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The children of Israel make a golden calf, which they worship: Moses breaks the tables written by the finger of God: he destroys the calf, and sends the sons of Levi into the camp, who kill three thousand of the idolaters: Moses returns into the mount, and intercedes with God in behalf of the people.
Before Christ 1491.
Exodus 32:1. And when the people saw that Moses— The long delay of Moses in the mount led this ever-murmuring and incredulous generation to think that he had utterly forsaken them; that an attempt to go forward into Canaan would, therefore, be absurd; and that it would be better to follow their groveling inclination, and return into Egypt. That this was their intention, we collect from Act 7:39-40 where St. Stephen says, that in their hearts they turned back again into Egypt; saying unto Aaron, Make us gods to go before us; for as for this Moses, who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we know not what is become of him: see Numbers 14:4. The expression, this Moses, who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, plainly intimates their design. It appears, from the whole account of this transaction, that the defection was very general. The sons of Levi, Exo 32:26 appear to have preserved themselves from it, as, most probably, did many others; see 1Co 10:7 nevertheless, both from Acts 7:0 and this chapter, it is clear that the major part were guilty. It is not to be supposed that the people were so stupid, as to believe that Aaron could absolutely form for them such gods as were really invested with Divine power: their meaning, it is evident, could only be, that he should form such a visible image and representation of the Deity, as might always be present with them; as the cloud, the visible emblem of JEHOVAH, had hitherto been with them under the ministration of Moses; but which now, they conceived, Moses disappearing, would cease itself to appear. The word rendered gods in this verse is אלהים elohim; and must certainly mean, "make us a representative of that Divine Power, who may go before us as our Conductor, in the manner that the visible emblem of Jehovah has hitherto gone before us."
REFLECTIONS.—When Moses is now ready to descend from the Mount, the perverseness and impatience of the people destroy all the blessings which were designed for them. They had before been often distrustful and disobedient, but now they break out into open rebellion. They riotously assemble, and present a petition to Aaron, to make them gods to go before them. Two grievous sins are the consequences of this proceeding.
1. Impious idolatry against God. They were not satisfied with the repeated evidences he had given them of his presence in the midst of them. Note; Where the heart is not truly converted to God, though for a time partial reformations may deceive, the old sins will again break out, and the dog return to his vomit.
2. Base ingratitude to Moses. He had been long their governor; they were most highly indebted to him. He was now gone expressly on their affairs. As he had God's call to go, they had sufficient reason to expect his return; but should he not return, they were at least bound to treat him with respect and regard. But they overlook every consideration, and, with a careless mention of their great Deliverer, insinuate, that he has forsaken them, and never intends to return. Note; (1.) The best of men, and the greatest ministers, may expect to meet with most ungrateful returns from many whom they have served. (2.) They who are inclined to think evil will pretend, in the clearest case, not to know what to think. (3.) Forgetfulness, and doubt of the return of Jesus from the Mount of glory, is the great means of hardening the sinner; while it is among the sorest temptations of the true believer, that in times of greatest difficulty our Lord seems to delay his coming: but if he tarry, let us wait for him.
Exodus 32:2. Ear-rings—of your sons— It is well known that, in the Eastern countries, the men wore these kinds of ornaments as well as the women. See Judges 8:24. They were, probably, part of the spoils which they had brought from Egypt, and which they now shamefully employ to the dishonour of their God. It does not appear from the history, how long time was employed in making this calf.
Exodus 32:4. And he received them, &c.— And he received it at their hand, and tied it in a bag: (Bochart.) Or, cast it into a mould, and made of it a molten calf. See 2 Kings 5:23.Judges 8:24-25; Judges 8:24-25. Either of the translations given above may be very well justified, and wholly remove the objection which some have raised from our version. Houbigant renders it, "Aaron reduced to form the gold received at their hands, and made it a molten calf." See Psalms 106:20. It is very common in Scripture to call the sign by the name of the thing signified; so this image of a calf is called a calf. Soon as the people saw this emblem before them, they cry out, These are thy Elohim, O Israel, who brought thee up out of the land of Egypt; that is, "this is the visible representation, the symbol, or image of that God who brought thee," &c. Sensible of whose power, and of the wonders he had wrought for their sake, they thought themselves safe, under his auspices, from any future injury among, the Egyptians; nay, and probably imagined, that, returning to Egypt, they should become entire masters of the country, now that Pharaoh and his host were destroyed in the Red-sea. In Num 14:4 we read, that they had then the same inclination to return; let us choose a captain, said they, and let us return into Egypt: see Neh 9:17 and in this view it is manifest, that a learned writer's conjecture cannot be right, who supposes that "they chose a calf, as being the object of adoration in Egypt; and as an Egyptian god to go before them, as a kind of atoner and reconciler:" (see Divine Legation, vol. 2: b. 4: sect. 5.) So far from this, they say expressly of this calf, that it was not an Egyptian god, but the Elohim, the god which brought them up out of Egypt: and, in the next verse, when a solemn feast to this god is kept, it is expressly called a feast to JEHOVAH; so that there can be no question that this calf was designed as a symbol of Jehovah, that God who brought them up out of Egypt. In forming this symbol or image, and worshipping it, they were guilty of direct disobedience to the second commandment, worshipping the true God in a false manner; and that they did so, is still further evident from the words of St. Stephen, Act 7:42 who tells us, that in consequence of their making and worshipping this idol-calf, God turned and gave them up to worship the host of heaven, the sun, moon, and stars; which being the first and most ancient objects of false worship, it is plain that the calf could not be a representative of these, since the Israelites were given up to the worship of them in consequence of, and as a punishment for, their worshipping the calf. From whence we gather, that this calf could not possibly have been formed in imitation of the Egyptian Osiris, since it is beyond all dispute that Osiris was no other than the sun; and it would perhaps be no easy matter to prove, that the ox was held sacred to Osiris so early as this period: neither could it have been representative of Apis, which was no other than an emblem of the Nile. Indeed, from what we have just observed, it is clear, that this calf, which they served as a symbol of the God who brought them out of Egypt, could not be made in imitation of any Egyptian gods, upon all of which the Jehovah of the Hebrews had exercised fearful judgments. (See Jablonski de diis Egypt. lib. 2: cap. 1 lib. 4: cap. 2.)
What, then, it may be asked, could have induced the Israelites to make choice of a calf, or young ox, to represent Jehovah? Some, who believe that the cherubim were known from the beginning, imagine that the idea was derived from thence; the ox's head there, according to them, being a symbol of Jehovah. See Ezekiel 7:10. Joseph Mede's works, p. 567. Archbishop Tennison of Idolatry, ch. 6 and on our note on ch. Exodus 25:18. A very learned person of Frankfort upon Oder, whose opinion Jablonski produces in his Pantheon, endeavours largely to prove, that the first sacrifice, after the fall of man, was a young bullock, emblematical of the sacrifice of Christ, as a young bullock was sacrificed for the consecration of the high-priest; (ch. Exodus 29:1.) and from hence derives the original of this idolatry. But the best arguments that can be adduced on this point must be full of conjecture.
Exodus 32:5. When Aaron saw it, &c.— Whatever may be urged in behalf of Aaron, there can be no doubt that his conduct was extremely blameable: nor have we any need to attempt his vindication, as there can be no room for it, when we are informed, that the Almighty was so indignant at him for it, that he would have destroyed him, had it not been for the intercession of Moses. See Deu 9:20 and had not Moses entertained a greater regard for truth than for the honour of his brother, we should have lost this among many other noble testimonies of his sincerity.
Exodus 32:6. Sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play— That is, as St. Paul explains it, 1Co 10:7 they committed idolatry; performing all those ceremonies, feasting, dancing, (Exodus 32:19.) and sporting lasciviously, which were usual in the worship of idols.
REFLECTIONS.—Aaron, instead of shewing indignation at the proposal, infamously tame, consents to gratify them.
1. He asks for their golden ear-rings, which, however dear to them, they readily part with; for when men are set on sin they stop at nothing, and think they never pay too dear for the gratification. Note; It is a bad sign, if we are less ready to part with our gold to forward God's cause than they were to part with theirs to dishonour him. These ear-rings were the spoils of the Egyptians, with which God had so lately enriched them; and now they are abused to the vilest idolatry. How often do the gifts of God thus prove a snare to us, and engage our idolatrous affections to them, so as to prove a curse instead of a blessing!
2. An altar is built, and a feast proclaimed to Jehovah: for they designed not to terminate their worship in the calf, but regarded it as the representation of the true God; though this we find was no exculpation of their guilt. Let the Roman Catholics see in their image-worship how exactly conformable is their conduct, and equally abominable their idolatry.
3. The people gladly obey the summons, and rejoice in the work of their own hands. The day is spent in feasting, mirth, and jollity. Such service could not suit Jehovah; but as the calf was the idol, their belly seems to have been their god. Note; Though the calf is no more, his worshippers are still numerous, if such be the service, to sit down to eat and drink, and rise up to play.
Exodus 32:7. Thy people, which thou broughtest— That is, as being my representative; as being a god unto them: see ch. Exo 4:16 Exo 7:1 Exodus 18:19. Moses is called, Acts 7:35 a deliverer. God, as it were, now disclaims this people, who had disclaimed him; he calls them thy people in this address to Moses.
Exodus 32:9. It is a stiff-necked people— An appellation frequently given to the Jews; who, like untamed and unruly oxen, would not bend and submit their necks to the yoke. Thy neck is an iron sinew, says the Lord by Isaiah, ch. Isa 48:4 alluding to the same idea. Compare Jeremiah 5:5.Hosea 4:16; Hosea 4:16.
Exodus 32:10. Now therefore let me alone— One would be apt to conclude from the manner of speaking here, that the Almighty meant this as a trial of the benevolence and piety of Moses; proposing to him the total destruction of this perverse generation, and the transferring to his single family all the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant, in order to prove, whether he would humanely and piously intercede for the people, or accept a proposal so flattering to himself; and it cannot be denied that the character of Moses appears, in this view, most amiable and disinterested.
REFLECTIONS.—1. The Lord hastens Moses down to the people. Had he left them without God's warrant, he had been chargeable for their rebellion. When ministers unnecessarily leave their flocks, or masters their families, and mischief ensues, they must answer for it to God. 2. The Lord seems to disclaim any farther relation to them; he calls them thy people. Sin makes fearful separations between God and the soul. 3. He charges them with corrupting themselves. Every sinner is self-corrupted, and therefore at the last day will appear self-condemned. 4. He upbraids their unfaithfulness, that they had so soon turned aside, after such distinguishing favours had been shewn them, and such solemn engagements made by them. To sin against our vows and our mercies is double guilt. 5. He tells him of their gross idolatry, the proof of their utterly abandoned temper; and such perverseness, as mercies would neither constrain nor terrors overawe. It is desperate indeed with the soul, when God declares all methods of dealing with it to be vain. 6. He threatens to destroy them in his wrath. What sinner need not tremble for himself, when he thinks how often he has provoked this wrath, which, if it were kindled, yea, but for a moment, who might abide it? Lastly, he seems to restrain Moses from interceding for them, and promises to raise up to him another nation in their stead. But one thing could save them from immediate ruin, and that was Moses's prayer; and here was enough, if he was at all self-interested, to lead him to abandon them. But he, whose heart is filled with love, will shew, like Moses, that he can love his neighbour as himself, and can forego his own interest for the good of his fellow-creatures.
Exodus 32:11. Moses besought the Lord—and said— This intercession of Moses for the people, reminds us of that of Abraham for the devoted Sodomites, Genesis 18:0. The reason why God's wrath waxed hot against his people is very evident; and therefore our translation, why doth thy wrath wax hot? would be improved by reading (which the original will well bear) for what end will thy wrath wax hot? As much as to say, what good purpose will be answered by it? It is a mode of solemn deprecation, and the context sufficiently shews the force of the argument; especially the next verse. See Psalms 44:24. Mar 5:39 compare with Luke 8:52.
Exodus 32:14. The Lord repented of the evil— That is, to give weight to the intercession of Moses, he did that which men do, who are influenced by proper arguments, he altered his sentiments. The Almighty can neither change nor repent: such expressions are always to be understood, as they are always spoken, after the manner of men; but this expression we have explained fully in the note on Genesis 6:6.
REFLECTIONS.—We have here the prayer of Moses; and an effectual fervent prayer it is. God, even in the restraint he seemed to lay, had given a ground of encouragement, and faith knows how to plead every argument. Though their provocations were great, and God might justly consume them, he begs for mercy, and that God would repent of the evil; that he would change the sentence he was ready to utter. For which purpose he urges,
1. The mercy that God had shewn them. He had brought them from Egypt, and will he now cast them off? Past mercies received are an encouraging ground to hope still. If God has pardoned and been gracious to us before, let us not despair, but apply to him again, however undeserving. 2. God's glory was concerned. The Egyptians will triumph in their ruin. It lies near the heart of a true believer to hear the heathen blaspheme; and he wishes in himself and others to remove every such occasion. 3. He produces the promise made to their fathers. If they were not spared on any other consideration, yet, for his oath to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, let them find mercy. God's promises are a sure ground of hope: while we have them to plead, we may draw near, and not despair.
Hereupon God is entreated. He spares at Moses's intercession. Behold the power of prayer. And shall Moses be heard for the thousands of Israel, and shall not Jesus in heaven succeed for the sinful soul? However desperate our state may appear, we should not utterly abandon ourselves: while we have such an advocate with the Father, the most miserable and the most guilty may find mercy!
Exodus 32:18. Of them that sing— The Hebrew word ענות anoth, signifies singing alternately, or by antiphons, as was the custom both in sacred and prophane worship.
Note; How often does the sinner in fatal security thus sing and dance on the brink of the grave, though all God's fiery law is armed against him!
Moses, with the sacred charge of the tables of the covenant, now descends. Joshua waited for him, and the noise in the camp soon reaches their ears. Joshua was a man of war, and construes it the sound of war; but Moses knew the cause, and these songs of melody were in his ears jarring discord. Shall the praises of a golden calf, shall the songs of the drunkard, and the wanton strains of pleasure, ring so loud? And shall we be silent to, or ashamed of, the praises of our Immanuel? God forbid!
Exodus 32:19. He cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them— Moved with just indignation at this notorious breach of that covenant which the people had so lately made with God, Moses broke these sacred tables which contained the chief articles of the covenant, as a symbolical representation of what the people had done: see Deuteronomy 9:16-17.
Exodus 32:20. He took the calf—and burnt it, &c.— This perhaps might be rendered more properly he melted it down, and afterwards reduced it to powder. It is not probable that this calf was of any considerable size; the materials whereof it was made, as well as its speedy reduction to powder, whether by the file or whatever other means, would lead one to believe so. The idol, thus reduced to powder, Moses threw into the water, which flowed for them from the rock in Horeb: Deu 9:21 and which being the only water they had to drink of, they were led by a double act to see their folly, and adore Jehovah; while they drank that impotent idol, miserably reduced, in the very water which the Omnipotence of Jehovah had called forth for them from the rock. The authors of the Universal History observe, that "though nothing is more commonly received than the notion that gold cannot be destroyed, yet the Royal Academy at Paris have a burning-glass which will vitrify it in an instant, by evaporating all the sulphur of it, which crackles, and flies up in a thick smoke: while the glass that remains can never be reduced into any other form. That gold can be reduced into a fine powder, even gold-beaters can inform us; and who can tell but that Moses might have some particular secret for doing this which we know nothing of? By the help of a file, however, he might grate it into a dust as fine as flour which is ground in a mill."
Note; When God's honour is at stake, to be lukewarm is to be criminal. Filled with indignation, Moses beheld the shocking scene; and, though in his own concerns the meekest of men, now holy anger kindles in his bosom.
1. The sacred tables he dashes on the ground. Since they had thus forsaken God's covenant, he would awaken in them a sense of the heinousness of their guilt. The blessings that God intended for them are lost, and they are left, as it were, open to every judgment which they had provoked. Observe; The greatest curse that can fall upon any people is the taking from them the word of God.
2. He seizes the hateful idol, plucks it from its throne in the midst of the astonished multitude, grinds it to powder, and, sprinkling the dust in the water, makes them drink it, to shew them the vanity of their wretched idol. Learn, The heart, which departs from God, drinks in iniquity like water; but in all its draughts of pleasurable sin, the curse, like this dust, mixes with it, and leaves a misery behind, which only they who taste it know.
Exodus 32:22-24. That they are set on mischief— In the original, this is only, that they in mischief. Houbigant renders it, thou knowest, effrenatam mentem, the unbridled disposition of this people: but this does not seem to come up to the force of the original, which expresses the total depravation and wickedness of this people. See 1 John 5:19. Houbigant observes justly, that this was a very poor excuse in Aaron; who, the more prone the people were to wickedness, ought therefore the more strongly to have resisted them. Indeed, the manner in which he speaks of the calf, Exo 32:24 shews great disingenuousness: I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf; as if not design, but chance had produced the idol; when it is evident from Exo 32:4 that he was the principal person concerned in the fashioning of it: ready enough to confess the people's, he was desirous to extenuate his own guilt. Compare this with Adam's excuse, Genesis 3:12.
Note; 1. Aaron was first in office, and therefore first in guilt. The sins which magistrates suffer with their consent, or through their connivance, God will heavily reckon for, when he judgeth. 2. Aaron's mean evasion. When we sin, how often and naturally does the devil help us to excuse ourselves at the expence of others. Like Aaron, we seek to cover our sins, and thus shew our folly as well as our wickedness. From God they cannot be concealed. Aaron seems to have been more solicitous to avert Moses's anger than God's displeasure. He begs him not to be wroth, as if it were of importance what man thought of him. But how often does the fear of man thus frighten us more than all the wrath of an offended God! See the deep unbelief of the heart when hardened by sin!
Exodus 32:25. When Moses saw, &c.— Some expositors understand by this passage, not only their being divested of their virtue and piety, which was their ornament and defence, but also their being unarmed, dispersed up and down the plain at their sports; nay, and even guilty of acts of abominable conduct in the midst of their idolatrous mirth. But if this had been implied, one should have conceived, that the same word would have been used here as in Gen 3:7 where Adam's loss of his original virtue is spoken of. A different word is here used, פרע parung, which signifies to apostatize, to break loose from the true religion and worship; a sense, which seems better adapted to this place, than that which our translation gives. Houbigant, however, gives another interpretation to the word; which, he says, signifies, to be free from business, to hold a feast: (see ch. Exodus 5:4.) and he gives also a different interpretation to the word that we render amongst their enemies: we subjoin his translation of the verse; which, as he observes very justly, is an introduction to the slaughter by the Levites, mentioned in the next verse. But Moses, when he saw the people feasting, (for, by the command of Aaron, they held a feast, Exodus 32:5.) and easy to be slain, if any one should fall upon them, Exodus 32:26 stood in the gate of the camp, and said, &c. The gate of the camp was the place where the courts of judgment were held, a custom which seems derived from the patriarchal times; (Genesis 10:18; Genesis 34:20.) and was continued under the commonwealth of Israel; see Ruth 1:11.Deuteronomy 17:5; Deuteronomy 17:5. See the Abbe Fleury's history of the Israelites, ch. 22:
Exodus 32:26. Who is on the Lord's side?— See 2 Kings 9:32. The Chaldee renders this, who feareth the Lord, let him come to me: that is, whosoever abhorreth this idolatry, and is zealous for the honour of Jehovah: accordingly, all the sons of Levi joined themselves to him; an expression, which, as appears from the context, must mean, all those of the sons of Levi who had not joined in this defection. To them Moses, as, under God, their chief ruler, commits the execution of that dreadful sentence, which God, their uncontrouled Sovereign, had passed. For let it be observed, that Moses acted not here by any private authority, but by the immediate command and direction of Go; thus saith the Lord God of Israel, put every man, &c. God, as King of the Jews, passes this sentence upon the most gross delinquents; such as had been guilty of the blackest treason and basest rebellion against him; a rebellion, aggravated by every opprobrious circumstance. And, considered in this view, the action of Moses calls for no vindication, as it can never be drawn into example, except by one who could produce the same authority from God: and certainly the Almighty, not only as Lord of life and death in general, but as Sovereign of Israel in particular, might, with as much justice, take away the lives of these offenders by the sword of the Levites, as by a pestilence or a famine: while it is very plain to observe, that the impulse by which the Levites acted, as well as the terror which occasioned the people to submit to so small a number of men, must have been immediately from God; otherwise one cannot conceive, that such a number would have submitted to death without any resistance; unless we suppose with some, that they were loaded with liquor, enervated by dancing and sports, and utterly without any arms wherewith to make resistance.
Exodus 32:29. For Moses had said, Consecrate yourselves— Heb. Fill your hands: see the note on ch. Exodus 29:9. The reading of the margin of our Bibles, (And Moses said, Consecrate yourselves to-day to the Lord, because every man hath been against his sin, and against his brother,) as it is nearest to the Hebrew, so is it most agreeable to the context: and as, for this and other marks of zeal, the tribe of Levi was consecrated to the Lord, or, according to the Hebrew expression, filled their hands with his offerings; so, doubtless, this verse refers to that consecration, as will appear very evident from Deuteronomy 33:9-10. Moved by that important maxim of religious patriotism, that all private considerations must give place to those of a public nature, the sons of Levi seem to have forgotten their nearest and dearest attachments in the cause of God; proving themselves worthy of him, as not loving father or mother more than God, Matthew 10:35-37; a fortitude, which, while some admire in a Brutus, a Timoleon, a Pausanias, and other the greatest heroes of antiquity, let them not condemn in these Israelites; especially since God, the best Judge of moral actions, rewarded what they did with a distinguished blessing.
REFLECTIONS.—Moses now turns to the people, and not by words, but deeds, testifies his indignation.
1. They were now become exposed to God's judgments, and the swords of their enemies. Sin is the nakedness of the soul; and if that be not covered by the blood and merit of a Redeemer, the sword of God's wrath will surely find us out.
2. Vengeance is executed on the ringleaders. Moses stands and charges those who are on God's side to come to him: the sons of Levi obey. They gird on their swords, pass at Moses's command through the camp, and consecrate themselves to God in the blood of the rebels. Note; (1.) We must side either with God, or with the world and the devil; and it highly concerns us to inquire whose interests we support, and whose banners we fight under. (2.) They were fearless of danger. Those who would minister before God in a sinful world, have need of fortitude. (3.) They met no resistance. Guilt makes men cowards: the very presence of a godly man strikes an evident awe upon them.
3. Three thousand fell. The morning opened with shouts of joy; the evening closed with dying groans. Such changes do divine judgments suddenly make. Tremble, thou joyous sinner, at the sword which threatens to descend, and turn thy mirth into never-ending misery!
Exodus 32:31. Moses returned unto the Lord, and said— See Deuteronomy 9:18.
Exodus 32:32. If not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book— In Numbers 11:15. Moses makes use of an expression plainer than this, but both, no doubt, of the same import: If thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand. It can not be imagined that Moses desired to be blotted out of the book of eternal life: this desire would not only have been highly impious in itself, but utterly inconsistent with that desire of self-happiness, which is the first law of nature. Besides, such a wish was not pertinent to the point in hand. Moses was interceding with God to pardon the rebellious Israelites, and to take them again into his covenant and favour: his request respected this life and the things of it only; and therefore his petition was very natural, that, if God thought not fit to grant his request, he would blot out his name from the book which he had written; that is, take away the life which he had given him, and thus seclude him also from all the blessings of that temporal covenant which he had made with Israel; and the benefits of which God had offered (Exodus 32:10.) to transfer to himself. See 1 Kings 19:4.
God first declared to Moses, that he would utterly destroy the whole race of Israel, who had thus rebelled against him, Exodus 32:9-10. Moses intercedes, and gets this terrible purpose changed; especially by reminding the Lord of his covenant and promise to Abraham, &c. Exodus 32:13-14. Descending from the mount, Moses by the Lord's command makes a fearful example of some of the most grievous offenders; after which he returns to the mount, and renews his intercession for the preservation of the whole remaining people, and for their inheritance of God's promise; requesting that, if the Almighty determined to destroy them, he would destroy him also: upon which the Almighty declares, that they who had sinned should certainly be destroyed, though he would fulfil his promise, and lead their posterity to the promised land.
Thy book which thou hast written, is a phrase referring to God, (after a human manner, which is usual in the Mosaic writings,) as keeping a book, and therein entering the names of all his creatures; and to this many passages in Scripture refer; see Psalms 56:8; Psalms 69:28; Psalms 87:6; Psalms 139:16. Isaiah 4:3. Eze 13:9 which last passage fully explains the present; neither shall they be written in the writing of the house of Israel, says the prophet. So Deu 25:6 it is said, that his name be not put out of Israel, out of that roll or register of Israel, which was supposed to be before God.—As the ideas in the Revelation, and in many other parts of the New Testament, are taken from the Old, and from the Jewish mode of thinking; so, a book of eternal life is there spoken of, no doubt, in allusion to this book of temporal life, and of the Jewish covenant to which Moses alludes. See Revelation 3:5.Philippians 4:3; Philippians 4:3. An ancient bishop (Paulinus) remarks well upon this intercession of Moses, that there is a great deal of pious art and policy in the petition or proposal, as we may call it, which this great favourite and confident of God offers to him. He does not make it at all adventures, as one less acquainted with the Divine mind might do; nor does he make it out of a slight contempt of life, as one whose circumstances had brought him into despair, might do. He knew God's goodness was infinite, as well as his justice; so that, in this alternative, either be thou pleased to slay me and them together, or to spare them and me together, he was sensible he should engage God's mercy to pardon the criminals; while on their behalf he devoted himself at the same time to that justice, which cannot be supposed capable of hurting the innocent.
Exodus 32:33. Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out— i.e. I will not suffer them to live, to enjoy the temporal benefits and privileges of my covenant; and the sequel will shew us how this was verified. Impatient of Moses's delay for forty days in the mount, they were condemned to wander forty years in the wilderness, and, for this and other offences, never to enter Canaan.
Exodus 32:34. Lead the people unto the place, &c.— For an exposition of this verse, we refer to the 1st verse of the next chapter. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit, &c. seems to refer to some future and great visitation, when this sin of their fathers should be remembered upon Israel. See Amos 5:25.Acts 7:42; Acts 7:42.
Exodus 32:35. And the Lord plagued the people— It might be rendered, thus the Lord punished the people, because they had made the calf which Aaron made; a mode of expression, which involves them and Aaron in equal guilt; and shews, that they who command an evil thing to be done, are equally criminal with the doers of it; see Acts 1:18. The Samaritan, Syriac, &c. render this, because they worshipped the calf which Aaron made.
REFLECTIONS.—It was, no doubt, a melancholy night which Israel spent. The morning comes, and Moses goes forth,
1. To admonish the people of the greatness of their sin. Though God had not executed vengeance on all the idolaters, it was not that they did not all deserve it. Whether God would spare the rest, was yet a peradventure; and therefore it became them to be deeply affected with the sense of their ingratitude, whilst he offered once more to go up to God, and plead for them. Note; (1.) To affect the conscience with a sense of sin, should be the first labour of God's ministers. (2.) The atonement which the Saviour has made for sin, shews in the most astonishing view its evil and malignity. (3.) It is our comfort, that he who is gone up with his own blood into the presence of God to make atonement, not only gives us the peradventure of hope, but the assurance of promise. (4.) It is still our duty to be found waiting upon him in prayer, that we may receive the atonement.
2. He goes up to the mount, and prays. He confesses the greatness of the crime: for it is not by extenuating, but by acknowledging our guilt, that we may hope for mercy. He begs hard for pardon; but, if he cannot obtain it, he begs to fall with them, rather than survive the afflicting scene. Note; The welfare of God's Israel is dearer to God's ministers than every consideration of their own, yea, even than their own life: they are ready to lay down that for their sake.
3. God graciously receives his intercession, and grants his request, with some alarming threatenings however against the transgressors: they shall notwithstanding feel his visitations.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Exodus 32". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent