Expositor's Bible Commentary
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.CHAPTER XXXII.
THE GOLDEN CALF.
While God was thus providing for Israel, what had Israel done with God? They had grown weary of waiting: had despaired of and slighted their heroic leader, ("this Moses, the man that brought us up,") had demanded gods, or a god, at the hand of Aaron, and had so far carried him with them or coerced him that he thought it a stroke of policy to save them from breaking the first commandment by joining them in a breach of the second, and by infecting "a feast to Jehovah" with the licentious "play" of paganism. At the beginning, the only fitness attributed to Aaron was that "he can speak well." But the plastic and impressible temperament of a gifted speaker does not favour tenacity of will in danger. Demosthenes and Cicero, and Savonarola, the most eloquent of the reformers, illustrate the tendency of such genius to be daunted by visible perils.
God now rejects them because the covenant is violated. As Jesus spoke no longer of "My Father's house," but "your house, left unto you desolate," so the Lord said to Moses, "thy people which thou broughtest up."
But what are we to think of the proposal to destroy them, and to make of Moses a great nation?
We are to learn from it the solemn reality of intercession, the power of man with God, Who says not that He will destroy them, but that He will destroy them if left alone. Who can tell, at any moment, what calamities the intercession of the Church is averting from the world or from the nation?
The first prayer of Moses is brief and intense; there is passionate appeal, care for the Divine honour, remembrance of the saintly dead for whose sake the living might yet be spared, and absolute forgetfulness of self. Already the family of Aaron had been preferred to his, but the prospect of monopolising the Divine predestination has no charm for this faithful and patriotic heart. No sooner has the immediate destruction been arrested than he hastens to check the apostates, makes them exhibit the madness of their idolatry by drinking the water in which the dust of their pulverised god was strewn; receives the abject apology of Aaron, thoroughly spirit-broken and demoralised; and finding the sons of Levi faithful, sends them to the slaughter of three thousand men. Yet this is he who said "O Lord, why is Thy wrath hot against Thy people?" He himself felt it needful to cut deep, in mercy, and doubtless in wrath as well, for true affection is not limp and nerveless: it is like the ocean in its depth, and also in its tempests. And the stern action of the Levites appeared to him almost an omen; it was their "consecration," the beginning of their priestly service.
Again he returns to intercede; and if his prayer must fail, then his own part in life is over: let him too perish among the rest. For this is evidently what he means and says: he has not quite anticipated the spirit of Christ in Paul willing to be anathema for his brethren (Romans 9:3), nor has the idea of a vicarious human sacrifice been suggested to him by the institutions of the sanctuary. Yet how gladly would he have died for his people, who made request that he might die among them!
How nobly he foreshadows, not indeed the Christian doctrine, but the love of Christ Who died for man, Who from the Mount of Transfiguration, as Moses from Sinai, came down (while Peter would have lingered) to bear the sins of His brethren! How superior He is to the Christian hymn which pronounces nothing worth a thought, except how to make my own election sure.