Exodus 32:28
And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
Exodus 32:28. And there fell of the people that day about three thousand men — Probably these were but few in comparison with the many that were guilty; but these were the men that headed the rebellion, and were therefore picked out to be made examples of, for terror to others.32:21-29 Never did any wise man make a more frivolous and foolish excuse than that of Aaron. We must never be drawn into sin by any thing man can say or do to us; for men can but tempt us to sin, they cannot force us. The approach of Moses turned the dancing into trembling. They were exposed to shame by their sin. The course Moses took to roll away this reproach, was, not by concealing the sin, or putting any false colour upon it, but by punishing it. The Levites were to slay the ringleaders in this wickedness; yet none were executed but those who openly stood forth. Those are marked for ruin who persist in sin: those who in the morning were shouting and dancing, before night were dying. Such sudden changes do the judgments of the Lord sometimes make with sinners that are secure and jovial in their sin.The tribe of Levi, Moses' own tribe, now distinguished itself by immediately returning to its allegiance and obeying the call to fight on the side of Yahweh. We need not doubt that the 3,000 who were slain were those who persisted in resisting Moses. The spirit of the narrative forbids us to conceive that the act of the Levites was anything like an indiscriminate massacre. An amnesty had first been offered to all by the words: "Who is on the Lord's side?" Those who were forward to draw the sword were directed not to spare their closest relations or friends; but this must plainly have been with an understood qualification as regards the conduct of those who were to be slain. Had it not been so, they who were on the Lord's side would have had to destroy each other. We need not stumble at the bold, simple way in which the statement is made.26-28. Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said—The camp is supposed to have been protected by a rampart after the attack of the Amalekites.

Who is on the Lord's side? let him come unto me—The zeal and courage of Moses was astonishing, considering he opposed an intoxicated mob. The people were separated into two divisions, and those who were the boldest and most obstinate in vindicating their idolatry were put to death, while the rest, who withdrew in shame or sorrow, were spared.

And no more, for it is probable they slew only those whom they knew to have been the ringleaders to others in this mischief. And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses,.... They girded their swords by their sides, went through the camp, and slew their brethren, companions and neighbours, who were keeping holy day in honour of the idol:

and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men; the Vulgate Latin version reads 23,000, very wrongly; now these being chiefly, if not altogether, of the tribe of Levi, the brethren, companions, and neighbours of the Levites, that were the slayers, together with the after plagues that came upon them, Exodus 32:35 account for the deficiency of males in this tribe, some few months after, when it was numbered; and the number of them from one month old and upwards amounted but to 22,000, which was but a very small one in proportion to the other tribes, who generally, one with another, numbered 40,000 each, and none so few as 30,000 (r); of this tribe Aaron was, and therefore used with severity, because of his concern in this sin; and even though it was the tribe of Moses, it was not spared.

(r) See the Bishop of Clogber's Chronology of the Hebrew Bible, p. 360, 362.

And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Verse 28. - About three thousand. We cannot gather from this, as some have done, that the Levites who rallied to Moses were only 3,000 - for every Levite was not obliged to kill a man - but only that, when this number was slain, the idolaters desisted from their orgy After the calf had been destroyed, Moses called Aaron to account. "What has this people done to thee ("done" in a bad sense, as in Genesis 27:45; Exodus 13:11), that thou hast brought a great sin upon it?" Even if Aaron had merely acted from weakness in carrying out the will of the people, he was the most to blame, for not having resisted the urgent entreaty of the people firmly and with strong faith, and even at the cost of his life. Consequently he could think of nothing better than the pitiful subterfuge, "Be not angry, my lord (he addresses Moses in this way on account of his office, and because of his anger, cf. Numbers 12:11): thou knowest the people, that it is in wickedness" (cf. 1 John 5:19), and the admission that he had been overcome by the urgency of the people, and had thrown the gold they handed him into the fire, and that this calf had come out (Exodus 32:22-24), as if the image had come out of its own accord, without his intention or will. This excuse was so contemptible that Moses did not think it worthy of a reply, at the same time, as he told the people afterwards (Deuteronomy 9:20), he averted the great wrath of the Lord from him through his intercession.
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