land of the 2nd day of the week (Monday) as the day that Israel left Egypt. Remember that these are important chronological facts necessary to determine the festival date related to Israel’s worship of the golden calf. As you may know, YHWH managed to speak only 10 commandments before Israel persuaded Him to stop and have Moses go up and receive the rest. We automatically think that Moses came down 40 days later with the tablets of stone but is not the case. Moses went up to the Mountain and was given the rest of the instructions and came back down the mountain that very day (Sunday). “Moses went and told the people all YHWH’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, "Everything the LORD has said we will do" (Exodus 24:3).
It was still on the first day of the week when Moses “wrote down everything YHWH had said. “He got up early the next morning (Monday) and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve stone pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel. (Exodus 24:3-4) It is still Monday (the 2nd day of the week) when “Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the Elohim of Israel... But the Elohim did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw the Elohim, and they ate and drank” (Exodus 24:9-11).
These representatives of Israel had congregated below the place where Moses was eventually called up to receive the two tablets. “And the glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day (Monday) YHWH called to Moses from within the cloud (Exodus 24:16). “Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights. (Exodus 24:18)
Remember it was immediately after the forty days that Moses was commanded to return to the camp because YHWH reported to Moses that Israel had corrupted themselves. The golden calf had been made the day before and now on the day of the “Festival” they were deeply engaged in idolatry. If we count forward 40 days from the day (Monday) Moses ascended Mount Sinai, we are able to solve the mystery day of the festival. Moses came down the morning of the 7th day Sabbath.
So when Aaron announced “Tomorrow there will be a festival to YHWH; there really was the festival of the 7th day Sabbath! Interestingly just prior to sending Moses down, YHWH said this, "'Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death” (Exo 31:12-14). And Israel was most certainly in the process of desecrating the holy Sabbath day. We can use this event as a warning to those of us living in these later days as to just what a serious thing it is to desecrate the Sabbath day.
Now you might think that Sabbatarian the communities of today are clear from idolatry because its members do not dance before a golden calf. But there is a lot more to idolatry than just prostrating themselves before a golden idol. Note the progress of events that transpired that fateful Sabbath. “So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play” (Exodus 32:6).
Historical research has shown that Israel had indeed mingled Pagan practices into the Sabbath day. We learn through history that the Egyptians were great lovers of organized sports; laying the groundwork for the Olympic games of Greece a thousand years later. Early in the morning sacrifices were presented to the gods and then it was time to “let the games begin!”
Yes they really rose up to play in a competitive sort of way. The word Paul used for play was Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play” (1 Corinthians 10:7). The Greek word for play here is “paheed'-zo” which means “sport”. Its Hebrew counterpart in Exodus 32:6 is tsaw-khak' which means to mock as well as sport. It shows the spirit of triumph by the winner towards the looser after the game has concluded.
As you can see, the gravitation to “play” profaned the Sabbath Day and YHWH became angry with the people. The Levites (who refused to take part in the festivities) were summoned to bring order back into the camp at only a .01% loss of the population (see Exodus 32:27-28).
So is our Creator displeased with us when we play and compete? I look at the natural world, I see that this is part of the essential development of many His creatures. I do not think YHWH wants us to eliminate this spirit within us. It is that it is not to be done on the Sabbath Day. In fact our Creator set an example for us to follow on the seventh day of creation when “Elohim saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). His example tells us that the Sabbath Day has much to do with reflection about His great works as well as ours.
Note how close the linkage of the last day events is to the Sabbath as you read the first angels message in the book of Revelation. “And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters” (Revelation 14:6-7). The later part of this warning is a reference quoted from the fourth commandment. “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day” (Exodus 20:11).
Many of the divisions that presently bring separation between the various Sabbatarian communities center around biblical time. These can be resolved by taking a serious look at the biblical calendar at its foundations. The closer we get to biblical truth the closer we be with each other. "Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy Torah" (Psalms 119:18).