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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.

27. Thus saith the Lord God of Israel He commands the Levites to gird themselves with their swords, to commit slaughter throughout the whole camp; and this may at first sight seem to be cruel and inhuman, when they are forbidden to spare their brothers, their friends, and neighbors; but it was by no means excessive, if we reflect how much more grievous it is to profane the sacred worship of God, than to inflict injury on man. Nor does he desire that all should be slain promiscuously; but only bids the Levites proceed courageously; so that, if they should chance to meet with any one worthy of death, neither relationship, nor friendship, nor familiarity, should hinder or delay the just course of severity. Nay, since it soon after follows that the Levites did as they were commanded, we gather that he was content with a moderation more akin to leniency than to rigor. If any sedition has arisen in an army, which has proceeded to violence and slaughter, the general is wont, as an ordinary rule, to decimate the offenders; how much milder here is the rate of punishment, when only three thousand perish out of six hundred millions! Although he may have, therefore, dealt harshly with a few, yet the chastisement must appear lenient which permits so many to escape, though guilty of the same crime. It is, however, asked, whether they made any, and what distinction? for it would have been an act of blind and headlong impetuosity to kill every one they might happen to meet. In order to evade this absurdity, some of the 346346     “Quelques Rabins des Juifs;” some Jewish Rabbins. — Fr. So Aben-Ezra, and R. Salomon. Jews take refuge, as usual, in a silly fable, that the bellies of those who were polluted by the sin, swelled after drinking the water. If this is accepted, the swelling must have affected them all. But, rejecting all such inventions, it is probable that the Levites were by no means ignorant who were the chief leaders of the evil counsel, by whose instigation the rest were drawn into rebellion. 347347     “Qui avoyent mene la danse pour desbaucher les autres, et ausquels le mal devoit estre impute;” who had led the dance to corrupt the others, and to whom the evil must be imputed. — Fr. Judicially, therefore, and discriminately they executed vengeance on three thousand; and hence it came to pass that the severity was endurable, and that the whole people quietly submitted, when they saw that their own welfare was consulted by the removal from amongst them of these pestilent persons. But, although Mosesrestrains himself, it must be remarked that he requires of the Levites inflexible firmness, lest any regard to intimacy should soften their hearts, because there is nothing more opposed to a sound judgment than προσωποληψία (respect of persons.) Now, it is not without reason that the Levites are praised for obeying his command; for it demanded no common magnanimity to attack the whole twelve tribes, to whom they were not equal even by a twelfth part. We gellerally see that when many persons are concerned in a crime, the judges are alarmed by a fear of sedition, and in the end have not the courage to perform their duty. 348348     “Les juges sont en grand souci, par quel bout its commencerout, et qu’ils tremblent jusques a defaillir en le fin de leur office;” the judges are in great anxiety as to what end they shall begin at, and that they are so much alarmed as at length to fail in their duty. — Fr. It was, then, all extraordinary instance of zeal in the Levites, that setting aside all consideration of danger, they dared intrepidly to provoke so great a multitude against them. And this holy indignation was the fruit of their repentance, since they did not hesitate to attack with drawn swords those whose threatening countenances they had previously quailed at. Surely it would have been a lighter cause of offense to have prevented the idolatry of the people by bold rebuke, than to execute capital punishment on the transgressors. Their piety and fear of God, therefore, aroused their hearts to new vigor when they dreaded no peril of death.

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