Bible Commentaries
Exodus 32

Expositor's Dictionary of TextsExpositor's Dictionary

Verses 1-35

Exodus 32:2

Who would not have been ashamed to hear this answer from the brother of Moses, 'Pluck off your earrings'? He should have said, 'Pluck this idolatrous thought out of your hearts'.

Bishop Hall.

Exodus 32:3

Unless reason be employed in ascertaining what doctrines are revealed, humility cannot be exercised in acquiescing in them; and there is surely at least as much presumption in measuring everything by our own fancies, feelings, and prejudices, as by our own reasonings. Such voluntary humiliation is a prostration, not of ourselves before God, but of one part of ourselves before another part, and resembles the idolatry of the Israelites in the wilderness: 'The people stripped themselves of their golden ornaments, and cast them into the fire, and there came out this calf.

Archbishop Whately, Annotations to Bacon's Essays (i.).

Exodus 32:4

It is the very joy of man's heart to admire, where he can; nothing so lifts him from all his mean imprisonments, were it but for moments, as true admiration. Thus it has been said, 'All men, especially all women, are born worshippers'; and will worship, if it be but possible. Possible to worship a Something, even a small one; not so possible a mere loud-blaring Nothing! What sight is more pathetic than that of poor multitudes of persons met to gaze at Kings' Progresses, Lord Mayors' Shows, and other gilt-gingerbread phenomena of the worshipful sort, in these times; each so eager to worship; each, with a dim fatal sense of disappointment, finding that he cannot lightly here! These be thy gods, O Israel? and thou art so willing to worship poor Israel.

Carlyle in Past and Present.

Exodus 32:5

Writing in 1657 to Lord Craighall, Samuel Rutherford warns him seriously against kneeling before the consecrated elements. 'Neither will your intention help, which is not of the essence of worship; for then, Aaron in saying, "To-morrow shall be a feast for Jehovah,' that is, for the golden calf, should not have been guilty of idolatry; for he intended only to decline the lash of the people's fury, not to honour the calf. Your intention to honour Christ is nothing, seeing that religious kneeling, by God's institution, doth necessarily impart religious and Divine adoration.'

Recreations and Amusements

Exodus 32:6

I. We must have 'play'. Even the children of Israel must. We have great examples in this matter. Our Incarnate Lord and His Apostles had their feasts as well as their fasts; their quiet hours as well as their hours crowded with holy toil.

Such 'play' is greatly needed in our overworked days. Physical labour requires mental amusement, and mental labour demands physical recreation.

The words 'amusement' and 'recreation' are in themselves full of suggestiveness. The idea of the word 'amusement' is 'to draw the mind to' something lighter. 'Recreation' obviously signifies a fresh creation.

Everything, however, depends upon the quality and the quantity of our recreations and amusements.

II. Let me enumerate some good amusements and recreations. Some 'play' that is to be held honourable to all.

Earliest in such a category I would place pure light literature.

Music, at home and in public, is one of the most exalted and delightful of recreations.

Art offers splendid and tranquil amusement and recreation.

What delights modern science opens to the multitude! Nature teems with instructive delights.

I hardly need to remind young men or young women in these times of the athletic pleasures which abound.

A good walk in the city streets will, if we practise an educated observation, be a manifold benefit to us. Charles Kingsley said that a walk along Regent Street was an intellectual tonic. A walk in the country, especially with the ministry of pleasant and profitable conversation, may be a memorable and every way beneficial experience.

The pleasures of travel are happily now by the cooperative plan within reach of large numbers of young people.

Church life affords the best recreation to some. Ever remember the noble words of Dean Church, 'Every real part of our life ought to be part of our Christian life'.

III. Suffer me to warn you against certain evil amusements and recreations.

Shun that class of entertainments which vulgarizes and sullies mind and soul.

It is not wholly superfluous to caution you against exhausting amusements. Whatever impairs your vital energy and lowers your physical tone is a foe to your highest well-being. Nor is it fatuous to enter a caution against such amusements and recreations as disincline you for more serious pursuits. Few, if any, amusements work such injury as do betting and gambling.

The 'play' in which Israel occupied itself and to which my text refers was arrantly unworthy. May this ancient lapse save us from similar lapse. Take heed lest evil 'play' discredit and ruin you.

Christ is the ultimate source of true pleasures. He causes these to abound to the believing soul. Dinsdale T. Young, Messages for Home and Life, p. 47.

Illustration. You have heard the story of the young hunter at Ephesus: returning from the chase with his unstrung bow in his hand he entered the house of the venerable St. John. To his utter astonishment John was playing with a tame dove. He indicated his surprise that the seer should be so frivolously occupied. St. John asked him why he carried his bow unstrung. 'In order that my bow may retain its elasticity,' was his immediate reply. 'Just so,' said St. John; 'and mind and body will not retain their elasticity or usefulness unless they are at times unstrung; prolonged tension destroys their power.'

Dinsdale T. Young, Messages for Home and Life, p. 47.

References. XXXII. 7-14. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlii. No. 2486. XXXII. 10, 31, 32. T. G. Selby, The God of the Patriarchs, p. 185. XXXII. 14. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xli. No. 2398. XXXII. 15-26. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Exodus, etc., p. 177.


Exodus 32:18

I. The pleading supplication, 'I beseech Thee, show me Thy glory,' is the language of the human heart, under the pressure of the deepest desire man can experience. It is the voicing of the ceaseless, agelong yearning on the part of man for tangible, ocular demonstration of God. And the answer given to Moses is an authoritative declaration of the only demonstration of the existence and character of God possible to beings in the finite condition of earth's education.

The only proof of the existence of any primal force is that force in action; the absolute is only known as it is conditioned. God to us, only is as He acts; and so the answer to the universal appeal of humanity is, 'I will make all My goodness pass before thee'.

II. The unwillingness on the part of man to accept this answer of God as final has been the cause of most of the defective apprehension, narrowness, superstition, and second-hand religion which have clipped the wings of Godward growth. He who follows God's clue is he whose eyes are slowly opened. God makes all His goodness to pass before him. He has discovered and acknowledged physical beauty in the universe, and moral beauty in man; he infers logically that there must be a Divine ideal of both physical and moral beauty, of which he has recognized the shadow, and he knows that that Divine ideal must be God.

Moses, the servant of the Lord, affords a striking example, from the ancient world, of a standard thus slowly raised, till his one absorbing need was to see God. He had followed the clue. Symbolisms and limitations had no power to satisfy the instincts of his heart, and his whole soul goes out in the cry, 'I beseech Thee, show me Thy glory'. A picture-lesson of the same process is afforded by our Lord's dealings with His disciples. Slowly He unfolds their aspirations, as the sun unfolds a flower. At, last, one of them, as the spokesman of the rest, bursts out with the cry, 'Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us'. And in each case the answer is the same: to Moses it is, 'I will make all My goodness pass before thee'; to Philip it is, 'Have I been so long time with you, and hast thou not known Me, Philip? He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.'

III. Now, is not this the meaning of the Festival of the Epiphany? The story of that star leading thoughtful Zoroastrians across the wilderness to Bethlehem, is the analogy of the secret drawing of the Infinite Mother-Heart, leading watchful souls through the deserts of materialism, idolatry, imperfect Theism, to the oasis of the Incarnation, the highest philosophical demonstration of the character of God.

Two conditions appear to be suggested by today's Epiphany teaching as pre-requisite for the right apprehension of this full restful revelation of God: the one is aspiration, the other is activity. God is often not known because He is not wanted. At the threshold of every spiritual function there is a want, a restlessness, a desire, a hunger, that the largest promises of the world cannot fill. Prayer, thought, aspiration, will quicken and vitalize that blessed restlessness.

The second condition is activity, usefulness, ministry. A life of selfish vanity, a life of idle indulgence, a life of mean self-concentration, may have a good deal of religion in it, but it cannot see God.

B. Wilberforce, Following on to Know the Lord, p. 57.

Illustration. O, my God, let me see Thee; and if to see Thee is to die, let me die, that I may see Thee.

Prayer of St. Augustine, p. 58.

References. XXXII. 24. J. H. Halsey, The Spirit of Truth, p. 261. XXXII. 26. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, God's Heroes, p. 197. C. Perren, Revival Sermons in Outline, p. 303. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvi. No. 1531; see also vol. 1. No. 2884. XXXII. 31, 32. E. L. Hull, Sermons Preached at King's Lynn (3rd Series), p. 106.

Exodus 32:32

'Not by reading, but by some bitterly painful experience,' said Maurice ( Life, i. p. 171), 'I seem to have been taught that to aim at any good to myself while I contemplate myself apart from the whole body of Christ, is a kind of contradiction.

Let my name be blotted out, and my memory perish, if only France may be free.


Exodus 32:35

Afflictions speak convincingly, and will be heard when preachers cannot. If our dear Lord did not put these thorns under our head, we should sleep out our lives and lose our glory.

Baxter, Saints' Rest, chap. x.

References. XXXIII. W. Gray Elmslie, Expository Lectures and Sermons, p. 295. XXXIII. 7. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vii. No. 359. XXXIII. R. J. Campbell, City Temple Sermons, p. 27. C. Brown, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxix. 1906, p. 273. XXXIII. 12-14. H. Varley, Spiritual Light and Life, p. 97. XXXIII. 12-23. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Exodus, etc., p. 186.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Exodus 32". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. 1910.