Bible Commentaries
Exodus 32

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.

When the people saw that Moses delayed, [ buwsh (H954), to be ashamed or disappointed;-Piel, to shame or disappoint a person waiting (Judges 3:25), and hence, to delay.] They supposed, as some Jewish writers allege, that he had lost his way in the darkness, or perished in the flames of Sinai.

The people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, [ `al (H5921) 'Ahªron (H175)] (cf. Numbers 15:3; Heb. 17:7 , Eng. version, 16:42) - against Aaron in a tumultuous manner, to compel him to do what they wished.

The incidents related in this chapter disclose a state of popular sentiment and feeling among the Israelites that stands in singular contrast to the tone of profound and humble reverence they displayed at the giving of the law. Within a space of little more than thirty days their impressions were dissipated; and although they were still encamped upon ground which they had every reason to regard as holy-although the cloud of glory that capped the summit of Sinai was still before their eyes, affording a visible demonstration of their being in close contact with, or rather in, the immediate presence of God-they acted as if they had entirely forgotten the impressive scenes of which they had been so recently the witnesses. Josephus, from a feeling natural to him as a patriotic Jew, but discreditable to him as a faithful historian, omits this episode as an indelible disgrace to his nation; and the Jews themselves were accustomed to say that never did they suffer any national calamity but there was something of the golden calf in it.

And said unto him, Up, make us gods. The Hebrew word rendered "gods" is simply the name of God in its plural form, which, when applied to the Divine Being, is commonly accompanied with a verb singular, though sometimes (Genesis 20:13; Genesis 35:7; Nehemiah 9:18), as here, with a plural. [Jerome adheres to the idea of plurality; and so also the Septuagint, which has: poieeson heemin theous hoi proporeusontai heemoon.] And the translation might be, 'Make us a god, who shall go before us.' In confirmation of this view, it is to be observed that the image made was single; and therefore it would be imputing to the Israelites a greater sin than they were guilty of to charge them with renouncing the worship of the true God for idols.

The fact is, that they required, like children, to have something to strike their senses-they could not form, or at least they could not retain, the permanent conception of an unseen spiritual deity; and as the cloud of which they had hitherto enjoyed the sight seemed, as well as Moses, to have withdrawn to the summit of the mount, they wished for some visible material object as the symbol of the divine presence, which should go before them as the mystic pillar had done.

For as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him. They admit the immense obligations under which they lay to Moses, and yet such was their fickleness or ingratitude, that they could think as well as speak with cold indifference of the loss of the patriotic leader. They knew that Moses had ascended the mount to commune with God, in compliance with their own urgent solicitation that he would act as their mediator; and on his departure he made arrangements in the governmental department which implied a protracted absence, so that they ought not to have been surprised by his non-appearance. But the want of their leader was a privation painfully felt; and while the eyes of the well-disposed Israelites would be often and anxiously directed toward the mount, in the hope of descrying his well-known form descending the heights, the degraded and disorderly portion of the people, losing all patience, broke out into loud murmurs, which ended in open rebellion.

Verse 2

And Aaron said unto them, Break off the golden earrings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them unto me.

Aaron said unto them, Break off the golden earrings, [ nizmeey (H5141)] - nose rings (Genesis 24:47; Proverbs 11:22; Isaiah 3:21; Ezekiel 16:12), or earrings (Genesis 35:4; Judges 8:24-25; Job 42:11; Hosea 2:15) (other two words for earrings are used, Exodus 35:22; Numbers 31:50). It was not an Egyptian custom for young men to wear earrings; and the circumstance therefore seems to point out 'the mixed rabble,' who were chiefly foreign slaves, as the ringleaders in this insurrection. The word "sons" does not seem to have been in the Hebrew text read by the Septuagint translators, who make mention only of wives and daughters. In giving direction to break off their earrings.

Aaron, who is supposed by some writers (Augustine, 'Quaest.,' 41:, in Exodus; Theodoret, vol. 1:, in Exodus), to have been anxious to discourage the project, probably calculated on gaining time, or perhaps on the people's covetousness and love of finery proving stronger than their idolatrous propensity. But if such were his expectations, they were doomed to signal disappointment; for the people displayed the utmost alacrity in devoting those ornaments which they had received, through the special and most seasonable bounty of God, to the construction of the impatiently desiderated idol. Better far would it have been for Aaron to have calmly and earnestly remonstrated with them, or to have preferred duty to expediency, leaving the issue in the hands of Providence, than, through exhausted faith and timidity, to have yielded so facile and unworthy a compliance with the demands of a perverse rabble.

Verse 3

And all the people brake off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them unto Aaron.

All the people brake off the golden earrings. The Egyptian rings, as seen on the monuments, were round massy plates of metal; and as it was rings of this sort the Israelites wore, being among the gifts heaped upon them at departure (Exodus 12:35: cf. Exodus 3:22; Exodus 11:2), their size and number must, in the general collection, have produced a large store of the precious material.

Verse 4

And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.

he ... fashioned it with a graving tool, [ wayaatsar (H3335) 'otow (H853) bachereT (H2747)]. Bochart ('Hierozoicon,' part 1, lib. 2:, ch. 34:) takes the verb here to signify bound or tied up [from tsuwr (H6696), to straiten, to press; and bachereT (H2747), to denote, in a bag. In this sense both words are used 2 Kings 5:23 ]; and the act of Aaron would be much the same as that which was long afterward done by Gideon, when the earrings contributed at his request were thrown into a garment spread on the ground (Judges 8:25).

But the interpretation adopted by the Septuagint [kai eplasen auta en tee grafidi], 'and he formed or moulded them (namely, the earrings) with the graving-tool,' is preferred by most modern scholars, and has been substantially followed by our translators, who, however, are more faithful to the original, in saying "fashioned it" (namely, the mould) with the instrument. The words, are transposed; and to make the meaning intelligible the rendering may be paraphrased thus: 'he framed with a graving tool the image to be made, and made it a molten calf' [ `eegel (H5695) maceekaah (H4541)] - a steer overspread. [The verb naacak (H5258) signifies not only to pour, to melt, to cast or found metals, but also to cover, to overspread; and hence, maceekaah (H4541) signifies, according to Gesenius, 1. a fusion of metal; 2. a covering.]

A modern reader, judging from the implements and the state of art in the present day, will form an erroneous conception of the process followed in the construction of the golden calf, in supposing either that it was a mass of metal sculptured or carved by the tool of the graver, or that molten images were formed of metal, first fused by fire, and then shaped by being poured in its liquid state into a mould. That, however, is a mistake; for the images made by ancient idolaters were first cut as a rude block from a tree by the carpenter (cf. Isaiah 44:9-20), and then, on being fashioned in the figure intended, the wooden frame was overlaid with thin plates either of gold, silver or other metal. Being thus completed, it was called indifferently either a graven or a molten image-`graven' (i:e., carved), in respect to the substructure of wood; and 'molten,' with reference to the external covering of metal.

A knowledge of this mechanical usage will serve to explain some apparent incongruities of language employed by the sacred writers, one of whom, in view of the metallic case, speaks of a founder making a graven image (Judges 17:4); another, of a workman that melteth a graven image (Isaiah 40:19; cf. Isaiah 44:10-12). In both these passages 'overlayeth' and 'overlaid' is the proper rendering (cf. also Nahum 1:14; Habakkuk 2:18-19). [See Rosenmuller's 'Schol.' on Exodus 32:4; Exodus 32:20; Leigh's 'Critica Sacra;' Henderson's 'Isaiah,' and also his 'Minor Prophets;' Parkhurst's 'Heb. Lex.' sub voce naacak (H5258)].

It is not said whether the image was of life size-whether it was of solid gold, or merely a wooden frame laminated with a thin covering of gold. Although a high authority (Westmacott, 'Handbook of Sculpture, Ancient and Modern') has stated that the Hebrews, in the formation of the golden calf, showed themselves familiar 'with the more difficult processes of metallurgy,' the execution of an elaborate statue could scarcely have been completed within the period of Moses' sojourn on the mount, even if the people had entered on the work immediately after his ascent, much less when they did not begin it until his protracted absence had made them despair of his return; and the probability therefore is, that it was only an imperfect and diminutive figure of gilded wood, hastily prepared to meet the urgency of the occasion.

The question has been agitated-What led to the adoption of one particular form? Moncoeus ('Aaron Purgatus') has advanced the theory that Aaron, who accompanied Moses and the 70 elders to the ascent of the mount, and saw the God of Israel (Exodus 24:10-12), beheld him exalted on a cherub, which had the form of an ox. This hypothesis forms, the basis of his elaborate apology for Aaron's conduct; but it is not only at variance with the jealous care which Yahweh uniformly showed to prevent any visible representation being formed of Him; it is contrary to the express declaration of the actual fact, (Deuteronomy 4:15, etc.)

Commentators have, with almost unanimous consent, traced its origin to the influence of Egyptian associations, which, from various Scripture references, appear to have been very powerful (Psalms 106:19-20; Ezekiel 20:4-8; Amos 5:25-26; Acts 7:39-40); and they have supposed-whether Aaron resorted to it proprio motu, or to gratify the expressed wishes of a self-willed and clamorous faction-that it was a designed imitation of a religious ceremonial very popular and attractive in Egypt, and of the existence of which in the Mosaic age there is clear monumental evidence-namely, that of doing homage to the creative power and energy of nature, through the sensuous representation of a three years' old ox.

The selection of the animal was determined by the possession of some special traits described by Herodotus

(b. 3:, ch. 28), such as being the calf of a cow which conceives by lightning from heaven, and is never afterward able to bear young. It must have a square spot of white upon its forehead, and on its back the figure of an eagle; the hairs in its tail double, and the form of a beetle under its tongue (cf. Plutarch, 'De Iside,' sec. 43; Pliny, b. 8:, ch. 46:; Rawlinson, 'Herodotus,' vol. 2:, pp. 65, 423, 424); and on the discovery of a bull distinguished by those rare characteristics great public rejoicings were made; (Wilkinson's 'Ancient Egypt,' first series, vol. 4:, pp. 354-356; Selden, 'De Diis Syris. Syntag.,' 1:, cap. 4:): it was placed in a temple, where priests officiated, oblations were presented to it, and at its death its remains were embalmed. A mausoleum of these mummified animals was recently discovered. Such a bull was believed to embody the soul of Osiris (the sun) (Plutarch,` De Iside,' 20:, 29; Warburton, 'Divine Legation,' b. 4:, ch. 4:; Rawlinson 'Herodotus,' b.

iii., ch. 28:, note 2); and it was of different names as well as hues (variis coloribus-Ovid), being called Apis at Memphis, where the image was black, and Mnevis at Heliopolis, where it was bright or yellow (Wilkinson's 'Ancient Egypt,' second series, vol. 2:, p. 196), which must have been in its youthful form the bull with which the Israelites were familiarly acquainted.

Images of it, in the form of a whole ox or of a calf's head, on the end of a pole, were very common; and it makes a great figure on the monuments, where it is represented in the van of all processions as borne aloft on men's shoulders.

In an ancient Papyrus (described in Wilson's 'Lands of the Bible,' vol. 1:, pp. 96, 97) it appears covered with gilding;' and as there is reason to believe that the golden calf was formed after Egyptian models as a work of art as well as an idol, it may be concluded, from the great improbability of there being a sufficiency of earrings to construct a statue of solid gold, that the calf at Horeb exhibited only an exterior of thin plates of the precious metal, like many of the Egyptian images, which, though popularly described as golden (Deuteronomy 29:17), were, as Wilkinson states, merely gilded.

They said, These be thy gods, O Israel (see the note at Exodus 32:1 as to "gods" in the plural). It is inconceivable that they, who but a few weeks before had witnessed such amazing demonstrations of the true God, could have suddenly sunk to such a pitch of infatuation and brutish stupidity as to imagine that human art or hands could make a god that should go before them. But it must be borne in mind, that though by election and in name they were the people of God, they were as yet, in feelings and associations, in habits and taste, little, if at all different, from Egyptians (Ezekiel 20:6-10). They meant the calf to be an image-a visible sign or symbol of Yahweh, so that their sin consisted not in a breach of the FIRST but of the SECOND commandment.

Verse 5

And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, To morrow is a feast to the LORD.

Aaron ... built an altar before it - `like that which still exists before the nostrils of the sphinx' (Stanley, 'Jewish Church,' p. 150).

Aaron made proclamation ... Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord - not to Apis or to Osiris, as enshrined in his image, but to Yahweh. This is a remarkable circumstance, strongly confirmatory of the view, that they had not renounced the worship of Yahweh, but in accordance with Egyptian notions, had formed an image with which they had been familiar, to be the visible symbol of the divine presence. Such at least seems to have been the view of Aaron, whose language on any other hypothesis is inexplicable. But whatever he meant, the people regarded it as an idol; and hence, they are severely condemned as guilty of a gross sin in every part of Scripture where allusion is made to the golden calf.

Verse 6

And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.

They rose up early on the morrow. Rising early seems to have been a practice specially observed on days when solemn sacrifices were offered (Job 1:5).

Offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings. These, which were commanded to be offered only to God, were presented to the golden calf.

And the people sat down to eat and to drink - as was customary on the presentation of peace offerings (Deuteronomy 12:17: cf. Herodotus, b. 2:, ch. 40:); and thus they showed a desire to enjoy the same communion with this consecrated symbol that Aaron and the 70 elders had with the God of Israel, when they ate and drank in His presence (Exodus 24:11). They were in a state of great and exultant jubilee. There was nothing wrong in the indulgence of joyful feelings, for God Himself encouraged rejoicing after religious solemnities (Deuteronomy 12:7; Psalms 95:1). But there seems to have been at the same time much of the revelry that marked the feasts of the pagan; for it is added that, after they had 'eaten and drunk,' they 'rose up to play.'

Herodotus gives an account (b. 2:, ch. 59:-lxii.) of a solemn feast which the people of Egypt celebrated at the city of Bubastis in honour of the goddess Diana. 'To her (he says) they offer many sacrifices; and while the victim is burning they dance, and play a hundred antics, and drink more wine than in the whole year beside; for there convene there about 700,000 men and women, besides children.' In another feast to the goddess Isis, the same historian relates that they indulged in such impure rites that he shrunk from describing the scene, (cf. Herodotus, b. 5:, ch. 17:)

Verse 7

And the LORD said unto Moses, Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves:

Go, get thee down. Intelligence of the idolatrous scene enacted at the foot of the mount was communicated to Moses in language borrowed from human passions and feelings, and the judgment of a justly offended God pronounced in terms of just indignation against the gross violation of the so recently promulgated laws.

Thy people, which thou broughtest out of ... Egypt. The language is very marked. Thy people, not mine-for their sin had caused a suspension of the covenant (cf. Matthew 23:38).

Verse 8

They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.

They have turned aside quickly, [ caaruw (H5493) maheer (H4118)] - they have turned away to hasten; i:e., they have apostatized quickly (cf. Psalms 106:13, where the verb here rendered 'hastily' is borrowed).

Verse 9

And the LORD said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people:

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 10

Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation.

Now therefore let me alone. Such an expression could not have occurred in the patriarchal age-the time of Theophanies. But there was now a great progress made in the manner as well as the measure of revelation; and although God still made Himself known by symbols, as to the people at large, in a pillar of cloud and fire, He no longer had contact with them, except through Moses, whom He allowed to reason and expostulate with Him, and carried His condescension so far that on this occasion, as if afraid of being over-persuaded, He, as it were, making an effort to shake off an importunate suppliant, cried out, "let me alone,"

That I may consume them, [ 'ªkaleem (H3615)] - eat up, devour them (cf. Exodus 15:7; also Psalms 106:23).

Make of thee a great nation. Care must be taken not to suppose this language as betokening any change or vacillation in the divine purpose. The covenant made with the patriarchs had been ratified in the most solemn manner-it could not, and never was intended that it should be broken. But the manner in which God spoke to Moses served two important purposes-it tended to develop the faith and intercessory patriotism of the Hebrew leader, and to excite the serious alarm of the people, that God would reject them, and deprive them of the privileges they had fondly fancied were so secure.

Verse 11

And Moses besought the LORD his God, and said, LORD, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand?

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 12

Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people.

For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? [ haa'ªdaamaah (H127)]. The ground 'on which they were encamped' is explained in its actual extent by the preceding hemistich, in which it is said to embrace not the base of mount Sinai only, but the numerous wadys among the adjoining mountains which compose the central range, and among which while the headquarters were no doubt at Sinai, Moses and the elders being there, the people were scattered far and wide in the Sinaitic peninsula, as their necessities required (Benisch).

Verse 13

Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 14

And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.

The Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people. God generally works by the instrumentality of means; and in this case the means of averting the wrath of God was the urgent intercessions of Moses, who, as the 'elect'-the leader chosen by Yahweh to accomplish in subserviency to His direction the great work of His people's deliverance and legislation-`stood in the breach before Him, to turn back His wrath from destroying' (Psalms 106:23).

Verse 15

And Moses turned, and went down from the mount, and the two tables of the testimony were in his hand: the tables were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other were they written.

Moses turned, and went down from the mount. The plain Er-Rabeh is not visible from the top of Jebel Musa, nor can the mount be descended on the side toward that valley; hence, Moses and his companion, who on duty had patiently waited his return in the hollow of the mountain's brow, heard the shouting sometime before they actually saw the camp.

The two tables of the testimony were in his hand - (see the note at Exodus 24:12; Exodus 31:18.)

The tables were written on both their sides. The Jewish doctors, who say that it was done with a sapphire from the throne of God (Ainsworth), allege that the Ten commandments were written in such a manner that not one single letter more could have a place there. The material would of course be hard blocks of red granite from the mountain; but the size and form are not described.

Verse 16

And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables.

The tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God. It has been alleged that this phraseology is according to the Hebrew idiom, in which the mountains of God mean high mountains, etc.; and so nothing more is meant by the language used here than to give an idea of the surpassing beauty and finished execution of these written tables. But it is not within the compass of language to declare more explicitly that the engraving was miraculously accomplished. The meaning undoubtedly is, that the law was inscribed on these two tables without the agency of angels or any other creature, by the immediate operation of God.

Verse 17

And when Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said unto Moses, There is a noise of war in the camp.

Joshua. He had remained under the trees on the higher level-the plain whence the last part of the ascent is made, now by stairs hewn in the rocks-to the summit of the mountain. There was shade and food within his reach while he waited for his master's return (Drew's 'Scripture Lands,' pp. 66, 67).

Verse 18

And he said, It is not the voice of them that shout for mastery, neither is it the voice of them that cry for being overcome: but the noise of them that sing do I hear.

It is not the voice of them that shout for mastery, [ gªbuwraah (H1369)] - or victory (cf. Exodus 17:11). 'It is not the shout of victory, nor the wailing of defeat, but the voice of singing I hear.'

Verses 19-24

And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses' anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount.

As soon as he came nigh unto the camp ... he saw the calf, and the dancing. An abrupt turn from the lower platform, where Moses had rejoined Joshua, revealed in a moment, what had taken place (Drew's 'Scripture Lands,' p. 67).

Moses' anger waxed hot. The arrival of the leader, like the appearance of a spectre, arrested the revellers in the midst of their carnival, and his act of righteous indignation, when he dashed on the ground the tables of the law, in token that, as they had so soon departed from their covenant relation, God would withdraw the special privileges that He had promised them-that act, together with the rigorous measures that followed, forms one of the most striking scenes recorded in sacred history.

There is a traditional belief prevalent among the Arabs that the fragments of the broken tables will one day be found; and many a spot around the mountain-precipice has been dug, in the earnest hope that 'the tables which were the work of God, and the writing which was the writing of God,' might be recovered.

Verse 20. He took the calf ... It has been supposed that the gold was dissolved by natron (soda), which is very plentiful in the East, or some chemical substance. But there is no mention of solubility here (or in Deuteronomy 9:21) - it was 'burned in the fire,' to cast it into ingots of suitable size for the operations which follow. 'Stamped' (Deuteronomy 9:21) - i:e., beat into thin laminae, 'grounded to powder.' The powder of malleable metals can be ground so fine as to resemble dust from the wings of a moth or butterfly; and these dust particles will float in water for hours, and in a running stream for days.

These operations of grinding were intended to show contempt for such worthless gods; and the Israelites would be made to remember the humiliating lesson by the state of the water they had drank for a time (Napier, 'Ancient Workers and Artificers in Metal,' pp. 50-52). Others think that as the idolatrous festivals were usually ended with great use of sweet wine, the nauseous draught of the gold dust would be a severe punishment (cf. 2 Kings 23:6; 2 Kings 23:15; 2 Chronicles 15:16; 2 Chronicles 34:7).

Strawed it upon the water - i:e., the brook miraculously produced in Horeb (see the note at Exodus 17:6). 'The idol image was thus quite destroyed as to its form and nature, and the people are required to drink the water with which the powder has been mingled, which, according to the notions of that religion of nature to which they had done homage on this occasion, must have proved the abolition of that very religion, being the greatest offence against it.

The casting of the powder into the water refers, however, likewise most probably to an Egyptian custom (namely, the ceremony of casting the idol into the Nile, Herodotus, b. 2:, ch. 41:), which (if it be true) would confirm in no small degree the importance of the symbolical acts, which thus appropriately completed the process of annihilation directed against the religion of nature' (Havernick, 'Introduction to the Pentateuch,' p. 293: see also Grotius and Ainsworth on Exodus 32:20).

Verse 22. Let not the anger of my lord wax hot. Aaron cuts a poor figure, making a shuffling excuse, and betraying more dread of the anger of Moses than of the Lord (cf. Deuteronomy 9:20). Since the preceding context is in many parts obscure, and the part taken by Aaron in this unhappy affair ill understood, it may be a seasonable and useful service to group the various isolated details, so as to make a harmonious narrative.

Aaron received the earrings of the people; but there is reason to doubt whether the image of the calf was formed by his hands or under his personal direction. The probability rather is, that he handed over the contributions to some skillful and expert artisan, who was entrusted with the manufacture of the contemplated bull; for in Exodus 32:35 the execution is expressly ascribed to workmen, or the people; so that the expression (Exodus 32:24), 'he cast it into the fire,' is equivalent to 'he caused it to be cast into the fire;' and Aaron built an altar on its being shown to him in a completed state-the language evidently conveying an impression that he had not seen it until then, as he must have done, had himself been the artist; and also that it was finished in a much shorter time than he had anticipated, as the words, "there came out this calf," may bear.

On the whole, it appears that Aaron was dragged by the resistless impetuosity of the people into this transaction, which he had vainly endeavoured to prevent or to delay; and that, on finding it impossible to control, the fierce democracy, he had reluctantly yielded, declaring, by the tenor of his proclamation at the last, though constrained to sanction an impure and forbidden mode of worship, it was still Yahweh, and not an idol, to whom homage was paid. This was his error, arising apparently from want of a stedfast and enlightened faith, but not amounting to such an apostasy as involved a violation of the national covenant, being done only by a portion of the people, or such as disqualified him from being made afterward high priest.

Verse 25

And when Moses saw that the people were naked; (for Aaron had made them naked unto their shame among their enemies:)

Naked - either unarmed and defenseless, or ashamed from a sense of guilt; stripped of their greatest ornament, faithfulness to God (2 Chronicles 28:19; Isaiah 47:3; Jeremiah 49:10; Ezekiel 16:36). Some think they were literally naked, as the Egyptians performed some of their rites in that indecent manner; while others suppose that they were mingled in unworthy familiarity with the Amalekites, who, as spectators of the revelry, were enjoying the infamous scene (Spencer, 'De Legibus Hebraeorum,' p. 24). [The Septuagint has: dieskedase gar autous Aaroon epicharma tois hupenantiois autoon, because Aaron scattered them a laughing-stock to their enemies-namely, for disorderly riot. Lªshimtsaah (H8103), "unto their shame" is rendered by Michaelis, Dathe, Gesenius, to rout, or overthrow-the meaning, according to their view, being, 'Aaron made the people naked (exposed), so that they might have been easily attacked and destroyed by their enemies.]

Verses 26-28

Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the LORD's side? let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him.

Moses stood in the gate. The camp is supposed to have been protected by a rampart after the attack of the Amalekites.

Who is on the Lord's side? - i:e., who will support the cause of God against idolatry and idolaters?

Unto me - let him join me, and follow my directions.

And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him. The universal word all is here to be taken, as in many other passsges, with limitations, as denoting the majority, or a very large number, who were inflamed with a holy zeal; for some of them were involved in the guilt of the golden calf, and perished.

Verse 27. Slay every man his brother. "Every" is not to be taken literally, as if each individual of the 22,000 Levites was to kill a brother, a companion, and a neighbour; for in that case the number of the slain must have exceeded 60,000. The words are [ 'iysh (H376) 'et (H854) 'aachiyw (H251)], a man his brother, a man his companion. [The Septuagint renders it as hekastos, each a brother.] Besides, as intermarriages between the tribes were not permitted, and the Levites, as commissioned officers of justice, were to inflict capital punishment upon flagrant transgressors in all the tribes, the phrase, a man his brother, does not denote a brother by consanguinity. It denotes here, as elsewhere (Isaiah 19:2; Jeremiah 31:34; Jeremiah 34:17), one man another; and the meaning simply is, that the ringleaders were to be put to death, without indulgence to the nearest relative or most familiar friend (cf. Deuteronomy 33:8-10).

The blessing which their father Levi had lost (Genesis 34:25) was restored to the tribe through the noble conduct of his descendants on this occasion. The zeal and courage of Moses were astonishing, considering he opposed himself to an intoxicated mob. The people were separated into two divisions, and those who were the boldest and most obstinate in vindicating their idolatry were put to death, while the rest, who withdrew in shame or sorrow, were spared. Nothing but a conviction of the divine mission of Moses could have produced the silent submission of those numerous offenders.

Verse 29

For Moses had said, Consecrate yourselves to day to the LORD, even every man upon his son, and upon his brother; that he may bestow upon you a blessing this day.

Consecrate - or ye have consecrated yourselves today. The Levites, notwithstanding the defection of Aaron distinguished themselves by their zeal for the honour of God, and their conduct in doing the office of executioners on this occasion: and this was one reason of their being appointed to a high and honourable office in the service of the sanctuary.

Verses 30-33

And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses said unto the people, Ye have sinned a great sin: and now I will go up unto the LORD; peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin.

Said unto the people, Ye have sinned. Moses laboured to show the people the heinous nature of their sin, and bring them to repentance. But not content with that, he hastened more earnestly to intercede for them.

Verse 32. Blot me out of thy book which thou hast written. 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 Israelite Domesday book, or genealogical record; and when any one died his name might be considered as blotted out of this list. The meaning of Moses' earnest supplication is, that if Yahweh would not pardon the grievous offence of His people, and would destroy Israel as a nation, he might be permitted to die before so dreadful a calamity occurred-his name might be erased from the record of living men. What warmth of affection did he evince for his brethren; how fully was he animated with the true spirit of a patriot, when he professed his willingness to die rather than survive their destruction!

Verse 33. Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book. In China the names of persons tried on criminal processes are written in two distinct books, called the book of life and the book of death; those acquitted, or not capitally convicted, are written in the former, those found guilty, in the latter. These are presented to the emperor, who has a right to erase any name from either (cf. Revelation 3:5).

This prerogative belongs absolutely to God; and hence, it is recorded that "the Lord said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me" - so as to violate the condition of the Sinai covenant - "him will I blot out of my book." I will blot him out of the register of the living, or cut him off from their number. Hence, in many passages of the Pentateuch (Leviticus 17:10; Leviticus 20:2; Leviticus 20:6; Leviticus 23:30; Numbers 16:29-34), as well as of the Psalms, wicked men are threatened with a sudden, violent, and untimely death, or with other dreadful calamities, which should bear an evident signature of being inflicted by the immediate hand of God (cf. Psalms 11:5; Psalms 34:16; Psalms 34:21; Psalms 37:1-2; Psalms 37:9-10; Psalms 37:20; Psalms 37:35-36; Psalms 37:38; Psalms 55:23; Psalms 94:23). The declaration intimates a general rule of the divine government, that a clear distinction would be made between the innocent and the guilty, and that punishment would be inflicted only on the strictest principles of justice. But the declaration primarily referred directly to the special government of Israel, in which Yahweh, as king, would deal with the people who composed that nation, in the distribution of temporal rewards and punishments, according to their respective merits; and the immediate object of making it was to assure Moses that there should not be a national destruction-that those only should be cut off, whose incorrigible and hopeless sin merited that doom, while all who had remained faithful to the covenant would be spared.

Verse 34

Therefore now go, lead the people unto the place of which I have spoken unto thee: behold, mine Angel shall go before thee: nevertheless in the day when I visit I will visit their sin upon them.

Lead the people unto the place of which I have spoken unto thee (see the note at Exodus 23:20 ): behold, mine Angel shall go before thee. Though the Israelites should still continue an elect people, and the promise of their settlement in Canaan be fulfilled, they were threatened, as a punishment of their heinous offence, with a privation of their most distinguished honour-the presence and guidance of their covenanted Lord and King. [The term mal'aakiy (H4397), indeed, is used here, which has already occurred in various passages (Exodus 14:19; Exodus 23:20-23) in application to the Revealing Angel, Yahweh; but it appears (Exodus 33:3) He who had hitherto accompanied them announced His intended withdrawal in future, leaving the office of guide to be performed by some inferior agent (cf. Exodus 33:2-3, with Exodus 23:21) - whether the cloudy pillar alone or a created angel cannot be determined.] This threatened calamity, however, at the intercession of Moses, and on the repentance of the people, was averted.

Nevertheless in the day when I visit I will visit their sin upon them. [The verb paaqad (H6485), when spoken of the divine procedure to His people, frequently signifies to visit with kindness (Exodus 3:16; Exodus 4:31; Genesis 21:1; Genesis 50:24; 1 Samuel 2:21; Psalms 8:5; Isaiah 23:17); but sometimes in the afflictive dispensations of Providence (Job 31:14; Job 35:15); at other times in a judicial manner (Psalms 59:5; Isaiah 26:14; Jeremiah 9:25; Jeremiah 44:13), especially the idolatry of the Israelites (Exodus 20:5; Exodus 34:7; Numbers 14:18; Psalms 89:32-33); Hosea 1:4; Hosea 2:15; Hosea 4:9; Amos 3:14). It is used in the latter sense here; and "the day" when judgment is inflicted denotes a period when, by a long accumulation of national sins, and the festering of deep-seated corruption, a people's iniquities being full, the vials of divine wrath are poured out upon them with overwhelming destruction.] Several such crises of desolating judgments occurred in the national history of Israel (Matthew 23:23; Luke 11:51). "I will visit (this) their sin upon them." The Jewish people themselves believe that this denunciation was carried into effect; for it has been a traditional saying among them, handed down from that time to the present, that no national disaster ever befel the nation, but it had an ounce of the golden calf in it.

Verse 35

And the LORD plagued the people, because they made the calf, which Aaron made. The Lord plagued the people, because they made the calf. No immediate judgments were inflicted; but this early lapse into idolatry was always mentioned as an aggravation of their subsequent apostasies.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Exodus 32". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.