The Golden Calf. Moses intercedes for his people.
VERSE 1. When the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we don’t know what has become of him.”
Come, make us gods. How quickly abandoned the LORD God!
we don’t know what has become of him. How quickly they abandoned Moses!
VERSE 2. Aaron said to them, “Take off the golden rings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them to me.”
Take off the golden rings. Aaron quickly agrees to create an idol for them.
Back in Egypt, Aaron saw with his own eyes the great signs and wonders done by the LORD God.
Now how could Aaron lead the nation away from that same LORD God into idolatry?
VERSE 3. All the people took off the golden rings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron.
VERSE 4. He received what they handed him, fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made it a molded calf. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt.”
made it a molten calf. The golden calf was a handcrafted work. It did not simply appear. Aaron crafted it.
VERSE 5. When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation, and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.”
he built an altar before it. Aaron makes an altar for the idol he created.
VERSE 6. They rose up early on the next day, and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.
VERSE 7. The LORD spoke to Moses, “Go, get down; for your people, who you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves!
have corrupted themselves. That is,”have become depraved.”
VERSE 8. They have turned away quickly out of the way which I commanded them. They have made themselves a molded calf, and have worshiped it, and have sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt.’ ”
They have turned away quickly. It is amazing how quickly they turned away from the LORD God. And away from Moses.
VERSE 9. The LORD said to Moses, “I have seen these people, and behold, they are a stiff-necked people.
a stiff-necked people. This is the first instance of this phrase. It will appear often in the rest of the Bible.
VERSE 10. Now therefore leave me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them, and that I may consume them; and I will make of you a great nation.”
that I may consume them. The LORD God intends to destroy the nation.
I will make of you a great nation. The promise of the LORD God to Moses is still true. It is independent of whether God destroys the nation.
VERSE 11. Moses begged the LORD his God, and said, “The LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, that you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?
Moses begged the LORD his God. Moses becomes an intercessor. He asks that his nation NOT be destroyed.
VERSE 12. Why should the Egyptians talk, saying, ‘He brought them out for evil, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the surface of the earth?’ Turn from your fierce wrath, and turn away from this evil against your people.
the Egyptians. Moses says this idea is a Public Relations disaster.
If the LORD God destroys the people, the Egyptians will scoff at the LORD God.
VERSE 13. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of the sky, and all this land that I have spoken of I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’ ”
your offspring. Or “seed.”
turned away. The Hebrew word is וַיִּנָּ֖חֶם (“way·yin·nā·ḥem”). It means to be sorry, console oneself.
The verse can be rendered like this: “So The LORD was sorry for the evil which he said he would do to his people.”
evil. The Hebrew word is הָ֣רָעָ֔ה (“hā·rā·‘āh,”). It means bad, evil.
Many translations render it “bad.” But “evil” is also valid, although it makes for a very strange phrase.
We say the LORD God is infinitely good. But this Bible verse says he was going to do evil.
VERSE 15. Moses turned, and went down from the mountain, with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand; tablets that were written on both their sides. They were written on one side and on the other.
VERSE 16. The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.
VERSE 17. When Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is the noise of war in the camp.”
Joshua. This is Joshua son of Nun:
- Joshua is the secretary to Moses
- Joshua will be one of the twelve spies sent into the Promised Land
- Only Joshua and Caleb will bring back a favorable report
- After Moses dies, Joshua will lead the nation into the Promised Land.
heard the noise. Joshua must have been up on the mountain, or at least in close proximity to Moses.
VERSE 18. He said, “It isn’t the voice of those who shout for victory. It is not the voice of those who cry for being overcome; but the noise of those who sing that I hear.”
He said. Joshua son of Nun is still speaking.
VERSE 19. As soon as he came near to the camp, he saw the calf and the dancing. Then Moses’ anger grew hot, and he threw the tablets out of his hands, and broke them beneath the mountain.
VERSE 20. He took the calf which they had made, and burned it with fire, ground it to powder, and scattered it on the water, and made the children of Israel drink it.
burned it with fire. That is, Moses burned the golden statue.
However, the statue was made of gold. Gold does not burn. Rather, if you heat it hot enough, it melts.
VERSE 21. Moses said to Aaron, “What did these people do to you, that you have brought a great sin on them?”
you have brought a great sin on them? Moses confronts Aaron.
Moses statues forthrightly what Aaron had done. He does not downplay it.
VERSE 22. Aaron said, “Don’t let the anger of my lord grow hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil.
VERSE 23. For they said to me, ‘Make us gods, which shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we don’t know what has become of him.’
VERSE 24. I said to them, ‘Whoever has any gold, let them take it off.’ So they gave it to me; and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.”
I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf. It was Aaron who crafted the idol. But when Moses asked him about it, Aaron lied. He blamed everybody else.
People who are guilty often lie. And blame other people.
VERSE 25. When Moses saw that the people were out of control, (for Aaron had let them lose control, causing derision among their enemies),
Aaron had let them lose control. Aaron let them run wild. He did not maintain any semblance of civil order.
VERSE 26. then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, “Whoever is on the LORD’s side, come to me!” All the sons of Levi gathered themselves together to him.
the sons of Levi gathered themselves together to him. The Levites sided with Moses.
Why are they taking this stand?
- Because they are in favor of the LORD?
- Because Moses is from their tribe?
VERSE 27. He said to them, “The LORD, the God of Israel, says, ‘Every man put his sword on his thigh, and go back and forth from gate to gate throughout the camp, and every man kill his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbor.’ ”
every man kill his brother. Moses calls the Levites to do a mass execution.
VERSE 28. The sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. About three thousand men fell of the people that day.
About three thousand men fell. The Levites committed 3,000 summary executions.
VERSE 29. Moses said, “Consecrate yourselves today to the LORD, for every man was against his son and against his brother, that he may give you a blessing today.”
that he may give you a blessing today. Since the Levites did a mass execution, they can expect to be blessed by the LORD God.
VERSE 30. On the next day, Moses said to the people, “You have sinned a great sin. Now I will go up to the LORD. Perhaps I shall make atonement for your sin.”
I shall make atonement for your sin. Now we encounter the notion of “atoning” for sin.
This will stay with us for the rest of the biblical narrative.
VERSE 31. Moses returned to the LORD, and said, “Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made themselves gods of gold.
VERSE 32. Yet now, if you will, forgive their sin—and if not, please blot me out of your book which you have written.”
blot me out of your book which you have written. Moses offered to take the punishment for them. He offered to be the scapegoat. In this, he prefigured Jesus Christ.
Moses is the great role model of interceding on behalf of others. He cared so much for his people that he was willing to loose his eternal destiny in exchange for theirs.
Saint Paul said something very much along these lines:
Romans 9:3. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brothers’ sake, my relatives according to the flesh
VERSE 33. The LORD said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot him out of my book.
VERSE 34. Now go, lead the people to the place of which I have spoken to you. Behold, my angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I punish, I will punish them for their sin.”
The LORD struck the people. The Levites had executed 3,000 people. But that was not enough.
Now the LORD God himself strikes the people.
Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations on this page are from the World English Bible and the World Messianic Edition. These translations have no copyright restrictions. They are in the Public Domain.