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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.

7. And the Lord said unto Moses, Go, get thee down. This was a violent temptation to shake the faith of Moses. He thought that his own and the people’s happiness was absolutely complete, when God’s covenant was engraven on the tables to secure its perpetuity; whereas now he hears that this covenant was violated, and almost annihilated by the perfidy and rebellion of the people, whilst its abolition involved the loss of salvation and all other blessings. Moreover, that God might more sorely wound the mind of the holy man, He addresses him exactly as if part of the ignominy fell upon himself; for there is an indirect reproach implied in the words, “thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt.” Yet Moses had only taken this charge upon him by God’s command, and, indeed, unwillingly; how, then, is this deliverance thrown in his teeth, wherein he had only obeyed God? and why is his devotedness spoken of in mockery, as if he had bestowed his labor amiss, when no part of the blame attaches to him? I have already said that God sometimes thus pierces the hearts of the godly to the quick, in order to prove their patience, as if their well-directed zeal had been the cause of the evils which occur. Some 335335     This seems to be a very general opinion of the Commentators, from Jerome downwards. “Though Calvin mislikes this sense, yet it is warranted by that place, Deuteronomy 32:5. They have corrupted themselves, not being his children.” — Junius in Willet. give too subtle an exposition to this, viz., that they are called the people of Moses, because they had ceased to be the people of God; and suppose that there is an antithesis here, as if it were said, — your people, and not mine; but I fear this is not well founded; for, since they had broken the covenant, they were not more alienated from God than from Moses the minister of the Law. I do not deny that it is an implied renunciation of them; but we must bear in mind that design of God, to which I have already adverted, that Moses was in a manner implicated in their crime, in order that his patience might be tried, and also that he might be more grieved at its enormity. Meanwhile, it is obvious that God refers to His recent grace, because it was a monstrous and incredible thing that those who had been lately delivered by this amazing power, and with whom He had just renewed His covenant, should be so suddenly drawn away into rebellion. He adds also, in aggravation of their crime, that they had immediately turned aside from the way which was pointed out to them. Forty days had not yet elapsed since Moses left them, when they were impelled by their depravity to such madness as this. A little time ago they had manifested a wonderful zeal for God’s service, by abundantly contributing what was required; the glory of the tabernacle was presented to their eyes to restrain them; and yet they burst through all these barriers, and rush impetuously after their own lust, when scarcely six months had passed since the promulgation of the Law. The verb שחת shicheth, being in the Pihel conjugation, is active; and yet is employed without being intensive; I have, therefore, rendered it, corrupted themselves, though it might be appropriately taken passively, viz., that the people had been corrupted.

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