Bible Commentaries
Exodus 32

Peake's Commentary on the BiblePeake's Commentary


III. Israel at Sinai ( XIX. XL.) .

The division Num 19– 40 presents difficulties due to its very importance, see introduction to Ex. (last paragraph). But Num 25– 31, 35– 40 readily fall apart from the rest, as containing P’ s account of the Tabernacle ( see on Exodus 25:1), the introduction to which is found in Exodus 19:1-2 a and Exodus 24:15 b Exodus 24:18 a, Exodus 34:29-35 being a link section. All critics confess that in the remainder many details must remain doubtful. The Oxf. Hex. is for the most part followed here. It does not differ very widely from Baentsch, who has made a special study of this part. Gressmann’ s drastic reconstruction is highly suggestive in particulars, but as a whole is over-bold. The noteworthy fact is that both J and E preserve important traditions. In each there is an older stratum preserving these elements of the national memory of the religious and political confederation of the tribes: an awful appearance of God upon Sinai-Horeb (Exodus 19 JE, Exodus 20:18-21 E), and the giving of a sacred code, the (Ten) Covenant Words, inscribed upon stone tablets ( Exodus 31:18 b E, Exodus 34:28 J) and sealed by a solemn sacrificial feast ( Exodus 24:5 E, Exodus 24:11 J). Now these passages concur in presenting a favourable view of Israel at this period: he is the son gratefully responding to the compassionate love of his Father ( cf. Exodus 4:22 *), or the lowly bride returning the affection of her Husband. And this agrees with the view of the period taken by all the pre-exilic prophets who refer to it (see Hosea 2:15; Hosea 11:1; Hosea 11:3 f., Hosea 12:9; Hosea 12:13, Amos 2:9-11; Amos 3:1 f., Jeremiah 2:1-3; Jeremiah 2:34). Even Ezekiel’ s severe view rather points to the ancestral heathenism of the tribes (Egyptian, Exodus 23:3, but Canaanite or Amorite-Hittite, Exodus 16:3) than to any apostasy just at this epoch. Only Hosea 9:11, if it refers to the incident Numbers 25:1-5 JE, implies such a lapse. On these grounds it is probable that Numbers 32 JE (the Golden Calf and its destruction E, and the vengeance of the Levites J), together with not a little expansion elsewhere, belongs to a later stage in the moulding of the tradition. The order of incidents is hard to follow, because the editor who united J and E, in his care to preserve as much as possible of both, took the story of the tablets in J as a re-giving and rewriting of them with a renewal of the broken covenant. Much of Numbers 33 containing the colloquies with the Divine Leader belongs to this stage. All this, of course, involves a considerable disturbance of the Bible order and representation in Ex., which, but for one section, is substantially followed by D. But the essence of the great religious facts is irrefragably secure: Israel did, by whatever stages short or long, emerge from a condition little removed from contemporary heathenism, and learned to worship one gracious and holy God (p. 84). Differences concern only the manner and form of events, and their times. Later historians have so accustomed us to having at least the main events fitted neatly into their centuries B.C. or A.D. that we find it hard to think that serious writers could be centuries out in their reckoning. But just as prophets saw future events near and distant in a foreshortened perspective, so it may be that the Bible historians— called “ the former prophets” (pp. 38, 244) by the Jews— saw their instances of the nation’ s glory and shame as more closely crowded together than they actually were. The main thing is that they actually saw them, and that, too, in the mirror of eternity.” Throughout the whole we see the material, as it were, in a plastic state. As older conceptions were outgrown new touches could modify the details, though, fortunately for our chances of recognising the earlier levels of inspiration, traces of the old were not always obliterated. Sometimes we must suppose that these modifications had already been made during the period of oral tradition.

Verses 1-35

Exodus 32:1-6 E, Exodus 32:7-14 Rje, Exodus 32:15-24 E, Exodus 32:25-29 J, Exodus 32:30-34 E s , Exodus 32:35 E. The Golden Calf.

Exodus 32:32-34 stand between the instructions for the Tent and their fulfilment. Their religious value is high and clear. But their literary growth has been too complex to trace here ( see Driver, CB 346ff.). It is possible (note “ these,” Exodus 32:4; Exodus 32:8) that they are a reflection of prophetic criticism on Jeroboam’ s two calves ( 1 Kings 12:28, 2 Kings 10:29, cf. Hosea 8:4-6 and RV references). In Exodus 32:1-6 the withdrawal of the inspired and inspiring leader leaves the people at the mercy of heathenish suggestion. They cry to Aaron for an image to represent Yahweh, and supply him with their gold earrings as covering for the wooden figure of a young bull which he makes. An altar is next made and a feast proclaimed; songs and dances follow. Though the priests of 1 Kings 12:31 were non-Levitical, from this passage it would appear that an Aaronic priesthood had at some time been concerned with image-worship, the idea of which came, not from Egypt, but probably from the Hittites or Sumerians, both agricultural peoples. In Exodus 32:7-14 , interrupting the story, is a solemn expression of God’ s abhorrence of idolatry, and a moving description of Moses’ s effectual intercession. The dramatic account of Moses’ s discovery and destruction of the image ( Exodus 32:15-20) follows best on Exodus 32:6. In Exodus 32:18 the noise heard by Joshua ( Exodus 32:17) is recognised as song, not the cries of victors or vanquished. Perhaps the breaking of the tables ( Exodus 32:19) reflects a consciousness that they had been lost. The writing on both sides ( Exodus 32:15 b) may be an archaic feature, the words “ of the testimony” being a gloss by Rp. The weak apologies of Aaron ( Exodus 32:21-24) complete the picture of a leader who cannot lead. The patriotic zeal of the Levites ( Exodus 32:25-29 J) probably refers to a different occasion or another view of Aaron’ s sin ( cf. Deuteronomy 9:20) as rebellion, and Exodus 32:29 (see mg.) may have begun J’ s account of the origin of the priesthood ( cf. Exodus 29:24 *), cut short by R in view of Leviticus 8. A second and more moving account of Moses as intercessor follows in Exodus 32:30-34 : he offers, not to suffer eternal death, but, like Elijah ( 1 Kings 19:4), to die and be blotted out of the roll of living citizens. The closing verse is obscure and isolated.

Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Exodus 32". "Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". 1919.