The people cause Aaron to make a golden calf. (Verse 1-6.)
God’s displeasure, The intercession of Moses. (Verse 7-14.)
Moses breaks the tables of the law, He destroys the golden calf. (Verse 15-20.)
Aaron’s excuse, The idolaters slain. (Verse 21-29.)
Moses prays for the people. (Verse 30-35.)
1 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.
Forty days had gone by according to Exodus 24 which Israel will soon learn was God’s number for testing and they were about to fail this test and of course they fail right at the end of it because God and Moses are finished, and Moses is just about to return from receiving the law.
That was the perfect time for Satan to attack when they are at their weakest point. People often give up just before the victory would have come.
What about all the things that had happened to them with Moses delivering them through the power of the one true God? What about all the promises they had made even just a short forty days ago when they heard God on the mountain?
All of that was quickly forgotten after forty days without good spiritual leadership which is a good lesson for us to stay in church and close to the things of God or we can end up like Israel at this point demanding that Aaron compromise what they all knew to be true all for expediency sake.
How quickly we like Israel can forget where our sustenance comes from. We’re not the children of Israel being supernaturally fed at this time by God every morning when the manna fell? Yes, they were but that miracle was so common place now they excused it as a natural phenomenon.
No other nation had ever been fed in such a way prior to this time, during it, or at any time thereafter and yet they took it for granted. Someone in that crowd should have said “This is wrong!” But they didn’t!
Aaron is even swayed easily by the crowds of people and now they are willing to make him their leader if he will just make them some gods to lead them out of the wilderness. How can some lifeless idols do anything of value for these people? They cannot.
2 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.
3 And all the people brake off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them unto Aaron.
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.
Notice it says that Aaron fashioned the gold with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf. He didn’t just throw the gold into the fire and a calf came out as he later tells Moses.
5 And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, Tomorrow is a feast to the LORD.
“proclamation…feast to the Lord” – this is known as compromise; Aaron was trying to appease the people and yet please God. Such a thing is not possible and pleasing God must ALWAYS be the priority!
6 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.
[1 Cor 10:7]
7 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:
8 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.
9 And the LORD said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people:
10 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.
11 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?
12 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.
this verse shows us yet another definition for the word “evil” – here evil refers to something that is bad and yet is totally deserved – judgment from God upon sin!
13 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.
[Gen 13:16, Gen 26:4, Num 23:10, Deut 1:10, 1st Chron 27:23, Jer 33:22, Rom 4:16, Heb 11:12]
14 And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.
15 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.
16 And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables.
17 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.
18 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.
music sounding like the noise of war – the original rock music!
19 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.
“the dancing” – this is the only clear instance of mixed dancing in the Bible and it is identified with a drunken, idolatrous orgy of fornication and rebellion against God. If the discerning student would make a study of the word “dance” in the Bible, he or she would discover that biblical dancing was always segregated (only men dancing or only woman dancing). It was never a matter of recreation or leisure for the flesh (as it is today), but a means of praising God with the singing of scripture accompanied by music that honored God and not the flesh. With all of the pretences and excuses removed, modern mixed dancing is one of the devil’s most appealing tools to lure men and woman of all ages into the perfect situation that makes provision for the fulfilling of the lusts of the flesh. The child of God has no business in such a situation.
20 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.
21 And Moses said unto Aaron, What did this people unto thee, that thou hast brought so great a sin upon them?
22 And Aaron said, Let not the anger of my lord wax hot: thou knowest the people, that they are set on mischief.
23 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.
24 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.
is Aaron telling the whole truth? compare with verse 32:4
25 And when Moses saw that the people were naked; (for Aaron had made them naked unto their shame among their enemies:)
26 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.
“the Lord’s side” is a position opposite some other side (John 17:9); a position the world will never take (I John 2:15-17); a position that only a minority will take in any age (Mat. 24:10-12); a controversial position (John 7:40-43); it is a despised and rejected side (Isa. 53:1-6). Are you on the Lord’s side or the world’s side? – “the sons of Levi” – it only makes sense that Moses’ relatives would be the first to join with him.
27 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.
28 And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men.
29 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.
30 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.
31 And Moses returned unto the LORD, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold.
32 Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin–; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.
33 And the LORD said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book.
The long dash is the only one found in scripture and appears to represent a very emotional point in Moses prayer where he simply could not complete the sentence. Moses is essentially wishing for the sins of the people to be forgiven and if God will not do, Moses would just as soon die and go to hell with them. Few preachers have this much love for their people (Paul was a notable exception however in Rom. 9:2-3). God’s book is called the book of life. Suffice to say at this point that the NT Christian has his name eternally written in the book of life at salvation and he or she can never be blotted out. OT saints could be blotted out or written back in depending upon their standing before God as their salvation has somewhat of a different basis than the NT believer.
34 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.
35 And the LORD plagued the people, because they made the calf, which Aaron made.
Commentary by Matthew Henry, 1710.
Verse 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 niggardliness 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.
Verse 7-14 – God says to Moses, that the Israelites had corrupted themselves. Sin is the corruption of the sinner, and it is a self-corruption; every man is tempted when he is drawn aside of his own lust. They had turned aside out of the way. Sin is a departing from the way of duty into a by-path. They soon forgot God’s works. He sees what they cannot discover, nor is any wickedness of the world hid from him. We could not bear to see the thousandth part of that evil which God sees every day. God expresses the greatness of his just displeasure, after the manner of men who would have prayer of Moses could save them from ruin; thus he was a type of Christ, by whose mediation alone, God would reconcile the world to himself. Moses pleads God’s glory. The glorifying God’s name, as it ought to be our first petition, and it is so in the Lord’s prayer, so it ought to be our great plea. And God’s promises are to be our pleas in prayer; for what he has promised he is able to perform. See the power of prayer. In answer to the prayers of Moses, God showed his purpose of sparing the people, as he had before seemed determined on their destruction; which change of the outward discovery of his purpose, is called repenting of the evil.
Verse 15-20 – What a change it is, to come down from the mount of communion with God, to converse with a wicked world. In God we see nothing but what is pure and pleasing; in the world nothing but what is sinful and provoking. That it might appear an idol is nothing in the world, Moses ground the calf to dust. Mixing this powder with their drink, signified that the backslider in heart should be filled with his own ways.
Verse 21-29 – Never did any wise man make a more frivolous and foolish excuse than that of Aaron. We must never be drawn into sin by any thing man can say or do to us; for men can but tempt us to sin, they cannot force us. The approach of Moses turned the dancing into trembling. They were exposed to shame by their sin. The course Moses took to roll away this reproach, was, not by concealing the sin, or putting any false colour upon it, but by punishing it. The Levites were to slay the ringleaders in this wickedness; yet none were executed but those who openly stood forth. Those are marked for ruin who persist in sin: those who in the morning were shouting and dancing, before night were dying. Such sudden changes do the judgments of the Lord sometimes make with sinners that are secure and jovial in their sin.
Verse 30-35 – Moses calls it a great sin. The work of ministers is to show people the greatness of their sins. The great evil of sin appears in the price of pardon. Moses pleads with God for mercy; he came not to make excuses, but to make atonement. We are not to suppose that Moses means that he would be willing to perish for ever, for the people’s sake. We are to love our neighbour as ourselves, and not more than ourselves. But having that mind which was in Christ, he was willing to lay down his life in the most painful manner, if he might thereby preserve the people. Moses could not wholly turn away the wrath of God; which shows that the law of Moses was not able to reconcile men to God, and to perfect our peace with him. In Christ alone, God so pardons sin as to remember it no more. From this history we see, that no unhumbled, carnal heart, can long endure the holy precepts, the humbling truths, and the spiritual worship of God. But a god, a priest, a worship, a doctrine, and a sacrifice, suited to the carnal mind, will ever meet with abundance of worshippers. The very gospel itself may be so perverted as to suit a worldly taste. Well is it for us, that the Prophet like unto Moses, but who is beyond compare more powerful and merciful, has made atonement for our souls, and now intercedes in our behalf. Let us rejoice in his grace.