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32. The Golden Calf

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. 2And 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. 3And all the people brake off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them unto Aaron. 4And 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. 5And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, To morrow is a feast to the Lord. 6And 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.

7And the Lord said unto Moses, Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves: 8They 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. 9And the Lord said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people: 10Now 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. 11And 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? 12Wherefore 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. 13Remember 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. 14And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.

15And Moses turned, and went down from the mount, and the two tables of the testimony were in his hand: the tables were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other were they written. 16And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables. 17And when Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said unto Moses, There is a noise of war in the camp. 18And he said, It is not the voice of them that shout for mastery, neither is it the voice of them that cry for being overcome: but the noise of them that sing do I hear.

19And 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. 20And 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. 21And Moses said unto Aaron, What did this people unto thee, that thou hast brought so great a sin upon them? 22And Aaron said, Let not the anger of my lord wax hot: thou knowest the people, that they are set on mischief. 23For 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. 24And 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.

25And when Moses saw that the people were naked; (for Aaron had made them naked unto their shame among their enemies:) 26Then 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. 27And 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. 28And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men. 29For Moses had said, Consecrate yourselves to day to the Lord, even every man upon his son, and upon his brother; that he may bestow upon you a blessing this day.

30And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses said unto the people, Ye have sinned a great sin: and now I will go up unto the Lord; peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin. 31And Moses returned unto the Lord, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. 32Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin--; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written. 33And the Lord said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book. 34Therefore now go, lead the people unto the place of which I have spoken unto thee: behold, mine Angel shall go before thee: nevertheless in the day when I visit I will visit their sin upon them. 35And the Lord plagued the people, because they made the calf, which Aaron made.

19. And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp He who had before humbly pleaded for the safety of the people, now, when he sees the calf, bursts forth into rage, and the hideousness of the crime awakens him to different feelings. Now, since anger is here mentioned with praise, the stoics must abandon their paradox, that all the passions (motus animi) are vicious. I allow, indeed, that whilst men are led by nature, they are never angry without vice; because they always exceed due bounds, and often also do not aim at a proper object. But it must be observed that this occurs from the corruption of nature; and, consequently, anger is not in itself or absolutely to be condemned. For the principle which the Stoics assume, that all the passions are perturbations and like diseases, is false, and has its origin in ignorance; for either to grieve, or to fear, or to rejoice, or to hope, is by no means repugnant to reason, nor does it interfere with tranquillity and moderation of mind; it is only excess or intemperance which corrupts what would else be pure. And surely grief, anger, desire, hope, fear, are affections of our unfallen 341341     “Mises en nous en l’integrite, qui estoit en notre pere Adam;” implanted in us in the integrity which was in our father Adam. — Fr. (integrce) nature, implanted in us by God, and such as we may not find fault with, without insulting God Himself. Moreover, the anger which is here ascribed to Moses is, in Deuteronomy 9, attributed to the person of God Himself. Whence we infer, that, since it emanated from the impulse of the Spirit, it was a virtue worthy of praise.

In breaking the tables, however, he seems to have forgotten himself; for what sort of vengeance was this, to deface the work of God? Howsoever detestable the crime of the people was, still the holy covenant of God ought to have been spared. Therefore certain Rabbins, 342342     C. found in S. M.’s notes the Rabbinical fancies about the vanishing of the letters, etc. — W. to excuse him, invent one of their customary fables, that, when the tables were brought into the polluted place, the writing became effaced. Others think that he was carried away by his wrath, and did not sufficiently consider what he was about, as he would have done had his mind been composed. I have no doubt, however, but that he broke the tables in reference to his office, as if to annul the covenant of God for a time; for we know that God commits both charges to the ministers of His word, to be the proclaimers of His vengeance, as well as the witnesses of His grace. Thus, whatever they bind on earth is bound also in heaven, and they retain sins unto condemnation, and are armed with vengeance against the unbelieving and rebellious. (Matthew 16:19; John 20:23; 2 Corinthians 13:10. 343343     The reference here in the original, and in the French translation, (which always copies such errors, and, alas! they are multitudinous,) is to 2 Corinthians 11:15. I have substituted one, which appears to me more probable, and which the reader may compare with its parallel passages; but I am not so certain of my correction here, as I generally am. ) Therefore God rejected the people by the hand of Moses, renouncing the covenant which He had recently established in a solemn ceremony; and this severity was more useful as an example than as if He had sent Moses back empty-handed; for else it would never have suggested itself to the Israelites of how incomparable a treasure they had been deprived. It was then necessary that the tables should be produced, as if God so presented Himself to their sight and shewed His paternal countenance; but when, on the other hand, the monstrous abomination of the calf was encountered, it behoved that these same tables should be broken, as if God turned His back upon them and retired. Meanwhile, it must be borne in mind, that the covenant of God was not altogether annulled, but only as it were interrupted, until the people had heartily repented. Still this temporary rupture, if I may so call it, did not prevent the covenant itself from remaining inviolable. In the same manner also afterwards God put away His people, as if He had utterly renounced. them, yet His grace and truth never failed; so that He at least had some hidden roots from whence the Church sprang up anew; as it is said in Psalm 102:18, “The people which shall be created shall praise the Lord.”

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