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.
I. The very essence of idolatry is not spiritual ignorance and obtuseness, but a wilful turning away from the spiritual knowledge and worship of God. (1) This act of idolatry was in the very front of the majesty and splendour of Jehovah revealed on Sinai. It was in the very face of the mount that might not be touched and that burned with fire, and the sound of the trumpet, and the voice of words, by which the Lord God of hosts was declaring Himself to the people there. The people saw the glory of God, and while the vision was there, and all its impressions fresh on their hearts, they made themselves a molten calf, and sang, "These, O Israel, be thy gods." (2) With the idol before him, the priest proclaimed a feast unto the Lord; and the people pleased themselves with the thought that they were "fearing the Lord, while they served their own gods." The real heart of idolatry is here laid bare. It is, in plain terms, an effort to bring God within reach, to escape the trouble, pain, and weariness of spiritual effort, and substitute the effort of the eye, hand and tongue for the labour of the soul. (3) In God's sight, that is, in reality, this is a turning away from Him. They meant this bull to be an image of God their Leader. God saw that it was an image of their own idolatrous and sensual hearts.
II. The contrast between the prophet and the priest. Priests have in all ages been the willing ministers of idolatry; as an order they have rarely lifted up their voice against it unless inspired by the prophets of truth. The prophet becomes the censor of the priesthood; while the priesthood marks the prophet as a man to be silenced and, if possible, put down. The perfect Mediator is both Priest and Prophet. He reveals God to man in conducting man to God. The Christian priesthood partakes of this double character.
III. The central principle of idolatry is the shrinking of the spirit from the invisible God. It is the glory of the Incarnation that it presents that image of the invisible God which is not an idol, that it gives into the arms of the yearning spirit a Man, a Brother, and declares that Jesus Christ is the God of heaven.
J. Baldwin Brown, The Soul's Exodus and Pilgrimage, p. 178.
References: Exodus 32:1.—Old Testament Outlines, p. 28. Exodus 32:7.—G. Matheson, Moments on the Mount, p. 12.
Exodus 32:24I. There never was a speech more true to one disposition of our human nature than this of Aaron. We are all ready to lay the blame on the furnaces. "The fire did it," we are all of us ready enough to say. "In better times we might have been better, broader men, but now, behold, God put us into the fire, and we came out thus."
Our age, our society, is what, with this figure taken out of the old story of Exodus, we have been calling it. It is the furnace. Its fire can set, and fix, and fasten what the man puts into it. But, properly speaking, it can create no character. It can make no truly faithful soul a doubter. It never did. It never can.
II. The subtlety and attractiveness of this excuse extends not only to the results which we see coming forth in ourselves; it covers also the fortunes of those for whom we are responsible. Everywhere there is this cowardly casting off of responsibilities upon the dead circumstances around us. It is a very hard treatment of the poor, dumb, helpless world which cannot answer to defend itself. It takes us as we give ourselves to it. It is our minister, fulfilling our commissions for us upon our own souls.
III. There is delusion and self-deception in this excuse. Very rarely indeed does a man excuse himself to other men and yet remain absolutely unexcused in his own eyes. Often the very way to help ourselves most to a result which we have set before ourselves is just to put ourselves into a current which is sweeping on that way, and then lie still, and let the current do the rest, and in all such cases it is so easy to ignore or to forget the first step, and so to say that it is only the drift of the current which is to blame for the dreary shore on which at last our lives are cast up by the stream.
IV. If the world is thus full of the Aaron spirit, where are we to find its cure? Its source is a vague and defective sense of personality. I cannot look for its cure anywhere short of that great assertion of the human personality which is made when a man personally enters into the power of Jesus Christ.
Phillips Brooks, Sermons Preached in English Churches, p. 43.
References: Exodus 32:24.—S. Macnaughton, Real Religion and Real Life, p. 244; S. Cox, The Genesis of Evil, p. 212. Exodus 32:26.—Spurgeon, vol. xxvi., No. 1531, and My Sermon Notes, p. 36; G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, pp. 121, 282. Exodus 32:29.—J. Burns, Sketches of Sermons on Special Occasions, p. 254. 32—Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., pp. 223, 225.
Exodus 32:31-32I. There are three reasons why intercession is a very high duty. (1) It is a power given to every man to wield, a mighty instrument for which we are responsible. (2) It is love's utterance in its holiest expression. (3) You are never walking so accurately in the likeness of Jesus Christ as when you are praying for a fellow-creature. On these three pillars the duty of intercession rests.
II. There are great privileges connected with intercession. (1) It is a beautiful way of giving expression to love. (2) It revives the spirit of prayer in ourselves.
III. Intercessory prayer must be: (1) intensely earnest; (2) accompanied with thanksgiving; (3) we should have a regular, defined period for it.
Intercession is the climax of prayer, because it was the climax of Christ's prayers.
J. Vaughan, Meditations in Exodus, p. 78.
The nobler meekness is that which comes forth victorious from the struggle with strong emotion, and wins a glory from the passion it has subdued. The indication of an impetuous, fiery spirit in Moses only reveals the beauty of the meek patience which marked his life.
I. In the story of the golden calf we see (1) man's natural tendency to worship; (2) we see the Israelites employing the very tokens of their deliverance to build a god for themselves. The very gifts of Heaven—wealth, intellect, power—men turn into idols. (3) In worshipping a golden calf the Israelites utterly degraded themselves.
II. The godliness of Moses manifested itself in self-sacrificing sympathy. Fronting death and its mystery, he stood sublimely willing even to be cut off from God if the sin of the people might thereby be forgiven. (1) His revulsion from their sin mingled with his own love for the people. The holiest men ever feel most deeply the sin of their fellows—they see its seeds in themselves; they find its shadow falling across their heaven. (2) He felt the promise of his people's future. In them lay the germ of the world's history; through them might be unfolded the glory of Jehovah before the face of all nations. Gathering these feelings together, we understand his prayers.
E. L. Hull, Sermons, 3rd series, p. 106.
References: Exodus 32:30-35.—Parker, vol. ii., p. 273. Exodus 32:31.—R. D. B. Rawnsley, Sermons in Country Churches, 3rd series, p. 148. Exodus 32:31, Exodus 32:32.—H. Grey, A Parting Memorial, pp. 135, 155. Exodus 32:32.—C. J. Vaughan, The Liturgy and Worship of the Church of England, p. 167. 32—Parker, vol. ii., p. 265. 32-34.—W. M. Taylor, Moses the Lawgiver, p. 214. 32-39.—J. Monro Gibson, The Mosaic Era, p. 119. Exodus 33:2.—Parker, vol. ii., p. 280. Exodus 33:7.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vii., No. 359. Exodus 33:8.—J. Burns, Sketches of Sermons on Special Occasions, p. 140. Exodus 33:9-23.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. v., p. 338. Exodus 33:12.—J. Baldwin Brown, The Divine Life in Man, p. 266.
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.
And all the people brake off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them unto Aaron.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
And the LORD said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people:
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.
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?
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.
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.
And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And Moses said unto Aaron, What did this people unto thee, that thou hast brought so great a sin upon them?
And Aaron said, Let not the anger of my lord wax hot: thou knowest the people, that they are set on mischief.
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.
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.
And when Moses saw that the people were naked; (for Aaron had made them naked unto their shame among their enemies:)
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.
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.
And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men.
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.
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.
And Moses returned unto the LORD, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods 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.
And the LORD said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book.
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.
And the LORD plagued the people, because they made the calf, which Aaron made.