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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.

11. And Moses besought the Lord his God It is clear that this prayer sprang from faith, though in it he seems to fight against the very word of God; for God had said, Get thee down to thy people; but his answer is, Nay, it is thine. But, as I have lately stated, inasmuch as he firmly grasped the principle, that it was impossible for God’s covenant to be made ineffective, he breaks through or surmounts all obstacles with closed eyes as it were. He proves them to be God’s people by the benefit they had so recently received; yet he mainly relies on the covenant; nay, he mentions their deliverance as a result of it; for he proceeds afterwards to say, “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel.” We see, therefore, that the first ground of his confidence is the promise, although Moses refers first of all to the fact that the people had been delivered by the hand of God. He so expressly particularizes His “mighty hand,” and “great power,” to signify that the more conspicuous God’s miracles had been, the more was His glory exposed to the calumnies of the ungodly; and this he immediately afterwards explains, “Wherefore should the Egyptians speak,” etc.

The particle, ברעה, beragnah, which the old interpreter 336336     “For mischief.” — A.V.By the old interpreter (C. means the V. which renders the word “callide,” craftily. The version of LXX. is μετὰ πονηρίας, with maliciousness. “Some thus, (says Poole,) malo sidere, under an evil star; because the Egyptians attributed all things to the stars. Fagius, Vatablus.” renders craftily, and others maliciously, I prefer simply to translate unto evil, (ad malum,) as denoting an unprosperous and unhappy issue. The exposition which others give, “under an unlucky star,” seems to me to be too far-fetched. 337337     Addition in Fr., “et profane.” I have no doubt, therefore, but that Moses signifies that this would be a consolation to the Egyptians in their misfortunes if the people should be destroyed, as if God had thus avenged them against their enemies; besides, by this misapprehension, the memory of God’s grace, as well as of His judgment, would have been destroyed; for the Egyptians would have hardened themselves, and would have been untouched by any sense of guilt, deeming that God would shew no mercy to His elect people.

What follows, “repent of this evil,” is spoken in accordance with common parlance, for the saints often stammer in their prayers, and, whilst unburdening their cares into the bosom of God, address him in their infirmity as by no means befits His nature; as, for instance, when they ask Him, How long wilt thou sleep? or be forgetful? or shut thine eyes? or hide thy face? But with God repentance is nothing but a change of dealing, wherein He seems to retrace His course, as if He had conceived some fresh design. When, therefore, it is said a little further on that “the Lord repented of the evil,” it is tantamount to saying, that He was appeased; not because He retracts in Himself what He has once decreed, but because He does not execute the sentence He had pronounced. If my readers 338338     See on Genesis 6:6, (Calvin Soc. Edit., vol. 1, pp. 248, 249,) the latter part of which passage is quoted by Hengstenberg on the Pentat., vol. 2, p. 373, “On the repentance of God,” with the following remark: “These last words show how very deeply Calvin had gained the right point of view in reference to Anthropomorphisms. In his esteem they formed a glorious ornament of holy writ. How totally different the apologists since the times of Deism! One remarks, on all occasions, how gladly they would dispense with Anthropomorphisms. They try to be satisfied only with that which they cannot alter.” See also C. on Minor Prophets, vol. 1, p. 402; 2, p. 61; 3, pp. 115, 126, 408; and Institutes, Book 1, ch. 17. Section 13, vol. 1, p. 263. (Calvin Soc. editions.) desire more on this point, let them consult my Comments on Genesis and the Prophets.

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