Exodus 32:20
And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and strewed it on the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(20) He took the calf.—To suppress the idolatry, the first step was to destroy the idol. Moses, who must have rallied to his side at once a certain number of the people, laid hold of the calf, and ordered its immediate destruction. He had it submitted to the action of fire, whereby its form was destroyed, and the material, as it would seem, calcined. This calcined material he reduced to a fine powder by rubbing or pounding, and then had the powder sprinkled on the surface of the stream which supplied the camp with water, that so the people might seem, at any rate, to swallow their own sin. Compare the action of Josiah (2Kings 23:6; 2Kings 23:12). No doubt, the process of destruction took some time. It is not meant that it was completed, but only that it was commenced, before Moses turned to other matters.

Exodus 32:20. He took the calf which they had made — The people were evidently overawed by the presence of Moses, and therefore attempted no resistance while he took away their idol to destroy it. Here we see how much Moses excelled Aaron in courage and zeal for the glory of God, as also in authority among the people. He burned the calf — Melted it down, and then filed it to dust. This speedy reduction of the calf to powder, as well as the materials whereof it was made, inclines one to believe that it was not of any considerable size. He strewed it upon the water — Upon the brook which flowed for them from the rock in Horeb; and he made the children of Israel drink of it — Not that he constrained them to it; but, having no other water to drink, they could not avoid, when thirsty, to drink of that with this mixture. Thus it would be taken notice of throughout the camp, and would appear to all who had the least discernment that an idol is nothing, this being reduced to atoms, and made as mere a nothing as could be.32:15-20 What a change it is, to come down from the mount of communion with God, to converse with a wicked world. In God we see nothing but what is pure and pleasing; in the world nothing but what is sinful and provoking. That it might appear an idol is nothing in the world, Moses ground the calf to dust. Mixing this powder with their drink, signified that the backslider in heart should be filled with his own ways.See Deuteronomy 9:21. What is related in this verse must have occupied some time and may have followed the rebuke of Aaron. The act was symbolic, of course. The idol was brought to nothing and the people were made to swallow their own sin (compare Micah 7:13-14).20. he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in the fire, &c.—It has been supposed that the gold was dissolved by natron or some chemical substance. But there is no mention of solubility here, or in De 9:21; it was "burned in the fire," to cast it into ingots of suitable size for the operations which follow—"grounded to powder"; the powder of malleable metals can be ground so fine as to resemble dust from the wings of a moth or butterfly; and these dust particles will float in water for hours, and in a running stream for days. These operations of grinding were intended to show contempt for such worthless gods, and the Israelites would be made to remember the humiliating lesson by the state of the water they had drunk for a time [Napier]. Others think that as the idolatrous festivals were usually ended with great use of sweet wine, the nauseous draught of the gold dust would be a severe punishment (compare 2Ki 23:6, 15; 2Ch 15:16; 34:7). Ground it to powder; melted it either into one great mass, or rather into divers little fragments, which afterwards by a the or other instruments he, by the help of many others, might soon grind to powder, or dust of gold.

Strawed it upon the water; upon the brook which came out of the rock Horeb, Exodus 17:6.

The children of Israel; not all, which would require a long time, but some in the name of the rest; and most probably either the chief promoters of this idolatrous design, or the chief rulers of the people, who should by their power and authority have restrained the people from this wickedness.

To drink of it; of the water into which that dust was cast; partly to make them ashamed of their madness in worshipping a god which now must be drunk, and cast out into the draught; and partly to fill them with terror and dreadful expectation of some ill effect or curse of God to come upon them, either by this draught, or by other means. And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in the fire,.... Melted it down into a mass of gold, whereby it lost its form, and had no more the appearance of a calf:

and ground it to powder; but how this was done is not easy to say, whether by beating the mass of gold into thin plates, and then filing them small; for this art has remained unknown; the chemists have boasted of it as only possessed of it; but it seems Moses, learned in all the learning of the Egyptians, had it: however, it is now certain by various experiments, that gold, though a very thick and heavy body, consists of parts which are separable from one another, and to be divided into infinite subtler parts: the famous Dr. Halley has shown that one grain of gold may be divided into 10,000 parts, and yet visible; and Dr. Keil has demonstrated that a cubic thumb's breadth of gold is divisible into 47,619,047 parts, which do not escape the sight: according to the computation of the said Dr. Halley, leaf gold, with which silver threads are gilded, is not thicker than the 124,500 part of a thumb's breadth; so that a cube of the hundredth part of a thumb's breadth of the said subtle parts may contain 243,000,000 (l):

and strawed it upon the water; of the brook that descended out of the mount, Deuteronomy 9:21 now called the fountain of St. Catharine; which Dr. Shaw (m) says, after it has supplied the demands of the convent (now built on this mount) is received without into a large basin, which running over, forms a little rill: and another traveller (n) speaks of a fountain about the middle of Mount Sinai, which, though small, was found in it running water very wholesome and refreshing: but if this was a brook of running water, it seems more likely that water was taken out of it and put into a proper vessel or vessels, on which the powder of the golden calf was strewed; or otherwise it would have been carried away with the stream, and could not have been taken up and given to the people to drink, as is next said; and this shows that it must be reduced to a very small light powder indeed, to float upon the top of the water and not sink to the bottom, as mere filings of gold would necessarily do:

and made the children of Israel drink of it; not the whole body of them, or every individual, but the more principal persons, and such who had been the most active in encouraging the making of the calf, and the worshipping of it: this was done not only that they might entirely lose their gold and have no manner of profit by it, but that the idol, which is nothing in the world, might be brought to nothing indeed, and that there might be no remains of it to be abused to superstitious uses, as well as to show them their folly in worshipping that which could not save itself; and by drinking it, whereby it passed through them and became an excrement, to express the utmost abhorrence and detestation of it; as also to show that they deserved the curse of God to enter into them, as oil into their bowels, as that water did, and be utterly destroyed: the Jewish writers, as Jarchi and Aben Ezra, suppose this water, with the powder of the golden calf in it, had the same effect and was for the same use as the water of jealousy, that it made the bellies of those that drank it to swell: and the Targum of Jonathan observes, that whoever gave any golden vessel towards the making of the calf, there was a sign appeared in his countenance: and Aben Ezra suggests the same, but neither of them say what it was: but an ancient Latin poet, quoted by Selden (o), reports from the Hebrew writers, that whoever were guilty of this idolatry, as soon as they drank of the water their beards became yellow as gold, whereby the Levites knew who were guilty, and slew them; but as this is quite fabulous, so I have not met with it in any Jewish writer, only an author of theirs, of great antiquity and credit with them, says (p), that whoever kissed the calf with his whole heart, his lips became golden.

(l) Vid. Scheuchzer. Physic. Sacr. vol. 2. p. 247. (m) Travels, p. 242. Ed. 2.((n) Baumgarten. peregrinatio, l. 1. c. 24. p. 61, 62. (o) De Diis Syris Syntagma, 1. c. 4. p. 156. (p) Pirke Eliezer, c. 45.

And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and strawed it upon the water, and made the children of Israel {i} drink of it.

(i) Partly to despise them for their idolatry, and partly so they would have no opportunity to remember the calf later.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
20. The people are made to drink their own sin.

burnt it with fire] i.e. either (cf. on v. 4) burnt the wooden core, and ground the gold plating to powder by rolling large stones to and fro over it; or, if it were wholly of gold, reduced it by fire to shapeless lumps of metal, which were then ground to powder similarly.

strewed it upon the water] Deuteronomy 9:21 says ‘and I cast the dust thereof into the wâdy that descended out of the mount’—apparently to carry it away, without any mention of the Israelites being made to drink it.

to drink of it] Cf. the curses to be drunk by the suspected wife, Numbers 5:24.Verse 20. MOSES DESTROYS THE GOLDEN CALF. The first vengeance which Moses took was upon the idol. It was probably hollow, and possibly of no great size. He might easily break it to pieces and subject the pieces to the action of fire, whereby they would be calcined, and might then be easily reduced to powder. This powder he caused to be mixed with the stream of the brook that flowed from Sinai, so that the Israelites were obliged to swallow with their drink particles of their own idol. Compare the action of Josiah with respect to the "grove" set up in the temple precincts by Manasseh (2 Kings 23:6), which was not identical, but still was similar. It has been suggested that this portion of the narrative is out of proper chronological order; and this may be so far true that the calcining and mixing with the water were at this point commanded rather than executed; but the destruction of the idol would naturally be the first thing which Moses would take in hand, and provide for, before proceeding to anything else. Only when the "abomination" was removed and. its destruction commenced, would he turn his attention to other points. Verse 20. - Burnt it and ground it to powder. Silver and gold subjected for a short time to a white heat, which may be easily produced by bellows, readily calcine, and are then easily crushed to a fine powder. Silver becomes detonating. I am not aware whether the case is the same with gold also. Strawed it - i.e., "sprinkled it." We need not suppose Moses to have done the whole - or even any part - himself. It was enough that he directed it to be done. The water. The article shows some particular water to be meant. We learn from Deuteronomy that it was the water of "the brook that descended out of the mount." Made the children of Israel drink of it. The brook being the only water readily accessible, the Israelites, if they drank at all, were compelled to risk swallowing particles of their "god."

CHAPTER 32:21-24 "And Jehovah repented of the evil, etc." - On the repentance of God, see at Genesis 6:6. Augustine is substantially correct in saying that "an unexpected change in the things which God has put in His own power is called repentance" (contra adv. leg. 1, 20), but he has failed to grasp the deep spiritual idea of the repentance of God, as an anthropopathic description of the pain which is caused to the love of God by the destruction of His creatures. - Exodus 32:14 contains a remark which anticipates the development of the history, and in which the historian mentions the result of the intercession of Moses, even before Moses had received the assurance of forgiveness, for the purpose of bringing the account of his first negotiations with Jehovah to a close. God let Moses depart without any such assurance, that He might display before the people the full severity of the divine wrath.
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