Exodus 32:1
And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.
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(1) When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down.—After seven chapters of directions, which belong to the Mosaic or Levitical Law, the writer here resumes his historical narrative. Leaving Moses still in the mount, he returns to the plain at its base in order to relate the events which had there occurred during Moses’ absence. It has been suggested that Exodus 31 was originally followed by Exodus 35, and that Exodus 32-34 form a “distinct composition,” which was subsequently inserted at this point (Cook). But this supposition is improbable. Exodus 35 does not cohere with Exodus 31. Passing from one to other, we should be sensible of a gap which required filling up. Neither does Exodus 32 commence like an independent narrative. It rests on the fact of the long delay of Moses in Sinai, which requires Exodus 25-31 to explain it; and its mention of “the people,” and “the mount,” without further designation, implies reference to something that has gone before. Exodus 32-34 occur really in their natural, their proper, and, no doubt, in their original place.

The people gathered themselves together unto Aaron.—Moses, before his departure, had left directions that the people should in any difficulty take the advice of Aaron and Hur (Exodus 24:14). It is not surprising, however, that, when the difficulty arose, Aaron alone was consulted. Aaron had been jointleader with Moses from the first (see Exodus 4:29-30; Exodus 5:1; Exodus 5:4; Exodus 5:20, &c.); Hur had only very recently been advanced into a position of authority (Exodus 17:10; Exodus 24:14). He was, at the most, the Lepidus of the Triumvirate.

Up, make us gods.—Rather, make us a god. The religious condition of the Israelites during the sojourn in Egypt has been so entirely passed over in the previous narrative, that this request comes upon us as a surprise and a shock. True, there have been warnings against idolatry, reiterated warnings (Exodus 20:4-5; Exodus 20:23; Exodus 23:32-33), but no tendency towards it has manifested itself, no hint has been given that it was an immediate and pressing danger. When, however, we carefully scrutinise the rest of Scripture, we find reason to believe that a leaning towards idolatry had, in point of fact, shown itself among the people while they were in Egypt, and had even attained some considerable development. (See Leviticus 17:7; Joshua 24:14; Ezekiel 20:8; Ezekiel 23:3.) This tendency had been checked by the series of extraordinary manifestations which had accompanied the exodus. Now, however, in the absence of Moses, in the uncertainty which prevailed as to whether he still lived or not, and in the withdrawal from the camp of that Divine Presence which had hitherto gone before them, the idolatrous instinct once more came to the front. The cry was raised, “make us a god”—make us something to take the place of the pillar of the cloud, something visible, tangible, on which we can believe the Divine Presence to rest, and which may “go before us” and conduct us.

This Moses, the man that brought us up . . . —Contemptuous words, showing how short-lived is human gratitude, and even human respect. An absence of less than six weeks, and a belief that he was no more, had sufficed to change the great deliverer into “this Moses, the man who brought us up.”



Exodus 32:1 - - Exodus 32:8
; Exodus 32:30 - - Exodus 32:35.

It was not yet six weeks since the people had sworn, ‘All that the Lord hath spoken will we do, and be obedient.’ The blood of the covenant, sprinkled on them, was scarcely dry when they flung off allegiance to Jehovah. Such short-lived loyalty to Him can never have been genuine. That mob of slaves was galvanised by Moses into obedience; and since their acceptance of Jehovah was in reality only yielding to the power of one strong will and its earnest faith, of course it collapsed as soon as Moses disappeared.

We have to note, first, the people’s universal revolt. The language of Exodus 32:1 may easily hide to a careless reader the gravity and unanimity of the apostasy. ‘The people gathered themselves together.’ It was a national rebellion, a flood which swept away even some faithful, timid hearts. No voices ventured to protest. What were the elders, who shortly before ‘saw the God of Israel,’ doing to be passive at such a crisis? Was there no one to bid the fickle multitude look up to the summit overhead, where the red flames glowed, or to remind them of the hosts of Egypt lying stark and dead on the shore? Was Miriam cowed too, and her song forgotten?

We need not cast stones at these people; for we also have short memories for either the terrible or the gracious revelations of God in our own lives. But we may learn the lesson that God’s lovers have to set themselves sometimes dead against the rush of popular feeling, and that there are times when silence or compliance is sin.

It would have been easy for the rebels to have ignored Aaron, and made gods for themselves. But they desired to involve him in their apostasy, and to get ‘official sanction’ for it. He had been left by Moses as his lieutenant, and so to get him implicated was to stamp the movement as a regular and entire revolt.

The demand ‘to make gods’ {or, more probably, ‘a god’} flew in the face of both the first and second commandments. For Jehovah, who had forbidden the forming of any image, was denied in the act of making it. To disobey Him was to cast Him off. The ground of the rebellion was the craving for a visible object of trust and a visible guide, as is seen by the reason assigned for the demand for an image. Moses was out of sight; they must have something to look at as their leader. Moses had disappeared, and, to these people who had only been heaved up to the height of believing in Jehovah by Moses, Jehovah had disappeared with him. They sank down again to the level of other races as soon as that strong lever ceased to lift their heavy apprehensions.

How ridiculous the assertion that they did not know what had become of Moses! They knew that he was up there with Jehovah. The elders could have told them that. The fire on the mount might have burned in on all minds the confirmation. Note, too, the black ingratitude and plain denial of Jehovah in ‘the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt.’ They refuse to recognise God’s part. It was Moses only who had done it; and now that he is gone they must have a visible god, like other nations.

Still sadder than their sense-bound wish is Aaron’s compliance. He knew as well as we do what he should have said, but, like many another man in influential position, when beset by popular cries, he was frightened, and yielded when he should have ‘set his face like a flint.’ His compliance has in essentials been often repeated, especially by priests and ministers of religion who have lent their superior abilities or opportunities to carry out the wishes of the ignorant populace, and debased religion or watered down its prohibitions, to please and retain hold of them. The Church has incorporated much from heathenism. Roman Catholic missionaries have permitted ‘converts’ to keep their old usages. Protestant teachers have acquiesced in, and been content to find the brains to carry out, compromises between sense and soul, God’s commands and men’s inclinations.

We need not discuss the metallurgy of Exodus 32:4. But clearly Aaron asked for the earrings, not, as some would have it, hoping that vanity and covetousness would hinder their being given, but simply in order to get gold for the bad work which he was ready to do. The reason for making the thing in the shape of a calf is probably the Egyptian worship of Apis in that form, which would be familiar to the people.

We must note that it was the people who said, ‘These be thy gods, O Israel!’ Aaron seems to keep in the rear, as it were. He makes the calf, and hands it over, and leaves them to hail it and worship. Like all cowards, he thought that he was lessening his guilt by thus keeping in the background. Feeble natures are fond of such subterfuges, and deceive themselves by them; but they do not shift their sin off their shoulders.

Then he comes in again with an impotent attempt to diminish the gravity of the revolt. ‘When he saw this,’ he tried to turn the flood into another channel, and so proclaimed a ‘feast to Jehovah’ !-as if He could be worshipped by flagrant defiance of His commandments, or as if He had not been disavowed by the ascription to the calf, made that morning out of their own trinkets, of the deliverance from Egypt. A poor, inconsequential attempt to save appearances and hallow sin by writing God’s name on it! The ‘god’ whom the Israelites worshipped under the image of a calf, was no less another ‘god before Me,’ though it was called by the name of Jehovah. If the people had their idol, it mattered nothing to them, and it mattered as little to Jehovah, what ‘name’ it bore. The wild orgies of the morrow were not the worship which He accepts.

What a contrast between the plain and the mountain! Below, the shameful feast, with its parody of sacrifice and its sequel of lust-inflamed dancing; above, the awful colloquy between the all-seeing righteous Judge and the intercessor! The people had cast off Jehovah, and Jehovah no more calls them ‘My,’ but ‘thy people.’ They had ascribed their Exodus first to Moses, and next to the calf. Jehovah speaks of it as the work of Moses.

A terrible separation of Himself from them lies in ‘thy people, which thou broughtest up,’ and Moses’ bold rejoinder emphasises the relation and act which Jehovah seems to suppress {Exodus 32:11}. Observe that the divine voice refuses to give any weight to Aaron’s trick of compromise. These are no worshippers of Jehovah who are howling and dancing below there. They are ‘worshipping it, and sacrificing to it,’ not to Him. The cloaks of sin may partly cover its ugliness here, but they are transparent to His eyes, and many a piece of worship, which is said to be directed to Him, is, in His sight, rank idolatry.

We do not deal with the magnificent courage of Moses, his single-handed arresting of the wild rebellion, and the severe punishment by which he trampled out the fire. But we must keep his severity in mind if we would rightly judge his self-sacrificing devotion, and his self-sacrificing devotion if we would rightly judge his severity.

No words of ours can make more sublime his utter self-abandonment for the sake of the people among whom he had just been flaming in wrath, and smiting like a destroying angel. That was a great soul which had for its poles such justice and such love. The very words of his prayer, in their abruptness, witness to his deep emotion. ‘If Thou wilt forgive their sin’ stands as an incomplete sentence, left incomplete because the speaker is so profoundly moved. Sometimes broken words are the best witnesses of our earnestness. The alternative clause reaches the high-water mark of passionate love, ready to give up everything for the sake of its objects. The ‘book of life’ is often spoken of in Scripture, and it is an interesting study to bring together the places where the idea occurs {see Psalm 69:28; Daniel 12:1; Php 4:3; Revelation 3:5}. The allusion is to the citizens’ roll {Psalm 87:6}. Those whose names are written there have the privileges of citizenship, and, as it is the ‘book of life’ {or ‘of the living’}, life in the widest sense is secured to them. To blot out of it, therefore, is to cut a man off from fellowship in the city of God, and from participation in life.

Moses was so absorbed in his vocation that his life was less to him than the well-being of Israel. How far he saw into the darkness beyond the grave we cannot say; but, at least, he was content, and desirous to die on earth, if thereby Israel might continue to be God’s people. And probably he had some gleam of light beyond, which enhanced the greatness of his offered sacrifice. To die, whatever loss of communion with God that involved here or hereafter, would be sweet if thereby he could purchase Israel’s restoration to God’s favour. We cannot but think of Paul willing to be separated from Christ for his brethren’s sake.

We may well think of a greater than Moses or Paul, who did bear the loss which they were willing to bear, and died that sin might be forgiven. Moses was a true type of Christ in that act of supreme self-sacrifice; and all the heroism, the identification of himself with his people, the love which willingly accepts death, that makes his prayer one of the greatest deeds on the page of history, are repeated in infinitely sweeter, more heart-subduing fashion in the story of the Cross. Let us not omit duly to honour the servant; let us not neglect to honour and love infinitely more the Lord. ‘This man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses.’ Let us see that we render Him

‘Thanks never ceasing,

And infinite love.’

Exodus 32:1. The people — That is, some of them, as it is explained 1 Corinthians 10:7. The defection, however, appears to have been very general, though we find several, particularly the sons of Levi, exempt from it, Exodus 32:26. Saw that Moses delayed — He had now been absent from them near forty days. For this defection appears to have happened a day or two before he came down from the mount, Deuteronomy 9:11-12. Gathered themselves together unto Aaron — Or, as the Hebrew is more properly rendered, against Aaron: and so the expression will denote that they came upon him in a tumultuous manner, insisting to have their demands complied with. Up, make us gods — No doubt other discourse had passed before this; to which Aaron making some difficulty to consent, they insisted on having their desire gratified, and said in a seditious manner, Up, without further delay, make us gods, or make us a god, as אלהיםElohim is generally rendered, and ought to be rendered here, as Le Clerc observes, and that for two plain reasons: 1st, Aaron made but one calf, one idol-god; 2d, It appears from Exodus 32:5 that this symbol was consecrated to Jehovah alone. They were weary of waiting for the promised land. They thought themselves detained too long at mount Sinai. They had a God that stayed with them, but they must have a God to go before them to the land flowing with milk and honey. They were weary of waiting for the return of Moses: As for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of Egypt, we know not what is become of him — Observe, How slightly they speak of his person, this Moses: and how suspiciously of his delay, we know not what is become of him. And they were weary of waiting for a divine institution of religious worship among them, so they would have a worship of their own invention, probably such as they had seen among the Egyptians. They say, make us gods, or, a god. But what good would a god of their own making do them? They must have such a god to go before them, such as could not go itself farther than it was carried!

32:1-6 While Moses was in the mount, receiving the law from God, the people made a tumultuous address to Aaron. This giddy multitude were weary of waiting for the return of Moses. Weariness in waiting betrays to many temptations. The Lord must be waited for till he comes, and waited for though he tarry. Let their readiness to part with their ear-rings to make an idol, shame our stubbornness in the service of the true God. They did not draw back on account of the cost of their idolatry; and shall we grudge the expenses of religion? Aaron produced the shape of an ox or calf, giving it some finish with a graving tool. They offered sacrifice to this idol. Having set up an image before them, and so changed the truth of God into a lie, their sacrifices were abomination. Had they not, only a few days before, in this very place, heard the voice of the Lord God speaking to them out of the midst of the fire, Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image? Had they not themselves solemnly entered into covenant with God, that they would do all he had said to them, and would be obedient? ch. 24:7. Yet before they stirred from the place where this covenant had been solemnly made, they brake an express command, in defiance of an express threatening. It plainly shows, that the law was no more able to make holy, than it was to justify; by it is the knowledge of sin, but not the cure of sin. Aaron was set apart by the Divine appointment to the office of the priesthood; but he, who had once shamed himself so far as to build an altar to a golden calf, must own himself unworthy of the honour of attending at the altar of God, and indebted to free grace alone for it. Thus pride and boasting were silenced.In all probability these three chapters originally formed a distinct composition. The main incidents recorded in them follow in the order of time, and are therefore in their proper place as regards historical sequence.

The golden calf - The people had, to a great extent, lost the patriarchal faith, and were but imperfectly instructed in the reality of a personal unseen God. Being disappointed at the long absence of Moses, they seem to have imagined that he had deluded them, and had probably been destroyed amidst the thunders of the mountain Exodus 24:15-18. Accordingly, they gave way to their superstitious fears and fell back upon that form of idolatry which was most familiar to them (see Exodus 32:4 note). The narrative of the circumstances is more briefly given by Moses at a later period in one of his addresses to the people Deuteronomy 9:8-21, Deuteronomy 9:25-29; Deuteronomy 10:1-5, Deuteronomy 10:8-11. It is worthy of remark, that Josephus, in his very characteristic chapter on the giving of the law, says nothing whatever of this act of apostacy, though he relates that Moses twice ascended the mountain.

Exodus 32:1

Unto Aaron - The chief authority during the absence of Moses was committed to Aaron and Hur Exodus 24:14.

Make us gods - The substantive אלהים 'elôhı̂ym is plural in form and may denote gods. But according to the Hebrew idiom, the meaning need not be plural, and hence, the word is used as the common designation of the true God (Genesis 1:1, etc. See Exodus 21:6 note). It here denotes a god, and should be so rendered.


Ex 32:1-35. The Golden Calf.

1. when the people saw that Moses delayed—They supposed that he had lost his way in the darkness or perished in the fire.

the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron—rather, "against" Aaron in a tumultuous manner, to compel him to do what they wished. The incidents related in this chapter disclose a state of popular sentiment and feeling among the Israelites that stands in singular contrast to the tone of profound and humble reverence they displayed at the giving of the law. Within a space of little more than thirty days, their impressions were dissipated. Although they were still encamped upon ground which they had every reason to regard as holy; although the cloud of glory that capped the summit of Sinai was still before their eyes, affording a visible demonstration of their being in close contact, or rather in the immediate presence, of God, they acted as if they had entirely forgotten the impressive scenes of which they had been so recently the witnesses.

said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us—The Hebrew word rendered "gods" is simply the name of God in its plural form. The image made was single, and therefore it would be imputing to the Israelites a greater sin than they were guilty of, to charge them with renouncing the worship of the true God for idols. The fact is, that they required, like children, to have something to strike their senses, and as the Shekinah, "the glory of God," of which they had hitherto enjoyed the sight, was now veiled, they wished for some visible material object as the symbol of the divine presence, which should go before them as the pillar of fire had done.The people commit idolatry by worshipping the molten image which Aaron made, Exodus 32:1-6. God makes it known to Moses, and threatens their destruction, Exo 32 7-10. Moses prays for them, Exo 32 11-13. God repents of the evil, Exo 32 14. Moses comes down from the mount with two tables, Exo 32 15; being God’s own writing, Exo 32 16. Moses hearing and seeing their idolatry, breaks the two tables, Exodus 32:19; and turns the calf into powder, Exodus 32:20. Aaron’s excuse, Exodus 32:21-24. Moses seeing their nakedness, Exodus 32:25, commands them to be slain, Exodus 32:26,27. He bids them consecrate themselves, Exodus 32:29. Moses charging them with sin, Exodus 32:30, prayeth for them, Exodus 32:31,32. God spareth them, Exodus 32:34; but afterward plagueth them, Exodus 32:35.

BC 1491

Moses had now been in the mount for near forty days.

The people, i.e. most or some of the people, as it is expressed 1 Corinthians 10:7.

Unto Aaron, as the chief person in Moses’s absence.

Make us gods, i.e. images or representations of God, whom, after the manner of idolaters, they call by God’s name. For it is ridiculous to think that the body of the Israelites, who were now lately instructed by the mouth, and words, and miraculous works of the eternal God, should be so senseless as to think that was the true God which themselves made, and that out of their own earrings; much more, that that was the God that brought them out of Egypt, as they say, Exodus 32:4.

Which shall go before us, to guide us through this vast wilderness to the Land of Promise, where they longed to be; for as for the cloud, which hitherto had guided them, that seemed now to be fixed upon the mount; and they thought both that Joshua and Moses had deserted them. The Jewish doctors note, that he doth not say, Make us gods whom we may worship, but which shall go before us, which, as they truly say, shows that they wanted not a God, whom they knew by infallible evidences they had, but a visible guide, who might supply the want of Moses, as the next words show.

This Moses; an expression of contempt towards their great deliverer.

What is become of him, whether he be not consumed by the fire in the cloud, or taken up to heaven, or conveyed away by God to some other place.

And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount,.... The time, according to the Targum of Jonathan, being elapsed, which he had fixed for his descent, and through a misreckoning, as Jarchi suggests; they taking the day of his going up to be one of the forty days, at the end of which he was to return, whereas he meant forty complete days; but it is not probable that Moses knew himself how long he should stay, and much less that he acquainted them before hand of it; but he staying longer than they supposed he would, they grew uneasy and impatient, and wanted to set out in their journey to Canaan, and to have some symbol and representation of deity to go before them:

the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron; who with Hur was left to judge them in the absence of Moses: it was very likely that they had had conferences with him before upon this head, but now they got together in a tumultuous manner, and determined to carry their point against all that he should say to the contrary:

and said unto him, up; put us off no longer, make no more delay, but arise at once, and set about what has been once and again advised to and importuned:

make us gods which shall go before us; not that they were so very stupid to think, that anything that could be made with hands was really God, or even could have life and breath, and the power of self-motion, or of walking before them; but that something should be made as a symbol and representation of the divine Being, carried before them; for as for the cloud which had hitherto gone before them, from their coming out of Egypt, that had not moved from its place for forty days or more, and seemed to them to be fixed on the mount, and would not depart from it; and therefore they wanted something in the room of it as a token of the divine Presence with them:

for as for this Moses; of whom they speak with great contempt, though he had been the deliverer of them, and had wrought so many miracles in their favour, and had been the instrument of so much good unto them:

the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt; this they own, but do not seem to be very thankful for it:

we wot not what is become of him; they could scarcely believe that he was alive, that it was possible to live so long a time without eating and drinking; or they supposed he was burnt on the mount of flaming fire from before the Lord, as the Targum of Jonathan expresses it.

And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, (a) make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.

(a) The root of Idolatry is when men think that God is not present, unless they see him physically.

1. delayed] Heb. caused shame (i.e. disappointment): the same idiom, Jdg 5:28 (lit. ‘Why doth his chariot put to shame in coming?’).

to Aaron] who had been left below by Moses (Exodus 24:14).

Up, &c.] Hitherto Moses has been Jehovah’s representative: now that he seems to have deserted them, the people want a substitute; so they ask Aaron to make them an image, which, in the manner of antiquity, they may regard as their leader.

gods] The Heb. ’ĕlôhim may have either a sing. or a plur. force; but the verb shall go is plur.: it seems, therefore, either that the plur. is a ‘plural of majesty’ (Genesis 35:7; G.-K. § 145i), or, though the image represents Jehovah (v. 5), that the people are represented as speaking polytheistically. So v. 23.

Verses 1-6. - THE IDOLATRY OF THE GOLDEN CALF. During the absence of Moses in Mount Sinai, an absence of nearly six weeks, the Israelites grew impatient, and regarding their leader as lost to them, and the Divine Presence which they had hitherto enjoyed as lost with him, insisted on having a symbol of that presence made for them, which should henceforth go in front of the host and so lead them on in their journeyings. It would seem that the pillar of the cloud, which had gone before them from Succoth to Sinai, was now removed from the camp, and resting upon the "mount" where Moses was (Exodus 24:15). Under these circumstances they wanted a visible tangible something, in which they could regard the Divine Presence as resting, and whereto they might offer worship and sacrifice (ver. 8). They therefore went to Aaron, whom Moses had bid them consult in any difficulty (Exodus 24:14), and requested him to "make them a god." Aaron had not the courage to meet this request with a plain negative. As Augustine and Theodoret conjecture with much probability, he sought to turn them from their purpose by asking them to give up those possessions which he conceived that they most valued - viz, the personal ornaments of their wives and children. But he had miscalculated the strength of their fanaticism. The people immediately complied - the ornaments were brought in - and Aaron was compelled, either to fly from his word, or to lend himself to the people's wishes. He did the latter. Either looking to Egypt for a pattern, or falling back on some old form of Syrian or Chaldaean idolatry (see the comment on ver. 4), he melted down the gold and cast it into the form of a calf. The "god" being thus made, an altar was built to it (ver. 5) and sacrifice offered (ver 6). Such was the condition of affairs when Moses, having just received the two tables of stone, was warned by God of what had occurred, and bidden to descend from Sinai. Verse 1. - The people saw that Moses delayed to come down. He had been absent, probably, above a month. It was the first day of their worship when he descended; and a week would suffice for the collection of the ornaments, the formation of the mould, and the casting of the idol. Unto Aaron. It is not clear why no mention is made of Hur, who had been made co-regent with Aaron (Exodus 24:14); but perhaps Aaron was known to be the weaker of the two. Up, make us gods. Most moderns translate" a god." But the word is vague, and the speakers did not themselves perhaps care whether one idol was made or more. Which shall go before us. The Israelites were apparently tired of their long delay at Sinai, and were anxious to proceed upon their journey. They wanted a visible god at their head, to give them confidence and courage. Compare 1 Samuel 4:3-8. We wot not what is become of him. He might, they thought, be dead - he might have returned to Egypt - he might be going to stay always with God in the mount which they did not dare to approach. At any rate, he was lost to them, and they might never see him again. Exodus 32:1The long stay that Moses made upon the mountain rendered the people so impatient, that they desired another leader, and asked Aaron, to whom Moses had directed the people to go in all their difficulties during his absence (Exodus 24:14), to make them a god to go before them. The protecting and helping presence of God had vanished with Moses, of whom they said, "We know not what has become of him," and whom they probably supposed to have perished on the mountain in the fire that was burning there. They came to Aaron, therefore, and asked him, not for a leader, but for a god to go before them; no doubt with the intention of trusting the man as their leader who was able to make them a god. They were unwilling to continue longer without a God to go before them; but the faith upon which their desire was founded was a very perverted one, not only as clinging to what was apparent to the eye, but as corrupted by the impatience and unbelief of a natural heart, which has not been pervaded by the power of the living God, and imagines itself forsaken by Him, whenever His help is not visibly and outwardly at hand. The delay (בּשׁשׁ, from בּושׁ to act bashfully, or with reserve, then to hesitate, or delay) of Moses' return was a test for Israel, in which it was to prove its faith and confidence in Jehovah and His servant Moses (Exodus 19:9), but in which it gave way to the temptation of flesh and blood.
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