ReadBibleAlive.com                                          Front Page

Series Theme: FRAMEWORKS: Exodus

(Return to Framework Contents)

 

FRAMEWORKS: Exodus 32: The golden calf

 

v.1 Thinking goes Astray

v.2-5 Aaron makes it worse

v.6,7 Idolatry & Revelry

v.7-10 The Lord threatens to destroy the people

v.11-13 Moses Intercedes for them

v.14-18 God relents, Moses goes down

v.19,20 Moses' Actions

v.21-24 Aaron makes excuses

v.25-28 Moses brings judgment on the revellers

v.29-32 Again Moses Intercedes for the People

v.33-35 The Lord brings Judgment

 

 

v.1 Thinking goes Astray

 

v.1 When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered round Aaron and said, ‘Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him.'

 

[Notes: What is terrible about what follows is first a) the people have already several times committed themselves to the Lord AND b) up on the mountain God has been instructing Moses how to establish Aaron as priest holy to Himself. What is happening may, to help understand it in better context, only include several thousand of the people, when in fact there must have been over a million (if not two million) people in the encampment. Moses has been gone for over a month. These people who often grumbled in their responses within the Exodus, both before they left Egypt and afterwards, have clearly learnt little and so start worrying that they are leaderless and so turn to the next leader – Aaron, older brother of Moses – and demand he makes them some idols or ‘gods' to be their focus for going ahead. Aaron is a leader in name only for he soon gives way to their demands.]

 

 

v.2-5 Aaron makes it worse

 

v.2 Aaron answered them, ‘Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.'

v.3 So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron.

v.4 He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.'

v.5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, ‘Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.'

 

[Notes: At least Aaron demands that their actions will cost them something as he requires them to provide the materials to make a single idol in the shape of a calf, made out of gold. No one had the temerity in the face of the crowd pressure to say, “Aaron, are you out of your mind?” Some might say it is difficult to work out time scales in the preceding chapters and so know whether the instructions of chapter 20 on had been conveyed to the people, but the text of those earlier chapters show quite clearly that Moses had come down with the instructions, had got their agreement to them, written them down and got their second agreement to them before going back up the mountain for a longer time. If this action had happened earlier on in the proceedings, that earlier account would not have happened in the same way after this incident. However we see it, Aaron shows remarkable lack of leadership and gives way to the rabble and makes them the golden calf.]

 

 

v.6,7 Idolatry & Revelry

v.6 So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterwards they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.

 

[Notes: The very next day, with Moses still up on the mountain, they sacrifice to the calf and then feast and, it appears evident, get drunk and enter into full-blown revelry. Again, we ponder, how may of the people did this include? We suggest from what follows only a limited number.]

 

 

v.7-10 The Lord threatens to destroy the people

 

v.7 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt.

v.8 They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”

v.9 ‘I have seen these people,' the Lord said to Moses, ‘and they are a stiff-necked people.

v.10  Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.'

 

[Notes: Through this failure of Israel the Lord takes the opportunity to test Moses. The Lord expresses anger against these people, threatening to destroy them and instead, start over again and create a new nation of His people through Moses.]

 

 

v.11-13 Moses Intercedes for them

 

v.11 But Moses sought the favour of the Lord his God. ‘Lord,' he said, ‘why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand?

v.12 Why should the Egyptians say, “It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth”? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people.

v.13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: “I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance for ever.”'

 

[Notes: Note the first word – ‘But'. Moses sees the big picture and having watched the Lord deal with the might of Egypt to deliver this people, he does not want the Lord's name to be demeaned in such a way. He appeals to the Lord on two grounds. First, what would other people say about Him and why He bought Israel out of Egypt and, second, what about the promise He had made to the Patriarchs about making them into a great nation. If the Lord just wipes out Israel now, the world will look on and question Him on these two levels.]

 

 

v.14-18 God relents, Moses goes down

 

v.14 Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

v.15 Moses turned and went down the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back.

v.16 The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.

v.17 When Joshua heard the noise of the people shouting, he said to Moses, ‘There is the sound of war in the camp.'

v.18 Moses replied: ‘It is not the sound of victory, it is not the sound of defeat; it is the sound of singing that I hear.'

 

[Notes: The Lord gets the response He is looking for and so, for the moment at least, holds back. Moses goes off down the mountain, clutching the two slabs with the Ten Commandments and prepares himself to face his people.]

 

 

v.19,20 Moses' Actions

 

v.19 When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain.

v.20 And he took the calf the people had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it.

 

[Notes: When he sees the disarray and the dancing and drunken revelry down below he cannot contain himself and in anger smashes the tablets on the ground. He rushes into the camp, throws the calf into a fire and then took it out, ground it up and threw the dust into the water supply and made the people drink it, so angry is he.]

 

 

v.21-24 Aaron makes excuses

 

v.21 He said to Aaron, ‘What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?'

v.22 ‘Do not be angry, my lord,' Aaron answered. ‘You know how prone these people are to evil.

v.23 They said to me, “Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him.”

v.24 So I told them, “Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off.” Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!'

 

[Notes: Aaron's attempts at excuses are pathetic. Step 1: you know what these grumbling people are like, what did you expect. Step 2: You stayed away for so long, what did you expect of them. Step 3: I tried to calm them by asking for their gold but to my surprise they gave it. So, Step 4, I threw it into the fire and out came this calf! Oh, magic is it, Aaron, it just appeared, you didn't by any chance make a cast for it?????]

 

 

v.25-28 Moses brings judgment on the revellers

 

v.25 Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughing-stock to their enemies.

v.26 So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, ‘Whoever is for the Lord, come to me.' And all the Levites rallied to him.

v.27 Then he said to them, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: “Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbour.”'

v.28 The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died.

 

[Notes: Moses sees that mayhem is occurring and so shouts for those who will be loyal to the Lord to come to him. All the Levites, I suspect rather shame-facedly, step forward and so Moses calls for them to go and wreak judgment on the people. Again, I suspect that Moses said more than this for in fact they only killed about three thousand out of over a million, a tiny percentage. We suggest these are those showing signs of drunkenness and anger over Moses' words. But there certainly has been a token judgment, flowing out of Moses' righteous anger.]

 

 

v.29-32 Again Moses Intercedes for the People

 

v.29 Then Moses said, ‘You have been set apart to the Lord today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day.'

v.30 The next day Moses said to the people, ‘You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.'

v.31 So Moses went back to the Lord and said, ‘Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold.

v.32 But now, please forgive their sin – but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.'

 

[Notes: Moses commends the Levites. The next day he confronts the remaining people as a whole and says he will go back and plead on their behalf to the Lord, which he does offering himself in their stead.]

 

 

v.33-35 The Lord brings Judgment

 

v.33 The Lord replied to Moses, ‘Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book.

v.34 Now go, lead the people to the place I spoke of, and my angel will go before you. However, when the time comes for me to punish, I will punish them for their sin.'

v.35 And the Lord struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made.

 

[Notes: The Lord says HE will deal with the guilty people [who presumably the Levites missed] and so sends a plague which we must assume takes the other guilty ones.]

      

   

Continue to Chapter 33