Exodus 32

CHAPTER XXXII

The Israelites, finding that Moses delayed his return, desire

Aaron to make them gods to go before them, 1.

Aaron consents, and requires their ornaments, 2.

They deliver them to him, and he makes a molten calf, 3, 4.

He builds an altar before it, 5;

and the people offer burnt-offerings and peace-offerings, 6.

The Lord commands Moses to go down, telling him that the people

had corrupted themselves, 7, 8.

The Lord is angry, and threatens to destroy them, 9, 10.

Moses intercedes for them, 11-13;

and the Lord promises to spare them, 14.

Moses goes down with the tables in his hands, 15, 16.

Joshua, hearing the noise they made at their festival, makes

some remarks on it, 17, 18.

Moses, coming to the camp, and seeing their idolatrous worship,

is greatly distressed, throws down and breaks the two tables, 19.

Takes the calf, reduces it to powder, strews it upon the water,

and causes them to drink it, 20.

Moses expostulates with Aaron, 21.

Aaron vindicates himself, 22-24.

Moses orders the Levites to slay the transgressors, 25-27.

They do so, and 3000 fall, 28, 29.

Moses returns to the Lord on the mount, and makes supplication

for the people, 30-32.

God threatens and yet spares, 33.

Commands Moses to lead the people, and promises him the direction

of an angel, 34.

The people are plagued because of their sin, 35.

NOTES ON CHAP. XXXII

Verse 1. When the people saw that Moses delayed] How long this

was before the expiration of the forty days, we cannot tell; but

it certainly must have been some considerable time, as the

ornaments must be collected, and the calf or ox, after having been

founded, must require a considerable time to fashion it with the

graving tool; and certainly not more than two or three persons

could work on it at once. This work therefore, must have required

several days.

The people gathered themselves together] They came in a

tumultuous and seditious manner, insisting on having an object of

religious worship made for them, as they intended under its

direction to return to Egypt. See Ac 7:39, 40.

As for this Moses, the man that brought us up] This seems to be

the language of great contempt, and by it we may see tho truth of

the character given them by Aaron, Ex 32:22,

they were set on mischief. It is likely they might have

supposed that Moses had perished in the fire, which they saw had

invested the top of the mountain into which he went.

Verse 2. Golden ear-rings] Both men and women wore these

ornaments, and we may suppose that these were a part of the spoils

which they brought out of Egypt. How strange, that the very

things which were granted them by an especial influence and

providence of God, should be now abused to the basest idolatrous

purposes! But it is frequently the case that the gifts of God

become desecrated by being employed in the service of sin; I will

curse your blessings, saith the Lord, Mal 2:2.

Verse 3. And all the people brake off the golden ear-rings] The

human being is naturally fond of dress, though this has been

improperly attributed to the female sex alone, and those are most

fond of it who have the shallowest capacities; but on this

occasion the bent of the people to idolatry was greater than even

their love of dress, so that they readily stripped themselves of

their ornaments in order to get a molten god. They made some

compensation for this afterwards; see Ex 35:22, and

See Clarke on Ex 38:9.

Verse 4. Fashioned it with a graving tool] There has been much

controversy about the meaning of the word cheret in the text:

some make it a mould, others a garment, cloth, or apron; some a

purse or bag, and others a graver. It is likely that some

mould was made on this occasion, that the gold when fused was cast

into it, and that afterwards it was brought into form and symmetry

by the action of the chisel and graver.

These be thy gods, O Israel] The whole of this is a most

strange and unaccountable transaction. Was it possible that the

people could have so soon lost sight of the wonderful

manifestations of God upon the mount? Was it possible that Aaron

could have imagined that he could make any god that could help

them? And yet it does not appear that he ever remonstrated with

the people! Possibly he only intended to make them some symbolical

representation of the Divine power and energy, that might be as

evident to them as the pillar of cloud and fire had been, and to

which God might attach an always present energy and influence; or

in requiring them to sacrifice their ornaments, he might have

supposed they would have desisted from urging their request: but

all this is mere conjecture, with very little probability to

support it. It must however be granted that Aaron does not appear

to have even designed a worship that should supersede the worship

of the Most High; hence we find him making proclamation, To-morrow

is a feast to the LORD, (;) and we find farther that some of

the proper rites of the true worship were observed on this

occasion, for they brought burnt-offerings and peace-offerings,

Ex 32:6,7: hence it is evident he intended that the true God

should be the object of their worship, though he permitted and

even encouraged them to offer this worship through an idolatrous

medium, the molten calf. It has been supposed that this was an

exact resemblance of the famous Egyptian god Apis who was

worshipped under the form of an ox, which worship the Israelites

no doubt saw often practised in Egypt. Some however think that

this worship of Apis was not then established; but we have already

had sufficient proof that different animals were sacred among the

Egyptians, nor have we any account of any worship in Egypt earlier

than that offered to Apis, under the figure of an OX.

Verse 5. To-morrow is a feast to the Lord] In Bengal the

officiating Brahmin, or an appointed person proclaims, "To-morrow,

or on -- day of -- , such a ceremony will be performed!"

Verse 6. The people sat down to eat and to drink] The

burnt-offerings were wholly consumed; the peace-offerings, when

the blood bad been poured out, became the food of the priests, &c.

When therefore the strictly religious part of these ceremonies was

finished, the people sat down to eat of the peace-offerings, and

this they did merely as the idolaters, eating and drinking to

excess. And it appears they went much farther, for it is said

they rose up to play, letsachek, a word of ominous import,

which seems to imply here fornicating and adulterous intercourse;

and in some countries the verb to play is still used precisely in

this sense. In this sense the original is evidently used,

Ge 39:14.

Verse 7. Thy people-have corrupted themselves] They had not only

got into the spirit of idolatry, but they had become abominable in

their conduct, so that God disowns them to be his: THY people have

broken the covenant, and are no longer entitled to my protection

and love.

This is one pretence that the Roman Catholics have for the

idolatry in their image worship. Their high priest, the pope,

collects the ornaments of the people, and makes an image, a

crucifix, a madonna, &c. The people worship it; but the pope says

it is only to keep God in remembrance. But of the whole God says,

Thy people have corrupted themselves; and thus as they continue in

their idolatry, they have forfeited the blessings of the Lord's

covenant. They are not God's people, they are the pope's people,

and he is called "our holy father the pope."

Verse 9. A stiff-necked people] Probably an allusion to the

stiff-necked ox, the object of their worship.

Verse 10. Now therefore let me alone] Moses had already begun

to plead with God in the behalf of this rebellious and ungrateful

people; and so powerful was his intercession that even the

Omnipotent represents himself as incapable of doing any thing in

the way of judgment, unless his creature desisted from praying for

mercy! See an instance of the prevalence of fervent intercession

in the case of Abraham, Ge 18:23-33, from the model of which the

intercession of Moses seems to have been formed.

Verse 14. And the Lord repented of the evil] This is spoken

merely after the manner of men who, having formed a purpose,

permit themselves to be diverted from it by strong and forcible

reasons, and so change their minds relative to their former

intentions.

Verse 15. The tables were written on both their sides] If we

take this literally, it was certainly a very unusual thing; for in

ancient times the two sides of the same substance were never

written over. However, some rabbins suppose that by the writing

on both sides is meant the letters were cut through the tables, so

that they might be read on both sides, though on one side they

would appear reversed. Supposing this to be correct, if the

letters were the same with those called Hebrew now in common use,

the samech, which occurs twice, and the final mem which

occurs twenty-three times in the ten commandments, both of these

being close letters, could not be cut through on both sides

without falling out, unless, as some of the Jews have imagined,

they were held in by miracle; but if this ancient character were

the same with the Samaritan, this through cutting might have been

quite practicable, as there is not one close letter in the whole

Samaritan alphabet. On this transaction there are the three

following opinions: 1. We may conceive the tables of stone to have

been thin slabs or a kind of slate, and the writing on the back

side to have been a continuation of that on the front, the first

not being sufficient to contain the whole. 2. Or the writing on

the back side was probably the precepts that accompanied the ten

commandments; the latter were written by the Lord, the former by

Moses; See Clarke on Ex 34:1; and "Ex 34:27".

3. Or the same words were written on both sides, so that when held

up, two parties might read at the same time.

Verse 16. The tables were the work of God] Because such a law

could proceed from none but himself; God alone is the fountain and

author of LAW, of what is right, just, holy, and good. See the

meaning of the word LAW, Ex 12:49.

See Clarke on Ex 12:49.

The writing was the writing of God] For as he is the sole

author of law and justice, so he alone can write them on the heart

of man. This is agreeable to the spirit of the new covenant which

God had promised to make with men in the latter days: I will make

a new covenant with the house of Israel-I will PUT MY LAWS IN

THEIR MINDS, AND WRITE THEM IN THEIR HEARTS, Jer 31:33; Heb 8:10;

2Co 3:3. That the writing of these tables was the

writing of God, see proved at the conclusion of the last

chapter.

Verse 17. Joshua-said-There is a noise of war in the camp.]

How natural was this thought to the mind of a military man!

Hearing a confused noise he supposed that the Israelitish camp had

been attacked by some of the neighbouring tribes.

Verse 18. And he said] That is, Moses returned this answer to

the observations of Joshua.

Verse 19. He saw the calf, and the dancing] Dancing before the

idol takes place in almost every Hindoo idolatrous feast.-Ward.

He cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them] He might

have done this through distress and anguish of spirit, on

beholding their abominable idolatry and dissolute conduct; or he

probably did it emblematically, intimating thereby that, as by

this act of his the tables were broken in pieces, on which the law

of God was written; so they, by their present conduct, had made a

breach in the covenant, and broken the laws of their Maker. But

we must not excuse this act; it was rash and irreverent; God's

writing should not have been treated in this way.

Verse 20. He took the calf-and burnt-and ground it to powder,

&c.] How truly contemptible must the object of their idolatry

appear when they were obliged to drink their god, reduced to

powder and strewed on the water! "But," says an objector, "how

could gold, the most ductile of all metals, and the most

ponderous, be stamped into dust and strewed on water?"

In De 9:21, this matter is fully explained.

I took, says Moses, your sin, the calf which ye had made, and

burnt it with fire, that is, melted it down, probably into ingots,

or gross plates, and stamped it, that is, beat into thin laminae,

something like our gold leaf, and ground it very small, even until

it was as small as dust, which might be very easily done by the

action of the hands, when beat into thin plates or leaves,

as the original words eccoth and dak imply. And I

cast the dust thereof into the brook, and being thus lighter than

the water, it would readily float, so that they could easily see,

in this reduced and useless state, the idol to which they had been

lately offering Divine honours, and from which they were vainly

expecting protection and defense. No mode of argumentation

could have served so forcibly to demonstrate the folly of their

conduct, as this method pursued by Moses.

Verse 21. What did this people unto thee.] It seems if Aaron

had been firm, this evil might have been prevented.

Verse 22. Thou knowest the people] He excuses himself by the

wicked and seditious spirit of the people, intimating that he

was obliged to accede to their desires.

Verse 24. I cast it into the fire and there came out this calf.]

What a silly and ridiculous subterfuge! He seems to insinuate

that he only threw the metal into the fire, and that the calf came

unexpectedly out by mere accident. The Targum of Jonathan ben

Uzziel makes a similar excuse for him: "And I said unto them,

Whosoever hath gold, let him break it off and give it to me; and I

cast it into the fire, and Satan entered into it, and it came out

in the form of this calf!" Just like the popish legend of the

falling of the shrine of our Lady of Loretta out of heaven!

These legends come from the same quarter. Satan can provide more

when necessary for his purpose.

Verse 25. Moses saw that the people were naked] They were

stripped, says the Targum, of the holy crown that was upon their

heads, on which the great and precious name [Ancient Hebrew]

JEHOVAH was engraved. But it is more likely that the word

parua implies that they were reduced to the most helpless and

wretched state, being abandoned by God in the midst of their

enemies. This is exactly similar to that expression, 2Ch 28:19:

For the Lord brought Judah low, because of Ahaz king of Israel:

for he made Judah NAKED, hiphria, and transgressed sore

against the Lord. Their nakedness, therefore, though in the first

sense it may imply that several of them were despoiled of their

ornaments, yet it may also express their defenceless and abandoned

state, in consequence of their sin. That they could not literally

have all been despoiled of their ornaments, appears evident from

their offerings. See Ex 35:21, &c.

Verse 26. Who is on the Lord's side?] That is, Who among you is

free from this transgression?

And all the sons of Levi, &c.] It seems they had no part in

this idolatrous business.

Verse 27. From gate to gate] It is probable that there was an

enclosed or intrenched camp, in which the chief rulers and heads

of the people were, and that this camp had two gates or outlets;

and the Levites were commanded to pass from one to the other,

slaying as many of the transgressors as they could find.

Verse 28. There fell about three thousand men.] These were no

doubt the chief transgressors; having broken the covenant by

having other gods besides Jehovah, they lost the Divine

protection, and then the justice of God laid hold on and slew

them. Moses doubtless had positive orders from God for this act

of justice, (see Ex 32:27;) for though, through his intercession,

the people were spared so as not to be exterminated as a nation,

yet the principal transgressors, those who were set on mischief,

Ex 32:22, were to be put to death.

Verse 29. For Moses had said, Consecrate yourselves] Fill your

hands to the Lord. See the reason of this form of speech in

Clarke's note on "Ex 29:19".

Verse 31. Moses returned unto the Lord] Before he went down

from the mountain God had acquainted him with the general

defection of the people, whereupon he immediately, without knowing

the extent of their crime, began to make intercession for them;

and God, having given him a general assurance that they should not

be cut off, hastened him to go down, and bring them off from their

idolatry. Having descended, he finds matters much worse than he

expected, and ordered three thousand of the principal delinquents

to be slain; but knowing that an evil so extensive must be highly

provoking in the sight of the just and holy God, he finds it

highly expedient that an atonement be made for the sin: for

although he had the promise of God that as a nation they should

not be exterminated, yet he had reason to believe that Divine

justice must continue to contend with them, and prevent them from

ever entering the promised land. That he was apprehensive that

this would be the case, we may see plainly from the following

verse.

Verse 32. Forgive their sin---; and if not, blot me--- out of

thy book] It is probable that one part of Moses' work during the

forty days of his residence on the mount with God, was his

regulating the muster-roll of all the tribes and families of

Israel, in reference to the parts they were respectively to act in

the different transactions in the wilderness, promised land, &c.;

and this, being done under the immediate direction of God, is

termed God's book which he had written, (such muster-rolls, or

registers, called also genealogies, the Jews have had from the

remotest period of their history;) and it is probable that God had

told him, that those who should break the covenant which he had

then made with them should be blotted out of that list, and never

enter into the promised land. All this Moses appears to have

particularly in view, and, without entering into any detail,

immediately comes to the point which he knew was fixed when this

list or muster-roll was made, namely, that those who should

break the covenant should be blotted out, and never have any

inheritance in the promised land: therefore he says, This people

have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold; thus

they had broken the covenant, (see the first and second

commandments,) and by this had forfeited their right to Canaan.

Yet now, he adds, if thou wilt forgive their sin, that they may

yet attain the promised inheritance---; and if not, blot me, I

pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written-if thou wilt

blot out their names from this register, and never suffer them to

enter Canaan, blot me out also; for I cannot bear the thought of

enjoying that blessedness, while my people and their posterity

shall be for ever excluded. And God, in kindness to Moses, spared

him the mortification of going into Canaan without taking the

people with him. They had forfeited their lives, and were

sentenced to die in the wilderness; and Moses' prayer was answered

in mercy to him, while the people suffered under the hand of

justice. But the promise of God did not fail; for, although those

who sinned were blotted out of the book, yet their posterity

enjoyed the inheritance.

This seems to be the simple and pure light in which this place

should be viewed; and in this sense St. Paul is to be understood,

Ro 9:3, where he says:

For I could wish that myself were ACCURSED from Christ for my

brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh; who are ISRAELITES,

to whom pertaineth the ADOPTION, and the GLORY, and the

COVENANTS. Moses could not survive the destruction of his people

by the neighbouring nations, nor their exclusion from the promised

land; and St. Paul, seeing the Jews about to be cut off by the

Roman sword for their rejection of the Gospel, was willing to be

deprived of every earthly blessing, and even to become a sacrifice

for them, if this might contribute to the preservation and

salvation of the Jewish state. Both those eminent men, engaged in

the same work, influenced by a spirit of unparalleled patriotism,

were willing to forfeit every blessing of a secular kind, even die

for the welfare of the people. But certainly, neither of them

could wish to go to eternal perdition, to save their countrymen

from being cut off, the one by the sword of the Philistines, the

other by that of the Romans. Even the supposition is monstrous.

On this mode of interpretation we may at once see what is

implied in the book of life, and being written in or blotted out

of such a book. In the public registers, all that were born of a

particular tribe were entered in the list of their respective

families under that tribe. This was the book of life; but when

any of those died, his name might be considered as blotted out

from this list. Our baptismal registers, which record the births

of all the inhabitants of a particular parish or district, and

which are properly our books of life; and our bills of mortality,

which are properly our books of death, or the lists of those who

are thus blotted out from our baptismal registers or books of

life; are very significant and illustrative remains of the ancient

registers, or books of life and death among the Jews, the

Greeks, the Romans, and most ancient nations. It is worthy of

remark, that in China the names of the persons who have been tried

on criminal processes are written in two distinct books, which are

called the book of life and the book of death: those who have been

acquitted, or who have not been capitally convicted, are written

in the former; those who have been found guilty, in the latter.

These two books are presented to the emperor by his ministers,

who, as sovereign, has a right to erase any name from either: to

place the living among the dead, that he may die; or the dead,

that is, the person condemned to death, among the living, that he

may be preserved. Thus he blots out of the book of life or the

book of death according to his sovereign pleasure, on the

representation of his ministers, or the intercession of friends,

&c. An ancient and extremely rich picture, in my own possession,

representing this circumstance, painted in China, was thus

interpreted to me by a native Chinese.

Verse 33. Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out]

As if the Divine Being had said: "All my conduct is regulated by

infinite justice and righteousness: in no case shall the innocent

ever suffer for the guilty. That no man may transgress through

ignorance, I have given you my law, and thus published my

covenant; the people themselves have acknowledged its justice and

equity, and have voluntarily ratified it. He then that sins

against me, (for sin is the transgression of the law, 1Jo 3:4,

and the law must be published and known that it may be binding,)

him will I blot out of my book." And is it not remarkable that to

these conditions of the covenant God strictly adhered, so that not

one soul of these transgressors ever entered into the promised

rest! Here was justice. And yet, though they deserved death,

they were spared! Here was mercy. Thus, as far as justice would

permit, mercy extended; and as far as mercy would permit, justice

proceeded. Behold, O reader, the GOODNESS and SEVERITY of GOD!

MERCY saves all that JUSTICE can spare; and JUSTICE destroys all

that MERCY should not save.

Verse 34. Lead the people unto the place] The word place is not

in the text, and is with great propriety omitted. For Moses never

led this people into that place, they all died in the wilderness

except Joshua and Caleb; but Moses led them towards the place, and

thus the particle el here should be understood, unless we

suppose that God designed to lead them to the borders of the land,

but not to take them into it.

I will visit their sin] I will not destroy them, but they shall

not enter into the promised land. They shall wander in the

wilderness till the present generation become extinct.

Verse 35. The Lord plagued the people] Every time they

transgressed afterwards Divine justice seems to have remembered

this transgression against them. The Jews have a metaphorical

saying, apparently founded on this text: "No affliction has ever

happened to Israel in which there was not some particle of the

dust of the golden calf."

1. THE attentive reader has seen enough in this chapter to

induce him to exclaim, How soon a clear sky may be overcast! How

soon may the brightest prospects be obscured! Israel had just

ratified its covenant with Jehovah, and had received the most

encouraging and unequivocal pledges of his protection and love.

But they sinned, and provoked the Lord to depart from them, and to

destroy the work of his hands. A little more faith, patience, and

perseverance, and they should have been safely brought into the

promised land. For want of a little more dependence upon God, how

often does an excellent beginning come to an unhappy conclusion!

Many who were just on the borders of the promised land, and about

to cross Jordan, have, through an act of unfaithfulness, been

turned back to wander many a dreary year in the wilderness.

Reader, be on thy guard. Trust in Christ, and watch unto prayer.

2. Many people have been greatly distressed on losing their

baptismal register, and have been reduced in consequence to

great political inconvenience. But still they had their lives,

and should a living man complain? But a man may so sin as to

provoke God to cut him off; or, like a fruitless tree, be cut

down, because he encumbers the ground. Or he may have sinned a

sin unto death, 1Jo 5:16,17, that is, a sin which God will

punish with temporal death, while he extends mercy to the soul.

3. With respect to the blotting out of God's book, on which

there has been so much controversy, Is it not evident that a soul

could not be blotted out of a book in which it had never been

written? And is it not farther evident from Ex 32:32, 33, that,

although a man be written in God's book, if he sins he may be

blotted out? Let him that readeth understand; and let him that

standeth take heed lest he fall. Reader, be not high-minded, but

fear. See Clarke on Ex 32:32, and "Ex 32:33".

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