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Bible Commentaries

Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary

Exodus 32

Verses 1-6

EXODUS - CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

Verses 1-6:

The people saw Moses ascend into the cloud which enveloped Mount Sinai (Ex 24:17). Days went by, and there was no sign of him. They did not know what had happened to their leader. He might have been slain on the mountain. They grew impatient with waiting. They wanted to be on their way, but they wanted a visible token of divine leadership to go before them.

Moses had instructed that in his absence, the people were to consult with Aaron regarding any emergency (Ex 24:14). No mention here is made of Hur, who was co-regent with Aaron.

Israel demanded of Aaron, "Make us gods" (literally, a god). It is likely that they did not intend to forsake Jehovah, but merely to serve Him under a visible symbol.

Aaron instructed that they "break off" parak, rend or remove, the gold earrings of the wives, women, and sons (Ge 35:4), and bring them to him. Some suggest that Aaron secretly hoped they would not part with thier valuable jewelry, and he would not have to do as they asked. There seems to be no basis for this attempt to justify Aaron’s attitude and actions, however.

Aaron remembered the Egyptian god Apis. This god represented the powers of nature, in the form of a bull. The principle seat of Apis worship was in the very region in Egypt where Israel had lived for generations.

Aaron melted the gold, and formed an image. He than used an engraving tool to finish the image, made in the likeness of a calf or bull. He set this calf of gold before the people, and proclaimed, "This is your god (elohim), O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt."

Verse 5 implies that Aaron intended this image to be a symbol of Jehovah. He proclaimed the following day as a festival in honor of this event. But in this festival, the people indulged in the licentious practices of drunkenness and sexual immorality which were common to the worship of pagan gods (1Co 10:7).

Verses 7-14

Verses 7-14:

Moses was unaware of what was taking place in Israel’s camp, until God declared it to him.

"Go, get thee down," lit., "make haste to descend."

"Thy people," a reference to the tender relationship between Moses and Israel.

"Corrupted," shachath. The term occurs also in Ge 6:2; Ho 9:9; Jg 2:19.

"Turned aside quickly." Only a few weeks had elapsed since their solemn pledge of full obedience and loyalty to Jehovah (Ex 19:8; 24:3). This illustrates the weakness of the flesh nature, and man’s tendency to rebel against God.

God announced to Moses His intention to destroy rebellious Israel. He offered to make of Moses a mighty nation to replace them.

"Stiff necked," qusheh oreph, "hard of neck." The term does not denote "obstinate" so much as it does "perverse," as when a horse stiffens his neck against the driver’s reins, to go his own way instead of at the bidding of the driver.

"Let me alone," not a command, but a simple indicative statement. It was like the angel’s command to Jacob, Ge 32:26.

Moses quickly interceded with God on behalf of Israel.

"Besought," chalah panim, "to smooth the face of." This likely alludes to the smoothing away of frowns of displeasure.

Moses’ appeal was threefold:

1. Israel is the people of Jehovah.

2. If Jehovah were to destroy Israel, then Egypt and her false gods would triumph.

3. God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

This appeal reveals a fervent concern for the reputation of Jehovah. If He destroyed Israel, it would bring reproach upon His Name, in the eyes of the heathen. This should be the basis of the Christian’s intercession today.

"The Lord repented." This is the language of accommodation, in which human emotions and characteristics are attributed to Jehovah. "He is not a man, that he should repent" (1Sa 15:29). See also Ex 2:24, 25; 3:7, 8; 31:17.

God heeded Moses’ intercession, and turned from His announced intention to destroy Israel. This illustrates the power of intercessory prayer, see Jas 5:16.

Verses 15-16

Verses 15, 16:

"Turned," panah, "to face, front." Moses faced in the direction of Israel’s camp and started back to interpose in the matter of their idolatry.

"Tables," luach, "tablet, board," see Ex 24:12; 31:18. The size, shape, and composition of these tablets of stone are unknown.

The tablets were written "on both their sides." This was a common method of writing for Assyrian and Babylonian inscriptions, but not for the writing of the Egyptians.

The writing upon these -two tablets was inscribed by God Himself, not by the hand of Moses, see Ex 31:18; De 9:10.

Verses 17-18

Verses 17, 18:

Joshua accompanied Moses part of the way up Mount Sinai, Ex 24:13. It is implied that he waited there for Moses’ return, and was unaware of what was taking place in Israel’s camp. As Moses descended from the mount peak, Joshua rejoined him

Joshua heard loud, unusual noises from the camp. He was unable to see what was going on, and suggested the possibility of a battle. Moses pointed out that the sounds were not those of warfare, either of victor of vanquished. The noises were those of revelry.

"Sing," anah, "to answer, respond." It is not the common term for the making of melody, zamar, but it denotes loud responses which may or may not be melodious.

Verses 19-24

Verses 19-24:

The full extent of Israel’s sin became evident to Moses as he came in full view of the gold calf and the licentious revelry surrounding it.

"The dancing," mecholah; the definite article is not in the Hebrew text. The term in its various forms occurs 13 times in the Old Testament.

Dances were an important part of religious ritual in most all ancient nations. At times they were solemn and grave, like that of David before the Ark, 2Sa 6:5-22. At times they were festive and joyous, as Jer 31:4. But most often, especially among Orientals, they were licentious. Among the Egyptians, dancers were usually a degraded class of professionals, and the dances were depraved and immoral. Among the Syrians, Babylonians, and other Orientals, dancing took the form of wild orgies, and often produced extreme frenzy. This reminds one of the frenetic gyrations of modern "rock" groups and their devotees of modern times. Such exhibitions are invariably accompanied by drug and alcohol abuse, and unrestrained immorality.

The text implies that Israel’s dancing about the statue of Apis was of the latter kind: wild, licentious, degrading to Jehovah and those who wore His Name.

Moses was infuriated. He threw the two tablets of stone violently to the ground, and they shattered. God did not reprove him for this. It appears to be the natural result of a righteous wrath, provoked by Israel’s extreme wickedness. This illustrates that there is an appropriate occasion for anger, see Eph 4:16. God’s child is to feel anger toward those things which anger God.

Verse 20 implies something about the construction of the gold calf: that it was made of a framework of wood, overlaid with gold Moses "burnt" the calf; gold does not burn, but wood does. Then Moses ground the gold to powder, mixed it with water from the brook flowing from Sinai, and commanded Israel to drink it. This shows that each one must bear the fruit of his sin, just as the Law provided for the woman charged with adultery to drink of the ashes of the writing of her curse, see Nu 5:24.

Moses demanded an accounting of Aaron. He was left in charge; how could he have been so dilatory in his duty as to allow such a thing to be done! Aaron’s dereliction placed Israel in grave jeopardy, see Jas 3:1; Lu 12:48.

Aaron sought to excuse his guilt, by shifting the blame to the people. They demanded an idol; he merely gave them what they asked.

Aaron further sought to evade personal responsibility by implying a supernatural manifestation: he gathered the gold from the people, cast it into the fire, and much to his surprise, out came the gold calf! No mold, no engraving tool, no design; just a miraculous idol!

This illustrates the foolish extent people will go to in order to excuse their personal responsibility for their actions.

Verses 25-29

Verses 25:29:

Moses’ presence once more within Israel’s camp, his rage, and his destruction of the golden calf did not completely stop the orgy.

"Naked,’ para "exposed, free from clothing." This is not the same term in Ge 2:25; 3:7 translated "naked." In the present text, the sense of the AV is accurate. Worshipers before the golden calf were nude.

"Enemies" likely refers to the Amalekites, some of whom remained in the area, and who witnessed the orgy and their indecent exposure.

Aaron’s sin in making the golden calf led to the immorality of the people. This shows that one’s deeds are the result of one’s doctrines.

"The gate," shaar. This was not a gate in the sense of an opening in a wall or a fence. It was likely the camp’s main entrance, which lay toward the east, before the entrance to the Tabernacle.

Moses’ cry rallied to him those of his own kinsmen. His instructions: to arm themselves with swords, and execute swift judgment upon those who persisted in idolatrous worship. Even the near of kin were not exempt from the sentence of death. The text implies that many of the Levites themselves were involved in the orgy, and were among the 3,000 slain that day. This was not a capricious act of pique, but a solemn execution of Divine judgment upon an unrepentant people.

When Moses gave the Levi executioners their instructions, he told them that their zeal would be a consecration, and would assure God’s blessings for them. Nu 3:6-13 implies that this was one factor in God’s choice of the Levites for the priesthood and the tabernacle ministry.

Verses 30-35

Verses 30-35:

The text implies that the day was almost over when judgment was fully executed. The slain must be buried, the wounded treated, before Moses could return to Sinai to confer with Jehovah.

Moses assembled the people, and reminded them of their "great sin." He then promised to intercede for them.

"Peradventure," ulai, "if so be, it may be."

"Make an atonement," kaphar "to cover." The text implies doubt that Moses would be able to make a covering for the people’s sin in making and worshipping the golden calf.

"Gods of gold" is literally "a god of gold," since there was only one golden calf.

Moses’ intercessory prayer for Israel is a masterpiece. He was willing that his own name be blotted from God’s book, both in this life and in the life to come, if this would mean forgiveness for Israel. This is similar to Paul’s plea for this nation, Ro 9:1-3.

"Thy book" appears to be more than just the list of those who are alive. The text implies that Moses was not merely asking God to slay him instead of Israel. This "book" is God’s register of those who have life with Him beyond this life.

God does not judge one man for the sin of another, Eze 18:20; Ps 49:7, 8. Each must bear his own guilt.

Jehovah renewed His promise that Moses would lead Israel to the Land of Promise. His "Angel" (messenger) would go before them.

The text gives no details of the promised visitation, verse 34. Some expositors suggest this refers to the Divine sentence that none of those who had left Egypt would be allowed to enter the Land, Nu 14:35.

"Plagued," nagaph, "to smite." Further details of this smithing are not given.

"Make an atonement," kaphar "to cover." The text implies doubt that Moses would be able to make a covering for the people’s sin in making and worshipping the golden calf.

"Gods of gold" is literally "a god of gold," since there was only one golden calf.

Moses’ intercessory prayer for Israel is a masterpiece. He was willing that his own name be blotted from God’s book, both in this life and in the life to come, if this would mean forgiveness for Israel. This is similar to Paul’s plea for this nation, Ro 9:1-3.

"Thy book" appears to be more than just the list of those who are alive. The text implies that Moses was not merely asking God to slay him instead of Israel. This "book" is God’s register of those who have life with Him beyond this life.

God does not judge one man for the sin of another, Eze 18:20; Ps 49:7, 8. Each must bear his own guilt.

Jehovah renewed His promise that Moses would lead Israel to the Land of Promise. His "Angel" (messenger) would go before them.

The text gives no details of the promised visitation, verse 34. Some expositors suggest this refers to the Divine sentence that none of those who had left Egypt would be allowed to enter the Land, Nu 14:35.

"Plagued," nagaph, "to smite." Further details of this smithing are not given.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Blessed Hope Foundation and the Baptist Training Center.
Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Exodus 32". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/exodus-32.html. 1985.