There's yet another reason why Aaron, the priest, so easily turns from his role as God's communicator and builds the golden calf for the people of Israel while Moses, the prophet, grieves.
Let's call it push and pull.
The story of the prophets, in general, is that the people routinely push them away. The people want very little to do with the prophets. When Israel is wandering in the wilderness, when food is running out, when water is scarce, they become angry with Moses. Not so much with God, but with the prophet. They blame him for bringing them out into this desert to die. They accuse him of leading them to starvation and thirst. They wonder if he even knows what he's doing. And they are far too ready to reject him completely.
Just who is this prophet, they say. Just who does he think he is? Look at this mess he's gotten us into! Who needs a prophet anyway?
This is the story of most of God's prophets. It's because, since they are given for the people, their first allegiance is always to God. It's always to truth. They say the things that no one else wants to say. They stick with the truth, even when it's hard. Overwhelmingly, the so-called prophecies in the Bible are not good news (which is probably why Jesus, by contrast, is clearly called the Good News). They are forever warning the people about all the wicked things they are doing, and they do not mince words. It doesn't matter what time you live in - nobody wants to hear this. Nobody wants to hear how wicked and evil they are, how much wrong they're doing, how foolish they are being, all the bad things that are going to happen to them. The truth is hard sometimes, whether it's the truth about us or the truth about God or whatever. So it's quite easy to push the truth-tellers away.
Such is the case with Moses. And he's fairly content to go back to the mountain and pour out his grieving heart to God.
The priests, on the other hand, is constantly being pulled toward the people. They want the priest to be near them. This is the man who can make atonement for them, who can cleanse them of their impurities and imperfections. This is the man who can make them feel better about their relationship with God. The priest deals more with mercy than with truth (although mercy requires truth, and we must never forget that). The priest doesn't scare the people; he gives them hope. He doesn't curse the people; he blesses them. The people, in trying to take their broken hearts to God in the same way the prophet does, go not to the mountain, but to the priest.
And that's how the priest gets sucked in.
It happens all the time, not just in God's historical story, but in His present one. Just think about the success that things like the "prosperity gospel" have in our contemporary culture. People are turning to pastors (or so-called pastors), the present-day priests, with their broken hearts and aching for some measure of mercy. The pastors are feeling this pull. Even the prophet-pastors are feeling it, to some degree. The people want to draw the servants of God close to them. They want to pull these men of God deeper into the human drama. It's what the people do.
One of the challenges, then, for priests - for pastors - is to not give in to this pressure. We mustn't let ourselves get pulled in. We must never give up truth for the sake of mercy. But neither can we give up mercy for the sake of truth. The priest's job is incredibly challenging for this very reason. It's so easy to be pulled, especially by a people who are using holy-sounding words and begging for you to do the very thing you've been called to do - facilitate their relationship with God. Bring them closer to Him. Bring Him closer to them. Make God real and present and imminent in the lives of the people. It's what we want to do. It's what we're called to do.
But it's also how we end up with golden cows.