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.
Verses 1-6. - THE IDOLATRY OF THE GOLDEN CALF. During the absence of Moses in Mount Sinai, an absence of nearly six weeks, the Israelites grew impatient, and regarding their leader as lost to them, and the Divine Presence which they had hitherto enjoyed as lost with him, insisted on having a symbol of that presence made for them, which should henceforth go in front of the host and so lead them on in their journeyings. It would seem that the pillar of the cloud, which had gone before them from Succoth to Sinai, was now removed from the camp, and resting upon the "mount" where Moses was (Exodus 24:15). Under these circumstances they wanted a visible tangible something, in which they could regard the Divine Presence as resting, and whereto they might offer worship and sacrifice (ver. 8). They therefore went to Aaron, whom Moses had bid them consult in any difficulty (Exodus 24:14), and requested him to "make them a god." Aaron had not the courage to meet this request with a plain negative. As Augustine and Theodoret conjecture with much probability, he sought to turn them from their purpose by asking them to give up those possessions which he conceived that they most valued - viz, the personal ornaments of their wives and children. But he had miscalculated the strength of their fanaticism. The people immediately complied - the ornaments were brought in - and Aaron was compelled, either to fly from his word, or to lend himself to the people's wishes. He did the latter. Either looking to Egypt for a pattern, or falling back on some old form of Syrian or Chaldaean idolatry (see the comment on ver. 4), he melted down the gold and cast it into the form of a calf. The "god" being thus made, an altar was built to it (ver. 5) and sacrifice offered (ver 6). Such was the condition of affairs when Moses, having just received the two tables of stone, was warned by God of what had occurred, and bidden to descend from Sinai. Verse 1. - The people saw that Moses delayed to come down. He had been absent, probably, above a month. It was the first day of their worship when he descended; and a week would suffice for the collection of the ornaments, the formation of the mould, and the casting of the idol. Unto Aaron. It is not clear why no mention is made of Hur, who had been made co-regent with Aaron (Exodus 24:14); but perhaps Aaron was known to be the weaker of the two. Up, make us gods. Most moderns translate" a god." But the word is vague, and the speakers did not themselves perhaps care whether one idol was made or more. Which shall go before us. The Israelites were apparently tired of their long delay at Sinai, and were anxious to proceed upon their journey. They wanted a visible god at their head, to give them confidence and courage. Compare 1 Samuel 4:3-8. We wot not what is become of him. He might, they thought, be dead - he might have returned to Egypt - he might be going to stay always with God in the mount which they did not dare to approach. At any rate, he was lost to them, and they might never see him again.
And Aaron said unto them, Break off the golden earrings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them unto me.
Verse 2. - Break off. "Take off" would perhaps be a better translation. The ear-rings would not require any breaking. They were penannular, and could be removed by a smart pull. Your wives, your sons, and your daughters. See the comment on Exodus 3:22. It is implied that the men did not wear earrings. At an earlier date the household of Jacob, chiefly men, had worn them (Genesis 35:4).
And all the people brake off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them unto Aaron.
Verse 3. - All the people broke off the golden ear-rings. Thus, as is supposed, disappointing Aaron, who had counted on the refusal of the women to part with their finery, and the reluctance of the men to compel them. Had ear-rings been still regarded as amulets (Genesis 1.s.c.) it is not likely that they would have been so readily given up.
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.
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?
And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, To morrow is a feast to the LORD.
Verse 5. - He built an altar before it. Aaron thus proceeded to "follow a multitude to evil" (Exodus 23:2), and encouraged the idolatry which he felt himself powerless to restrain. Still, he did not intend that the people should drift away from the worship of Jehovah, or view the calf as anything but a symbol of him. He therefore made proclamation and said, Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord (literally, "to Jehovah ").
And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.
Verse 6. - They rose up early on the morrow. The people were like a child with a new toy. They could scarcely sleep for thinking of it. So, as soon as it was day, they left their beds, and hastened to begin the new worship Burnt offerings and peace offerings. It is evident that both of these were customary forms of sacrifice - neither of them first introduced by the Law, which had not - except so far as the "Book of the Covenant" was concerned - been promulgated. Compare Jethro's offerings (Exodus 18:12). The people sat down to eat and drink. A feast almost always followed upon a sacrifice, only certain portions of the victim being commonly burnt, while the rest was consumed by the offerers. See the comment on Exodus 18:12. And rose up to play. This "play" was scarcely of a harmless kind. The sensualism of idol-worship constantly led on to sensuality; and the feasts upon idol-sacrifices terminated in profligate orgies of a nature which cannot be described. See the application of the passage by St. Paul in the First Epistle to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 10:7), and compare verse Exodus 32:25
And the LORD said unto Moses, Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves:
Verses 7-14. - THE INTERCESSION OF MOSES. Moses, in Sinai, was so far removed from the camp, and the cloud so shut out his vision of it, that he had neither seen nor heard anything unusual, and was wholly ignorant of what had happened, until God declared it to him (ver. 7, 8). After declaring it, God announced his intention of destroying the people for their apostasy, and fulfilling his promise to Abraham by raising up a "great nation" out of the seed of Moses (ver. 10). No doubt this constituted a great trial of the prophet's character. He might, without sin, have acquiesced in the punishment of the people as deserved, and have accepted the promise made to himself as a fresh instance of God's goodness to him. There would have been nothing wrong in this; but it would have shown that he fell short of the heroic type, belonged to the ordinary run of mortals, was of the common "delf," not of "the precious porcelain of human clay." God's trial of him gave him an opportunity of rising above this; and he responded to it. From the time that he reached full manhood (Exodus 2:11) he had cast in his lot with his nation; he had been appointed their leader (Exodus 3:10); they had accepted him as such (Exodus 4:31); he had led them out of Egypt and brought them to Sinai; if he had looked coldly on them now, and readily separated his fate from theirs, he would have been false to his past, and wanting in tenderness towards those who were at once his wards and his countrymen. His own glory naturally drew him one way, his affection for Israel the other. It is to his eternal honour that he chose the better part; declined to be put in Abraham's place, and generously interceded for his nation (vers. 11-13). He thereby placed himself among the heroes of humanity, and gave additional strength and dignity to his own character. Verse 7. - Go, descend - i.e., "make haste to descend - do not tarry - there is need of thy immediate presence." Thy people, which thou broughtest, etc. Words calculated to awaken the tenderness between which and self-love the coming struggle was to be.
They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.
Verse 8. - They have turned aside quickly. A few weeks have sufficed to make them forget their solemn pledges (Exodus 19:8; Exodus 24:3), and fly in the face of a plain unmistakable commandment. A molten calf. In the contemptuous language of Holy Scripture when speaking of idols, such an emblematic figure as the Babylonion man-bull would be a mere "calf." That the figure made by Aaron is called always "a molten calf" - literally, "a calf of fusion" - disposes of the theory of Keil, that it was of carved wood covered with gold plates hammered on to it. These be thy gods, which have brought thee. Rather, "This is thy god, which has brought thee." The plural must be regarded as merely one of dignity.
And the LORD said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people:
Verse 9.- A stiffnecked people. This epithet, which becomes epitheton usitatum, is here used for the first time. It does not so much mean "obstinate" as "perverse" like a h
Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation.
Verse 10. - Now, therefore, let me alone. This was not a command, but rather a suggestion; or, at any rate, it was a command not intended to compel obedience - like that of the angel to Jacob - "Let me go, for the day breaketh" (Genesis 32:26). Moses was not intended to take the command as absolute. He did not do so - he "wrestled with God," like Jacob, and prevailed. That my wrath may wax hot. Literally, "and my wrath will wax hot." I will make of thee a great nation. (Compare Numbers 14:12.) God could, of course, have multiplied the seed of Moses, as he had that of Abraham; but in that case all that had been as yet done would have gone for nought, and his purposes with respect to his "peculiar people" would have been put back six hundred years and more.
And Moses besought the LORD his God, and said, LORD, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand?
Verses 11-13. - Moses has three pleas wherewith he "wrestles with God:" -
1. Israel is God's people, for whom he has done so much that surely he will not now destroy them, and so undo his own work.
2. Egypt will be triumphant if Israel is swept away, and will misapprehend the Divine action.
3. The promises made to Abraham (Genesis 15:5; Genesis 17:2-6; etc.), Isaac (Genesis 26:4), and Jacob (Genesis 28:14; Genesis 35:11), which had received a partial fulfilment, would seem to be revoked and withdrawn if the nation already formed were destroyed and a fresh start made.
Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people.
Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever.
And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.
Verse 14. - The Lord repented of the evil. Changes of purpose are, of course, attributed to God by an "economy," or accommodation of the truth to human modes of speech and conception. "God is not a man that he should repent." He "knows the end from the beginning." When he threatened to destroy Israel, he knew that he would spare; but, as he communicated to Moses, first, his anger, and then, at a later period, his intention to spare, he is said to have "repented." The expression is an anthropomorphic one, like so many others, on which we have already commented. (See the comment on Exodus 2:24, 25; 3:7, 8; 31:17; etc.)
And Moses turned, and went down from the mount, and the two tables of the testimony were in his hand: the tables were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other were they written.
Verse 15-19. - MOSES BREAKS THE TWO TABLES. The entire conference between God and Moses being now ended, Moses hastened to descend from the mount, and interpose in the crisis that had arisen, he took carefully the two tables of stone, which he had received, in his two hands (Deuteronomy 9:15), and set out on his return to the camp. On the way, he fell in with Joshua, who must have been on the watch for his descent, and the two proceeded together. When a certain portion of the distance had been traversed, the sounds of the festivity which was going on in the camp reached their ears; and Joshua, mistaking the nature of the shouts, suggested that fighting was in progress (ver. 17). Moses, however, better instructed in the actual nature of the proceedings (vers. 7, 8), caught their character more correctly, and declared that what he heard was nothing but shouting (ver. 18). Soon afterwards, the camp came into sight - a disorderly crowd, half stripped of their garments (ver. 25), was singing choruses and dancing round the figure which Aaron had cast - the sights and sounds were those of a dissolute orgy - Moses was struck with horror and in the frenzy of his indignation, dashed the two tables to the ground and broke them into fragments (ver. 19). The people, he felt, were utterly unworthy of the holy laws which he had brought them - they had "altogether gone out of the way" - they had become "abominable" - at the moment he perhaps despaired of obtaining mercy for them, and expected their entire destruction. God had not as yet told him whether he would "turn from his fierce wrath," or not. Verse 15. - The two tables... were in his hand. In Deuteronomy 9:15, using greater particularity, Moses says that they were "in his two hands." One was in each hand probably. Written on both their sides. This is the case generally with Assyrian and Babylonian tablets, but not with Egyptian ones, which are moreover scarcely found at this early date. Here we seem to have again an indication that some of the Israelitic civilisation had come to them from "Ur of the Chaldees."
And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables.
Verse 16. - The tables were the work of God. Shaped, i.e., by the same power by which the commandments were inscribed upon them; not, necessarily, of matter newly created for the purpose.
And when Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said unto Moses, There is a noise of war in the camp.
Verse 17. - When Joshua heard. This abrupt introduction of Joshua, who has not been mentioned for seven entire chapters, is curious. Probably he had considered himself bound, as Moses' minister (Exodus 24:13), to await his return, and had remained in the middle portion of the mount, where he may have fed upon manna, until Moses came down from the top. The noise of the people. It is noted by travellers, that in all the latter part of the descent from Sinai, the plain at its base is shut out from sight; and that sounds would be heard from it a long time before the plain itself would open on the view (Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, p. 44). Sounds, however, which come circuitously, are always indistinct; and it is not surprising that Joshua, knowing nothing of the proceedings in the camp, should have fancied he heard a sound of war.
And he said, It is not the voice of them that shout for mastery, neither is it the voice of them that cry for being overcome: but the noise of them that sing do I hear.
Verse 18. This verse is difficult to translate, being markedly antithetical and at the same time idiomatic. Perhaps it would be best to render - "It is not the voice of them who raise the cry of victory, nor is it the voice of them who raise the cry of defeat - the voice of them who raise a cry do I hear." The verb is the same in all the three clauses; and it would seem that Moses simply denied that there was any sound of war without making any clear suggestion as to the real character of the disturbance.
And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses' anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount.
Verse 19. - The dancing. Rather "dancing." There is no article; and as the subject had not been mentioned before, the use of the article would have been unmeaning. Dances were a part of the religious ceremonial in most ancient nations. Sometimes they were solemn and grave, like the choric dances of the ancient Dorians, and (probably) that of David in front of the Ark (2 Samuel 6:5-22); sometimes festive and joyous, yet not immodest, like the Pyrrhic and other dances at Sparta, and the dancing of the Salii at Rome; but more often, and especially among the Oriental nations, they were of a loose and lascivious character. In Egypt, the dancers appear to have been professionals of a degraded class, and the dancing itself to have been always sensual and indecent; while in Syria, Asia Minor, and Babylon, dancing was a wild orgy, at once licentious and productive of a species of phrenzy. We must suspect that it was this sort of dancing in which the Israelites were engaged - whence the terrible anger of Moses. He saw idolatry before his eyes, and idolatry with its worst accompaniments. In the extremity of his anger, he cast the tables out of his hands, dashed them violently against the ground, and brake them. For this act he is never reprehended. It is viewed as the natural outcome of a righteous indignation, provoked by the extreme wickedness of the people. We must bear this in mind when we come to consider the justice or injustice of the punishment which he proceeded to inflict on them for their sin (vers. 26-29).
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 drink of it.
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."
And Moses said unto Aaron, What did this people unto thee, that thou hast brought so great a sin upon them?
Verses 21-24. - AARON TRIES TO EXCUSE HIMSELF. Having taken the needful steps for the destruction of the idol, Moses naturally turned upon Aaron. He had been left in charge of the people, to guide them, instruct them, counsel them in difficulties (Exodus 24:14). How had he acquitted himself of his task? He had led the people into a great sin - had at any rate connived at it - assisted in it. Moses therefore asks, "What had the people done to him, that he should so act? How had they injured him, that he should so greatly injure them?" To this he has no direct reply. But he will not acknowledge himself in fault - he must excuse himself. And his excuse is twofold: -
1. It was the people's fault, not his; they were "set on mischief."
2. It was a fatality - he threw the gold into the fire, and "it came out this calf." We are not surprised, after this, to read in Deuteronomy, that "the Lord was very angry with Aaron to have destroyed him," and was only hindered from his purpose by the intercession of Moses Verse 21. - What did this people unto thee? Moses does not suppose that the people had really done anything to Aaron. He asks the question as a reproach - they had done nothing to thee - had in no way injured thee - and yet thou broughtest this evil upon them. So great a sin. Literally, "a great sin" - the sin of idolatry. If Aaron had offered a strenuous opposition from the first, the idolatry might not have taken place - the people might have been brought to a better mind.
And Aaron said, Let not the anger of my lord wax hot: thou knowest the people, that they are set on mischief.
Verse 22. - Let not the anger of my lord wax hot. Aaron's humility is extreme, and the result of a consciousness of guilt. He nowhere else addresses Moses as "my lord." Set on mischief. Or "inclined to evil" (Kalisch).
For they said unto me, 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.
Verse 23. - Make us gods. Rather "Make us a god."
And I said unto them, Whosoever hath any gold, let them break it off. So they gave it me: then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf.
Verse 24. - There came out this calf. Aaron speaks as if he had prepared no mould, but simply thrown the gold into the hot furnace, from which there issued forth, to his surprise, the golden calf. This was not only a suppressio veri, but a suggestio falsi. Having no even plausible defence to make, he is driven to the weakest of subterfuges.
And when Moses saw that the people were naked; (for Aaron had made them naked unto their shame among their enemies:)
Verses 25-29. - MOSES PUNISHES THE RINGLEADERS. The presence of Moses in the camp - his impressive act in breaking the tables - even his seizure of the idol and consignment of it to destruction - did not arrest the licentious orgy in which the people had engaged before his coming. The "play" that had followed on the feasting still continued; though we may suppose that many had been impressed and had desisted. Moses felt that an example must be made, and a stop put to conduct which was more and more provoking the Almighty, and might at any moment bring down the judgment of complete destruction upon the whole people. He therefore took his station at the main gate of the camp (ver. 26), and shouted the words "Who is on Jehovah's side? Here, to me!" The sound of the words could not, of course, have reached very far - but they rallied to him those of his own tribe who stood near, and thus placed a strong force at his disposal. Moses bade them get their swords, and proceed through the camp from end to end, slaying the idolaters - not, we may be sure, indiscriminately, but executing God's judgment on those who were most conspicuous and persistent. They were especially bidden not to spare their own nearest and dearest, which implies that many Levites were among the ringleaders. The result was the destruction by the sword of three thousand men - and the suppression of the festival. It is not to be doubted that Moses had Divine sanction for what he did in this matter (ver. 27). Verse 25. - The people were naked. It has been suggested that "licentious" or "unruly" would be a better rendering (Gesenius, Dathe, Rosenmuller, Kalisch, Cook), but the primary sense of pharua is "naked," "stript;" and of the licentious orgies of the East, stripping or uncovering the person was a feature (Herod. 2:60), so that there is no reason for changing the expression used in the Authorised Version. Moses saw that most of the people were still without the garments that they had laid aside when they began to dance, and were probably still engaged in dancing and shouting. Aaron had made them naked. Aaron is said to have done that to which his actions had led. He had made the calf and proclaimed a festival. The "nakedness" had naturally followed. Unto their shame among their enemies. Amalekites were no doubt still hovering about the camp; indeed, the tribe probably still held most of the surrounding mountains. They would witness the orgy, and see the indecent and shameful exposure.
Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the LORD'S side? let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him.
Verse 26. - Moses stood in the gate of the camp. We must understand "the principal gate," since the camp had several (ver. 27) Who is on the Lord's side? Let him come to me. Literally, "Who for Jehovah? To me" - but expressed, as the Hebrew idiom allows, in three words, forming an excellent rallying cry. All the sons of Levi - i.e., all who heard the cry. It is evident that there were Levites among the idolaters (vers. 27, 29.)
And he said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour.
Verse 27. - Go in and out from gate to gate, etc., - i.e., "pass through the whole camp - visit every part of it - and, where you see the licentious rites continuing, use your swords - do not spare, though the man be a brother, or a companion, or a neighbour - strike nevertheless, and bring the revel to an end."
And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men.
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
For Moses had said, Consecrate yourselves to day to the LORD, even every man upon his son, and upon his brother; that he may bestow upon you a blessing this day.
Verse 29. - For Moses had said. Moses, on giving them their commission (ver. 27), had told them, that their zeal in the matter would he a consecration, and would secure them God's blessing. They earned by it the semi-priestly position, which was soon afterwards assigned to them (Numbers 3:6-13).
And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses said unto the people, Ye have sinned a great sin: and now I will go up unto the LORD; peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin.
Verses 30-35. - MOSES ONCE MORE INTERCEDES WITH GOD FOR THE PEOPLE - GOD ANSWERS HIM. No distinct reply seems to have been given to the previous intercession of Moses (vers. 11-13). He only knew that the people were not as yet consumed, and therefore that God's wrath was at any rate held in suspense. It might be that the punishment inflicted on the 3000 had appeased God's wrath: or something more might be needed. In the latter case, Moses was ready to sacrifice himself for his nation (ver. 32). Like St. Paul, he elects to be "accursed from God, for his brethren, his kinsfolk after the flesh" (Romans 9:3). But God will not have this sacrifice. "The soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Ezekiel 18:4). He declares, "Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book" (Exodus 32:33). Moses shall not make himself a victim. Without any such sacrifice, God will so far spare them, that they shall still go on their way towards the promised land, with Moses as their earthly, and an Angel as their heavenly leader. Only, their sin shall still be visited in God's own good time and in his own way. How, is left in obscurity; but the decree is issued - "In the day that I visit, I will visit their sin upon them" (ver. 34). And, writing long years after the event, the author observes - "And God did plague the people because they made the calf which Aaron made" (ver. 35). Verse 30. - On the morrow. The day must have been well-nigh over when the slaughter of the 3000 was completed: and after that the corpses had to be buried, the signs of carnage to be effaced, and the wounded, of whom there must have been many, cared for. Moses would have had to direct, if not even to superintend, everything, and therefore could not reascend Sinai until the next day. Moses said unto the people, Not now to the elders only, as in Exodus 24:14, but to all the people, since all had sinned, and. each man is held by God individually responsible for his own sin. Ye have sinned a great sin. One which combined ingratitude and falseness with impiety. Peradventure I shall make an atonement. Moses has formed the design, which he executes (ver. 32); but will not reveal it to the people, from modesty probably.
And Moses returned unto the LORD, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold.
Verse 31. - Gods of gold. Rather "a god of gold."
Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin�; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.
Verse 32. - If thou wilt forgive their sin. The ellipsis which follows, is to be supplied by some such words, as "well and good" - "I am content" - "I have no more to say." Similar cases of ellipses will be found in Danial 3:5; Luke 13:9; Luke 19:42; John 6:62; Romans 9:22. And if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book. Some interpret this as merely equivalent to, "Blot me out of the book of the living," and explain that phrase as meaning simply - "Take my life - kill me instead of them" - but something more seems to be meant. "The book of the living" - "the book of life" - the book of God's writing - is not merely a register of those who happen to be alive at any given time. It "contains the list of the righteous, and ensures to those whose names are written therein, life before God, first in the earthly kingdom of God, and then eternal life also" (Keil). Thus Moses declared his willingness - nay, his wish - that God would visit on him the guilt of his people, both in this world and the next, so that he would thereupon forgive them. St. Paul has a similar burst of feeling (Romans 9:1-3); but it does not involve a formal offer - it is simply the expression of a willingness. Ordinary men are scarcely competent to judge these sayings of great saints. As Bengel says - "It is not easy to estimate the measure of love in a Moses and a Paul; for the narrow boundary of our reasoning powers does not comprehend it, as the little child is unable to comprehend the courage of heroes." Both were willing - felt willing, at any rate - to sacrifice their own future for their countrymen - and Moses made the offer. Of all the noble acts in Moses' life it is perhaps the noblest; and no correct estimate of his character can be formed which does not base itself to a large extent on his conduct at this crisis.
And the LORD said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book.
Verse 33. - Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book. Beyond a doubt, it is the general teaching of Scripture that vicarious punishment will not be accepted. "The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son - the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him" (Ezekiel 18:20). Man "cannot deliver his brother, or make agreement with God for him; for it cost more to redeem their souls, so that he must let that alone for ever "(Psalm 49:7, 8). One only atonement is accepted - that of him who is at once man and God - who has, himself, no sin - and can therefore lake the punishment of others.
Therefore now go, lead the people unto the place of which I have spoken unto thee: behold, mine Angel shall go before thee: nevertheless in the day when I visit I will visit their sin upon them.
Verse 34. - Lead the people unto the place, etc. This was a revocation of the sentence of death passed in verse 10. The people was to be spared, and Moses was to conduct them to Palestine. Mine Angel shall go before thee. Mine Angel - not I myself (compare Exodus 33:2, 3). Another threatened punishment, which was revoked upon the repentance of the people (ib, 4, 6), and the earnest prayer of Moses (ib, 14-16). I will visit their sin upon them. Kalisch thinks that a plague was at once sent, and so understands verse 35. But most commentators regard the day of visitation as that on which it was declared that none of those who had quitted Egypt should enter Canaan (Numbers 14:35), and regard that sentence as, in fact, provoked by the golden calf idolatry (ib, 22).
And the LORD plagued the people, because they made the calf, which Aaron made.
Verse 35. - The Lord plagued, or "struck" - i.e., "punished" the people. There is nothing in the expression which requires us to understand the sending of a pestilence.