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THE GOLDEN CALF
Moses forty days in the mount (the number of testing) was too much for the impatient children of Israel. They gathered to Aaron in united determination to have some substitute for the leading of the God of Israel. They say they don't know what has become of Moses, and ask for "gods" that they may follow. How sadly lacking was faith in the living God! It has always been men's downfall to prefer some visible, material idol that they are willing to call "god." This too was so soon after their being delivered from Egypt by the mighty power of the great unseen God of creation. Every testimony was there that ought to have greatly encouraged their faith, but they were spiritually blinded.
Aaron did not have the energy of faith such as did his bother Moses, to boldly withstand them. He weakly gave in to their foolish clamor, telling them to break off the golden earrings that were evidently common among them, having been taken from the Egyptians. From these he made a molten calf, finishing it by means of an engraving tool (vs.2-4), and announced to them that this was their god who brought them out of the land of Egypt! Can we imagine such brazen folly as this? There is a serious lesson here, that our idols, whatever they are, take their character from what decorates or pampers the flesh -- the golden earrings. Ears are given for hearing, but Israel was not hearing the first commandment God had given them, "You shall have no other gods before Me" (Exodus 20:3).
Likely they excused their idolatry, as many do today, by saying this was only an image made to represent God, but God forbid any such images (Exodus 20:4). Actually, though things like this are claimed to be only representations, it is very soon that the thing itself becomes the god that people worship.
Besides this Aaron built an altar before the idol, then announced that the next day they would have a feast "to the Lord"? (v.5). Can we dare to think we can sanctify an idol by attaching the Lord's name to it? This is gross wickedness. But they continue the mockery by offering both burnt offerings and peace offerings on the altar, then sitting down to eat and to drink and rising up to play. They were simply giving themselves over to the lust of self-indulgence while whitewashing this whole thing with a religious appearance! What hollow vanity! and how insulting to the God who had delivered them from Egypt! They betray themselves as to what conception of God they have. They think of Him as one who, as a lowly calf, takes the place of merely serving their selfish desires! God is given no place of authority, but one of subjection to men!
THE LORD'S ANGER AND MOSES' INTERCESSION
On the mountain the Lord abruptly tells Moses to go down, for Moses' people whom he brought out of Egypt had corrupted themselves, making, worshiping and sacrificing to a molten calf, giving it credit for their deliverance from Egypt.
Then God tells Moses to let Him alone that His anger would so burn against Israel because of their stiff-necked rebellion, that He would consume them all (v.10). Then He would make of Moses a great nation.
Could Moses think of grasping an opportunity like this? How could Moses alone bury over two million people? Also, would a nation fathered by Moses be any better than Israel? God knew all this, and He knew the heart of Moses toward Israel. But He spoke in this way to Moses for our sakes, to draw our attention to the intercession of Moses on behalf of Israel, as being a picture of the intercession of the Lord Jesus on our behalf even when we fail miserably. On the one hand, we must realize how fierce is the anger of God against every evil thing that is put in the place He alone is entitled to. On the other hand, we are to see the great value of the intercession of the one Man, the Lord Jesus Christ.
God had said to Moses, "your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt." But Moses said to God, "Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt" (v.11). He pled with God on this basis. God's mighty hand had done that great work. Was God any less mighty now? Moses asked, would not the Egyptians in this case accuse God of being unable to bring Israel through the wilderness, but had taken them out of Egypt in order to destroy them from the face of the earth? He entreats God to turn from His fierce wrath against them, and to remember His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Israel as to the multiplying of their descendants and giving them the land.
Certainly God knew beforehand that Moses would plead in this way, for it was He Himself who had put this in Moses' heart. Yet for our benefit it is said that God relented of the harm He had threatened. Does this not encourage us to be intercessors for the children of God?
MOSES RETURNED TO THE CAMP IN JUDGMENT
Moses had taken Joshua with him into the mountain (ch.24:13). Now they come down together. Moses having the two stone tables on which the law was written on both sides. As they came near the camp Joshua, a warrior, hearing the noise of the people, thought this was the noise of war, but Moses corrected him, for the noise was neither that of conquest nor defeat, but singing (v.18).
Still outside the camp, they saw the people dancing in honor of the golden calf. In heat of anger Moses threw the tables of stone on the ground and broke them. Thus those tables never came into the camp. If they had, this surely would have meant awesome judgment upon all the idol worshipers. They had broken the law already. Moses was only being honest in thus breaking the tables. From the very beginning of God's giving the law, Israel flagrantly broke the first and second commandments and became idol worshipers. Was it likely in succeeding history that they would obey the commandments of God?
Who could lift a finger against Moses when he burnt the calf and ground it to power, sprinkling it on the water? Thus their god was demolished in short order. Then he made Israel drink of the water. Yet this was only preliminary.
He faced Aaron with the question as to what the people had done to him that he had brought so great a sin upon them. But Aaron rather made light of the matter, as though Moses' anger was unnecessary. He told Moses that he knew the people and their propensity to do mischief. Thus he blamed everything on the people. Where was his faith to withstand the people's folly? Since they demanded that he make a god for them to follow, he said he cooperated with their wicked demand, took their gold from them and threw it into the fire, and a calf came out! Of course to make a molten calf they had to have a mold of some kind, but Aaron did not mention this, nor the fact that he had finished it with an engraving tool. Certainly he was just as guilty as were the people.
Aaron too was responsible for the people being naked (not nude, but with only scant clothing), and this moved Moses to cry out in the gate of the camp, "Who is on the Lord's side?" The response of the Levites was evidently immediate, as they gathered themselves to Moses. But his instructions to them were strikingly dreadful. Yet he spoke on behalf of the Lord God of Israel, telling them to take their swords and go from gate to gate throughout the camp, killing without discrimination their brothers, their companions and their neighbors. Whether they thought this was excessive punishment or not, they obeyed and put to death about three thousand men (v.28). This judgment has been contrasted to the marvelous work of God in grace when three thousand were brought to confess the Lord Jesus as a result of Peter's preaching on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41).
However, Moses knew that the killing of three thousand was not a judgment commensurate with the enormity of Israel's sin: it deserved far worse than this. The next day therefore he announced to them that their sin was great, and that he would go up to the Lord to intercede for them and possibly make an atonement for their sin.
When he speaks to the Lord the only solution he proposes is one that shows how deep and real was his love for the people, but it was an impossible solution. He fully confesses the greatness of their guilt, pleading that he might be allowed to be a substitute for them, that is, that he should be blotted out of God's book in order that they might be forgiven (vs.31-32). How different indeed was Moses' heart toward his people than that of mere religious leaders! Thus he does beautifully represent the love of Christ in his willingness to sacrifice himself. But he could go no further than this in representing Christ, for he was a sinner himself and his sacrifice could atone for no one. Christ, the Son of God, without sin, is the only One who could possibly atone for guilty mankind.
The Lord could not allow Moses to be a substitute for the people. He says that He will blot out of His book whoever has sinned against Him. The New Testament shows a contrast to this, when God says concerning the overcomer, "I will not blot out his name from the Book of life" (Revelation 3:5). No one will be blotted out of the Book of life. The book in Exodus is that connected with the keeping of the law, not the Book of life, though it may be called "the book of the living (Psalms 69:28). So long as one continued to keep the law, he would not be blotted out of the book of the living, but disobedience would require his being blotted out. Then certainly no one could continue in that book. But one is in the Book of life because he has been born again, and this can never be changed, for he has eternal life.
Still, God told Moses to lead the people to the promised land, promising that He will send His angel before them, yet indicating that they might be inflicted with more severe punishment yet for their idolatry. In fact, they were immediately plagued because of this, so all was not cleared by any means (vs.34-35).
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Exodus 32". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
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