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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.

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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