Advent Art, Day 11: The Days of the Judges


About the Art: Nicholas Poussin, The Adoration of the Golden Calf, c. 1634, oil on canvas, 154 x 214 cm, National Gallery, London. Click here to learn more about this painting.

This work from French Baroque painter Nicholas Poussin (1594-1665) is one of a pair of canvases commissioned by Amadeo dal Pozzo. The other is of the crossing of the Red Sea.

Poussin liked his paintings to be orderly affairs, which you can see in the way the horizontal clouds, the calf, the altar, and the woman’s arm play against the vertical cliff, the trees, and the man in white to create the impression of lines on a grid. This effect creates a tension in the work—trying to coax order from chaos.

This painting depicts the story in Exodus 32, in which God’s people become impatient with him and opt to worship at a pagan altar of their own making. This Biblical story highlights the theological idea that we are, by nature, worshippers. It isn’t a question of whether or not we will worship, but rather is a matter of what we will worship. Idolatry comes in many forms—from golden calves, to money, to self-sufficiency, to vocations, and even sometimes to our own families and children.

This painting, which hangs in the National Gallery in London, was vandalized in 2011 with red spray paint. There’s irony in there somewhere.

(The excerpt under the heading “Consider” is from my book, The Advent of the Lamb of God.)


“When the people turned away to worship other gods, they trained their hearts to no longer hope or pray or trust or delight in being known by the God who held their fate. The God of Abraham was living and glorious, and his worshippers were being conformed to his image. Baal and Ashtoreth, on the other hand, were lifeless stone. Still, their followers also slowly took on their likenesses—beginning with a coldness in their hearts that worked its way out toward their communities. This was the fruit of worship— that worshippers came to resemble the object of their adoration. For Israel, this was leading some to glory—but it was leading many others to ruin.

“Nevertheless, during this season of Israel’s development, even in all their unfaithfulness, the Lord remained faithful to them. Even though all Israel fell away from God, God didn’t abandon them. There was a bitter edge to this mercy since Israel’s sin—their returning again and again to idolatry—was a rejection of the Lord himself. They were saying to him as clearly as they could, ‘You’re not the God we want.’

“But these were the people he wanted, so he continually rescued them from the trouble they brought upon themselves.”[1]


In what ways have you noticed your heart coming to resemble the things you most adore?

What is God’s continual response to his covenant people when they reject him as their God? Does he abandon them for a more faithful people, or does he respond in a different way?


[1] Ramsey, Russ. The Advent of the Lamb of God. IVP, 2018. pgs. 50-51.

Poussin Golden Calf Day 11 Full

Russ Ramsey
Russ is a pastor and author living in Nashville, Tennessee. His books include Struck: One Christian's Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017), and the Retelling the Story Series, featuring The Advent of the Lamb of God (IVP, 2018). His personal mission is to communicate the truths of Scripture in accessible ways to people in process. Follow Russ on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram.

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