Everything changes for the people of Israel after Exodus 32. God’s anger is clear and more, and more detailed, laws are added in after this incident. Before that we have the Ten Commandments, some instructions about altars and goading oxen and how to treat Hebrew love slaves. After this incident we have 600+ others.
One refrain that occurs throughout the incident is that “the people cast off restraint”. The advantage of giving up an all knowing, all seeing God for a blind and inanimate idol is that there is no sense that it is watching you. So you can do what you want. Unfortunately for a lot of weak and vulnerable members in the Israeli society at the time what a lot of bullies and too many stronger members wanted was to exploit them – egged on by the demons behind the idol of course. If that had been left to take its course then the all too repetitive and tragic pattern of oppression, corruption and lawlessness played out in too many societies before and since would have been their lot too. God, and Moses, weren’t about to let that happen.
I’m thankful that I have a God that watches over me. I’m also thankful that His character is relentlessly unchanging. Faith in Him and these facts about Him – I know what He is like and what He wants – keeps me pure.