Exodus Chapter 32

The Golden Calf

    • Moses had been on the mountain with God for so long that the Israelites decided something must have happened to him and he wasn’t coming back, so they asked Aaron to make them some gods to lead them.

      • Guzik writes, “It is true that Moses delayed, but God had a wonderful purpose for Moses’ delay, and it would soon be over. Yet because the people couldn’t see the reason for the delay they allowed it to stumble them…Moses was gone for forty days (Exodus 24:18). This probably seemed like a long time to the people, but a short time to Moses. Certainly it was a short time related to the outworking of God’s plan for Israel… How we handle God’s ordained delays is a good measure of our spiritual maturity. If we allow such delays to make us drift off into sin or lapse into resignation to fate, then we react poorly to His ordained delays. If we allow such times to deepen our perseverance in following God, then they are of good use.”

      • Guzik makes this important observation, “This sinful impulse came first from the people, not Aaron. The episode of sin described in this chapter started at the impulse of popular opinion. This is an example of where the will of the people is not always the will of God…This is true in society in general, but it is also true among God’s people. When it comes to representing God in the world and in serving mankind, there is danger in starting in what people want or what they feel that they need.”

    • Aaron told them to collect all the gold earrings from their wives and their children and bring them to him. He then took this gold, melted it, and formed it into the shape of a calf. When the Israelites saw this calf they proclaimed, “These are the gods that brought you out of Egypt!”

      • If you’ll recall, the Egyptians had a god that they fashioned in the shape of a bull: Amon-Re. Guzik notes, “Calf is not a good translation of the Hebrew egel. A young bull in his first strength is meant: for instance, the word can describe a three-year-old animal (Genesis 15:9).”

      • “Aaron did not anoint this thing as their god; he simply went along with the people as they proclaimed it as their god. He was probably flattered at their admiration of his creation…True leadership would have cried out, ‘This is idolatry! We must destroy this golden calf. You people are wrong in calling this creation of man your god.’ But Aaron wasn’t a true leader. He was an example of the one who leads by following popular opinion…This shows the foolishness of idolatry. This statue of a calf did not exist the day before, yet they worshiped it as the god that brought them out of Egypt.” (Guzik)

      • I like what the NLT Illustrated Study Bible points out about idolatry, “Idolatry expresses the believe that the divine realm and the visible world are continuous with one another. This worldview sees it as possible to lay hold of divine power through ritual manipulation of the god by means of the idol. God had been insisting that the very opposite is true: God is not contained in or restrained by His creation, and His blessings cannot be procured by manipulating creation, either ritually or otherwise. The blessings of God are for those who surrender their own efforts to make themselves secure and come to Him using the ways and means He has decreed.”

    • When Aaron saw how the people responded to the image he built an altar in front of it and said, “Tomorrow with be a festival to the Lord!”

      • Guzik points out, “This second step of Aaron’s was worse. He honored and sanctified the idol with animal sacrifice. He made the calf, and then he made the altar to worship it.”

      • NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “Although the idol was referred to as ‘the gods,’ Aaron also implied that it was a physical manifestation of the Lord.”

    • The Israelites got up early the next morning, sacrificed burnt offerings and peace offerings, then feasted, drank, and celebrated with pagan revelry.

      • Multiple commentators point out that this “pagan revelry” was sexual in nature:

        • Cole writes, “The verb translated play suggests sex-play in Hebrew…and therefore we are probably to understand drunken orgies.”

        • Kaiser writes, ““The verb sahaq signifies drunken, immoral orgies and sexual play.”

      • This behavior corresponds to the Egyptian worship of Amon-Re as noted in the NLT Illustrated Study Bible, “Worship of a fertility symbol such as a bull was often accompanied by sexual activities on the part of the worshipers (see I Corinthians 10:7-8).”

    • The Lord told Moses, “Go back down the mountain now! The people you brought out of Egypt have corrupted themselves. They have already turned from My commands, made an idol of a calf, sacrificed to it, and worshiped it claiming that it is the god that led them out of Egypt. I have seen that these people are stubborn and rebellious. Leave Me alone so that My fierce anger will destroy them. Moses, I’ll make a great nation from you alone.”

      • “God called Israel your people, in the sense that they belonged to Moses, not to God. In this God suggested to Moses that He had or was about to disown Israel…God spoke as if He had seen enough, and He made a remarkable offer to Moses. If Moses would only agree, God would consume Israel and start over again with Moses (I will make of you a great nation)…Hypothetically, God could have done this and still fulfilled every promise made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It would completely change the place of Moses, making him the new “Abraham” of God’s plan for Israel. Moses had the opportunity to be as revered as Abraham was, and to be honored by every following generation…God did not ask for the opinion or participation of Moses in this matter. He simply told Moses, “Let Me alone so I can do this.” The clear impression was that if Moses did nothing, the plan would go ahead. ” (Guzik)

    • But Moses interceded with the Lord on behalf of the Israelites, “Why are You so angry with the people that You brought out of Egypt? Why give the Egyptians the opportunity to say that You rescued the Hebrews so that You could kill them in the mountains? Please turn from Your anger and change Your mind about destroying Your people. Remember Your oath to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

      • Guzik breaks down the elements of Moses’ intercessory prayer, “Moses refused to do nothing. He did not fatalistically say, ‘Well, whatever God will do, God will do.’ He pleaded with the Lord, according to what he believed to be God’s heart…In his prayer, Moses first gave the people back to God. ‘Lord, they belong to You and not to me. I don’t want to be god over these people; only You can do that.’…Moses then appealed to God on the basis of grace. ‘Lord, we didn’t deserve to be brought out of Egypt to begin with. You did it by Your grace, not because we deserved it. Please don’t stop dealing with us by grace.’… Moses next appealed to God on the basis of glory. ‘Lord, this will bring discredit to You in the eyes of the nations. The Egyptians will think of You as a cruel God who led your people out to the desert to kill them. Don’t let anyone think that of You, God.’…Finally, Moses appealed to God on the basis of His goodness. ‘Lord, keep Your promises. You are a good God who is always faithful. Don’t break Your promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel.’”

    • So, the Lord changed His mind about destroying His people.

      • The KJV of this passage (Exodus 32:14) reads that the Lord “repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.” This has led some people to believe that sometimes God needs to repent of evil or that He changes His mind.

        • In Guzik’s commentary he notes the different translations of this passage:

· Then the Lord relented (NIV)

· So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people (NASB)

· The Lord turned from the evil which He had thought to do (Amplified)

· The Lord was moved with compassion to save His people. (Septuagint Bible)

      • Furthermore, in light of Numbers 23:19, which reads, “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do?” some people claim that the two verses contradict each other.
        • However, Guzik explains, “We can understand these passages by understanding that Moses wrote with what we call anthropomorphic, or “man-centered” language. He described the actions of God as they appeared to him. Moses’ prayer did not change God, but it did change the standing of the people in God’s sight – the people were now in a place of mercy, when before they were in a place of judgment…Also, we can say that God did not go back on His word to either Moses or Israel. We understand the principle that God’s promises of judgment are inherently meant to call men to repentance and prayer and therefore avert the judgment (Ezekiel 33:13-16).
      • This is what Spurgeon has to say on the use of anthropomorphic language in the Bible, “I suppose that I need not say that this verse speaks after the manner of men. I do not know after what other manner we can speak. To speak of God after the manner of God, is reserved for God himself; and mortal men could not comprehend such speech. In this sense, the Lord often speaks, not according to the literal fact, but according to the appearance of things to us, in order that we may understand so far as the human can comprehend the divine.”
        • Guzik writes “God did not destroy Israel, and He knew that He would not destroy Israel. Yet He deliberately put Moses into this crucial place of intercession, so that Moses would display and develop God’s heart for the people, a heart of love and compassion. Moses prayed just as God wanted him to – as if heaven and earth, salvation or destruction, depended on his prayer. This is how God waits for us to pray.”
      • Cole writes, “We are not to think of Moses as altering God’s purpose towards Israel by this prayer, but as carrying it out: Moses was never more like God than in such moments, for he shared God’s mind and loving purpose.”
    • Then Moses went down the mountain with the tablets that were engraved front and back with the ten commandments. When Joshua heard the noise of the people down in the camp he told Moses, “It sounds like war in the camp!” But Moses responded, “It sounds like neither victory or defeat; I hear singing.”
      • “Under the New Covenant, God also promised to write His law: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people (Jeremiah 31:33)” (Guzik)
    • When the camp came into Moses’ view and he saw the golden calf and and the people dancing he became so angry that he threw the stone tablets to the ground and they smashed on the rocks at the bottom of the mountain. He burned up the calf idol that they had made, ground it into powder which he threw over water and made the Israelites drink it. Then he asked Aaron, “What did these people do to you to make you lead them into such a terrible sin?”


      • “When Moses actually saw what was going on, he was much less calm than he had been on the mountain.” (NLT Illustrated Study Bible)
      • “While the act of smashing the tablets might simply have been a reaction of fury, it might also have been Moses’ way of saying that the covenant with God was now irrevocably broken. God later reminded Moses rather pointedly that Moses was the one who had smashed the tablets (see 34:1)…Passing the gold powder of the image through the bodies of the people effectively rendered it unclean.” (NLT Illustrated Study Bible)


    • Aaron replied, “Don’t be so angry. You know how evil these people are. They thought something had happened to you up on the mountain so they told me to make them gods to lead them. I told them to give me their gold jewelry. When I threw it into the fire, this calf came out!”
      • “Aaron denied responsibility even though he himself had made the molds and poured the gold. Aaron wanted Moses to believe that it all “just happened” and that he had no choice because the people were so evil. Moses was not misled. He knew that Aaron could have led the people but had let them get completely out of control.” (NLT Illustrated Study Bible)
    • Moses saw that Aaron had let the people get out of control. He stood at the entrance to the camp and yelled, “Whoever is on the Lord’s side come here to me.” All of the Levites gathered around him and he told them, “The Lord has says that every man must take his sword and go back and forth through the camp from on end to the other killing everyone- even your brothers, friends, and neighbors.” The Levites did as Moses told them and about 3,000 men were killed that day.


      • “Moses gave the people of Israel the opportunity to make a stand for the Lord. The Levites, to their honor, sided with the Lord and with Moses. Sadly, they were the only significant group to come out clearly for God’s cause at the golden calf incident…In this case, siding with the Lord meant siding against some people. Those who were more interested in siding with all the people could never do what these Levites did…It seems that the sin of Israel at the golden calf involved more than these 3,000 people. Yet these were undoubtedly those most flagrant in their idolatry and immorality, or these were the leaders of the sinful conduct.” (Guzik)
    • Afterwards, Moses told the Levites that they had dedicated themselves to the Lord that day since they had obeyed Him even though it meant killing their own families and friends. He told them that they had earned a blessing.
    • The next day Moses addressed the Israelites, “You have committed a terrible sin, but I will go back up the mountain to intercede with God on your behalf. Perhaps I will be able to obtain forgiveness for your sin.”
      • NLT Illustrated Study Bible states, “This further intercession for the people may have been needed because of Moses’ new recognition of how serious the sin really was.”
    • When Moses came before the Lord he said, “These people have committed a grave sin. They have made gods of gold for themselves. Please forgive them. If you won’t, then please erase my name from the record that You have written.”
      • “Moses asked God to forgive Israel on the basis of his own sacrificial identification with the sinful people. If God would not forgive, Moses asked to be damned in sacrificial identification with his sinful people.” (Guzik)
    • But the Lord answered, “No, I will only erase those who have sinned against Me from My book. Go lead the people to the place I have told you about. My angel will guide you. On the day that I choose to settle accounts, they will be held accountable for their sin.” Then the Lord sent a plague on them for worshiping the calf that Aaron made.
      • NLT Illustrated Study Bible clarifies what is meant by “the place I have told you about”, “Canaan, which God had promised to give to Abraham’s descendants.” The commentary continues, “Because of God’s mercy judgment may not always come immediately (though in this instance God soon sent a plague), but it will come for those who persist in sin (see Matthew 13:24-30).”