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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.

25. And when Moses saw that the people were naked The vengeance is here recorded which Moses employed to expiate the sin; not that this punishment was satisfactory, as they call it, before God; but because it was useful to efface the memory of their guilt; or at any rate was profitable, as an example. For by the slaughter of three thousand of them, they were reminded that they all had deserved the same. Nor can it be doubted but that he cleansed the camp of the chief authors of the evil, in order that God might be more inclined to pardon. First, therefore, the cause is set forth, whereby he was inflamed to such severity, viz., because he saw the people in such a state of nakedness, as to be even exposed as a laughing-stock to their enemies. The exposition 345345     The glossa ordinaria gives the three usual opinions as to this statement, viz., either that they were stripped of the ornaments, whereof the idol was made; or that they had manifested their corrupt will, which was previously concealed; or that they had lost the help and protection of God. De Lyra adopts the first. Dathe calls it a very difficult passage; but inclines to the rendering of the LXX., διασκέδασται, were scattered, or dissipated. “The people were in a dissolute, disorderly state; and therefore in a condition to be attacked with advantage.” — Geddes. which some give of their nakedness, i.e., that they were stripped of their ornaments, is by no means consistent; for it is immediately added, that it was “to their shame among their enemies;” and it will be seen in the next chapter that they were still splendidly ornamented; nay, that they wore the outward tokens of profane rejoicing. There is no doubt, then, but that he signifies that they were rejected of God, who was to them, as it were, their sole ornamental garment, and under whose protection they were secure. The enormity of the evil is, therefore, set forth in these words, because they were not only deprived of God’s assistance, who is culled “the dwelling-place” of his people, (Psalm 90:1,) but also abandoned to ignominy, whilst they were surrounded on all sides by enemies. Hence the holy indignation of Moses, in inflicting punishment on the leaders of the rebellion. And again, it is to be noted, that Aaron is charged with the chief part of the crime, because he had not resisted the people’s folly with sufficient firmness.

Herein the astonishing power of God was manifested, that when Moses had summoned the Levites, and had commanded them openly in the gate to gird themselves with their swords, the other tribes did not all of them mutiny; for it was probable that they were thus to be armed, in order to execute punishment on the criminals. How, then, came it to pass that those, who were conscious of guilt, were quiet, except because the power of God’s Spirit restrained their courage and fury?

The form of the command is also worthy of observation, “Whoso is the Lord’s, let him betake himself to me:” from whence we learn, that if we love religion as it deserves, we must not halt between two sides; but that an ingenuous confession is required of us, so as to range ourselves every one under the banner of God; for, by calling all God’s servants to him, he condemns the cowardice, nay, the treachery, of all who shall stand in indecision.

The question, however, arises, whether the Levites were not implicated in the crime, since they step forward at once to execute his command, like sincere upholders of God’s glory. I answer, that though they were not free from guilt, yet, inasmuch as they yielded to the people under the influence of fear, their sin was lighter than as if they had approved by their consent of the detestable idolatry. But here we perceive the wonderful indulgence of God, who not only pardoned them, but deigned to assert His glory by their instrumentality, and appointed them his ministers for the punishment of a crime, in the toleration of which they had been guilty of base effeminacy and cowardice. Again, it may be asked, how it occurred that of the rest of the multitude not one stirred a foot at the command of Moses? My opinion is, that they were kept back not by contempt or obstinacy, but only by shame; and that they were all inspired with so much alarm, that they waited in astonishment to see what Moseswas about, and how far he would proceed. It is, however, probable that the Levites were called out by name, and this we gather from the result; because they all immediately came forwards, and not one of any other tribe.


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