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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.

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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