In fact, the Hebrews down at the base of the mountain had watched all the volcanic activity erupting about with a growing dread. As it came upon the fortieth day, they all started figuring that Moses must be dead. They didn’t want to be stuck out there in the desert without any god, and since Moses was presumably dead, they asked the only other guy who seemed to have any first-hand god experience, Aaron. So Aaron told them to give him all their jewelry, then he melted it down and made a golden calf. Everyone really liked it, it was so shiny and pretty and didn’t seem at all inclined to smiting, so they decided to throw a party in its honor. They slaughtered some lambs and goats, pulled out the wine sacks to have a feast, and then someone started banging on a drum and rattling some tambourines so they all started dancing around their pretty new god.
It was around this time that God sensed something untoward was happening and said, Ah, fuck it Moses. Those fool Hebrews are already worshiping another god. I’m just going to smite them and we can find a new group of people for you to lead. But Moses was all, NO! Don’t do that! My wife and kids are down there. God didn’t look like It cared that much, so Moses tried another tack. He was all, besides why did you spend all that energy saving them from Egypt and feeding them manna and stuff? Don’t smite them yet. Let me go down and try to talk some sense into them. So God was all, yeah, whatever. But I reserve the right to smite.
When Moses got down to the base of the mountain and saw everyone partying, he became so enraged that he accidentally broke God’s magic tablets of rules. He marched right threw the throng, grabbed the golden calf and threw it in a fire. The music stopped, everyone got quiet. A few people shuffled their feet and hemmed and hawed. One person started to protest the burning of the calf, but one look at Moses’s face and he shut up. Moses was all, watch it burn you fools.
When it was burned up, Moses told some boy, bring me a pail of water! and then he mixed the ashes of the calf into the water and barked, Drink it! And everyone had to pass around the bucket, drinking from it until it was gone. Then he was all, Go to your tents! I’ll decide what to do you in the morning.
That night, Moses confronted Aaron about why he had led the Hebrews into heresy. Aaron was all, we thought you were dead, bro. I mean, there was fire and brimstone and poison gas. We figured there was no way someone could live through all that for forty days. And they wanted a god, so I figured I’d better give them one so they wouldn’t stone me. And before you started coming back around, back in Egypt, I was always sort of partial to Apis, so I made them a calf.
Moses just stood there silently, glaring at Aaron before shaking his head and walking away.
Next morning, Moses drew a line in the sand and asked who would cross it to stand with God. All the Levites did, and then Moses commanded them to each go kill three people who hadn’t crossed. They did, and something like 3,000 men were killed that day.
Moses let the survivors stew on that punishment and bury their dead for the rest of the day. The next day, Moses called an assembly and was all, you guys fucked up. Like big time. God was going to just smite you until I talked It out of it. You saw what It did to the Egyptians. How could you be so stupid as to incur Its wrath? Jesus. But I’ll go back up the mountain to implore It to forgive you. Don’t do anything else stupid while I’m gone.
So Moses climbed back up the mountain and plead for the people. God was all, fine, I’ll forgive them, but I’m still pissed. Go back and tell them you’re still in charge and that I won’t smite them outright. But they still need punished, so I’m going to send a plague.