They made a calf in Horeb, and worshipped the molten image.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)In Horeb.—This expression, which is Deuteronomic (see Deuteronomy 4:15; Deuteronomy 5:2, &c), shows that Deuteronomy 9:8-12, as well as Exodus 32, was before the poet.Psalm 106:19-23. They made a calf in Horeb — When they were but very lately brought out of Egypt, by such wonderful power and goodness of God, and had seen the dreadful plagues of God upon the Egyptian idolaters, and upon their idols too, as is observed Numbers 33:4; and when the law of God was but newly delivered to them, in such a solemn and tremendous manner; and the most high God was yet present, and delivering further precepts to Moses for their benefit upon the top of that very mount. This greatly aggravated their sin. Thus they changed — As far as in them lay, and in respect of their worship; their glory — Their God, who was indeed their glory, for they had this just occasion of triumphing and glorying over all nations of the world, that, whereas all other nations worshipped images made of stocks and stones, or the heavenly bodies, or dead men, they only worshipped the living and true God, who was present, and in covenant with them, and with them only; into the similitude of an ox — Into the golden image of an ox or calf; that eateth grass — Which is so far from feeding its worshippers, as the true God did the Israelites, that it must be fed by them. And yet the image of such a creature was preferred by them before the all-sufficient and ever-blessed God, which was an evidence of their horrid contempt of God, and also of their prodigious folly and stupidity. Therefore he said that he would destroy them — He declared his intention to do this in express words, as Exodus 32:10, and elsewhere. Had not Moses stood in the breach — God had made a wall about them; but they had made a breach in it by their sins, at which the Lord, who was now justly become their enemy, might enter to destroy them; which he certainly would have done, if Moses, by his prevailing intercession, had not hindered him.Exodus 32:4. Probably in resemblance of the Egyptian god "Apis." The image was made by Aaron out of materials furnished by the people, and at their request Exodus 32:1-3, so that it might be said to be the act of the people.
And worshipped the molten image - The word rendered "molten" is from a verb נסך nâsak - to pour, to pour out; hence, to cast, to found; and it means anything that is made by fusion or casting. This image was cast Exodus 32:4, and hence, this name is given to it.
made—though prohibited in Ex 20:4, 5 to make a likeness, even of the true God.
calf—called so in contempt. They would have made an ox or bull, but their idol turned out but a calf; an imitation of the divine symbols, the cherubim; or of the sacred bull of Egyptian idolatry. The idolatry was more sinful in view of their recent experience of God's power in Egypt and His wonders at Sinai (Ex 32:1-6). Though intending to worship Jehovah under the symbol of the calf, yet as this was incompatible with His nature (De 4:15-17), they in reality gave up Him, and so were given up by Him. Instead of the Lord of heaven, they had as their glory the image of an ox that does nothing but eat grass.
20 Thus they changed their glory into the similitude of an ox that eateth grass.
21 They forgat God their saviour, which had done great things in Egypt;
22 Wondrous works in the land of Ham, and terrible things by the Red sea.
23 Therefore he said that he would destroy them, had not Moses his chosen stood before him in the breach, to turn away his wrath, lest he should destroy them.
"They made a calf in Horeb." In the very place where they had solemnly pledged themselves to obey the Lord they broke the second, if not the first, of his commandments, and set up the Egyptian symbol of the ox, and bowed before it. The ox image is here sarcastically called "a calf"; idols are worthy of no respect, scorn is never more legitimately used than when it is poured upon all attempts to set forth the Invisible God. The Israelites were foolish indeed when they thought they saw the slightest divine glory in a bull, nay, in the mere image of a bull. To believe that the image of a bull could be the image of God must need great credulity. "And worshipped the molten image." Before it they paid divine honours, and said, "These be thy gods, O Israel." This was sheer madness. After the same fashion the Ritualists must needs set up their symbols and multiply them exceedingly. Spiritual worship they seem unable to apprehend; their worship is sensuous to the highest degree, and appeals to eye, and ear, and nose. O the folly of men to block up their own way to acceptable worship, and to make the path of spiritual religion, which is hard to our nature, harder still through the stumbling-blocks which they east into it. We have heard the richness of Popish paraphernalia much extolled, but an idolatrous image when made of gold is not one jot the less abominable than it would have been had it been made of dross and dung: the beauty of art cannot conceal the deformity of sin. We are told also of the suggestiveness of their symbols, but what of that, when God forbids the use of them? Vain also is it to plead that such worship is hearty. So much the worse. Heartiness in forbidden actions is only an increase of transgression.
"Thus they changed their glory into the similitude of an oz that eateth grass." They said that they only meant to worship the one God under a fitting and suggestive similitude by which his great power would be set forth to the multitude; they pleaded the great Catholic revival which followed upon this return to a more ornate ceremonial, for the people thronged around Aaron, and danced before the calf with all their might. But in very deed they had given up the true God, whom it had been their glory to adore, and had set up a rival to him, not a representation of him; for how should he be likened to a bullock? The Psalmist is very contemptuous, and justly so: irreverence towards idols is an indirect reverence to God. False gods, attempts to represent the true God, and indeed, all material things which are worshipped are so much filth upon the face of the earth, whether they be crosses, crucifixes, virgins, wafers, relics, or even the Pope himself. We are by far too mealy-mouthed about these infamous abominations: God abhors them, and so should we. To renounce the glory of spiritual worship for outward pomp and show is the height of folly, and deserves to be treated as such.
"They forgat God their Saviour." Remembering the calf involved forgetting God. He had commanded them to make no image, and in daring to disobey they forgot his commands. Moreover, it is clear that they must altogether have forgotten the nature and character of Jehovah, or they could never have likened him to a grass-eating animal. Some men hope to keep their sins and their God too - the fact being that he who, sins is already so far departed from the Lord that he has 'actually forgotten him. "Which had done great things in Egypt." God in Egypt had overcome all the idols, and yet they so far forgot him as to liken him to them. Could an ox work miracles? Could a golden calf cast plagues upon Israel's enemies? They were brutish to set up such a wretched mockery of deity, after having seen what the true God could really achieve. "Wondrous works in the land of Ham, and terrible things by the Red sea." They saw several ranges of miracles, the Lord did not stint them as to the evidences of his eternal power and godhead, and yet they could not rest content with worshipping him in his own appointed way, but must needs have a Directory of their own invention, an elaborate ritual after the old Egyptian fashion, and a manifest object of worship to assist them in adoring Jehovah. This was enough to provoke the Lord, and it did so; how much he is angered every day in our own land no tongue can tell.
"Therefore he said that he would destroy them." The threatening of destruction came at last. For the first wilderness sin he chastened them, sending leanness into their soul; for the second he weeded out the offenders, the flame burned up the wicked; for the third he threatened to destroy them; for the fourth he lifted up his hand and almost came to blows (Psalm 106:26); for the fifth he actually smote them, "and the plague brake in among them"; and so the punishment increased with their perseverance in sin. This is worth noting, and it should serve as a warning to the man who goeth on his iniquities. God tries words before he comes to blows, "he said that he would destroy them"; but his words are not to be trifled with, for he means them, and has power to make them good. "Had not Moses his chosen stood before him in the breach." Like a bold warrior who defends the wall when there is an opening for the adversary and destruction is rushing in upon the city, Moses stopped the way of avenging justice with his prayers. Moses had great power with God. He was an eminent type of our Lord, who is called, as Moses here is styled, "mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth." As the Elect Redeemer interposed between the Lord and a sinful world, so did Moses stand between the Lord and his offending people. The story as told by Moses himself is full of interest and instruction, and tends greatly to magnify the goodness of the Lord, who thus suffered himself to be turned from the fierceness of his anger.
With disinterested affection, and generous renunciation of privileges offered to himself and his family, the great Lawgiver interceded with the Lord "to turn away his wrath, test he should destroy them." Behold the power of a righteous man's intercession. Mighty as was the sin of Israel to provoke vengeance, prayer was mightier in turning it away. How diligently ought we to plead with the Lord for this guilty world, and especially for his own backsliding people! Who would not employ an agency so powerful for an end so gracious! The Lord still hearkens to the voice of a man, shall not our voices be often exercised in supplicating for a guilty people?Numbers 33:4, and when the law of God was but newly delivered to them in such a solemn and tremendous manner, and the most high God was yet present, and delivering further precepts to Moses for their benefit upon the top of that very mount. This greatly aggravated their sin.
And worshipped the molten image; when fashioned with a graving tool, and made a molten calf, they said, these be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee out of Egypt; and they brought their burnt offerings and peace offerings, and ate and drank before it, and danced about it; all which were acts of idolatrous worship, Exodus 32:1. This was so heinous a sin, that the Jews say it is not expiated to this day, and that there is no punishment comes upon them but there is an ounce of the golden calf in it (q).They made a calf in Horeb, and worshipped the molten image.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)19. in Horeb] The name always given to Sinai in Deuteronomy (except Deuteronomy 33:2). The use of it seems to indicate that the narrative of Deuteronomy 9:8 ff. was in the Psalmist’s mind. Cp. notes on Psalm 106:23; Psalm 106:25; Psalm 106:29. In Horeb, “the mount of God” (Exodus 3:1), when Jehovah was revealing Himself to them (Deuteronomy 4:10 ff), they limited and materialised and degraded the idea of Deity, in defiance of the express commandment which He had given them.
19–23. A fourth sin; the worship of the calf (Exodus 32; Deuteronomy 9:8 ff.).Verse 19. - They made a calf in Horeb (comp. Exodus 32:4; Deuteronomy 9:8-16). And worshipped the molten image; rather, a molten image (comp. Exodus 32:4, 24; Deuteronomy 9:12, 16). The sin was not only against the light of nature, but was expressly forbidden by the second commandment (Exodus 20:4, 5). Psalm 106:13-15. For what Psalm 106:13 places foremost was the root of the whole evil, that, falling away from faith in God's promise, they forgot the works of God which had been wrought in confirmation of it, and did not wait for the carrying out of His counsel. The poet has before his eye the murmuring for water on the third day after the miraculous deliverance (Exodus 15:22-24) and in Rephidim (Exodus 17:2). Then the murmuring for flesh in the first and second years of the exodus which was followed by the sending of the quails (Exodus 16 and Numbers 11), together with the wrathful judgment by which the murmuring for the second time was punished (Kibrôth ha-Ta'avah, Numbers 11:33-35). This dispensation of wrath the poet calls רזון (lxx, Vulgate, and Syriac erroneously πλησμονήν, perhaps מזון, nourishment), inasmuch as he interprets Numbers 11:33-35 of a wasting disease, which swept away the people in consequence of eating inordinately of the flesh, and in the expression (cf. Psalm 78:31) he closely follows Isaiah 10:16. The "counsel" of God for which they would not wait, is His plan with respect to the time and manner of the help. חכּה, root Arab. ḥk, a weaker power of Arab. ḥq, whence also Arab. ḥkl, p. 111, ḥkm, p. 49 note 1, signifies prop. to make firm, e.g., a knot (cf. on Psalm 33:20), and starting from this (without the intervention of the metaphor moras nectere, as Schultens thinks) is transferred to a firm bent of mind, and the tension of long expectation. The epigrammatic expression ויּתאוּוּ תאוה (plural of ויתאו, Isaiah 45:12, for which codices, as also in Proverbs 23:3, Proverbs 23:6; Proverbs 24:1, the Complutensian, Venetian 1521, Elias Levita, and Baer have ויתאו without the tonic lengthening) is taken from Numbers 11:4.
The second principal sin was the insurrection against their superiors, Psalm 106:16-18. The poet has Numbers 16:1 in his eye. The rebellious ones were swallowed up by the earth, and their two hundred and fifty noble, non-Levite partisans consumed by fire. The fact that the poet does not mention Korah among those who were swallowed up is in perfect harmony with Numbers 16:25., Deuteronomy 11:6; cf. however Numbers 26:10. The elliptical תפתּה in Psalm 106:17 is explained from Numbers 16:32; Numbers 26:10.
The third principal sin was the worship of the calf, Psalm 106:19-23. The poet here glances back at Exodus 32, but not without at the same time having Deuteronomy 9:8-12 in his mind; for the expression "in Horeb" is Deuteronomic, e.g., Deuteronomy 4:15; Deuteronomy 5:2, and frequently. Psalm 106:20 is also based upon the Book of Deuteronomy: they exchanged their glory, i.e., the God who was their distinction before all peoples according to Deuteronomy 4:6-8; Deuteronomy 10:21 (cf. also Jeremiah 2:11), for the likeness (תּבנית) of a plough-ox (for this is pre-eminently called שׁוּר, in the dialects תּור), contrary to the prohibition in Deuteronomy 4:17. On Psalm 106:21 cf. the warning in Deuteronomy 6:12. "Land of Cham" equals Egypt, as in Psalm 78:51; Psalm 105:23, Psalm 105:27. With ויאמר in Psalm 106:23 the expression becomes again Deuteronomic: Deuteronomy 9:25, cf. Exodus 32:10. God made and also expressed the resolve to destroy Israel. Then Moses stepped into the gap (before the gap), i.e., as it were covered the breach, inasmuch as he placed himself in it and exposed his own life; cf. on the fact, besides Exodus 32, also Deuteronomy 9:18., Psalm 10:10, and on the expression, Ezekiel 22:30 and also Jeremiah 18:20.
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