Ex 32:1-35. The Golden
1. when the people saw that Moses
delayed—They supposed that he had lost his way in the
darkness or perished in the fire.
the people gathered themselves together unto
Aaron—rather, "against" Aaron in a tumultuous manner, to
compel him to do what they wished. The incidents related in this
chapter disclose a state of popular sentiment and feeling among the
Israelites that stands in singular contrast to the tone of profound and
humble reverence they displayed at the giving of the law. Within a
space of little more than thirty days, their impressions were
dissipated. Although they were still encamped upon ground which they
had every reason to regard as holy; although the cloud of glory that
capped the summit of Sinai was still before their eyes, affording a
visible demonstration of their being in close contact, or rather in the
immediate presence, of God, they acted as if they had entirely
forgotten the impressive scenes of which they had been so recently the
said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go
before us—The Hebrew word rendered "gods" is simply
the name of God in its plural form. The image made was single, and
therefore it would be imputing to the Israelites a greater sin than
they were guilty of, to charge them with renouncing the worship of the
true God for idols. The fact is, that they required, like children, to
have something to strike their senses, and as the Shekinah, "the glory
of God," of which they had hitherto enjoyed the sight, was now veiled,
they wished for some visible material object as the symbol of the
divine presence, which should go before them as the pillar of fire had
2. Aaron said, … Break off …
earrings—It was not an Egyptian custom for young men to wear
earrings, and the circumstance, therefore, seems to point out "the
mixed rabble," who were chiefly foreign slaves, as the
ringleaders in this insurrection. In giving direction to break their
earrings, Aaron probably calculated on gaining time; or, perhaps, on
their covetousness and love of finery proving stronger than their
idolatrous propensity. If such were his expectations, they were doomed
to signal disappointment. Better to have calmly and earnestly
remonstrated with them, or to have preferred duty to expediency,
leaving the issue in the hands of Providence.
3. all the people brake off the golden
earrings—The Egyptian rings, as seen on the monuments, were
round massy plates of metal; and as they were rings of this sort the
Israelites wore, their size and number must, in the general collection,
have produced a large store of the precious metal.
4. fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had
made it a molten calf—The words are transposed, and the
rendering should be, "he framed with a graving tool the image to be
made, and having poured the liquid gold into the mould, he made it a
molten calf." It is not said whether it was of life size, whether it
was of solid gold or merely a wooden frame covered with plates of gold.
This idol seems to have been the god Apis, the chief deity of the
Egyptians, worshipped at Memphis under the form of a live ox, three
years old. It was distinguished by a triangular white spot on its
forehead and other peculiar marks. Images of it in the form of a whole
ox, or of a calf's head on the end of a pole, were very common; and it
makes a great figure on the monuments where it is represented in the
van of all processions, as borne aloft on men's shoulders.
they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which
brought thee up out of the land of Egypt—It is inconceivable
that they, who but a few weeks before had witnessed such amazing
demonstrations of the true God, could have suddenly sunk to such a
pitch of infatuation and brutish stupidity, as to imagine that human
art or hands could make a god that should go before them. But it must
be borne in mind, that though by election and in name they were the
people of God, they were as yet, in feelings and associations, in
habits and tastes, little, if at all different, from Egyptians. They
meant the calf to be an image, a visible sign or symbol of Jehovah, so
that their sin consisted not in a breach of the FIRST [Ex 20:3], but
of the SECOND commandment [Ex 20:4-6].
5, 6. Aaron made proclamation, and said, To-morrow
is a feast to the Lord—a remarkable circumstance, strongly
confirmatory of the view that they had not renounced the worship of
Jehovah, but in accordance with Egyptian notions, had formed an image
with which they had been familiar, to be the visible symbol of the
divine presence. But there seems to have been much of the revelry that
marked the feasts of the heathen.
7-14. the Lord said unto Moses, Go, get thee
down—Intelligence of the idolatrous scene enacted at the foot
of the mount was communicated to Moses in language borrowed from human
passions and feelings, and the judgment of a justly offended God was
pronounced in terms of just indignation against the gross violation of
the so recently promulgated laws.
10. make of thee a great nation—Care
must be taken not to suppose this language as betokening any change or
vacillation in the divine purpose. The covenant made with the
patriarchs had been ratified in the most solemn manner; it could
not and never was intended that it should be broken. But the
manner in which God spoke to Moses served two important
purposes—it tended to develop the faith and intercessory
patriotism of the Hebrew leader, and to excite the serious alarm of the
people, that God would reject them and deprive them of the privileges
they had fondly fancied were so secure.
15-18. Moses turned, and went down from the
mount—The plain, Er-Raheh, is not visible from the top of
Jebel Musa, nor can the mount be descended on the side towards that
valley; hence Moses and his companion, who on duty had patiently waited
his return in the hollow of the mountain's brow, heard the shouting
some time before they actually saw the camp.
19. Moses' anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables
out of his hands—The arrival of the leader, like the
appearance of a specter, arrested the revellers in the midst of their
carnival, and his act of righteous indignation when he dashed on the
ground the tables of the law, in token that as they had so soon
departed from their covenant relation, so God could withdraw the
peculiar privileges that He had promised them—that act, together
with the rigorous measures that followed, forms one of the most
striking scenes recorded in sacred history.
20. he took the calf which they had made, and
burnt it in the fire, &c.—It has been supposed that the
gold was dissolved by natron or some chemical substance. But
there is no mention of solubility here, or in De 9:21; it was "burned in the fire," to cast it
into ingots of suitable size for the operations which
follow—"grounded to powder"; the powder of malleable metals can
be ground so fine as to resemble dust from the wings of a moth or
butterfly; and these dust particles will float in water for hours, and
in a running stream for days. These operations of grinding were
intended to show contempt for such worthless gods, and the Israelites
would be made to remember the humiliating lesson by the state of the
water they had drunk for a time [Napier]. Others think that as the idolatrous
festivals were usually ended with great use of sweet wine, the nauseous
draught of the gold dust would be a severe punishment (compare 2Ki 23:6, 15; 2Ch 15:16; 34:7).
22. And Aaron said, Let not the anger of my lord
wax hot—Aaron cuts a poor figure, making a shuffling excuse
and betraying more dread of the anger of Moses than of the Lord
25. naked—either unarmed and
defenseless, or ashamed from a sense of guilt. Some think they were
literally naked, as the Egyptians performed some of their rites in that
26-28. Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and
said—The camp is supposed to have been protected by a rampart
after the attack of the Amalekites.
Who is on the Lord's side? let him come unto
me—The zeal and courage of Moses was astonishing, considering
he opposed an intoxicated mob. The people were separated into two
divisions, and those who were the boldest and most obstinate in
vindicating their idolatry were put to death, while the rest, who
withdrew in shame or sorrow, were spared.
29. Consecrate yourselves to-day to the
Lord—or, "Ye have consecrated yourselves to-day." The
Levites, notwithstanding the dejection of Aaron, distinguished
themselves by their zeal for the honor of God and their conduct in
doing the office of executioners on this occasion; and this was one
reason that they were appointed to a high and honorable office in the
service of the sanctuary.
30-33. Moses said unto the people, Ye have sinned
a great sin—Moses labored to show the people the heinous
nature of their sin, and to bring them to repentance. But not content
with that, he hastened more earnestly to intercede for them.
32. blot me … out of thy book—an
allusion to the registering of the living, and erasing the names of
those who die. What warmth of affection did he evince for his brethren!
How fully was he animated with the true spirit of a patriot, when he
professed his willingness to die for them. But Christ actually
died for His people (Ro 5:8).
35. the Lord plagued the people, because they made
the calf—No immediate judgments were inflicted, but this
early lapse into idolatry was always mentioned as an aggravation of
their subsequent apostasies.