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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.

29. For Moses had said, consecrate yourselves today It is obvious that this verse was added exegetically, to give the reason why this unintimidated ardor impelled the Levites manfully to fulfill their charge, viz., because the exhortation of Moses carried them over every obstacle. The verb, “had said,” must be therefore construed in the pluperfect tense. The translation of some, 349349     Amongst others, of the Vulgate. Boothroyd thus defends it: “This verb may either be the second person plural of the imperative, or the third of the preterite, of both the active and passive voices. The Masorets have pointed it in the former, and are followed by our version. By this rendering, the order of the narrative is perverted; for after that command given to the Levites is stated to have been executed, and the number of the slain specified, then we have another command. Render in the preterite, and all is clear and consistent, Ye have consecrated, etc.” “ye have consecrated your hands,” in the perfect tense, is very unsuitable, since the promise is immediately added as a means of stimulating them to greater alacrity; whence it appears that the command of Moses, which has been mentioned, is now repeated in different words. They are, however, increased in forcibleness, since he declares that it will be a sacrifice sweet and acceptable to God, if, in forgetfulness of flesh and blood, they avenge the polluted worship of God. The causal particle, 350350     A.V., “Even,” which, though different from the ordinary meanings of this particle, is sanctioned by several other texts cited in Noldii Conc. Part., whilst C.’s rendering has no such sanction, nor is it supported by S. M.W. “Le mot, que j’ay translate voire, signifie en Hebrieu car: mais il est ici entralasse pour plus grande vehemence;” the word, which I have translated namely, signifies in Hebrew for, but is here introduced for the sake of greater vehemence. — Fr. ci, is introduced, which I have rendered nempe, (namely,) as being here an intensitive, as if he had said, such submission to God must here be shewn, that they should not even restrain their hand if necessary from their very sons and brothers. What, therefore, was lately spoken as to their relatives generally, and here of their sons, must be taken as if in the potential mood; for, if all the Levites had joined themselves with Moses, what need was there of bidding them execute punishment on their brothers or sons? So that Moses only wished to condemn that absurd regard to humanity whereby judges are often blinded, and, to the detriment of religion, are cruelly merciful in tolerating and encouraging impiety. First, therefore, let us learn from this passage, that when judges overlook crimes, their hands are defiled by their very remissness, because impunity increases licentiousness in sin. Thus Solomon teaches that,

“He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are an abomination to the Lord.”
(Proverbs 17:15.)

Let us also learn that nothing is less consistent than to punish heavily the crimes whereby mortals are injured, whilst we connive at the impious errors or sacrilegious 351351     “Superstitions.” — Fr. modes of worship whereby the majesty of God is violated.

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