Bible Commentaries
Exodus 32

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

Verses 1-35

Exodus 32:1. Unto Aaron. Some copies read, the people gathered themselves together against Aaron. He sinned through fear of man; but as the Lord did not punish him with the revolters, the latter would seem to be the true reading.

Exodus 32:2. Break off your golden ear-rings. Those jewels had been obtained of the Egyptians; and stolen goods do not prosper, as may be seen in the case of the Danites, who carried off Micah’s silver idol.

Exodus 32:4. After he had made it a molten calf, they said, These be thy gods, O Israel. The ox or calf, on account of its strength, is called a cherub, or as St. Paul says, a mighty angel. 2 Thessalonians 1:7. The Lord placed cherubims on the east of Eden, to keep the way of the tree of life, Genesis 3:24; and Moses made two golden cherubims, to overshadow the mercy-seat. Exodus 25:18. In the prophetic vision of four living creatures, the cherub is placed before the eagle, the lion, and the man, Ezekiel 10:14; and the psalmist represents Jehovah as riding on a cherub, which formed his chariot, wafted on the wings of the wind. Psalms 18:10. Ezekiel 1:0. The apostle John beheld a similar vision, in which the four living creatures appear to represent the whole creation, as incessantly worshipping God; and of course the ox or the cherub was far enough removed from every idea of idolatry. Revelation 4:7-8. But it may be said, what had Aaron or the Israelites to do with the calf, the Osiris and Isis of Egypt, which all critics allow to be the same as Aaron’s calf. The mythology of the Egyptians is, that Osiris was son of Jupiter and Niobe, and that he resigned his kingdom over the Argives in order that he might travel. Arriving in Egypt he softened their ferocious manners, taught them laws, how to sow corn, and how to reverence the gods. Being killed by his brother Serapis, the Egyptians prepared him altars, and worshipped him under the form of a bull; and this appears to be the idol which the Israelites had seen worshipped while in Egypt, with all its libidinous and luxurious rites. But whatever were the origin of this idolatry, or whatever allusion it might bear to the offering of bullocks on the patriarchal or Jewish altars, it formed in heathen worship a part of what an apostle calls “the darkness of this world.” More on this subject may be seen in the notes on Genesis 43:32. Jeroboam’s calves were afterwards formed on the model of the Egyptian Apis, as well as Aaron’s golden calf; and it was this species of idolatry which eventually procured the total ruin of the Jewish nation. Joshua 24:14. Ezekiel 20:7-8.

Exodus 32:5. A feast to the Lord. He probably meant to join the worship of the Lord with that of Osiris. But by a feast to the Lord, may be understood a great national festival.

Exodus 32:6. Burnt-offerings, for their sins: then followed the peace-offerings, for carnal joy. They sat down to eat and drink, and then rose up to dance and sing the bacchanalian songs; and according to St. Paul, they committed fornication. 1 Corinthians 10:8.

Exodus 32:20. Ground it to powder. Metals, when about half fusible with heat, will readily break to powder. Moses seems to have granulated the gold by melting and pouring it into water, which communicated to it a mineral poison, and gave it an unpleasant taste. The waters, thus impregnated, as Dr. Lightfoot supposes, caused the belly to swell; and he further supposes, that the Levites slew every man whose belly was swelled. In that case the waters discovered the wicked leaders of this revolt, and they spared not their dearest relatives.

Exodus 32:24. I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf; as though Satan and the workmen had made the calf, while Aaron was merely a spectator! Sinners make but vain defences at the bar of omniscience. Happy for this priest to have had an intercessor, or he had, though a firstborn, assuredly lost his mitre. Moses staked his own life to save him.

Exodus 32:32. Blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book. This appeal proves beyond dispute the existence of letters prior to Moses. Pliny, speaking of the 16 letters brought by Cadmus into Greece, thinks that letters had always existed in Chaldea. The Hebrew and the Chaldaic alphabets are the same. The erasure from the book, is illustrated by the Roman custom of a city-register for all the inhabitants; and if any man committed felony, his name was erased from the rank of citizens. The christian fathers with one consent class this sublime sentiment with that of St. Paul, who was willing to be accursed for his brethren and kinsmen after the flesh. In this view, Christ was really made a curse for us. Blotting the people’s name is understood conditionally, if they shall continue in their sin.


In the whole of the sacred writings we have not a chapter which more strikingly illustrates the ways of God with man, than the history of the golden calf. The Lord tried and proved his people, to show what was in the heart, for the instruction of future ages. And to be deprived of Moses was certainly an exercise of their faith and patience, though he had not retired without deputing judges to execute his office, and apprizing them that the object of his solitude was to receive the law, and a model of the sanctuary. Hence they were like a ship becalmed in the midst of the sea, and the impatience of their hearts rose into open revolt and avowed idolatry. Oh, how could they dare, after seeing the awful glory on the mount, to liken JEHOVAH “to a calf that eateth grass.” How could they dare to force their way to Canaan, and leave the cloud behind on the sacred mount. Whatever we do without God, shall prove a work of shame.

In Aaron, who ought on this occasion to have come forward as a confessor or a martyr for God, we have a sad instance of the frailty of man complying with popular clamour. Though he was not the cause of the crime, he was however a second and an agent: nor could he make any defence, except that of reproaching the people, which did not diminish his own sin. But all men, though honoured with the highest endowments of heaven, have not grace to stand in the fiery trial. He was one of those who followed not the Lord fully, and therefore he could not see the good land.

We may next remark the indignation of the Lord, and the punishment which immediately followed. In the preseding year, he had appeared to Moses at the burning bush and said, I have seen the affliction of my people. Now, disowning the apostate nation, he says thy people. Moses ventures to intersede; but the Lord at first refused his prayer, and wished him to desist. “Let me alone, that I may consume them in a moment, and I will make of thee a greater nation than they.” Oh thou backsliding and presumptuous offender, who hast more than once relapsed into drunkenness, and presumptuous sins against God, see in apostate Israel, as on a broad scale, the situation in which thy soul stands. The foul circumstances of Israel’s sin are highly expressive of the aggravating circumstances attendant on thy guilt. See thy longsuffering and gracious God now so roused to indignation, as to refuse the intercession of the best of men on thy behalf. There seems at last no remedy for thy oft repeated sin: the broken tables of the law proclaim thy covenant violated and forfeited. God is apparently fully resolved to cut thee off; to blot thy name out of his book, and to fill thy place in the church by a man more faithful to his grace.

We learn that, before prayer can be heard for men and nations, their iniquity must be put away. The idol must be destroyed, confusion must cover the guilty; and in Israel the crime was so atrocious, that three thousand leaders of the revolt must die before Moses dared to intersede the second time. How then shall sinners of our age, how shall a nation afflicted with so many evils and calamities, how shall they crowd the temples of God, while they do not purpose to abandon a single sin, nor to abridge themselves of a single luxury! If Gabriel, if Moses, and all the apostles were to weep and pray for such a nation, they could not be heard; nor can Jesus Christ himself intersede for men but in conformity to the covenant of redemption, which stipulates a pardon to those only who confess and forsake their sins. Oh it is this calf, this golden calf, this idol of pleasure, this revelling and drunkenness, this loss of religious principle, this indulgence in dissipation and impurity, which cause the angry cloud to stand opposed to our sins, and the prayers of saints very much to fail of effect.

But in Moses, the high characters of prophet, patriot, and mediator appear in all their excellence. He had loved his people for forty years, he had sacrificed the princely hope and glory of Egypt for their emancipation; nor can he survive the extermination of the stubborn race. It is great occasions which discover greatness of soul. The man of God interposes his own life between the people, and the strokes of vengeance. Without daring to arraign the justice from which the menace had proceeded, he pleads that the heathen would misconstrue so great a judgment, and urges the silent prayer of his country for life; and if that favour cannot be granted, he requests permission to die with the guilty. Here the eloquence of prayer assumed an omnipotent character: mercy prevailed over justice, and the arm of vengeance dropped its thunder. Here the charity of Moses, as St. Clement observes, was made perfect, which constituted him a model for future ages.

In the prayer of Moses, we have also a striking pattern of the mediatorial character of Jesus Christ. When the nations had forsaken the Lord, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator; when darkness had covered the earth, and gross darkness the people; when the anger of heaven was about to pour the most tremendous vengeance on the Jewish nation, and on the Roman world, then Jesus Christ interposed his life for the redemption of man, and with strong cries and tears solicited his pardon. Hence we live, because he ever lives to pray for us.

Lastly observe, it is a very great mercy when a praying people interpose their agonizing souls between an angry God, and their guilty country. The arm of justice ready to strike, seems embarrassed, and unable to smite the wicked without wounding the righteous, who are entwined among them by the most tender ties. This may save for a time, but the day will come when the one shall be separated from the other: and when that awful day arrive, Levi must no longer know father or mother, brother or sister; he must make God his portion, and the covenant his only hope.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Exodus 32". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. 1835.