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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 32

Bridgeway Bible CommentaryBridgeway Bible Commentary

Verses 1-35


The golden bull (32:1-35)

Although they were God’s people and had been delivered by his mighty power from slavery in Egypt, the Israelites were still very much Egyptian in their feelings, thinking and habits. They made an animal idol as a visible symbol of their unseen God, then developed a ritual to go with it, complete with priest, altar, sacrifices and feasting. And, as often happened with the pagan religions, drunkenness and immoral sex-play accompanied their idolatry (32:1-6).
This all happened while Moses was still on the mountain. God told Moses what was happening during his absence, adding that the people, because of their sin, deserved to be wiped out. God could then start afresh to build a people for himself, using Moses as the father of his new people just as previously he had used Abraham and, through him, Jacob (7-10).
Moses, thinking more of God’s honour than his own, successfully pleaded with God not to destroy Israel, for the Egyptians would surely misunderstand his actions and accuse him of deceiving his people. Moses based his plea on God’s mighty acts of deliverance in the past and his promises to Israel’s ancestors. God heard Moses’ prayer and as a result Israel was saved from destruction (11-14).
Reassured by God’s response but still angry with the people, Moses returned to the camp. By breaking the stone tablets on which the law was engraved, he demonstrated graphically to the people that they had broken God’s law. By grinding the idol to powder, mixing it with water and making the people drink it, he forced them to admit their sin and accept its consequences (15-20). At the same time he held Aaron responsible, because as leader of the people Aaron should have opposed the idolaters. Instead he followed them (21-24).

God did not wipe out the nation, but neither could he overlook sin. Men of the tribe of Levi, who had remained faithful to God amid the rebellion, carried out God’s judgment and for their zeal were rewarded. Once the tabernacle was constructed and in use, only those of this tribe would be servants of God in the general duties connected with it (25-29; cf. Numbers 1:47-53; Deuteronomy 33:8-11). Note: The family of Aaron was one family within the tribe of Levi (see 4:14), and God had already given them the sole rights to the specialized work of the priesthood (see 28:1; 29:9). The Israelite priesthood is therefore referred to sometimes as the Aaronic priesthood, sometimes as the Levitical priesthood.

In a display of genuine love for the unbelieving people, Moses offered to die on their behalf and so be punished for them. But God would not accept the death of one person for another, for all were sinners, though the extent of their sin varied. God would hold each person responsible for his or her actions. He would show mercy on the unfaithful nation, but he would punish individuals who rebelled against him (30-35).

Bibliographical Information
Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Exodus 32". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bbc/exodus-32.html. 2005.
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