Exodus 32:1-14 - COMMENTARY
CONTEXT: The Hebrew people fled Egypt in chapter 13 and crossed the Red Sea in chapter 14. Yahweh led them in the wilderness, made visible as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (13:17-22). Yahweh has provisioned them with water (15:22-27; 17:1-7) and food (chapter 16). These people have had a great deal of exposure to Yahweh's presence and providence. Therefore, they have every reason to believe that the God who has delivered them and provided for them in recent days will care for them in days to come.
In chapter 19 the Israelites reached Sinai, where thunder, lightning, a thick cloud on the mountain, a trumpet blast, fire, and smoke signaled the presence of God. At Yahweh's direction, Moses and Aaron went up the mountain to receive the law (19:16:-25).
Chapters 20-31 tell of the giving of the law on the mountain. There is a transition at chapter 24 where Yahweh told Moses to come up the mountain with Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy elders of Israel-but only Moses was to come into the Lord's immediate presence (24:2). The mountain was cloaked with a cloud, out of which Yahweh spoke to Moses. "Moses entered into the midst of the cloud, and went up on the mountain; and Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights" (24:18).
Yahweh gave Moses the law regarding the Tabernacle (chapters 25-27 and chapter 30) and the priesthood (chapters 28-29). Yahweh told Moses of particular artisans whom Yahweh had chosen to make the Tabernacle tent and its furnishings (chapter 31). Yahweh also emphasized keeping the Sabbath and gave Moses the two tablets of the covenant (chapter 31).
Chapters 32-34 tell the story of the Golden Calf, Moses' intercession in behalf of the people, and the giving of two tablets to replace the ones that Moses had broken when he discovered the people reveling around their golden calf.
Chapters 35-40 continue the instructions regarding the Tabernacle, the artisans, and the priesthood-instructions that began in chapter 25 and left off at the end of chapter 31.
EXODUS 32:1-6. "COME, MAKE US GODS!"
1 Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled around Aaron and said to him, "Come, make us a god who will go before us; for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt-we do not know what happened to him." 2 Aaron said to them, "Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me." 3 So all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 Then he took the gold from their hands, and fashioned it with an engraving tool and made it into a cast metal calf; and they said, "[c]This is your god, Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt." 5 Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, "Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD." 6 So the next day they got up early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and got up to engage in lewd behavior.sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play (Hebrew: saheq).
"When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain" (v. 1a). Moses has been on the mountain for forty days and forty nights (34:28)-a very long time. The people were given no idea when to expect his return, and are clearly distressed that he has been gone for so long.
"the people gathered themselves together to Aaron, and said to him, 'Come, make us gods (elohim), which shall go before us'" (v. 1b). The people come to Aaron, because Moses is gone and Aaron is Moses' second-in-command. Yahweh has also designated Aaron and his sons to serve as priests (28:1, 4, 41), and the priests are responsible for worship practices.
- In Egypt, these people had been exposed to myriad Egyptian gods, many of which were represented by the
image of an animal or a human with an animal-head. They had seen Egyptians worship these gods, and it could be that some Israelites worshiped them as well.
- Now they gather around Aaron (some scholars translate this "gathered against Aaron," suggesting that the people are adversarial in their approach to Aaron), telling him to make gods for them-gods who will assume the leadership role that, because of Moses' absence, they perceive to be empty. While Aaron is Moses' second-in-command, he has never been a strong leader.
- The people want gods (elohim) "who shall go before us"-who will lead them out of the wilderness to a better place. "Elohim" is a generic word for gods that is sometimes used in Hebrew Scripture with the definite article ("the God") to refer to Yahweh. However, in this case, the people are not asking for Aaron to make Yahweh. They are asking Aaron to make gods like the ones that they had seen in Egypt.
- Scholars debate whether elohim in this instance is singular (a god) or plural (gods), but most agree that it is plural.
- This request violates the second commandment-"You shall not make for yourselves an idol, nor any image of anything that is in the heavens above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: you shall not bow yourself down to them, nor serve them, for I, Yahweh your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and on the fourth generation of those who hate me, and showing loving kindness to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments" (20:4-6).
- While these people have not yet seen the commandments in written form (Moses will smash the tablets when he sees these people worshiping their Golden Calf) (32:19), Moses has given them the commandments orally, and they have promised to obey them (24:3)
"for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we don't know what has become of him" (v. 1c). Seeing the pyrotechnics on the mountain (thunder, lightning, etc.), the Israelites must wonder if Moses is dead. If he is alive, why hasn't he returned? If he is dead, what will happen to them?
- They are an unsophisticated people who only a short time ago were slaves in Egypt. While Moses is not their only leader, Aaron is clearly Moses' junior partner-and the seventy elders (24:1, 9) have not yet demonstrated any leadership. If Moses is dead, who will pick up the mantle of leadership?
- Of course, these people have had a great deal of evidence that Yahweh is their real leader and that Yahweh will protect them. Yahweh initiated the plagues that made it possible for them to leave Egypt. Yahweh enabled them to cross the Red Sea to escape the Egyptian army. Yahweh led them by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Yahweh provided food and water in the wilderness.
- However, these people have not seen Yahweh's face-and they want a leader whom they can see with their eyes and feel with their hands.
"Aaron said to them, 'Take off the golden rings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them to me'" (v. 2). This portrays Aaron as a weak leader-weak in the extreme. Moses has modeled strong leadership, but Aaron doesn't follow that model. He fails to rebuke the people for their idolatrous inclinations, and moves immediately to comply with their request.
- The Israelites have jewelry in abundance, because Yahweh commanded them to ask their neighbors for gold and silver jewelry before leaving Egypt (3:22; 11:2). In 3:22, Yahweh commanded the Israelites to put the jewelry on their sons and daughters, but 11:2 has men asking their neighbors (presumably other men) for their jewelry and women asking their neighbors (presumably other women) for their jewelry-so it sounds as if both men and women wear jewelry.
- Yahweh's intent in having Israelites plunder Egyptian jewelry was to give them precious metals for the construction of the Tabernacle. They would not need and silver to barter with wandering tribes for food. Yahweh provides for them by miraculous means.
- Aaron tells the people to take off the gold earrings from their wives, sons, and daughters-but not from the
men. He apparently assumes that he can obtain an adequate supply of gold without asking the men to donate
"All the people took off the golden rings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron" (v. 3). This phrase, "all the people," does not necessarily mean that every Israelite complies with this request. Later, after
- Moses comes down from the mountain and discovers the Golden Calf, he will say, "Whoever is on Yahweh's side, come to me!" and "All the sons of Levi (will gather) themselves together to him" (32:26). Were they were complicit in this idolatry in the beginning, only to repent in the face of Moses' anger? Or had they refused to be a party to this idolatry from the beginning? We have no way of knowing.
- Once this debacle has come to its conclusion, Yahweh will command the people to take off their ornaments, so they "stripped themselves of their ornaments, from Mount Horeb (Sinai) onward" (33:4-6).
"He received what they handed him, and fashioned it with an engraving tool" (heret) (v. 4a). The word heret suggests a graven image rather than a molten image. Aaron may have poured molten gold into a rough casting and then used an engraving tool to finish the work. Alternatively, he could have used tools to pound the gold into gold leaf which could be used to cover a wooden figure in the shape of a bullock.
However, the Hebrew word masseka in verse 8 suggests a molten image.
- But the method of construction is of little consequence. The problem here is idolatry.
"and made it a molten calf" (egel-a young male calf-a bullock) (v. 4b). The word "calf" is technically correct, but projects the wrong image. It brings to our minds a very young calf of either gender suckling its mother-a weak and dependent creature.
- But the word egel suggests something altogether-a young bull calf-not yet as strong as a mature bull, but strong nevertheless-and moving toward becoming stronger still. Perhaps Aaron has seen Egyptian gods portrayed as bullocks, and is following that model. In any event, he intends to portray strength rather than weakness.
"These are your gods, Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt" (v. 4c). Note the similarity of this verse with "I am the Lord (Hebrew: YHWH-Yahweh) your God, who brought you out of the house of slavery" (20:2). The people are ascribing to the Golden Calf that which is true only of Yahweh. It is the people-not Aaron-who make this pronouncement. They give this graven image credit for Yahweh's work-freeing Israel from Egyptian slavery.
- Later, after the division of the kingdom into north (Israel) and south (Judah), King Jeroboam of Israel will make two calves of gold, placing one in Dan and the other in Bethel (the far northern and southern reaches of his kingdom), saying, "It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Look and see your gods, Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt!" (1 Kings 12:28-29). Some scholars think that the use of the plural "gods" in 32:4c is derived from the Jeroboam story, but that is only conjecture.
"When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it" (v. 5a). Aaron continues his willing complicity in this idolatry. He builds an altar, which will serve two purposes. First, it will give the Israelites a focus for their worship. Second, it will give the "gods" a place where they can receive the offerings.
"and Aaron made a proclamation, and said, 'Tomorrow shall be a feast to Yahweh" (YHWH) (v. 5b). Aaron apparently feels uncomfortable with the idolatry in which he is participating. He declares a festival dedicated, not to the calf, but to Yahweh. Aaron is trying to turn the people from the idolatry of the Golden Calf to the worship of Yahweh.
- But trying to reconcile idol worship and the worship of Yahweh is a futile enterprise. It is not possible to worship Yahweh alongside graven images, because Yahweh has specifically forbidden graven images (20:4).
- We might wonder how anyone could worship a graven image after experiencing the presence and providence of God, but sophisticated, modern people still do that. "Gold bugs" track gold prices as if gold were a deity. Others covet the images of Washington, Lincoln, Hamilton, and Jackson on our currency. Others kneel at the altar of prestige products: Rolex watches, Lexus cars, etc. People today worship (not too strong a word, I think) celebrities, whether sports figures or movie stars or authors-even scientists-even megachurch pastors.
- Later, when Moses confronts Aaron, Aaron will use the lame excuse that the Israelites "are set on evil" (32:22)-and that he had simply thrown the gold into the fire, "and out came this calf" (32:24). That attempt at ducking responsibility confirms that Aaron knows that he has been involved in a prohibited activity-that he is guilty.
"They rose up early the next day, and offered burnt offerings" (ola) (v. 6a). Chapter 27 specified the construction of the altar for the Tabernacle and the burnt offerings to be made to Yahweh (27:1-8). The Israelites are making the right sacrifices to the wrong god-they should be giving their burnt offerings to Yahweh instead of this Golden Calf.
- In verse 5, Aaron proclaimed that this would be a day to honor Yahweh, but that isn't how it is turning out (see v. 8).
"and brought peace offerings" (Hebrew: selamim) (v. 6b). Leviticus specifies three kinds of selamim offerings: (1) The thanksgiving offering (2) the votive offering (neder) and (3) the freewill offering (nedaba) (Leviticus 7:11-18).
- The selamim offerings are intended to be consumed by the people. Therefore, burnt offerings (ola) (v. 6a) and peace offerings (selamim) (v. 6b) "are routinely paired in biblical ritual (because) the ola was the sacrifice that constituted the basic nourishment for the deity, while the selamim in turn nourished the people (Anderson, "Sacrifices and Offerings," Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible).
"and the people sat down to eat and drink" (v. 6c). Eating and drinking is perfectly appropriate following a selamim offering, because those offerings are intended to be consumed by the people. The only problem here is that the people have made their selamim offerings to the Golden Calf rather than to Yahweh.
"and rose up to play" (Hebrew: saheq) (v. 6d). This word saheq can be translated "play," and can suggest sexual play. Verse 25 says that the people have been running wild, which suggests that the reveling of verse 6d has become an orgy. The Psalmist will later characterize this scene as follows: "They made a calf in Horeb,
and worshiped a molten image. Thus they exchanged their glory for an image of a bull that eats grass. They forgot God, their Savior, who had done great things in Egypt, Wondrous works in the land of Ham, and awesome things by the Red Sea. Therefore he said that he would destroy them, had Moses, his chosen, not stood before him in the breach, to turn away his wrath, so that he wouldn't destroy them." (Ps 106:19-23)
Summarize-EX. 32:7-10. YOUR PEOPLE HAVE CORRUPTED THEMSELVES
EXODUS 32:11-14. MOSES BEGGED YAHWEH HIS GOD
11 Then Moses pleaded with the LORD his God, and said, "LORD, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians talk, saying, 'With evil motives He brought them out, to kill them on the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth'? Turn from Your burning anger and relent of doing harm to Your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, 'I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.'" 14 So the LORD relented of the harm which He said He would do to His people.
"Moses begged Yahweh his God, and said, 'Yahweh, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, that you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?'" (v. 11). In verse 7, Yahweh called these people "your people"-Moses' people. Now Moses reverses that by calling them "your people"-Yahweh's people. Moses doesn't tell Yahweh that he declines the honor that Yahweh made in verse 10c, but he implies as much as he begins this defense of the Israelites.
- In this verse, Moses offers the first of three good reasons why Yahweh should show mercy to the Israelites. He reminds Yahweh that Yahweh has brought these people out of Egypt "with great power and with a mighty hand." Yahweh has a history with these people. He has an investment in their success. He shouldn't walk away from them so easily. In verses 12 and 13, Moses will outline two additional reasons why Yahweh should not destroy the Israelites who have sinned.
- Later, Moses will intercede with Yahweh on two more occasions. In the first instance, he will ask Yahweh either to forgive the Israelites' sins or to blot out Moses' name from Yahweh's book (Ex. 32:30-32). In doing so, he risks his own eternal life. In the second instance, he will acknowledge that Yahweh is dealing with a stiff-necked people, but pleads for Yahweh to pardon their iniquity and to take them for his inheritance (34:9).
"Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, 'He brought them forth for evil, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the surface of the earth?' Turn from your fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against your people'" (v. 12). This is the second good reason why Yahweh should change his mind and forgive the people. Yahweh very publicly brought Israel out of Egypt. Everyone, especially the Egyptians, knows what Yahweh has done. Yahweh has made it clear that these are his people and he is their God. If Yahweh now carries out his plan to destroy the Israelites, the whole world will regard him as false and fickle.
"Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, 'I will multiply your seed as the stars of the sky, and all this land that I have spoken of I will give to your seed, and they shall inherit it forever'" (v. 13). This is the third good reason why Yahweh should not destroy the Israelites. Yahweh has sworn an oath to the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Israel (Jacob). He has promised to multiply their descendants and to give them the Promised Land. Yahweh has a duty, not only to the patriarchs, but to himself. He must maintain his integrity by fulfilling the promises made earlier to the patriarchs.
"Yahweh repented (naham-repented) of the evil which he said he would do to his people" (v. 14). In Hebrew Scripture, the word naham is used more often of God than of people (Gen. 6:6-7; Judges 2:18; 1 Sam. 15:11, 1 Chron. 21:15; Jer. 18:7-10; 26:3, 19; Amos 7:3, 6; Jonah 3:10). God's anger might wax hot, but his purpose is to save rather than to destroy. If people will repent of their sins, God will repent of his judgment. But we should not imagine that God will never implement harsh justice. In this instance, he repents of his intent to destroy the people utterly, but nevertheless brings a plague on the Israelites (32:34-35)-a lesser but nevertheless serious judgment.
POSTSCRIPT: As noted above, Moses had been receiving instructions regarding the Tabernacle and its furnishings when Yahweh suddenly told him to go down the mountain to confront the wicked Israelites (see chapters 25-31). As soon as the Golden Calf incident is fully resolved and Moses makes new tablets (chapter 34) to replace the ones that he broke in anger (32:19), Yahweh will resume the giving of instruction regarding the Tabernacle (chapters 35-40).
EW Commentary Ex. 32:1-14 - the Golden Calf & Rebellion
A. Israel steps into idolatry.
1. (32:1) The people make a request.
Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, "Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him."
- Moses delayed coming down from the mountain: This troubled the people of Israel. It is true that Moses delayed, but God had a wonderful purpose for Moses' delay, and it would soon be over. Yet because the people couldn't see the reason for the delay they allowed it to stumble them.
i. Moses was gone for forty days (Exodus 24:18). This probably seemed like a long time to the people, but a short time to Moses. Certainly, it was a short time related to the outworking of God's plan for Israel.
ii. How we handle God's ordained delays is a good measure of our spiritual maturity. If we allow such delays to make us drift off into sin or lapse into resignation to fate, then we react poorly to His ordained delays. If we allow such times to deepen our perseverance in following God, then they are of good use.
- The people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him: This sinful impulse came first from the people, not Aaron. The episode of sin described in this chapter started at the impulse of popular opinion. This is an example of where the will of the people is not always the will of God.
i. This is true in society in general, but it is also true among God's people. When it comes to representing God in the world and in serving mankind, there is danger in starting in what people want or what they feel that they need.
- Come, make us gods that shall go before us: The people wanted gods to go before them, leading them to the Promised Land. They knew the LORD led them out of Egypt and they knew the LORD God had revealed Himself at Mount Sinai. Yet, they were willing to trust a god they could make to finish what the LORD began.
i. "As later Israel wanted a human king, not the invisible divine king (1 Samuel 8:4-8), so now they want a god 'with a face', like everybody else." (Cole)
ii. Centuries later, the Apostle Paul dealt with the same error with the Galatians: Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? (Galatians 3:3) It is possible to begin the Christian life trusting Jesus, and then at a later time to trust self or one's own spirituality. Following our own gods is no better for us than it was for ancient Israel.
- We do not know what has become of him: Not knowing led Israel into sin. Frustrated because of this uncertainty, Israel turned to idolatry and sin.
i. "It is likely they might have supposed that Moses had perished in the fire, which they saw had invested the top of the mountain into which he went." (Clarke)
ii. "The clause, 'as for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt' is deliberately cast in coarse language, thus revealing the attitude of the people who had relegated God's works to a mere mortal." (Kaiser)
2. (32:2-4) Aaron responds to the peoples' request.
And Aaron said to them, "Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me." So all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and
- Break off the golden earrings... and bring them to me: God told Moses to receive a free-will offering to gather materials for the tabernacle (Exodus 25:1-7). Before Moses came down from Mount Sinai and received this God-commanded offering, Aaron received this offering of gold to make an idol.
i. The people were generous in response - all the people broke off the golden earrings... and brought them to Aaron. By nature, people are generous in what they give to their idols. We should be even more generous with what we give to the Living God.
ii. "Aaron instructed the people to 'take off' (paraq, lit. 'tear off'; contrast laqah ['take'] in 35:5) their 'gold earrings.'" (Kaiser)
- He fashioned it with an engraving tool: This wasn't the Spirit-inspired craftsmanship of Bezaleel and Aholiab mentioned in Exodus 31:1-6. This was the sin-inspired work of Aaron. He thought it out, melted the gold, molded it, and fashioned it carefully with an engraving tool.
i. A molded calf: "Calf is not a good translation of the Hebrew egel. A young bull in his first strength is meant: for instance, the word can describe a three-year-old animal (Genesis 15:9)."
- Then they said, "This is your god": Aaron did not anoint this thing as their god; he simply went along with the people as they proclaimed it as their god. He was probably flattered at their admiration of his creation.
i. True leadership would have cried out, "This is idolatry! We must destroy this golden calf. You people are wrong in calling this creation of man your god." But Aaron wasn't a true leader. He was an example of the one who leads by following popular opinion.
ii. "Jeroboam borrowed this statement when he installed the two golden calves at the division of the kingdom in 931 B.C. (1 Kings 12:28)." (Kaiser)
- That brought you out of the land of Egypt: This shows the foolishness of idolatry. This statue of a calf did not exist the day before, yet they worshipped it as the god that brought them out of Egypt.
3. (32:5-6) Ungodly and immoral worship at the golden calf.
So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, "Tomorrow is a feast to the LORD." Then they rose early on the next day, offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.
- When Aaron saw it: Aaron was flattered by the enthusiastic response of the people. When he saw their devotion to this idol, he built an altar before it. He began to organize the worship of the idol he just made.
i. It was bad enough to have a golden calf the people praised for their escape from Egypt. This second step of Aaron's was worse. He honored and sanctified the idol with animal sacrifice. He made the calf, and then he made the altar to worship it.
- Tomorrow is a feast to the LORD: This shows that the creation and the worship of the golden calf was not a conscious rejection of the LORD. Aaron and the rest of Israel probably thought that they could give honor to the LORD through the golden calf.
i. Aaron was not crass enough to say, "Let's do away with the LORD God." As Israel saw it, Aaron didn't take away the LORD God; he simply added the golden calf.
- They rose early on the next day: They served their idol with eagerness, energy, and personal sacrifice. People usually find a way to rise early for the things that are really important to them. This shows that Israel was willing to give their time, their sleep, and their money in the service of this idol.
i. Offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings: "Aaron might make a calf, but the people made it a god, by adoring it." (Trapp)
- And rose up to play: This is a tasteful way to speak of gross immorality among the people of Israel. Their worship included eating, drinking (in the sense of drunkenness) and sexual immorality.
i. "The verb translated play suggests sex-play in Hebrew... and therefore we are probably to understand drunken orgies." (Cole)
ii. "The verb sahaq signifies drunken, immoral orgies and sexual play." (Kaiser) One Hebrew dictionary uses the phrase "conjugal caresses," as found in Genesis 26:8, 39:14 and 39:17.
iii. Less than two months before this, Israel heard the voice of God Himself thunder from heaven, audibly speaking the Ten Commandments to the nation. That dramatic experience, in and of itself, did not change their hearts. It made many of them desire a less demanding god.
iv. "It seems impossible that, so soon after receiving such a lofty revelation, Israel could fall so low: but Christian experience today is often the same." (Cole)
3. (32:11-13) Moses intercedes for Israel.
Then Moses pleaded with the LORD his God, and said: "LORD, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians speak, and say, 'He brought them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth'? Turn from Your fierce wrath, and relent from this harm to Your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, 'I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.'"
- Then Moses pleaded with the LORD his God: Moses refused to do nothing. He did not fatalistically say, "Well, whatever God will do, God will do." He pleaded with the LORD, according to what he believed to be God's heart.
i. Moses' prayer was not long but it was strong. "It is not the length, but the strength of prayer that appeals to heaven." (Meyer)
ii. "Thus did Jehovah lead His servant into fellowship with the deepest things of His own heart. Therefore his intercession prevailed." (Morgan)
- Your people whom You brought out of the land of Egypt: In his prayer, Moses first gave the people back to God. "LORD, they belong to You and not to me. I don't want to be god over these people; only You can do that."
- Your people whom You brought out of the land of Egypt: Moses then appealed to God on the basis of grace. "LORD, we didn't deserve to be brought out of Egypt to begin with. You did it by Your grace, not because we deserved it. Please don't stop dealing with us by grace."
- Why should the Egyptians speak: Moses next appealed to God on the basis of glory. "LORD, this will bring discredit to You in the eyes of the nations. The Egyptians will think of You as a cruel God who led your people out to the desert to kill them. Don't let anyone think that of You, God."
i. "Undoubtedly Moses was filled with compassion for the people, but his chief concern was for the honor of the name of God." (Morgan)
- Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self: Finally, Moses appealed to God on the basis of His goodness. "LORD, keep Your promises. You are a good God who is always faithful. Don't break Your promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel."
i. "In the want of other rhetoric, let Christians in their prayers urge with repetition. Lord, thou hast promised, thou hast promised. Put the promises into suit, and you have anything. God cannot deny himself."
4. (32:14) God relents from His anger.
So the LORD relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people.
- So the LORD relented: God answered Moses' prayer. God was going to destroy the nation - all Moses had to do was leave God alone and let Him do it. But Moses did not leave God alone; he labored in intercession according to what He knew of the heart of God.
- So the LORD relented: In the King James Version this phrase is translated the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people. Based on this, some believe God sometimes needs to repent of evil, or that God changes His mind.
i. Numbers 23:19 says, God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Some say that these two passages contradict each other, and that Exodus 32 shows God repenting and changing while Numbers 23 says God never changes or repents. We can understand these passages by understanding that Moses wrote with what we call anthropomorphic, or "man-centered" language. He described the actions of God as they appeared to him. Moses' prayer did not change God, but it did change the standing of the people in God's sight - the people were now in a place of mercy, when before they were in a place of judgment.
ii. Also, we can say that God did not go back on His word to either Moses or Israel. We understand the principle that God's promises of judgment are inherently meant to call men to repentance and prayer and therefore avert the judgment (Ezekiel 33:13-16).
iii. Some are frustrated because the Bible describes God's actions in human terms, but they really cannot be described in any other way. "I suppose that I need not say that this verse speaks after the manner of men. I do not know after what other manner we can speak. To speak of God after the manner of God, is reserved for God himself; and mortal men could not comprehend such speech. In this sense, the LORD often speaks, not according to the literal fact, but according to the appearance of things to us, in order that we may understand so far as the human can comprehend the divine." (Spurgeon)
- The LORD relented from the harm which He said He would do: God did not destroy Israel, and He knew that He would not destroy Israel. Yet He deliberately put Moses into this crucial place of intercession, so that Moses would display and develop God's heart for the people, a heart of love and compassion. Moses prayed just as God wanted him to - as if heaven and earth, salvation or destruction, depended on his prayer. This is how God waits for us to pray.
i. "We are not to think of Moses as altering God's purpose towards Israel by this prayer, but as carrying it out: Moses was never more like God than in such moments, for he shared God's mind and loving purpose."
ii. Living under the New Covenant, we do not have less privilege in prayer than Moses had. We do not have less access to God than Moses had. The only thing we may have less of is Moses' heart for the people.
Ex. 32:1-14 Extra Commentary
Exodus 32:1 "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."
"Make us gods": Such was the influence of the polytheistic world in which they lived that the Israelites, in a time of panic or impatience, succumbed to a pagan world view. What made it even more alarming was the rapidity with which pagan idolatry swept in despite recent real-life demonstrations of God's greatness and goodness toward them. But they weren't just requesting gods, but gods to lead them forward, "which shall go before us." The pagan world view had robbed them of seeing God as having led them out of Egypt and instead they scornfully attributed the Exodus to Moses (Acts 7:40).
While Moses was experiencing a spiritual peak, the people of God hit bottom. Fearful that Moses would not return and their desiring something tangible to follow, they asked for substitute gods that would "go before" them. Within weeks of experiencing the presence of God at Mount Sinai (Chapter 19), they were involved in an orgy of idolatry (Acts. 7:40).
- We see here, that while Moses was communing with God for 40 days on Mount Sinai, the people became restless. Perhaps, the presence of God, which had led them from Egypt to where they were staying, had moved to the top of the mountain where He was communing with Moses. Moses had not told them how long he would be gone, and they probably thought that he had left for good. These people soon forgot that God was not something you made with your hands.
- They should have remembered God through Moses' discrediting the false gods of Egypt. The true God had led them this far. People have a tendency to soon forget. Soon they had worked themselves up to the point of going to Aaron to make them a god. They had worked themselves up to the state of believing that Moses would not be back. They want something they can see to worship. They wanted a leader they could worship, as well.
Verses 2-4: Aaron suggested the people give him their "golden earrings"; then he melted the gold into a "molded calf". This action clearly broke the first two commandments (see Exodus 20:3-6). Although the Egyptians worshiped cows, probably more pertinent here is that bovine imagery was directly associated with the Canaanite worship of Baal. This golden calf is a dark foreshadowing of Israel's future idolatry (1 Cor. 10:7).
Exodus 32:2 "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."
Perceiving that they were not to be dissuaded from their evil counsel, and diverted from their purpose, but were determined at all events to have an image made to represent God unto them in a visible manner.
- "Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters": These were some of the jewels in gold they had borrowed of the Egyptians. And it seems that, in those times and countries, men, as well as women, used to wear earrings. And so Pliny says, in the eastern countries men used to wear gold in their ears. And this may be confirmed from the instance of the Ishmaelites and Midianites (Judges 8:24). Aaron did not ask the men for theirs, but for those of their wives and children. It may be, because he might suppose they were fonder of them, and would not so easily part with them. Hoping by this means to have put them off of their design.
- "And bring them unto me": To make a god of, as they desired. That is, the representation of one.
Perhaps Aaron thought that they would not give up their gold. I really believe maybe Aaron had given up too on Moses returning. At any rate, Aaron should have known better than to be persuaded to do such a thing.
- In chapter 20 of Exodus, we saw that God spoke with the people, and they were warned not to make gods of silver or gold. They heard God's voice and saw the smoke and were terribly frightened. How in the world they forgot that so quickly, I do not know. Aaron had been even closer than the people. It seems so unthinkable that Aaron would do this.
Exodus 32:3 "And all the people brake off the golden earrings which [were] in their ears, and brought [them] unto Aaron."
Aaron had miscalculated the strength of the people's fanaticism. Not the slightest resistance was offered to his requirement, not the slightest objection made. "All the people," with one accord, surrendered their earrings. Some measure is hereby afforded of the intensity of the feeling which was moving the people and urging them to substitute an idolatrous worship for the abstract and purely spiritual religion which had reigned supreme since their departure from Egypt.
- If he thought giving up their valuable jewelry would stop them, he was wrong. It is so strange today that worship of other gods usually costs the person greatly, but he still does it. There is something about giving up something that means a great deal to you that seems to make people happier in their worship. The one true God gives us salvation freely. We may give our tithes and offerings and of ourselves to His service, but salvation is a free gift. We do not work to get it, and we certainly can't buy it.
- Notice that this was not just part of these people; the Scripture says "ALL". They were so eager to have something that they could see to worship, that they were willing to give their jewelry, or anything else.
Exodus 32:4 "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."
"A molten calf": The young bull, which Aaron caused to be fashioned, was a pagan religious symbol of virile power. A miniature form of the golden calf, although made of bronze and silver, was found at the site of the ancient philistine city of Ashkelon. Since it dates to about 1550 B.C. it indicates that calf worship was known not only in Egypt, but also in Canaan prior to the time of Moses. In worshiping the calf, the Israelites violated the first 3 commandments (20:3-7).
- Aaron it seemed was more interested in pleasing these people than he was in heeding the instructions God had given all of them at the foot of the mountain. It looks like being raised by Hebrew parents would have taught him better. Moses' first mistake was asking for a helper, when God first called him to bring the people out of Egypt. We see no mention of Hur, here. Whether Aaron did all the engraving himself or had help, we do not know.
- Why he made a calf, only God and Aaron know. Any image of anything would have been just as bad a sin. God had explicitly told them not to do this very thing. Their fear was short lived. Cows are being worshipped even today in various parts of the world. If you will notice the places where cows are worshipped, there is famine in the land.
Exodus 32:5 "And when Aaron saw [it], he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, Tomorrow [is] a feast to the LORD."
"Aaron" may have intended a partial obedience - he would give the people what they asked for, and then he would use it to worship God. But by calling it a feast "to the Lord, Aaron broke the third commandment (see 20:7).
- "Feast to the Lord": Syncretism brought about the ludicrous combination of an idol, an altar, and a festal celebration held in a bizarre attempt to honor the true God.
- Aaron was really confused. He was proclaiming a feast to the Lord, but at the very same time had made the golden calf (false god). In many countries in the world today when Christianity springs forth in a country where false gods have been worshipped, they have a tendency to try to bring some of the old habits of worship with them. This is not good. You cannot mix worship of other gods in. The true God will not permit it.
- The world and the church cannot be mixed. God is a jealous God. This was a terrible mixture. It was almost as if they were saying, I will worship both and whichever one is right will get me to heaven. Compromise is not part of God's plan. He will not be compromised. This offering would not be acceptable to God.
Exodus 32:6 "And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play."
"Rose up to play": The Hebrew word allows for the inclusion of drunken and immoral activities so common to idolatrous fertility cults in their revelry (see the description in verses 7 and 25). Syncretism had robbed the people of all ethical alertness and moral discernment (1 Cor. 10:7).
- The verb suggests illicit and immoral sexual activity in relation to those practices normally accompanying the fertility rites found among the Canaanites who worshiped the god Baal and his consort Ashtoreth. The same verb is used (in genesis 26:8), where it is said, "Abimelech ... saw ... Isaac was sporting with [caressing] Rebekah his wife." Most feel this involved conjugal caress. The nakedness of the people (in verse 25), seems to support further the conclusion that this included the sensuous fertility practices common to the peoples all around Israel (see notes on 1 Cor. 10:7-8, 13-14), for the present-day application of these ancient teachings.
- The verb rendered "play" comes from the same root as the name "Isaac," which refers to laughter (see Gen. 21:1-70). Here, it means sexual acts done in the worship of pagan gods. Immorality often accompanies idolatry, even today (Rom. 1:22-24).
- We see, that they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings, thinking this would satisfy these gods. It seems they were so anxious to worship, that they got up really early in the morning. After sacrifice, there was always a feast and this was no exception. The difference in this feast and the holy feast was that this was followed by sex play. This play really meant an orgy. Many false religions appeal to the fleshly nature of man. In the Strong's concordance this particular word used for play means make sport.
Exodus 32:11 "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?"
Moses had not lost his interest in God, though Israel had.
- "Why doth thy wrath wax hot": So hot as to consume them utterly? For though he saw reason enough why God should be angry with them, yet he humbly expostulates with God whether it would be for his honor utterly to destroy them. Or this is a petition delivered in form of an interrogation or expostulation, (as Matt. 8:29; compare with Luke 8:28).
- "Which thou hast brought out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand?" This had the Lord ascribed to Moses, and observes it is an aggravation of their ingratitude to Moses, and here Moses retorts, and ascribes it to God, and to his mighty power; as for himself he was only a weak feeble instrument.
- The Lord was the efficient cause of their deliverance, in which he had shown the exceeding greatness of his power. And he argues from hence, that seeing he had exerted his mighty arm in bringing them from thence, that he would not now lift it up against them and destroy them.
Exodus 32:12 "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."
Those that remained, as the Targum of Jonathan, who were not drowned in the Red sea. A good man will be concerned for the honor and glory of God among the enemies of his people. That their mouths may not be opened to blaspheme the Lord and speak ill of his ways (see Josh. 7:9). And this is sometimes an argument with God himself, not to do that to his people they deserve, lest it should give occasion to the enemy to speak reproachfully, insult, and triumph (Deut. 32:26).
- "For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth": That he brought them out of Egypt, not with a good but ill design. Not to bring them into the land of Canaan, as they promised themselves, but to destroy them in the mountains. Not to erect them into a great kingdom and nation; which should make a considerable figure in the world; but to cut them off from being a people at all. The mountains where they were at now, are Sinai and Horeb, and there might be others thereabout, among which they were encamped: the Targum of Jonathan is, "among the mountains of Tabor, and Hermon, and Sirion, and Sinai".
- "Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people": Not that there is any turning or shadow of turning with God, or any change of his mind, or any such passions and affections in him as here expressed. But this is said after the manner of men concerning him, when he alters the course of his dealings with men according to his unalterable will. And does not do the evil threatened by him, and which the sins of men deserve.
- We see in this Moses as a type of Christ. Jesus is constantly pleading our case before God. We, like these people, do not deserve the pardon of God. Jesus, as our advocate with the Father, is speaking on our behalf even now in heaven. Moses told God that His anger was about to cause Him to waste all the effort He had spent to save this people. Moses even reminded God that the Egyptians would feel as if their false gods had truly won. This repentance here was not like us seeking repentance for the evil we have done. God was justified in His wrath.
- God knew ahead of time that He would forgive them and give them another chance. He showed by this that He could be angered and He could destroy everyone if He desired. He still listens to the prayers of His people. Especially to Moses who had gone to all this trouble along with God to get these people out of Egypt and established as a nation who feared God. This evil against this people was justified, but God found a place of forgiveness. Just as every one of us deserves death, but through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross have been pardoned and given life eternal in Jesus.
Exodus 32:13 "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."
"Israel": Another name for Jacob, which means "one who strives with God" (Gen. 32:28).
- Moses reminded God of the Abrahamic covenant. Of course God could turn rocks into people. He really doesn't need us. God promised Abraham this seed would come from him. Abraham was faithful to God. This was one reason right here that God didn't destroy them. God fulfills all of His promises.
Exodus 32:14 "And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people."
Changed his sentence at the entreaty of Moses, who in this represented the Lord Christ, the great Mediator and Intercessor for all the sinful race. He was pleased not to inflict upon them that punishment which he threatened (Exodus 32:10). And so acted as men do when they repent and change their minds. Though he designed to punish them, yet he would not ruin them. See here the power of prayer! God suffers himself to be prevailed with by humble, believing importunity.
- And see the compassion of God toward poor sinners, and how ready he is to forgive! It must, however, be well observed that such expressions as this, of the Lord's repenting, must be understood as spoken after the manner of men. For that no proper change or repentance can take place in the Divine Mind, plainly follows from the perfection of the divine knowledge. Which comprehends at one view all things, past, present, and to come, and can never be surprised at their happening as they do. Or change his mind on that account. See this further explained (in Genesis 6:6).
- This really meant that God's heart softened and He spared them. He did not intend to kill them from the beginning. They did deserve death, but God spared their lives, partially because of the faith of their ancestors.