Some critics have claimed that God did not think of destroying Aaron because God just chose to play favorites with Moses’ family. This is simply not true.
"And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him. And Aaron said unto them, Break off the golden earrings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them unto me. And all the people brake off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them unto Aaron. And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt." - Exodus 32:1-4
After Aaron did this, it seems like he regretted his action:
"And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, To morrow is a feast to the Lord." - Exodus 32:5
The people seemed to have started obeying Aaron by serving God:
"And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings" - Exodus 32:6a
But no, they also wanted to satisfy their false god of their own lusts:
"and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play." - Exodus 32:6b
So God wanted to destroy them all:
"And the Lord said unto Moses, Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves: They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And the Lord said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people: Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation." - Exodus 32:7-10
But Moses pleaded with God so that He would change His plan.
"And Moses besought the Lord his God, and said, Lord, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand? Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever." - Exodus 23:11-13
Again: Some critics have claimed that God did not think of destroying Aaron because God just chose to play favorites with Moses’ family. This is simply not true.
Read Moses’ own testimony in Deuteronomy:
"And the Lord was very angry with Aaron to have destroyed him: and I prayed for Aaron also the same time." - Deuteronomy 9:20
[The Bible translations “Wycliffe, Douay-Rheims, ” have: “in like manner” instead of “the same time”. These, however, seem to be mistranslations.]
Notice that Aaron specifically is mentioned there. The Lord was “very angry” specially with him . So moses prayed an additional prayer for him .
God changed His mind about immediately destroying His people (including Aaron):
"And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people." - Exodus 32:14
[If you don’t believe God can repent, please read Chris Fisher’s post on the same passage.]
But Moses became angry:
"And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses' anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount. And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and strawed it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it." - Exodus 32:19-20
Moses asked Aaron:
"What did this people unto thee, that thou hast brought so great a sin upon them?" - Exodus 32:21b
Aaron confessed to Moses in all honesty:
"And Aaron said, Let not the anger of my lord wax hot: thou knowest the people, that they are set on mischief. For they said unto me, Make us gods, which shall go before us: for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him. And I said unto them, Whosoever hath any gold, let them break it off. So they gave it me: then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf." - Exodus 32:22-24
Now Aaron, is on the good side.
Moses commands those people, who stayed at the side of sin, to be destroyed:
"Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the Lord's side? let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him. And he said unto them, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour. And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men." - Exodus 32:26-28
The text does not say that this was a command of God because the text seems to have stated that God withheld His wrath from them (see verse 14). However the case, God would eventually kill them:
"And the Lord said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book." - Exodus 32:33
This is what happened to them in the desert.
"And the Lord heard the voice of your words, and was wroth, and sware, saying, Surely there shall not one of these men of this evil generation see that good land, which I sware to give unto your fathers." - Deuteronomy 1:34-35 "Your carcases shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward which have murmured against me. Doubtless ye shall not come into the land, concerning which I sware to make you dwell therein." - Numbers 14:29-30a
Before this happened, also Aaron died in the desert:
"And the Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them." "Aaron shall be gathered unto his people: for he shall not enter into the land which I have given unto the children of Israel, because ye rebelled against my word at the water of Meribah." Take Aaron and Eleazar his son, and bring them up unto mount Hor: And strip Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son: and Aaron shall be gathered unto his people, and shall die there. And Moses did as the Lord commanded: and they went up into mount Hor in the sight of all the congregation. And Moses stripped Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son; and Aaron died there in the top of the mount: and Moses and Eleazar came down from the mount." - Numbers 20:12,24-28
Aaron was punished by God, as were the first generation of Israelites, because “Aaron and Moses did not believe God, to sanctify Him in the eyes of the children of Israel” (see Numbers 20:12) and because they “rebelled against God’s word at the water of Meribah” (see Numbers 20:24). The forging of the golden calf does not seem to have been the only reason for Aaron’s death in the desert (this was not “at the water of Meribah”, Numbers 20:24) but it was one of the reasons given (see Numbers 20:12).
 “The Lord was very angry with Aaron to have destroyed him — By allowing himself to be overborne by the tide of popular clamor, Aaron became a partaker in the guilt of idolatry and would have suffered the penalty of his sinful compliance, had not the earnest intercession of Moses on his behalf prevailed.”
– Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, David Brown, Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Commentary, Commentary on Deuteronomy 9:20 (1871).
 John Gill’s Exposition of The Entire Bible has: “and I prayed for Aaron also the same time: who either was included in the general prayer for the people, Exo_32:31 or a particular prayer was made for him, though not recorded, and which also succeeded.”
– John Gill, John Gill’s Exposition of The Entire Bible, Commentary on Deuteronomy 9:20 (1766).
All Scripture passages taken from the King James Version (KJV). International copyright: public domain. Copyright in the United Kingdom (UK): The British Crown.
Written for a Christian friend living in Cameroon.
Dale Tuggy of Trinities explains how he views Israel’s idolatry in front of the golden calf:
Source: my youtube channel (check the description for primary sources).