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The Golden Calf


When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; 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.” 2Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. 4He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” 5When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the L ord.” 6They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.

7 The L ord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; 8they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ ” 9The L ord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. 10Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.”

11 But Moses implored the L ord his God, and said, “O L ord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. 13Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’ ” 14And the L ord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.

15 Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain, carrying the two tablets of the covenant in his hands, tablets that were written on both sides, written on the front and on the back. 16The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved upon the tablets. 17When Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a noise of war in the camp.” 18But he said,

“It is not the sound made by victors,

or the sound made by losers;

it is the sound of revelers that I hear.”

19 As soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets from his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. 20He took the calf that they had made, burned it with fire, ground it to powder, scattered it on the water, and made the Israelites drink it.

21 Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you have brought so great a sin upon them?” 22And Aaron said, “Do not let the anger of my lord burn hot; you know the people, that they are bent on evil. 23They said to me, ‘Make us gods, who shall go before us; 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.’ 24So I said to them, ‘Whoever has gold, take it off’; so they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!”

25 When Moses saw that the people were running wild (for Aaron had let them run wild, to the derision of their enemies), 26then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, “Who is on the L ord’s side? Come to me!” And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. 27He said to them, “Thus says the L ord, the God of Israel, ‘Put your sword on your side, each of you! Go back and forth from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill your brother, your friend, and your neighbor.’ ” 28The sons of Levi did as Moses commanded, and about three thousand of the people fell on that day. 29Moses said, “Today you have ordained yourselves for the service of the L ord, each one at the cost of a son or a brother, and so have brought a blessing on yourselves this day.”

30 On the next day Moses said to the people, “You have sinned a great sin. But now I will go up to the L ord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” 31So Moses returned to the L ord and said, “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin; they have made for themselves gods of gold. 32But now, if you will only forgive their sin—but if not, blot me out of the book that you have written.” 33But the L ord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book. 34But now go, lead the people to the place about which I have spoken to you; see, my angel shall go in front of you. Nevertheless, when the day comes for punishment, I will punish them for their sin.”

35 Then the L ord sent a plague on the people, because they made the calf—the one that 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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