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Bible Commentaries

Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible

Exodus 32

Verses 1-35

The Idolatry of the People

1-6. The historical narrative is here resumed from Exodus 24:18. Becoming impatient at the prolonged absence of Moses on the mount (forty days, Exodus 24:18), and despairing of his return, the people prevail upon Aaron to make a god to go before them. From the earrings of the men and women he accordingly makes a golden bull, to which divine honours are paid.

1. Unto Aaron] Aaron and Hur had been left in charge by Moses; see Exodus 24:14. Make us gods] RM ’a god.’ The Hebrew word for God has a plural form. In making this demand it is doubtful whether the people intended to abandon the worship of Jehovah altogether, or wished simply to have a visible representation of Him, in other words, whether their sin was a breach of the first commandment of the Decalogue or the second. The words of Aaron in Exodus 32:4-5 seem to indicate that he at least regarded the golden bull as an image of the true God; but in Exodus 32:8 the people are charged with deserting Jehovah for another god. The one sin naturally leads to the other. The worship of God by means of images degrades God, and the image gradually usurps His place in the mind of the worshipper. See on Exodus 15:11; Exodus 20:3, Exodus 20:4.

2. Earrings] RV ’rings.’ Taken by itself the word may mean either earrings or nose-rings. Here the former are expressly intended, but in Exodus 35:22 both may be included. Among Eastern peoples earrings were formerly worn both by men and women (’your sons’ here; cp. Judges 8:24), not only as ornaments but as amulets or charms. In modern times men have discontinued the use of earrings, and nose-rings are worn only by the Bedouin women.

4 After he had made it] read with RV, ’and made it.’ The calf was really a bullock. It is usually supposed that the symbol was derived from the worship of the Egyptians. But it was a living bull, not an image, that was worshipped in Egypt. More probably, therefore, the symbol was connected with the worship of the Chaldeans and Assyrians, of which some traces may have survived among the descendants of Abraham. A common image with the Assyrians is that of a bull with wings and a human head, emblematic of strength and wisdom. See on the cherubim, Exodus 25:18, also 1 Kings 12:28.

5. A feast to the Lord] i.e. to Jehovah. See on Exodus 32:1. Feasting was a common accompaniment of sacrifice; see on Exodus 24:9-11. On the nature of the play in this case see Exodus 32:18-19, Exodus 32:25, where we learn that it included singing and dancing. Cp. Exodus 15:20-21; Judges 21:19-21; 2 Samuel 6:12-14; 1 Kings 18:26 mg; Isaiah 30:29.

7-14. God tells Moses of the sin of the people and of His purpose to destroy them. At the intercession of Moses they are spared.

7. Thy people which thou broughtest out] By their own act the people have broken the covenant bond uniting them to Jehovah. In Exodus 32:11 Moses pleads that they are the people of Jehovah.

9. Stiffnecked] This common metaphor is taken from a stubborn ox that refuses to submit to the yoke. Cp. Zechariah 7:11; Hosea 4:16 (RV ’stubborn heifer’), Jeremiah 17:23; Nehemiah 3:5; Psalms 75:5.

10. Cp. the promise made to Abraham in Genesis 12:2. The people having judged themselves unworthy of the promise (cp. Acts 13:46), a fresh start will be made with Moses who will be the founder of a new nation. Cp. Numbers 14:12.

11. In a spirit of noble generosity Moses effaces himself and intercedes with all his soul for the people. See on Exodus 32:31. He does not minimise their sin (cp. Exodus 32:31), but with a holy boldness he pleads (1) that they are God’s own people whom He has redeemed from Egypt (Exodus 32:11, cp. Exodus 33:13), (2) that their destruction will be misunderstood by the Egyptians (Exodus 32:12), and that (3) it will make the promises to Abraham of no effect (Exodus 32:13).

12. See on Deuteronomy 32:27, and refs. there.

13. Israel] This name is employed rather than Jacob because it suggests the ’prince that had power with God and prevailed’: see Genesis 32:28.

15-29. The suppression of the idolatry.

15, 16. See intro. to Exodus 20 and on Exodus 24:12.

17. Joshua] see on Exodus 24:15.

19. And brake them] The people had already broken the law contained in them which was the basis of the covenant.

20. Burnt it] It was probably not solid, but consisted of a wooden core overlaid with gold: cp. Isaiah 40:19-20; Isaiah 44:12-19. The total abolition of the idol is indicated in the threefold treatment of burning it, reducing it to powder, and casting it into the water: cp. Deuteronomy 9:21. This last action was more than a means of dispersing the very atoms of which it was composed. The people were made to drink the water, a grim symbol of retribution, with which may be compared the procedure in connexion with the ’water that causeth a curse’ in Numbers 5:23-24: see also 2 Kings 23:6.

22. Mischief] RV ’evil’: Aaron tries to put the whole responsibility on the people. He pleads that they intimidated him.

24. There came out this calf] as if by accident, a manifestly poor apology. Observe that Aaron’s two pleas of compulsion and accident are in various forms most commonly adduced in palliation of wrongdoing. From Deuteronomy 9:20 we learn that Aaron’s abetting of the people’s sin evoked the severe displeasure of God, and that his life was only spared on the intercession of Moses.

25. Were naked] RV ’were broken loose.’ For the use of the word in the literal sense see e.g. on Numbers 5:18. Here it is most probably used in the metaphorical sense of ’unruly’: cp. 2 Chronicles 28:19. R ead on with RV, ’for Aaron had let them loose for a derision among their enemies,’ i.e. not with the intention, but with the result, that they became a derision. The lapse of professedly religious people is not only sinful, but brings religion itself into disrepute.

26. Who is on the Lord’s side?] The contrast between the characters of Moses and Aaron is strikingly brought out all through this narrative. Aaron appears as timid and compliant; while Moses is rigidly loyal, fearless, ready to stand alone if need be on the Lord’s side, impulsive (Exodus 32:19) and yet wholly unselfish (Exodus 32:32). Observe that it is the sons of Levi, members of the same tribe to which Moses belongs, that come to his call.

29. Consecrate yourselves] lit. ’fill your hands’; see on Exodus 28:41. For upon read with RV ’against.’ The claims of kinship must yield to those of God and duty: cp. Matthew 10:37; Luke 14:26 and Matthew 12:46-50. The zeal of the Levites is rewarded with a blessing, by which doubtless is meant the priesthood: see on Deuteronomy 33:9, and cp. the similar reward of Phinehas, Numbers 25:12.

30-35. Intercession of Moses.

30. Make an atonement] Something more was required than the punishment that had been inflicted on a portion of the people.

32. If thou wilt forgive their sin] This form of sentence is used in Hebrew to express an earnest desire or passionate entreaty, and is equivalent to ’O that thou wouldest’. or ’O if thou wouldest but’. Cp. e.g. Psalms 95:7 RV, ’To-day, O that ye would hear,’ and 1 Chronicles 4:10, ’O that thou wouldest bless me,’ lit. ’If thou wilt bless me.’ If not, blot me.. out of the book] The figure is taken from the registers in which the names of citizens were enrolled: see e.g. Isaiah 4:3; Jeremiah 22:30; Ezekiel 13:9. So God is represented as having a book in which are inscribed the names of those who are to be preserved alive. When He blots out a name that person dies. The Book is therefore a Book of Life: cp. Psalms 69:28; Daniel 12:1; Luke 10:20; Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5; Revelation 13:8; Revelation 20:12; Revelation 22:19. The Jews believe that on New Year’s Day God determines who shall live and who shall die in the course of the year, and that the decision is made final ten days afterwards on the Day of Atonement. Moses’s prayer, therefore, is an expression of his willingness to bear the penalty of the people’s sin. For a similar instance of absolute self-sacrifice cp. St. Paul’s words in Romans 9:3.

33. Whosoever hath sinned] cp. Ezekiel 18:4.

34. Mine Angel] see on Exodus 3:2. The angel here seems to be distinguished from God Himself: see Exodus 33:3. On the other hand, the angel is virtually identified with God, for God’s ’presence’ goes with them (Exodus 33:14). I will visit their sin upon them] Though the people were not at once destroyed they did not escape all the consequences of their sin.

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Bibliographical Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Exodus 32". "Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". 1909.