Exodus 32:4
And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.
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(4) And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool.—Rather, and he received it (i.e., the gold) at their hand, and bound it in a bag. So Gesenius, Rosenmüller, Fürst, Knobel, Kurtz, Maurer, Seröder, Cook, &c. “Fashioned it with a graving tool” is a possible rendering of the Hebrew words, but will not suit here, since the next clause tells us that the image was a molten one, and if it had been intended to say that the image was first molten and then finished with a graving too!, the order of the two clauses would have been inverted. A similar phrase to that here used has the sense of “bound in a bag” in 2Kings 5:23.

After he had made it a molten calf.—This is a quite impossible rendering. The original gives “and,” not “after.” The action of this clause must either be simultaneous with that of the last or subsequent. Translate, and made it into a molten calf.

A molten calf.—It has been usual to regard the selection of the “calf” form for the image as due to Egyptian influences. But the Egyptian calf-worship, or, rather, bull-worship, was not a worship of images, but of living animals. A sacred bull, called Apis, was worshipped at Memphis, and another, called Mnevis, at Heliopolis, both being regarded as actual incarnate deities. Had Egyptian ideas been in the ascendant, it would have been natural to select a living bull, which might have “gone before” the people literally. The “molten calf,” which had no very exact counterpart in Egypt, perhaps points back to an older idolatry, such as is glanced at in Joshua 24:14, where the Israelites are warned to “put away the gods which their fathers served on the other side of the flood,” i.e., of the Euphrates. Certainly the bull form was more distinctive of the Babylonian and Assyrian than of the Egyptian worship, and it may he suspected that the emigrants from Chaldæa had clung through all their wanderings to the mystic symbolism which had been elaborated in that primæval land, and which they would contrast favourably with the coarse animal worship of Egypt. In Chaldæa, the bull, generally winged and human-headed, represented the combination of wisdom, strength, and omnipresence, which characterises divinity; and this combination might well have seemed to carnal minds no unapt symbol of Jehovah.

These be thy gods.—Rather, This is thy god.

Exodus 32:4. He made it a molten calf — He melted it down, and, having a mould prepared, poured the melted gold into it, and then produced it in the shape of an ox or calf giving it some finishing strokes with a graving tool. “They made a calf,” says David, “in Horeb, and worshipped the molten image: they changed their glory into the similitude of an ox that eateth grass.” It is probable that the origin of this idolatry was from Egypt. The Scriptures inform us that the Israelites in Egypt imitated the Egyptian superstitions, Joshua 24:14; Ezekiel 20:7-8. Now that the Egyptians worshipped animals as early as these days, appears from Exodus 8:26. An ox or calf in particular was their great idol. So that we may with certainty conclude, notwithstanding what some late commentators have alleged, that Aaron, in compliance with the prejudices of the people, made this calf after the model of what the Israelites had seen in Egypt, consecrating it to Jehovah as the Egyptians had consecrated similar symbols to their principal deity Osiris. Aaron’s compliance with the popular clamour was, undoubtedly, highly criminal: he ought to have opposed them with all his might, nay, he ought rather to have suffered death than to have yielded to their will in any degree. Accordingly, we find it recorded, (Deuteronomy 9:20,) that “the Lord was very angry with him to have destroyed him,” but that Moses “prayed for him.” They said, These be thy gods — Or as Nehemiah expresses, (Nehemiah 9:18,) This is thy God; that is, This is the image or symbol of thy God; who brought thee out of Egypt — For they intended to worship the true God, by this image, as afterward Jeroboam did by the same image, it being incredible that the generality of the Israelites should be so void of all sense and reason, as to think that this new-made calf brought them out of Egypt, even before its own creation, and that this was the same Jehovah that had so lately spoken to them from heaven with an audible voice, saying, “I am the Lord thy God who brought thee out of the land of Egypt.”

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.The sense approved by most modern critics is: and he received the gold at their hand and collected it in a bag and made it a molten calf. The Israelites must have been familiar with the ox-worship of the Egyptians; perhaps many of them had witnessed the rites of Mnevis at Heliopolis, almost; on the borders of the land of Goshen, and they could not have been unacquainted with the more famous rites of Apis at Memphis. It is expressly said that they yielded to the idolatry of Egypt while they were in bondage Joshua 24:14; Ezekiel 20:8; Ezekiel 23:3, Ezekiel 23:8; and this is in keeping with the earliest Jewish tradition (Philo). In the next verse, Aaron appears to speak of the calf as if it was a representative of Yahweh - "Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord." The Israelites did not, it should be noted, worship a living Mnevis, or Apis, having a proper name, but only the golden type of the animal. The mystical notions connected with the ox by the Egyptian priests may have possessed their minds, and, when expressed in this modified and less gross manner, may have been applied to the Lord, who had really delivered them out of the hand of the Egyptians. Their sin then lay, not in their adopting another god, but in their pretending to worship a visible symbol of Him whom no symbol could represent. The close connection between the calves of Jeroboam and this calf is shown by the repetition of the formula, "which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt" 1 Kings 12:28.

These be thy gods - This is thy god. See Exodus 32:1 note.

4. fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf—The words are transposed, and the rendering should be, "he framed with a graving tool the image to be made, and having poured the liquid gold into the mould, he made it a molten calf." It is not said whether it was of life size, whether it was of solid gold or merely a wooden frame covered with plates of gold. This idol seems to have been the god Apis, the chief deity of the Egyptians, worshipped at Memphis under the form of a live ox, three years old. It was distinguished by a triangular white spot on its forehead and other peculiar marks. Images of it in the form of a whole ox, or of a calf's head on the end of a pole, were very common; and it makes a great figure on the monuments where it is represented in the van of all processions, as borne aloft on men's shoulders.

they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt—It is inconceivable that they, who but a few weeks before had witnessed such amazing demonstrations of the true God, could have suddenly sunk to such a pitch of infatuation and brutish stupidity, as to imagine that human art or hands could make a god that should go before them. But it must be borne in mind, that though by election and in name they were the people of God, they were as yet, in feelings and associations, in habits and tastes, little, if at all different, from Egyptians. They meant the calf to be an image, a visible sign or symbol of Jehovah, so that their sin consisted not in a breach of the FIRST [Ex 20:3], but of the SECOND commandment [Ex 20:4-6].

A molten calf: the meaning of this translation is, that Aaron, to wit, by artificers, did first melt the god into one mass, and then by the graving-tool form it into the shape of a calf, and polish it; or as others render the words, he

formed it in a type or mould, made in the shape of a calf, into which he cast the molten gold, and so made it a molten calf. But the words may be translated thus, He put it, or them, into a purse; for so the Hebrew verb and noun are both used, 2 Kings 5:23; and in like manner Gideon disposed the earrings given him for the like use, Judges 8:24; and afterwards he made of them a molten calf. Now the people desired, and Aaron in compliance with them made this in the form of a

calf, or an ox, (for the word signifies both,) in imitation of the Egyptians, as Philo the Jew expressly affirms, and the learned generally agree; and it may thus appear:

1. The great idols of the Egyptians, Apis, Seraphis, and Isis, were oxen and cows, as is confessed.

2. The Egyptians, besides the creatures which they adored as gods, did also make, and keep, and worship their images, as even the heathen writers, Mela and Strabo, affirm.

3. The Israelites, whilst they were in Egypt, were many of them infected with the Egyptian idolatry, as it appears from Joshua 24:14 Ezekiel 20:7,8 23:3 Acts 7:39. And it is not unlikely divers of them hankered no less after the idols, than after the garlic and onions of Egypt. And being now, as they thought, forsaken by Moses, they might think of returning to Egypt, as afterwards they did, and therefore chose a god of the Egyptian mode, that they might more willingly receive them again.

These be thy gods, i.e. this is thy god, the plural number being put for the singular, as it is usual in this case. The meaning is, This is the sign, or symbol, or image of thy god; for such expressions are very frequent: thus this image of a calf is called a calf frequently, and the images of the temple of Diana are called shrines or little temples, Ac 19. So they intended to worship the true God by this image, as afterwards Jeroboam did by the same image, as we shall plainly see when we come to that place of Scripture. And it is absolutely incredible that the generality of the Israelites should be so void of all sense and reason, as to think that this new-made calf did bring them out Egypt before its own creation, and that this was the same Jehovah who had even now spoken to them from heaven with an audible voice, saying, I am the Lord thy God who brought thee out of the land of Egypt.

And he received them at their hand,.... For the use they delivered them to him:

and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf; that is, after he had melted the gold, and cast it into a mould, which gave it the figure of a calf, and with his tool wrought it into a more agreeable form, he took off the roughness of it, and polished it; or if it was in imitation of the Egyptian Apis or Osiris, he might with his graving tool engrave such marks and figures as were upon that; to cause the greater resemblance, so Selden (y) thinks; see Gill on Jeremiah 46:20 or else the sense may be, that he drew the figure of a calf with his tool, or made it in "a mould" (z), into which he poured in the melted gold:

and made it a molten calf; the Targum of Jonathan gives another sense of the former clause, "he bound it up in a napkin"; in a linen cloth or bag, i.e. the gold of the ear rings, and then put it into the melting pot, and so cast it into a mould, and made a calf of it. Jarchi takes notice of this sense, and it is espoused by Bochart (a), who produces two passages of Scripture for the confirmation of it, Judges 8:24 and illustrates it by Isaiah 46:6. What inclined Aaron to make it in the form of a calf, is not easy to say; whether in imitation of the cherubim, one of the faces of which was that of an ox, as Moncaeus thought; or whether in imitation of the Osiris of the Egyptians, who was worshipped in a living ox, and sometimes in the image of one, even a golden one. Plutarch is express for it, and says (b), that the ox was an image of Osiris, and that it was a golden one; and so says Philo the Jew (c), the Israelites, emulous of Egyptian figments, made a golden ox; or whether he did this to make them ashamed of their idolatry, thinking they would never be guilty of worshipping the form of an ox eating grass, or because an ox was an emblem of power and majesty:

and they said, these be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt; they own they were, brought up out of that land by the divine Being; and they could not be so stupid as to believe, that this calf, which was only a mass of gold, figured and decorated, was inanimate, had no life nor breath, and was just made, after their coming out of Egypt, was what brought them from hence; but that this was a representation of God, who had done this for them; yet some Jewish writers are so foolish as to suppose, that through art it had the breath of life in it, and came out of the mould a living calf, Satan, or Samael, entering into it, and lowed in it (d).

(y) De Diis Syris Syntagm. 1. c. 4. p. 138. (z) "formavit illud modulo", Piscator; so some in Ben Melech, and in Vatablus; and so the Vulgate Latin, "formant opere fusorio"; see Fagius in loc. (a) Hierozoic. p. 1. l. 2. c. 39. col. 334, 335. (b) De Isid. & Osir. (c) De Vita Mosis, l. 3. p. 677. (d) Pirke Eliezer, c. 45.

And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a {d} molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.

(d) They remembered the sins of Egypt, where they saw calves, oxen and serpents worshipped.

4. fashioned it, &c.] the earrings having naturally been previously melted down, and cast approximately into the shape of a young bull. The image may either have been of solid gold, or, in spite of the term ‘molten’ (see Isaiah 30:22; and cf. Deuteronomy 7:25, Isaiah 40:19), have consisted of a wooden core, overlaid with gold: v. 24b—though the terms used can hardly be pressed—would suggest the former view, v. 20 would favour the latter.

a graving tool] a pointed metal instrument: the word rendered ‘pen’ (i.e. a sharp metal stylus) in Isaiah 8:1.

calf] The Heb. ‘çgel means a young bull, just as the fem. ‘eglâh (EVV. usually ‘heifer’) means a young cow; but it does not mean necessarily an animal as young as a ‘calf’: the ‘eglâh for instance might be three years old (Genesis 15:9), and give milk (Isaiah 7:21), or plough (Jdg 14:18).

These be thy gods] Cf. almost the same words in 1 Kings 12:28 : in the allusion, Nehemiah 9:18, the sing. ‘This’ is used. ‘These’ must refer to an actual plural, and is of course quite suitable in speaking of Jeroboam’s two calves; here it seems as if the narrator had used the plural for the purpose of introducing a covert polemic against the calf-worship of the N. kingdom. So v. 8.

which brought thee, &c.] They recognize in the calf, not only the god who should in the future (v. 1) go before them, but also the god who had already led them forth out of Egypt.

Verse 4. - And fashioned it with a graving tool. Rather, "and bound it (the gold) in a bag." Compare 2 Kings 5:23, where the same two Hebrew words occur in the same sense. It is impossible to extract from the original the sense given in the Authorised Version, since the simple copula van cannot mean "after." When two verbs in the same tense are conjoined by van "and," the two actions must be simultaneous, or the latter follow the former. But the calf cannot have been graven first, and then molten. It is objected to the rendering, "he bound it in a bag," that that action is so trivial that it would be superfluous to mention it (Keil). But it is quite consonant with the simplicity of Scripture to mention very trivial circumstances. The act of putting up in bags is mentioned both here and also in 2 Kings 5:23, and 2 Kings 12:9. They said. The fashioners of the image said this. These be thy gods. Rather, "This is thy God." Why Aaron selected the form of the calf as that which he would present to the Israelites to receive their worship, has been generally explained by supposing that his thoughts reverted to Egypt, and found in the Apis of Memphis or the Mnevis of Hellopolis the pattern which he thought it best to follow. But there are several objections to this view.

1. The Egyptian gods had just been discredited by their powerlessness being manifested - it was an odd time at which to fly to them.

2. Apis and Mnevis were not molten calves, but live bulls. If the design had been to revert to Egypt, would not a living animal have been selected?

3. The calf when made was not viewed as an image of any Egyptian god, but as a representation of Jehovah (ver. 5).

4. The Israelites are never taxed with having worshipped the idols of Egypt anywhere else than in Egypt (Joshua 24:14; Ezekiel 20:8; Ezekiel 23:3). To us it seems probable that Aaron reverted to an earlier period than the time of the sojourn in Egypt, that he went back to those "gods on the other side of the flood," which Joshua warned the Israelites some sixty years later, to "put away" (Joshua l.s.c.). The subject is one too large for discussion here; but may not the winged and human-headed bull, which was the emblem of divine power from a very early date in Babylon, have retained a place in the recollections of the people in all their wanderings, and have formed a portion of their religions symbolism? May it not have been this conception which lay at the root of the cherubic forms, and the revival of which now seemed to Aaron the smallest departure from pure monotheism with which the people would be contented? Exodus 32:4He took (the golden ear-rings) from their hands, and formed it (the gold) with the graving-tool, or chisel, and made it a molten calf." Out of the many attempts that have been made at interpreting the words בּחרט אתו ויּצר, there are only two that deserve any notice, viz., the one adopted by Bochart and Schroeder, "he bound it up in a bag," and the one given by the earlier translators, "he fashioned (יצר, as in 1 Kings 7:15) the gold with the chisel." No doubt ויּצר (from צוּר equals צרר) does occur in the sense of binding in 2 Kings 5:23, and חרט may certainly be used for חריט a bag; but why should Aaron first tie up the golden ear-rings in a bag? And if he did so, why this superfluous and incongruous allusion to the fact? We give in our adhesion to the second, which is adopted by the lxx, Onkelos, the Syriac, and even Jonathan, though the other rendering is also interpolated into the text. Such objections, as that the calf is expressly spoken of as molten work, or that files are used, and not chisels, for giving a finer finish to casts, have no force whatever. The latter is not even correct. A graving-knife is quite as necessary as a file for chiselling, and giving a finer finish to things cast in a mould; and cheret does not necessarily mean a chisel, but may signify any tool employed for carving, engraving, and shaping hard metals. The other objection rests upon the supposition that massecah means an image made entirely of metal (e.g., gold). But this cannot be sustained. Apart from the fact, that most of the larger idols worshipped by the ancients had a wooden centre, and were merely covered with gold plate, such passages as Isaiah 40:19 and Isaiah 30:22 prove, not only that the casting of gold for idols consisted merely in casting the metal into a flat sheet, which the goldsmith hammered out and spread into a coating of gold plate, but also that a wooden image, when covered in this way with a coating of gold, was actually called massecah. And Aaron's molten calf was also made in this way: it was first of all formed of wood, and then covered with gold plate. This is evident from the way in which it was destroyed: the image was first of all burnt, and then beaten or crushed to pieces, and pounded or ground to powder (Deuteronomy 9:21); i.e., the wooden centre was first burnt into charcoal, and then the golden covering beaten or rubbed to pieces (Exodus 32:20 compared with Deuteronomy 9:21).

The "golden calf" (עגל a young bull) was copied from the Egyptian Apis (vid., Hengstenberg, Dissertations); but for all that, it was not the image of an Egyptian deity-it was no symbol of the generative or bearing power of nature, but an image of Jehovah. For when it was finished, those who had made the image, and handed it over to the people, said, "This is thy God (pluralis majest.), O Israel, who brought thee out of Egypt." This is the explanation adopted in Psalm 106:19-20.

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