THE IDOLATRY OF THE GOLDEN CALF
absence of Moses in
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 journeys. 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 (ch. 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
(v. 8). They therefore went to Aaron, whom Moses had bid them consult in any
difficulty (ch. 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
the people’s wishes. He did the latter. Either looking to
pattern, or falling back on some old form of Syrian or Chaldaean idolatry (see the
comment on v. 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 (v. 5) and sacrifice offered (v 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.
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
And when 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
mold, 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 (ch. 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 I Samuel 4:3-8 - we wot not what is become of him.
They thought he:
Ø might be dead,
have returned to
Ø 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.
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.” 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 ch. 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).
3 “And all the people brake off the golden earrings which were in their ears,
and brought them unto Aaron.” - 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 it is not
likely that they would have been so readily given up.
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
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
with a graving tool. Rather, “and bound it (the gold) in a bag.” Compare II 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 Authorized Version, since the
simple copula vau cannot mean “after.” When two verbs in the same tense are
conjoined by “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 II Kings 5:23 and 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
that his thoughts reverted to
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
3. The calf when made was not viewed as an image of any Egyptian god,
but as a representation of Jehovah (v. 5).
4. The Israelites are never taxed with having
worshipped the idols of
else than in
probable that Aaron reverted to an earlier period than the time of the sojourn in
Joshua warned the Israelites some sixty years later, to “put away” (Joshua 24:14).
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
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?
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.”
And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it - Aaron thus proceeded to
“follow a multitude to evil” (ch. 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,
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.” And 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 –
and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat
down to eat” - 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 ch.18:32 – 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 Paul in the I Corinthians 10:7-8,
and compare v. 25.
The Hankering after Idols and its Consequences (vs. 1-6)
There is a war ever going on in human nature between the flesh and the spirit
(Romans 7:23; 8:1-13). The two are “contrary the one to the other.” From the time
an unseen God — following His mandates — reposing under the sense of His
protection. But the strain was too much for them. So long as they had Moses with
them, to encourage them by his exhortations and support them by his good example,
they managed to maintain this higher life, to “walk in the spirit,” (Galatians 5:16) to
“live by faith and not by sight.” (II Corinthians 5:7). When he was gone, when he
seemed to them lost, when they had no hope of seeing him again, the reaction set in.
The flesh asserted itself.
They had given
way to idolatry in
in part, Egyptian gods, in part, “the gods which their fathers served on the other
side of the flood” (Joshua 24:14-15); they had, no doubt, accompanied this
worship with the licentiousness which both the Egyptians (Herod. 2:60) and the
Babylonians (ib, 1:199) made a part of their religion. Now the recollection of these
things recurred to them, their desires became inflamed — the flesh triumphed.
The consequences were:
TO WHICH THEY HAD RECENTLY PLEDGED THEMSELVES. “All
the words which the Lord hath said,” they had declared “we will do”
(ch. 24:3); and among these “words” was the plain one — “Thou
shalt not make to thyself any graven image, nor the likeness of anything
that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the water under
the earth; thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.”
Nevertheless they required Aaron to make them a material god, and it was
no sooner made than they hastened to worship it with burnt-offerings and
WRITTEN IN THEIR HEARTS, AND LATELY REINFORCED BY
THE PLAIN PROHIBITION OF THE SEVENTH COMMANDMENT.
“They sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” They engaged in
licentious dancing (v.19), and perhaps laid aside some of their usual
garments (v. 25). They turned a worship, which they still pretended to
render to Jehovah (v. 5) into an orgy. If they did not proceed to the
lengths of completed sin, they entered upon the slippery path which, almost
of necessity, leads to it. By this conduct they so provoked God:
THE EARTH. A sentence of death was at first pronounced against the
whole people (v. 10), and would infallibly have taken effect, had not
Moses interceded, and by his intercession prevailed. Universal apostasy
deserved universal destruction. There is no reason to believe that the
execution of the sentence pronounced would have been stayed, but for the
expostulation and the prayer recorded in vs. 11-13.
HEAVY PUNISHMENT. The immediate slaughter of three thousand was
required to purge the offence (v.28). The sin was further visited upon
the offenders subsequently (see comment on ver. 34). Some were, on
account of it, “blotted out of God’s book” (v. 33). Christians should take
warning, and not, when they have once begun “living after the Spirit,” fall
back and “live after the flesh” (Romans 8:13). There are still in the
world numerous tempting idolatries. We may hanker after the “lusts of the
flesh,” or “of the eye” (I John 2:15-17) — we may weary of the strain upon
our nature which the spiritual life imposes — we may long to exchange the
high and rare atmosphere in which we have for a while with difficulty
sustained ourselves, for the lower region where we shall breathe more easily.
But we must control our inclinations. To draw back is to incur a terrible danger –
no less a one than “the perdition of our souls.” It were better “not to have
known the way of righteousness,” or walked in it for a time, “than, after
we have known it,” and walked in it, “to turn from the holy
commandment delivered unto us” (II Peter 2:21).
The Golden Calf (vs. 1-6)
Ø The cause of the request. There are really two causes to be considered
here, first, a cause of which they were conscious, and then, secondly, a
deeper cause of which they were not conscious. The delay of Moses to
return was the reason they put forward. We must do them the justice of
noticing that they seem to have waited till the forty days were well-nigh
expired before preferring their request; and an absence of forty days was
inexplicable to minds as yet so spiritually darkened and benumbed as
those of the majority of the people. What he could have to do, and how
he could live so long, away up on a barren mountain, was beyond their
power of imagination. Moses was given up just as a ship is given up
when it has not been heard of for many days after the reasonable period
of the voyage. It was not a case of being out of sight, out of mind; he
had been a great deal in mind, and the general conclusion was that in
some mysterious way he had vanished altogether. But there is also
the deeper reason of the request to be found in the people’s continued
ignorance of the real hold which Jehovah had upon them, and the sort
of future towards which He would have them look. Their action here
was founded not on what they knew, but emphatically on what they did
not know. They could not say, “Moses is dead,” or “he has forsaken us.”
They could only say, “We wot not what is become of him.” So far as
outward circumstances were concerned, the people seem to have been
in a state of comparative security and comfort. When Moses went up
into the mountain, he knew not how long he would have to wait; that
was not for him or Aaron or any man to know. But however long he
was to be away, all due provision had been made for the people’s
welfare. The daily morning manna was there; and Aaron and Hur
were appointed to settle any disputes that might arise. There is no
word of any external enemy approaching; there is no threatening
of civil strife; there is not even a recurrence of murmuring after the
of the people; if they had waited forty months instead of forty days,
there would have been nothing to cause reasonable astonishment;
for Jehovah and not man is the Lord of times and seasons.
Ø The request itself. There is a certain unexpectedness in this request.
Who is it that is missing? Moses, the visible leader,” the man that brought
us up out of the
of the people would be to put some one in Moses’ place; even as later
they said, “Let us make a captain, and
let us return into
(Numbers 14:4). But instead of this their cry to Aaron is, “Make us
gods.” How little did Moses expect, when he put Aaron to be counselor
of the people in his absence, that it was for image-worship they would
seek his help! And yet the more we ponder, the more we shall be led
to feel that this was just the kind of request that might be expected from
the people. Their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob believed in the
invisible Jehovah; but faith in the invisible will not go down from
generation to generation, as if it were a blood quality. The God of
Abraham was one whom, though Abraham could not see, he could
hear as speaking with most miraculous organ. But these people at
Sinai wanted above all things a god whom they could see, even though
it was but a lifeless, sightless, voiceless image. Great is the mystery of
idolatry. How men have come to bow down to stocks and stones is not
a question to be dismissed with a few contemptuous words. These
idolatrous Israelites were seeking satisfaction for a desire of the
heart as imperious in its own way as bodily hunger and thirst. They
wanted something to be a center of worship and religious observances
in general, and the quickest way seemed to fabricate such a center by
the making of gods. Whereas, if they had only been patient and trustful
and waited for Moses, they would have found that, even by the very
absence of Moses, God Himself was providing for the worship of
the people. We have here another illustration of the frequent follies
of popular decisions. The greatest thing that required to be done for
these Israelites was the thing that needed to be done in them.
readiness in falling in with the request; and it has been suggested that his
readiness was only in appearance, and that he hoped the women would
refuse to surrender their cherished ornaments, thus making the
construction of a suitable image impossible. It may have been so; but why
should we not think that Aaron may have been as deeply infected with the
idolatrous spirit as any of his brother Israelites? There is everything to
indicate that he went about the execution of the request with cordiality and
gratification. And it must not be forgotten that in the midst of all his
forgetfulness of the command against image-worship, he evidently did not
think of himself as forsaking Jehovah. When the image and the altar were
ready, it was to Jehovah he proclaimed the feast. What Aaron and the
people along with him had yet to learn was that Jehovah was not to be
served by will-worship or by a copy of the rites observed in honoring the
gods of other nations. Thus all unconsciously,
needful were the patterns given in the mount. The feast to Jehovah,
indicated in v. 6, was nothing but an excuse for the most reckless and
degrading self-indulgence. How different from the ideal of those solemn
seasons which Jehovah Himself in due time prescribed; seasons which were
meant to lift the people above their common life into a more hearty
appreciation of the Divine presence, goodness and favor, and thus lead
them into joys worthy of the true people of God.
GOD’S REACTION (vs. 7-10)
7 “And the LORD said unto Moses, Go, get thee down; for thy people, which
out of the
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.
The Sin of the Golden Calf (vs. 1-7)
effects followed in the camp of
Moses’ to the mount. Moved as by a common impulse, the people
“gathered themselves together,” and demanded of Aaron that he should
make them “a god,” i.e. an idol, that it might go — be carried in procession
— before them (compare Amos 5:26). It was a case of “hand joined in hand”
to do iniquity (Proverbs 11:21). Many, doubtless, looked on the
movement with dismay and horror (compare v. 26); but their voices were
drowned in the general clamor. The “lewd fellows of the baser sort”
(Acts 17:5) had, for the moment, the upper hand in the host, and swept
all before them. Intimidated by the show of violence, Aaron weakly
acceded to the people’s request. The whole incident strikingly illustrates
commanding space which must have been filled in the camp of
the personality of Moses, and affords some measure of the turbulent and
refractory dispositions of the multitude whom ordinarily he had to deal
with. It sheds light, also, on the greatness of Moses’ character, set as that
is in contrast with the weakness and irresolution exhibited by Aaron.
placed has its elements of trial. These are purposely mingled with our lot:
(1) that dispositions may be tested, and
(2) that life may be to us in fact, what it is needful that it should be for the
proper development of character, viz. a succession of probations.
The trial of the Israelites consisted:
Ø In the delay in the return of Moses. Moses had disappeared in the
mountain. Weeks had passed without his return. It had not been told the
people how long his absence was to last. This constituted a trial of faith
and patience. It gave color to the allegation that Moses had perished —
that he had gone from them for ever. Compare what is said in Luke
12:37-49 of the uncertainty left to rest upon the time of the Lord’s
second advent. Faith has its trial here also. Because Christ’s coming
is delayed, there are those who would fain persuade themselves that
He will not return at all (II Peter 3:4).
Ø In the scope given by his absence for the manifestation of character.
On this, again, compare Luke 12:37-49. It was the first time since the
Hitherto, Moses had always been with them. His presence had been a
check on their wayward and licentious tendencies. His firm rule
repressed disorders. Whatever inclinations some of them may have
felt for a revival of the religious orgies, to which, perhaps, they had
been accustomed in
camp, to vent their desires publicity. The withdrawal of the lawgiver’s
presence, accordingly, so soon after the conclusion of the covenant,
was plainly of the nature of a trial. It removed the curb. It left room
for the display of character. It tested the sincerity of recent professions.
It showed how the people were disposed to conduct themselves when
the tight rein, which had hitherto kept them in, had been a little
slackened. It tested, in short, whether there were really a heart in them
to keep all God’s commandments always (Deuteronomy 5:29).
(All we have to do is obey! How different our lives would be!
CY - 2017) Alas! that in the hour of their trial, when so splendid
an opportunity was given them of testifying their allegiance, their
failure should have been so humiliating and complete.
Ø The sin itself. They had made for them “a molten calf” (v. 4), which,
forthwith, they proceeded to worship with every species of disgraceful
revelry (v. 6). The steps in the sin are noted in the narrative.
o They approached Aaron with a demand to make them “a god.” The
light, irreverent way in which, in connection with this demand, they
speak of their former leader — “As for this Moses, the man that
up out of the
of him” (v. 1) — betrays an extraordinary levity, ingratitude, and
callousness of nature.
o They stripped themselves of their ornaments of gold for the making of
the “god” (v. 3). They did this gladly. People, as a rule, spend freely
on their vices. They are not so ready to part with their valuables for the
service of Jehovah.
o They mixed up their calf worship with the service of the true God. On
the supposed connection with the ox and
exposition. The calf made by Aaron was evidently intended as a symbol
of Jehovah (v. 4). The result was an extraordinary piece of syncretism.
An altar was built before the calf, and due honors were paid to it as the
god which had brought
proclaimed to Jehovah (v. 5). When the morrow came, the people
“offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings,” only, however,
to engraft on the sacrificial festivities the rites of the filthiest heathen
worships (v. 6; compare v. 25). It was their own passions which they
sought to gratify; but, in gratifying them, they still endeavored to keep
up the semblance of service of the revealed God. Strange that the
wicked should like, if possible, to get the cloak of religion even for
their vices. But light and darkness will not mingle. The first
requirement in worship is obedience. “To obey is better
than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (I Samuel 15:22).
“The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord” (Proverbs
15:8). It was monstrous to propose to worship the spiritual Jehovah,
who had expressly forbidden the use of graven images in His service,
under the symbol of a calf, albeit the idol was of gold. It was worse
than monstrous, it was hideous, to employ the name of the Holy One
to cover the shameless and revolting orgies with which their
calf-worship was associated.
o They were eager in this worship. They rose up early in the morning to
engage in it (v. 6). Would that God’s people were as eager in His service
as these servants of Belial were in the service of their idol!
Ø The sin in its generic character. The sin at Sinai was a case:
o of sense reasserting its supremacy over faith. (This is something that
contemporary Christianity needs to be wary of - CY - 2017) “As for
this Moses, we wot not what has become of him” (v. 1).
o Of carnal tendencies regaining the ascendancy over temporary
o Of engrained evil habits resuming their sway after having been for a
time forcibly kept in check. The incident shows that nothing short of a
thorough regeneration, of a radical change of heart, can be relied
on to keep men in the way of good. It is the heart that needs renewal.
David seized the matter at the root when he was led to pray, “Create
in me a clean heart” etc. (Psalm 51:10). It was the want of this
renewal which was the bane of
Ø Aggravations of the sin. The circumstances under which the sin was
committed added greatly to its enormity.
o It was a sin committed immediately after solemn covenant with God.
The transactions recorded in ch. 24 were not yet forty days old. The
people had literally heard God speaking to them. They had
acknowledged the solemnity of the situation by entreating Moses to
act as mediator. They had formally, and under awful impressions of
God’s majesty, pledged themselves to life-long obedience. Yet within
this brief space of time, they had thrown off all restraints, and violated
one of the main stipulations of their agreement. A more flagrant act of
impiety it would be difficult to imagine.
o It was a sin committed while Moses was still in the mount transacting
for them. He had gone to receive the tables of the law. He had been
detained to receive instructions for the making of the sanctuary — that
God might dwell among them. A solemn time, truly! While it lasted,
the people might surely have been depended on to conduct themselves
with at least ordinary propriety. Instead of this, witness their mad
their calf. The very time when, of all others, their frame of mind ought to
have been devout, sober, prayerful, was the time chosen for the
perpetration of this great iniquity.
noted, the narrative makes no attempt to conceal. It tells the story with
perfect impartiality. The Bible, like its author, is without respect of
persons. If Aaron leads the people astray, he must, like others, submit to
have the truth told about him. This is not the way of ordinary biographies,
but it is the way of Scripture. It is one mark of its inspiration. It is a
guarantee of its historic truthfulness. The conduct of Aaron cannot be
justified; but suggestions may be offered which help to render intelligible.
Ø Aaron was placed in a situation in which it was very difficult to know
exactly what to do. A mob confronted him, evidently bent on gratifying
its dangerous humor, its demand was peremptory. To resist its will was
to run the risk of being stoned. The temptation which, in these
circumstances, naturally presented itself to a timid mind, and to which
Aaron yielded, was to put the people off, and endeavor to gain time by
some show of concession. In the interval, Moses might return, and the
difficulty would be solved. See the mistake of this policy. It was:
o Wrong. It involved a sacrifice of principle. It was temporizing.
(One should never sacrifice principle for temporary gain! CY – 2017)
o Weak. Had Aaron been brave enough to take a firm stand, even at the
risk of losing his life for it, not improbably he might have crushed the
movement in its bud. As it was, his sanction and example gave it an
impetus which carried it beyond the possibility of being subsequently
controlled. (And many lost their lives over it. CY – 2017)
o Self-defeating. A temporizing policy usually is. The favorable chance
on which everything has been staked, does not turn up. Moses did not
return, and Aaron, having yielded the preliminary point, found himself
hopelessly committed to a bad cause.
Ø Aaron may have thought that by requiring the women of the camp to
part with their personal ornaments, he was taking an effectual plan to
prevent the movement from going further (v. 2). They might, he may
have reasoned, be very willing to get gods, and yet not be willing to
make this personal sacrifice to obtain them. If this was his idea, he
was speedily undeceived. The gold ornaments came pouring in (v. 3),
and Aaron, committed by this act also, had no alternative but to
proceed further. “He received them at their hands,” etc. (v. 4).
Ø Aaron may have thought that, of the two evils, it would be better to put
himself at the head of the movement, and try to keep it within bounds,
than to allow it to drift away, without any control whatever. He may
have argued that to allow himself to be stoned would not make matters
better, but would make them greatly worse. On the other hand, by
yielding a little, and placing himself at the head of the movement, he
might at least succeed in checking its grosser abuses. (There is no
right way to do the wrong thing! CY – 2017) This is a not an
uncommon opiate to conscience, in matters involving compromise
of principle. It is the idea of the physician who humors a mad patient,
in the hope of being able to retain some control over him. The step
was a false one. Even with madmen, as wiser doctors tell us, the
humoring policy is not the most judicious. With a mob, it is about
the worst that could be adopted.
Ø The strength of evil propensities in human nature.
Ø The fleetingness of religious impressions, if not accompanied by a true
change of heart.
Ø The degrading character of idolatry. SIN bestializes, and the bestial
nature seeks a god in bestial form (compare Romans 1:21-32).
“Men,” says Xenophanes, “imagine that the gods are born, are
clothed in our garments, and endowed with our form and figure.
(“These things hast thou done, and I kept silence; thou thoughest
I was altogether such an one as thyself: but I will reprove thee,
and set them in order before thine eyes.” Psalm 50:21) But if oxen
or lions had hands, and could paint and fashion things as men do,
they too would form the gods after their own similitude, horses
making them like horses, and oxen like oxen.” But we have seen
that men also can fashion their gods in the similitude of oxen.
“They that make them are like unto them” (Psalm 115:8).
Ø Mammon-worship (wealth regarded as an evil influence or false
object of worship and devotion) is a worship of the golden calf..
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
They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them” –
A few weeks have sufficed to make them forget their solemn pledges (chps.
19:8; 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.
9 “And the LORD said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a
stiffnecked people:” - This epithet, which will be used nine more times in scripture,
is here used for the first time. It does not so much mean “obstinate” as “perverse”
like a horse that stiffens the neck when the driver pulls the right or left rein, and
will not go the way he is wanted to go. (Compare chps. 33:3,5; 34:9; Deuteronomy
9:6, 13; 10:16, 31:27; II Chronicles 20:8, Acts 7:51)
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.”
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 naught, and His purposes with respect to His “peculiar people”
would have been put back six hundred years and more.
The Anger of God (vs. 7-10)
God may well be angry when His people apostatize; and having recently professed
entire submission to His will (chps. 19:8; 24:3), rebel suddenly, and cast His words
their backs. God’s anger against
by a series of stupendous miracles from a cruel bondage. He had brought
them out of
them through it — He had given them a complete victory over the
Amalekites. He was supporting them day after day by a miraculous supply
of food. He had condescended to enter into covenant with them, and to
make them His “peculiar treasure” — “a kingdom of priests, and an holy
nation” (ch.19:5-6). He was further engaged in giving them a law which
would place them far in advance of other nations, and render them
the main source of life and light in a world of moral darkness and deadness.
There had been no moment in their history when they were more bound by
every consideration of duty, honor, and thankfulness to cling to Jehovah
— yet, spite of all, they had rebelled and rushed into idolatry.
aside quickly out of the way,” said the Almighty to Moses (v. 8). A few
weeks only had gone by since they had declared themselves God’s willing
servants — had entered into covenant with Him, and promised to keep all
His commandments. What had caused the sudden and complete change?
There was nothing to account for it but the absence of Moses. But surely it
might have been expected that their convictions would have had sufficient
root to outlive the disappearance of Moses for as long as six weeks. The
fact, however, was otherwise. They were of those who had “no root in
themselves” (Mark 4:17) — and as soon as temptation came, they fell away.
The remembrance of their old idolatries came upon them with a force that
they had not strength to resist — and it happened unto them according to the
true proverb: “The dog is turned to his own vomit again, and the sow that
was washed to her wallowing in the mire” (II Peter 2:22).
delivery of the second commandment at Sinai, it might perhaps have been a
doubtful point whether the worship of God under a material form was, or
was not, offensive to Him. But after that delivery, all doubt was removed.
The bowing down to an image had been then and there declared an
“iniquity,” an offence to a “jealous God,” which He would visit unto the
third and fourth generation. Nor was this all. An express prohibition of the
very act that
“Book of the Covenant” — which opens thus — “Ye have seen that I have
talked with you from heaven — ye shall not make with me gods of silver,
neither shall ye make unto you gods of gold” (ch. 20:22-23). It was
impossible therefore that they should plead ignorance. Knowingly and
willfully they had transgressed a plain command of the Great God, whose
power and glory had so lately been revealed to them. They had sinned in
the full light of day. Christians in their manifold idolatries — of
covetousness, lust, fashion-worship, etc. — are more ungrateful than even
the Israelites, since they sin against One who has died to redeem them, and
they sin against a still clearer light — the double light of a full revelation of
God’s will, and of a conscience enlightened by the Holy Ghost. God’s
wrath may well “wax hot against them, to consume them from the face of
THE INTERCESSION OF MOSES (vs. 11-13)
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 (vs. 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 (v.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 “delft,” 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 (ch. 2:11) he had cast in his lot with his nation; he had been appointed
their leader (ch. 3:10); they had accepted him as such (ch. 4:31); he had led them out
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
naturally drew him one way, his affection for
honor that he chose the better part; declined to be put in Abraham’s place, and
generously interceded for his nation (vs. 11-13). He thereby placed himself among
the heroes of humanity, and gave additional strength and dignity to his own character.
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
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.” 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.” - Moses has three pleas wherewith he “wrestles with God:”
not now destroy them, and so undo His own work.
the Divine action.
and Jacob (Genesis 28:14; 35:11), which had received a partial fulfillment,
would seem to be revoked and withdrawn if the nation already formed were
destroyed and a fresh start made.
14 “And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto His people.”
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.” (Numbers 23:19) He
“knows the end from the beginning.” (Isaiah 46:10) When He threatened to
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 ch. 2:24-25; 3:7-8;
The Wrath of Jehovah and the Intercession of Moses (vs. 7-14)
Jehovah is omniscient; even while spreading before Moses, with all
elaboration, the patterns in the mount, His all-observant eye is equally on
the doings of the people below. And now, just when Moses is expecting to
be dismissed with his instructions for the people, he is fated to learn that
they have proved themselves utterly unworthy of Jehovah’s great designs.
The thing described is an utter, shameless, and precipitate apostasy from
Jehovah. Previous outbreaks of the sinful heart were as nothing compared
to this. If it had only been the sin of a few, some half-secret departure from
Jehovah confined to a corner of the camp; if there had been a prompt
repudiation of it and punishment of it on the part of the great majority:
then, indeed, Jehovah might have found cause even for rejoicing that the
apostasy of the few had been occasion to prove the fidelity of the many.
Ø the transgression is general;
Ø there is a public adoption of the golden calf with worship and
Ø sacrifice. (A great warning for
The idolatrous spirit has been shown in the most complete and demonstrative
way. Idolatry, with its awful degradations and its fatal influences, must always
be an abomination to God; but how peculiarly abominable when it rose in the
midst of a people with whom God had been dealing with the most tender
compassion and the sublimest power! It is to be noticed that God calls special
attention to the quickness of this apostasy. “They have turned aside quickly,
out of the way.” The fact of course was that they had also been turned
quickly into that way, and kept in it by a kind of external force. They might
promise, and while they promised mean to keep the promise, but nature
was too much for them; and as soon as the Divine constraint was in any
way relaxed they returned to the old path. The impression Jehovah would
make on the mind of His servant is that nothing can be expected from them.
PROPOSES TO TREAT
think here not only of the words of Jehovah, but also of the attitude of
Moses, which seems to be indicated by these words. Even before Moses
puts in his earnest intercession, we have a hint of what is in his heart.
Jehovah says, “Let me alone;” as one man, about to strike another, might
speak to some third person stepping between to intercept the blow In the
speaking of Jehovah’s words there must have been an indication of wrath,
such as of course cannot be conveyed by the mere words themselves. And
what, indeed, could Jehovah do, but give an unmistakable expression of His
wrath with such an outbreak of human unrighteousness as is found in
idolatry? No doubt there is great difficulty in understanding such
expressions as those of Jehovah here. When we remember the low estate of
the Israelites spiritually, and the infecting circumstances in which they had
grown up, it seems hardly just to reproach them for their lapse into
idolatry. But then we must bear in mind that the great object of the
narrative here is to show how Jehovah cannot bear sin. The thing to be
considered first of all is, not how these Israelites became idolaters, but the
sad and stubborn fact that they seemed inveterate (unlikely to change a
bad habit) idolaters. Such a decided manifestation of idolatry as the one
here revealed, when it came to the knowledge of Jehovah, was like a spark
falling into the midst of gunpowder. It matters not how such a spark may be
kindled; it produces an explosion the moment it touches the powder. The
wrath of God must be revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness
of men. (Romans 1:18) Yet doubt not that the God who spoke here in such
wrath and threatening loved these Israelites in the midst of their apostasy.
But it was not possible in one and the same moment, and from one and the
same voice, to make equally evident love for the benighted apostate himself,
and wrath because of the evil that was so intimately mixed with his nature.
On such an occasion it became God to give a direct and emphatic expression of
wrath from His own lips, leaving His love and pity to be known indirectly
through the intercession of His servant Moses. When Jehovah is angry, it is
then we need most of all to remember that love is the great power in His nature.
TO MOSES. “I will make of thee a great nation.” Thus we see how the
word of Jehovah is made to serve two purposes. It both expresses the
fullness of wrath with an apostate people, and at the same time puts a
cherished servant upon a most effectual trial of his magnanimity and
mediatorial unselfishness. Thus this proposition of Jehovah comes in most
beautifully to emphasize the simplicity and purity of the feeling of Moses in
his subsequent mediation. And though Moses makes no reference to this
proposition, it is well to be enabled to see how little hold any self-seeking
thoughts took of his mind.
that we need stay to investigate the merits of the considerations which
Moses here puts forward. He could only speak of things according as they
appeared to him. We know, looking at these same things in the light of the
New Testament, that even if God had destroyed these people as at first He
hinted, His promises would not therefore have been nullified. The temporal
destruction of a single generation of men, however perplexing it might
have seemed at the time, would afterwards have been seen as neither any
hindrance in the fulfillment of God’s purposes, nor any dimming of the
brightness of His glory. Be it remembered that these same people whom
God brought out with great power and a mighty hand, yet nevertheless
perished in the wilderness. Spared this time, they were in due season cut
down as cumberers of the ground. And as to any scornful words the
Egyptians might speak, God’s glow was not at the mercy of their tongues;
for it had been manifested beyond all cavil in a sufficiently terrible chapter
of their own history. Then as to the words spoken to Abraham, Isaac, and
Jacob, even if all but Moses had been swept away, yet in him the seed of
Abraham would have been continued, just as in the days of the flood. God
did not utterly destroy the human race, but narrowed it down to one
family. And more than all we should bear in mind that the true fulfillment of
God’s promises was to Abraham’s spiritual seed; they who being of faith
are blessed with faithful Abraham. Hence we must not too readily conclude
that what Moses said was the thing which here influenced Jehovah in what
is called His repentance. The influential power was, that here was a man to
say something, to act as a mediator, one deeply concerned to secure escape
for these people, even while they, reveling in the plain below, are all
unconscious of their danger. (Same today – “....as a bird hasteth to the
snare, and knoweth not it is for his life.” Proverbs 7:23; “But as in the
days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For
as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking,
marrying and given in marriage, until the day Noah entered into the
ark. And knew not until the flood came and took them all away...”
Matthew 24:37-39) Notice that Moses says nothing by way of excuse
for the people. Indeed, the full magnitude of their offence had not
yet been comprehended by him; and it is interesting to contrast his
pleadings here with an angry God, and his own wrath when he came
actually in sight of the golden calf. The one thing Moses fixes on, in his
appeal to God, is the great Divine purpose for
that purpose is; he is profoundly concerned that it should not be interfered
with; and so we are led to think of Jesus the true Mediator, with a
knowledge of Divine purposes and human needs, such as it was not for
Moses to attain. Consider how Jesus dwells and caused His apostles to
dwell on God’s great purposes for the children of men. Thus both from
Moses the type, and Jesus the antitype, we should learn to think of men not
as they are only, but as they ought to be, and as God proposes they should
Moses kept constantly in mind God’s purposes for
even though he knew not how profound and comprehensive those
purposes were. So let us, knowing more than Moses of God’s purposes for
men in Christ Jesus, keep constantly in mind that which will come to all
who by a deep patient, and abiding faith approve themselves true children
Some Powers Restrain, Some Compel (v. 14)
Here we see a restraining power, and one which can even restrain God.
Ø Justly merited. Remember all that had gone before: deliverance after a
series of awe-inspiring judgments on the oppressors; warnings after
previous murmurings; now, with a fuller revelation of God’s majesty, this
act of impatient apostasy: all compelled to the conclusion that the people
were utterly stiff-necked (v. 9).
Ø Complete and final. As a molder in clay, when he finds his material
getting hard and intractable, throws it down, casts it away, and takes up
with something more pliable, so God determines
with regard to
(v. 10). Let the children of
As though God could not act without the consent of Moses. [A hot
sun would melt snow but for shadow of protecting wall.] The heat of
God’s wrath cannot consume so long as Moses stands in the way and
screens those against whom it burns. What a power! See how it was
Ø Unselfishly. He might have thought, “A disgrace to we if these people
are lost when I have led them;” this fear, however, provided against by the
promise that he shall be made “a great nation,” The intercession is
prompted by pure unselfishness; Moses identifies himself with those for
whom he pleads; and this gives the power. To come between the sun and
any object, you must be in the line of the sun’s rays; and to come, as Moses
did, between God and a people, you must be in the line of God’s will
Ø With perfect freedom. Moses talks with Jehovah as a trusted steward
might with his employer:
o Why so angry when he has exercised such power on their behalf? (v. 11).
o Why should the Egyptians be permitted to taunt Him with caprice and
cruelty? (v. 12).
o Let Him remember his oath to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (v. 13).
The unselfish man need not fear to speak thus openly with God.
Unselfishness is so God-like that it permits familiarity whilst it
guards against irreverence.
Ø The repentance was in direct answer to the intercession (vs. 12,14).
God did as Moses begged that He would do. Had Moses been less
firm, God’s wrath would certainly have consumed the people. Yet:
Ø God cannot change! No: but Moses kept his place [i.e. - the wall
screening the snow]; and therefore the conditions were never such
as they must have been for judgment to be executed. God’s repentance
was one with Moses’ persistence. The evil threatened was against
the people, but the people apart from Moses. Moses identifying himself
with them altered the character of the total.
o Conclusion — What Moses did for his people that our Lord
does for his Church (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25). That also
we may do, each in his measure in behalf of others. It is the
Pharisee who thanks God that he is not as other men are!
True men love rather to identify themselves with
their race, thus, salt-like (Matthew 5:13), saving it from
corruption; giving it shelter by the intercession of their lives.
\ The Intercession of Moses (vs. 11-15)
This intercession should be studied and laid to heart by all Christians, especially by
Christian ministers, whose duty it is to “watch for the souls” of others, as “they
that must give account.” (Hebrews 13:17) - It was;
utterance, was heard in the words whereby the leader sought to save his
people. Prayer, expostulation, almost reproach, sound in them. God is
besought, urged, importuned, to grant the boon begged of him. The tone of
Jacob’s answer rings in them, — “I will not let thee go, except thou bless
me” (Genesis 32:26).
will make of thee a great nation,” has evidently taken no hold of the
unselfish nature of the prophet. He declines to give it a thought. God must
keep His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — not make a new
promise, as if everything was now to begin afresh. The offer, which might
have tempted any man, is simply set aside, as if it had not been made, or at
any rate could not have been seriously meant; and the whole energy of the
speaker concentrated on inducing God to spare His people.
has real weight:
protected and defended after a marvelous fashion. All this Divine effort
would have been simply thrown away, if the announced purpose were
carried out and
to be balked, His designs to remain unaccomplished. If He “has begun
a good work,” He (commonly) wills to “bring it to good effect.”
(Philippians 1:6) Will He not do so in this case?
ü Are the enemies of God to be allowed a triumph?
would afford to the Egyptians an ample field for scoffs, ridicule,
self-glorification. Would God suffer this?
ü Promises had been made, with great solemnity (“Thou swarest by
thine own self,” v.13), to the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
that the “Peculiar people” should spring from them. These might be
kept in the letter, but would they be kept in the spirit, if all their
descendants were now destroyed, except some three, and a new nation
was created out of the descendants of Moses?
ü EFFECTUAL. “The Lord repented of the evil, which He thought to
do unto His people” (v.14). The intercession of Moses prevailed —
the announced purpose was given up. God spared His People, though
His anger against them continued; and they were punished in a
different way (vs.33-35).
MOSES BREAKS THE TWO TABLES (vs. 15-19)
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 (v.17). Moses, however, better
instructed in the actual nature of the proceedings (vs. 7-8), caught their character
more correctly, and declared that what he heard was nothing but shouting (v.18).
Soon afterwards, the camp came into sight — a disorderly crowd, half stripped of
their garments (v. 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 (v. 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” – (Romans 3:12) - 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,” (v.12) or not.
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.” 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 civilization had come to them
The First Intercessions (vs. 7-15)
eye has been on all their doings. There has not been a thought in their
heart, or a word on their tongue, but, lo! it has altogether been well known
to Him (Psalm 139:4). It is God’s way, however, to permit matters to
reach a crisis before He interposes. For a time He keeps silence. During the
and early stages of the movement in
discovery of it to Moses. He allows it to ripen to its full proportions. Then
He tells his servant all that has happened, and orders him to repair at once
to the scene of the apostasy (vs. 7-11). Mark the expression: — “Thy
people, which thou broughtest out of the
themselves” — indicating that they are no longer God’s, that the covenant
Moses intercedes for
should not destroy them (vs. 11-14). Consider:
wax hot against them, and that I may consume them” (v. 10). This wrath
of God against the sin of
Ø Real. What we have in these verses is no mere drama, acted between
God and Moses, but a most real wrath, averted by most real and earnest
intercession. But for Moses’ intercession,
Ø Holy. Wrath against sin is a necessary part of God’s character. Not that
we are to conceive of the thrice Holy One as swayed by human passions,
or as needing to be soothed by human entreaty. But sin does awaken
God’s displeasure. He would not be God if it did not. “Resentment
against sin is an element in the very life of God. It can no more be
separated from God than heat from fire! God is merciful. What does
this mean? It means a willingness to lay aside resentment against those
who have sinned. But it follows that the greater the resentment, the
greater is the mercy; if there is very little resentment, there can be
very little mercy; if there is no resentment at all, mercy is impossible.
The difference between our religion, and the religion of other times,
is this — that we do not believe that God has any very strong
resentment against sin, or against those who are guilty of sin; and
since His resentment has gone, His mercy has gone with it. We
have not a God who is more merciful than the God of our fathers,
but a God who is less righteous; and a God who is not righteous,
a God who does not glow with fiery indignation against sin is no
God at all.” Put otherwise, a God who cannot be angry with my sin,
is one from whom it would be meaningless in me to sue for pardon.
His pardon, could I obtain it, would have no moral value. Yet,
Ø Restrained. The expression is peculiar — “Now, therefore, let me alone,
that my wrath may wax hot,” etc.. The meaning is, that God is self-
determined in His wrath, even as in His love (compare ch. 33:19). He
determines Himself in the exercise of it. It does not carry Him away. In
the present instance He restrained it, that room might be left for
intercession. The words were a direct encouragement to Moses to
entreat for his erring charge.
we met with Moses as an intercessor was at the court of Egypt. We have
now to listen to him in his pleadings for his own people. Four separate acts
of intercession are recorded in three chapters (vs. 31-35; ch. 33:12-18; 34:9).
Taken together, they constitute a Herculean effort of prayer. Each intercession
gains a point not granted to the previous one:
Ø First, the reversal of the sentence of destruction (v. 14);
Ø next, the
consent of God to the people going up to
however, under the conduct of an angel (ch. 33:1-4);
Ø third, the promise that His own presence would go with them (ibid. v.14);
Ø finally, the perfect reestablishment of friendly relations, in the renewal
of the covenant (ch. 34:10).
Like Jacob, Moses, as a prince, had power with God, and prevailed
(Genesis 32:28). It is to be noted, also, that this advance in power of prayer
is connected with an advance in Moses’ own experience. In the first intercession,
the thought which chiefly fills his mind is the thought of the people’s danger.
He does not attempt to excuse or palliate their sin, but neither does he make
direct confession of it. He sees only the nation’s impending destruction, and
is agonizingly earnest in his efforts to avert it. At this stage in his entreaty,
Moses might almost seem to us more merciful than God. A higher stage is
reached when Moses, having actually witnessed the transgression of the
people, is brought to take sides with God in His wrath against it. His second
intercession, accordingly, is pervaded by a much deeper realization of the
enormity of the sin for which forgiveness is sought. His sense of this is
so awful, that it is now a moot question with him whether God possibly
can forgive it (v. 32). The third intercession, in like manner, is connected
with a special mark of Jehovah’s condescending favour to himself (ch. 33:9),
emboldening him to ask that God will restore His presence to the nation
(v. 15); while the fourth follows on the sight which is given him of Jehovah’s
glory, and on the revelation of the name (ch. 34:5-8). Observe more
particularly in regard to the intercession in the text:
Ø The boon sought. It is that God will spare the people, that He will turn
aside His fierce anger from them, and not consume them (v. 12). Thus
far, as above hinted, it might almost seem as if Moses were more
merciful than God. God seeks to destroy; Moses pleads with Him to
spare. The wrath is in God; the pity in His servant. (Contrast with
this the counter scene in Jonah 4.) The affinity of spirit between
Jehovah and Moses, however, is evinced later, in the hot anger
which Moses feels on actually witnessing the sin. God’s mercy, on
the other hand, is shown in giving Moses the opportunity to intercede.
It was He who put the pity into His servant’s heart, and there was
that in His own heart which responded to it.
Ø The spirit of the supplication.
o How absolutely disinterested. Moses sets aside, without even taking
notice of it, the most glorious offer ever made to mortal man — “I will
make of thee a great nation” (v. 10). This was Moses’ trial. It tested
“whether he loved his own glory better than he loved the brethren who
were under his charge.” He endured it nobly.
o How intensely earnest. He seems to clasp the feet of God as one who
could not, would not, leave, tilt he had obtained what he sought.
o How supremely concerned about GOD’S GLORY. That is with
Moses the consideration above all others.
Ø The pleas urged. Moses in these pleas appeals to three principles in the
Divine character, which really govern the Divine action:
o To God’s regard for His own work (v. 11). The finishing of work He
has begun (Philippians 1:6).
o To God’s regard for His own honor (v. 12). Moses cannot bear to
think of God’s action being compromised.
o To God’s regard for His own servants (v. 13). The love He bears to
the fathers (compare Deuteronomy 4:31; 10:15). These are points in
God’s heart on which all intercession may lay hold.
Ø The effect produced. God repented Him of the evil He thought to do to
displeasure moved Him to pursue, and which, but for Moses’
intercession, He would have pursued. It does not appear, however,
that Moses was at this time informed of the acceptance of his
intercession. Notice, also, that the actual remission was bestowed
gradually. In this first act of intercession God sees, as it were, the
point to which the whole series of intercessions tends, and in
anticipation thereof, lays aside His anger.
16 “And the tables were the WORK OF GOD, and the writing was the writing
of God, graven upon the tables.” 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.
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.” 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
(ch. 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 travelers, 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.
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. 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.
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.” “And it came to pass,
as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing:”
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
like the Pyrrhic and other dances at
the Salii at
nations, they were of a loose and lascivious character. In
dancers appear to have been professionals of a degraded class, and the
itself to have been always sensual and indecent; while in
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 (vs. 26-29).
The Act of Moses in Breaking the Tables (15-19)
At first sight the act seems impious, and wholly inexcusable. Here was a marvel —
the greatest marvel existing in all the world — transcending the finest statue, the
most glorious picture — more wonderful than the pyramids themselves or the great
INSCRIBED WITH HIS FINGER in characters that would have possessed
through all ages an undying interest for man. Here, moreover, was a precious
deposit of truth — GOD’S GREAT REVELATION TO HIS PEOPLE — put in
a written form, and so rendered unalterable; no more liable to be corrupted by the
uncertainty of human memory, or the glosses of tradition — PURE, CHANGELESS,
PERFECT TRUTH, the greatest blessing that man can receive. All this, committed
by God to His servant’s care, and knowingly, willfully destroyed in a moment of
time! The thing seems, at first, incredible; yet we have the witness of God that it is
true. Then we ask, How could Moses have so acted, and was not his action
inexcusable? We look to Scripture, and we find that he is never blamed for it. He
relates it of himself without any sign of self-condemnation — nay! He, at a later date,
reminds the people of it in a tone which is evidently one of self-approval
(Deuteronomy 9:17). What is the explanation of all this? It may help us to find a
satisfactory answer, if we consider:
devoted apparently to God’s service. When he reported to them the entire
contents of the “Book of the Covenant,” they had answered with one
voice, “All the words which the Lord hath said, we will do” (ch. 24:3).
He had given them in charge to Aaron and Hur, on whose
faithfulness he might well imagine himself justified in placing complete
reliance. He had been absent less than six weeks — it might seem to him
that he had been absent but a few days. And now — now that on rounding
a corner of the gorge through which he was descending — he comes in
sight of them once more and has them fully presented to his view, what is it
he beholds? He sees the entire people — Levites and priests as well as
laymen — dancing around a golden idol in a lewd and indecent way!
Was not this enough to move him? Was it not enough to transport him out of
himself, and render him no longer master of his actions? The wickedness of
the people stood revealed to him, and. made him feel how utterly unworthy
they were of the TREASURE which he was bringing them. Yielding to an
irresistible impulse, in a paroxysm of indignation, to shew his horror at
what he witnessed, he cast the tables to the ground. God seems to have
regarded the provocation as sufficient, and therefore Moses receives no
blame for what he did.
people were at the moment setting at naught. It was akin to the action of
God in withdrawing light from them who sin against light. It was a
deserved punishment. It was a way of declaring to the people that they
were unworthy to receive the truth and should not receive it. Those who
saw Moses descend saw that he was bringing them something, carefully, in
his two hands, and must have felt that, as he had gone up to the summit to
God, it must be something from God. When he lifted up his two hands, and
with a gesture of abhorrence, cast the “something” to the ground, there
must have gone through them a sudden thrill of fear, a sudden sense of
loss. They must have felt that their “sin had found them out” - (Numbers
32:23) - that their punishment had begun. Casting the tables down and
breaking them, was saying to the multitude in the most significant way –
“God has cast you off from being His people.”
Israelites generally to a sense of their guilt and shame, it would have been
the act of Moses which they had witnessed. As it was, a deep impression
seems to have been made; but only on the men of his own tribe. When
Moses, shortly afterwards, demanded to know, “Who was on the Lord’s
side?” (v. 26), “all the men of Levi” — i.e., the great mass of the tribe
— rallied to him, and were ready to become the executioners of his wrath
upon the most determined of the idolaters. This revulsion of feeling on
their part was probably brought about, in a great measure, by the exhibition
of indignation on the part of Moses, which culminated in his dashing the
tables to the earth.
MOSES DESTROYS THE GOLDEN CALF (v. 20)
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 (II Kings 23:6), which was not identical,
but still was similar. 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.
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
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.”
Idolatry Condemned by the Idol’s Weakness and Nothingness
An idol is “nothing in the world” (I Corinthians 8:4) — has no power — cannot even
save itself. Nothing convinces men of the vanity of idolatry so much as to see their idol
destroyed. Hence the command given “utterly to abolish idols” (Isaiah 2:18). And
what is true of idols proper, is true also, in its measure, of all those substitutes for
God which the bulk of men idolize. Riches readily make themselves wings, and vanish,
leaving their worshipper a beggar. Wife, mistress, favorite child, lover, erected into an
idol, is laid low by death, decays, and crumbles in the grave. Reputation, glory, sought
and striven for throughout long years as the one sole good, fades suddenly away before
the breath of slander or the caprice of fortune. And when they are gone — when the
bubble is burst — men feel how foolish was their adoration. Their idolatry stands
self-condemned by their idol’s weakness and nothingness.
AARON TRIES TO EXCUSE HIMSELF (vs. 21-24)
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 (ch. 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:
calf.” We are not surprised, after this, to read in Deuteronomy 9:20; that
“the Lord was very angry with Aaron to have destroyed him,” and was
only hindered from his purpose by the intercession of Moses
21 “And Moses said unto Aaron, What did this people unto thee, that
thou hast brought so great a sin upon them?” 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.
22 “And Aaron said, Let not the anger of my Lord wax hot: thou knowest the
people, that they are set on mischief” – 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”
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
what is become of him.” Make us gods. Rather “Make us a god.”
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.” Aaron speaks
as if he had prepared no mold, but simply thrown the gold into the hot furnace, from
which there issued forth, to his surprise, the golden calf. Having no even plausible
defense to make, he is driven to the weakest of subterfuges, “He lied!”
Aaron’s Excuses (vs. 22-24)
We are all ready enough to condemn Aaron for his insincere and shifty answer; but do
not the apostle’s words occur to any of us? — “Therefore, thou art inexcusable,
O man, whosoever thou art that judgest, for wherein thou judgest another,
thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things” (Romans 2:1).
Do not we all, when we are taxed with faults, seek to shift the blame of them elsewhere?
corrupt — is “set on mischief.” Its customs are wrong, we know; but it is
too strong for us. We must conform to its ways. There is no use in
resisting them. Public men say — “Such and such changes in the law would
be bad we know it — we admit it (Roe v. Wade, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,
Forbid children to pray in school, to be taught about God and the Bible, etc.
CY – 2010) but the people ask for them, so we must lend ourselves to their
wishes, and take steps to get the changes made.” Or again — “This or that
war would be unjust, iniquitous, a flying in the face of Christian principle. To
engage in it would be a crime — a disgrace to the age we live in.” But let the
popular voice call for the war a little loudly — and the public man yields,
silences the remonstrances of his conscience, and becomes an active agent in
bringing the war about. And the case is the same in private life. Ask a man why
he spends on entertainments twice as much as he spends in charity, and he will
immediately lay the blame on others — “every one does it.” Descend a
little in the social scale, and ask the manufacturer why he scamps his
goods; the shopkeeper why he adulterates; the ship-owner why he insures
ships that he knows to be unseaworthy and sends out to be wrecked — and
his answer is parallel — “every one in his line of business does the same.”
They compel him to follow their bad example. Descend again, ask the
confidential servant why he takes “commission” from tradesmen; the cook,
why she hides fresh joints among the broken victuals; the footman, why he
purloins wine and cigars; they defend themselves with the same plea — “It
is wrong, they know: but their class has established the practice.” “We are
all the victims of our social surroundings; it is not we who are in fault, but
the crowd that pushes us on.” Jesus said in Matthew 7:13 – “Enter ye in at
the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth
to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:” (What is some
going down the broad way would like to turn around? Does that mean
that the push of the crowd prevents this?? – CY – 2010)
CIRCUMSTANCES IN WHICH WE ARE PLACED. Sins of temper and
sins of impurity are constantly set down by those who commit them to their
nature. Their tempers are naturally so bad, their passions naturally so
strong. As if they had no power over their nature; as if again, they did not
voluntarily excite their passions, work themselves up into rages; “make
provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof.” (Romans 13:14) In thus
doing they construct the mold into which the sins run. Sins of dishonesty are
commonly attributed to circumstances: the temptation came in their way,
men say, without their seeking it, and was too much for them, was not to
be resisted. So with drunkenness, idleness, and the other sins connected
with evil companionship; men’s plea is they were brought into contact with
persons who dragged them, almost forced them into evil courses. Had they
been more happily circumstanced it would have been different. As if a man
did not to a large extent make his own circumstances, choose his
companions, construct his own way of life. We are not forced to company
with any men, much less any women, out of business hours. We are not
compelled to go to places of public amusement where we are tempted. The
“circumstances” which lead to sin are usually circumstances which we
might easily have avoided, if we had chosen, as Aaron might have avoided
making the mold, or even asking for the ornaments.
The Return of Moses to the Camp (15-25)
It may well be believed that it was with deeply agitated heart that Moses,
stunned by the tidings he had just received, rejoined his faithful attendant,
and as speedily as possible descended the rocky sides of the mountain.
Great was the contrast between the things heavenly on which for forty days
and forty nights his eyes had been uninterruptedly feasting, and the scenes
he was now to witness. Even the light of common day could hardly seem
otherwise than strange to him, emerging from his ecstasy. His bodily
aspect, too, would be considerably altered. But in his spirit there is a
stored-up energy, the product of his long rapture, which it only needs the
journey was a silent one. Moses refrains from communicating to Joshua the
news he has received. He is absorbed in his own thoughts. And while he
muses, the fire burns (Psalm 39:3). So soon as they approach the camp,
sounds of revelry are heard. Joshua, with his soldier’s instinct, thinks at
once of war, but Moses can tell him that it is “not the voice of them that
shout for mastery,” nor yet “the voice of them that cry for being
overcome” that he hears, but “the voice of them that cry” (v. 18). Even
Moses, however, is unprepared for the spectacle which presents itself, as,
pursuing the descent, some turn in the road at length puts before his eyes
the whole scene of folly. The tables of testimony are in his hands, but these,
in his hot anger, he now dashes from him, breaking them in pieces on the
rocks (v. 19). It was an act of righteous indignation, but symbolic also of
the breaking of the covenant. Of that covenant the tables of stone were all
that still remained, and the dashing of them to pieces was the final act in its
Ø The actual sight of wickedness is necessary, to give us full sympathy
with God in the hot displeasure with which he regards it.
Ø The deepest and most loving natures are those most capable of being
affected with holy indignation. Who shall compete with Moses in the
boundlessness of his love for
him yet more deeply.
Ø It is right, on suitable occasions, to give emphatic expression to the
horror with which the sight of great wickedness inspires us.
camp, Moses brought the orgies of the people to a speedy termination. He
had little difficulty in restoring order. His countenance, blazing with anger,
and exhibiting every sign of grief, surprise, and horror, struck immediate
dismay into the evil-doers. No one, apparently, had the courage to resist
him. The idolaters slunk in guilty haste to their tents, or stood paralyzed
with fear, rooted to the spot at which he had discovered them. He, on his
part, took immediate steps for ridding the camp of the visible abomination.
“He took the calf which they had made and burnt it in the fire, and ground
it to powder, and strewed it upon the water, and made the children of
Ø As a bitter humiliation. What could be more humiliating to these
idolaters than to see their god ground to powder, and its dust made into
a nauseous mixture, which afterwards they were compelled to drink?
But is not this the end of all sin? The instruments of our sin become the
instruments of our punishment. Our sin turns to bitterness. The golden
sheen by which it at first allured us disappears from it. It ends in
humiliation and degradation.
Ø As a righteous retribution. Why was the calf thus ground to powder,
and given to the Israelites to drink? It was no mere act of revenge on
Moses’ part. It was no hasty doing of his anger. It was a just retribution
for a great sin. It was a method deliberately adopted of branding idol and
idolaters alike with the print of the Almighty’s judgment. It suggests to
us the correspondence between sin and its punishment; the certainty of
our sins coming home to roost; the fact that sin will be paid back to us
in its own coin. Sin and retribution hang together. We “receive the
things done in the body” (II Corinthians 5:10).
Ø As a prophecy of worse evil to come. Bitter as this humiliation was, it
was not the whole. It was but the mark put upon the deed by God, which
told those who had committed it that they must abide by it, and be
prepared to eat the fruit of their doings. The drinking of the dust had its
sequel in the slaughter and the plagues (vs. 27, 35). Even so, the
bitterness and humiliation following from sins in this life do not exhaust
their punishment. They warn of worse punishment in the world to come.
calf. This accomplished, or while the work was proceeding, Moses
addresses himself to Aaron. His words are cuttingly severe, — “What did
this people unto thee?” etc. (v. 21). Aaron, on his side, is deprecating
and humble. He is afraid of Moses’ anger. He addresses Moses as “my
lord,” and proceeds to make excuses. His excuses are typical, and deserve
He falls back upon the old, old plea — as old as
of his sin rested on some one else than himself. “Let not the anger of my
lord wax hot: thou knowest the people, that they are bent on mischief.
For they said to me,” etc. (vs. 22-24). It is, as we say, the old, old story
of all evil-doers — “It wasn’t me, indeed it wasn’t; it was those wicked
people who made me do it.” It is the weak, childish excuse of all who,
having been tempted into sin, or having through their own irresolution
fallen into it, have not the honesty or manliness to make at once a frank
avowal of their fault. An easy way this, were the excuse admissible, of
getting rid of our responsibility; but transgressors were early taught that
they will not be allowed to avail themselves of it (Genesis 3:12-20). It
is not a plea which will be held valid on the day of judgment. All, more
or less, are conscious of pressure exerted on them by their circumstances.
There is, however, no fatality binding us to yield to that pressure, if
yielding means sin. The pressure is our trial. Aaron’s sin lay in his
unmanly fear, in his not having the resolution to say at the critical time,
(I would say that resolution means to have one’s mind made up on
what he would do in such a situation and then to avoid ever getting
in that situation. CY – 2017) No. Probably Aaron would
have urged that if he had not yielded, the people would have killed him.
“Then,” Moses would have answered, “let them kill you. Better a
thousand times that they had killed you than that you should have
been the means of leading
is the same species of excuse met with!
o “I couldn’t help it;”
o “The necessity of my situation;”
o “Compelled by circumstances;”
o “Customs of the trade;”
o “If I hadn’t done it, I would have offended all my friends;”
o “I should have lost my situation,”etc.
It may be all true: but the point is, Was the thing wrong? If it was, the
case of Aaron teaches us that we cannot shield ourselves by
transferring the blame of what we have done to circumstances.
Ø If Aaron’s first excuse was bad, the second was worse — it just
happened. He put the gold, poor man, into the fire, and “there came out
this calf!” It came out. He did not make it; it just came out. This was a
kind of explaining which explained nothing. Yet it is precisely paralleled
by people attributing, say, to their “luck,” to “chance,” to “fate,” to
“destiny,” what is really their own doing. Thomas Scott says —
“No wise man ever made a more unmeaning or foolish excuse than
Aaron did. We should never have supposed ‘that he could speak well’
(ch. 4:14), were we to judge of his eloquence by this specimen.” Note:
o The right way of dealing with a fault is frankly to acknowledge it.
o Though Moses so severely rebuked Aaron, he could yet intercede
for him (Deuteronomy 9:20). The future high priest, who truly
had “infirmity” (Hebrews 5:2), needed, on this occasion, an
intercessor for himself. The severity of Moses was the severity
of aggrieved love.
MOSES PUNISHES THE RING-LEADERS (vs. 25-29)
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.
(What about the same “playing” done in society today? Is it possible the Lord Jesus
may come? WE HAD BETTER BE READY, AND IF NOT, GET READY - CY –
2010) He therefore took his station at the main gate of the camp (v. 26), and shouted
the words “Who is on Jehovah’s side? Let him come unto 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. (Compare Ezekiel 9:4-6 – CY – 2010) 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 (v. 27).
25 “And when Moses saw that the people were naked; (for Aaron had
made them naked unto their shame among their enemies:)” The people
were naked. The primary sense of pharua is “naked,” “stripped;” and of the
licentious orgies of the East, stripping or uncovering the person was a feature
(Herodias 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. (for Aaron had made them naked 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.
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.” Moses stood in the gate of the camp. We must
understand “the principal gate,” since the camp had several (v. 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 (vs. 27, 29.)
The following points suggest a practical treatment of the passage:
NEED FOR TAKING SIDES. Some side we must take. We cannot remain
neutral. Not to be on the Lord’s side, is to be on the side of his enemies.
Jesus said “He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth
not with me scattereth abroad.” (Matthew 12:30) It is our duty to choose
the Lord’s side.
Ø He has a claim on our allegiance.
Ø It is the side of honor and of duty.
Ø It is the side we will ultimately wish we had chosen.
HIMSELF ON THE LORD’S SIDE, AFFORDS A RALLYING-POINT
FOR OTHERS. He gathers others around him. His influence decides and
OTHERS ARE APOSTATISING AROUND US, WE REMAIN
FAITHFUL. Weak natures will always go with the multitude. Decided
piety shows itself in being able to resist the contagion of numbers. It needs
courage to be singular.
Ø The obligation of personal consecration.
Ø The obligation of renouncing earthly ties, so far as inconsistent
with the higher allegiance.
Ø The obligation of doing the Lord’s work.
27 “And he said unto them, Thus saith the LORD
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 neighbor.”
Go in and out from gate to gate - “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 neighbor — strike nevertheless, and bring the revel to an end.”
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.”
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.
29 “For Moses had said, Consecrate yourselves today to the LORD,
even every man upon his son, and upon his brother; that he may
bestow upon you a blessing this day.” For Moses had said. Moses,
on giving them their commission (v. 27), had told them, that their zeal
in the matter would be 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).
The Punishment of Idolatry (vs. 26-28)
God did not long allow the sin against His majesty to remain unpunished. He
His will to Moses (v. 27) — “Thus saith the Lord God of
Moses, with his usual dutifulness, was prompt to execute His will. (Ponder
Ecclesiastes 8:11-13 – CY – 2010 - “Because sentence against an evil work
is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set
in them to do evil. Though a sinner do evil an hundred times, and his days
be prolonged, yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God,
which fear before Him: But it shall not be well with the wicked, neither shall
he prolong his days, which are as a shadow; because he feareth not before
God.”) Having obtained the necessary force, Moses lost no time in inflicting
the punishment. Of the punishment itself, we shall do well to note:
sins against God’s majesty. They profess scepticism, agnosticism, atheism,
“with a light heart.” The idea does not occur to them that their conduct is
likely to bring upon them any punishment. But “God’s thoughts are not as
man’s thoughts” – (Isaiah 55:8-9) - God visits such sins with death. Three
thousand are slain with the sword on one day because of a few hours of idol-
worship. Such is God’s award. And the record of it has been “written for our
learning, upon whom the ends of the world are come.” (I Corinthians 10:
1-11) It is intended to teach us that God will visit for these things; and, if not
in this world, then assuredly in the next.
back” — a turning away from Him, and a deliberate preference to Him of
something which is not He, and which cannot therefore but be infinitely
inferior. The heart witnesses against idolatry; it tells us that we are bound,
being God’s creatures, to devote our whole existence to Him. Idolatry
might well be punished with death, if it had never been positively
forbidden. But the Israelites had heard it forbidden amid the thunders of
Sinai ( 20:4-5). They had a law against it in “the Book of the Covenant”
(ch. 20:23). They had pledged themselves to obey this law (ch. 24:3). They
could not therefore now complain. If all who had taken part in the calf-worship
had perished, no injustice would have been done. But God tempers justice with
mercy. There were well-nigh six hundred thousand sinners; but the lives of
three thousand only were taken. God did not long allow the sin against His
majesty to remain unpunished. He declared His will to Moses (v. 27) —
“Thus saith the Lord God of
dutifulness, was prompt to execute His will. Having obtained the necessary
force, he lost no time in inflicting the punishment. Of the punishment itself,
we shall do well to note:
away their sin as:
ü The Levites, who hastened to repent, and placed themselves on the
Lord’s side at the first summons made by Moses. This was the best
course, and the only safe one. This was “turning to the Lord with all
the heart;” and, though no atonement for past sin, was accepted by
God through the (coming) atonement of His Son, and obtained from
Him, not only forgiveness, but a blessing (v. 29).
ü Those escaped who desisted either when Moses made his first appeal,
or even when they saw the swords drawn, and vengeance about to be
taken. To draw back from sin is the only way to escape its worst
consequences. Even then, all its consequences are not escaped. Their
iniquity was still “visited” on those who were now allowed to escape
with their lives — “the Lord plagued the people because they made
the calf” (v. 35) at a later date.
MOSES ONCE MORE INTERCEDES WITH GOD FOR THE PEOPLE
AND GOD ANSWERS HIM (vs. 30-35)
No distinct reply seems to have been given to the previous intercession of Moses
(vs. 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 (v. 32). Like 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” (v. 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” (v. 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” (v. 35).
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.” 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 said unto the people –
Not now to the elders only, as in ch. 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 for your sin.
Moses has formed the design, which he executes (v. 32); but will not reveal it
to the people, from modesty probably.
The Zeal of Levi (vs. 25-30)
Panic was in the camp. The idolaters stood as they had been taken in their
guilty revels. Their sin had been of too heinous a nature to admit of its
being passed over without severe punishment. Law must be vindicated.
Vengeance must be taken for the injury offered to the majesty of Jehovah.
Stern as the duty is, the mediator does not shrink from immediately
addressing himself to the execution of judgment.
on the Lord’s side? Let him come unto me” (v. 26). This must be taken
to mean, not, “Who is willing to be on the Lord’s side now?” but “Who has
shown himself on the Lord’s side during the recent apostasy?” Note — the
Lord’s side, though for a time the unpopular one, proves in the end to be
the side of honor, of safety, and of comfort. Fidelity has its ultimate
reward. Wisdom is justified of her children. (Matthew 11:19.)
unto him” (v. 26). The Levites, as a tribe, would thus appear to have
been less implicated in the idolatry than the rest of the people.
Among the faithless, faithful only he”
This now turns to their honor. The text, however, does not forbid the
supposition that individuals from the other tribes also came out, and
separated themselves at the call of Moses.
fidelity, of Levi to a terrible test. “Thus saith the Lord God of
every man his sword by his side, and go in and out,” etc. (v. 27).
Ø In the work of executing Jehovah’s vengeance, the Levites were to
“consecrate” themselves (v. 29). They were to devote themselves.
They were to be actuated in what they did by pure zeal for God’s
glory. They were to obey to the letter the command He had given
Ø In the doing of this work, they were sternly to repress all natural
impulses: “every man upon his son, and upon his brother” (v. 29;
compare Deuteronomy 33:9). So earthly ties are not to be permitted
to stand between us and duty to Christ (Matthew 8:21-22).
Ø The Levites showed unflinching zeal in the work entrusted to them. By
their zeal on this, and on other occasions (Deuteronomy 33:8), they
reversed the curse which lay upon their tribe, and won for themselves
great honor and blessing. In particular, they won the privilege of
serving in the sanctuary.
Ø They slew three thousand of the people (v. 28). “Terrible surgery
this,” as Carlyle says of the storming of
judgment, or atrocious murder merely?” The number of the slain was
after all small as compared with the whole body of the people. Probably
only the ringleaders and chief instigators of the revolt were put to death,
with those who still showed the disposition to resist. Note, that
notwithstanding their great zeal on this occasion, the Levites were
among those afterwards excluded from
striking circumstance. It shows how those that think they stand need
to take heed lest they fall (I Corinthians 10:12). It reminds us that one
heroic act of service is not enough to win for us the
“We are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our
confidence fast unto the end” (Hebrews 3:14). It may suggest to us
also, that many of the Israelites who failed under the later trial, and
so were excluded from
may yet have had the root of the matter in them, and so, spiritually,
31 “And Moses returned unto the LORD, and said, Oh, this people have
sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold.” - gods of gold –
Rather “a god 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.” 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; 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. 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. (The death of Moses or Paul in either instance, would be useless.
Only the death of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, can and doth avail!
CY – 2017)
The Confession and Intercession of Moses (vs. 31-32)
contrast the words of Moses in vs. 31 and 32 with his previous words in
vs. 11-13. What a difference there is in the ground, elements, and tone of
the two appeals! and this difference is fully explained by the experience
through which he had been in the interval. It was a bitter and humiliating
experience — we may almost say an unexpected one. For, although, before
he had gone down from the mount, Jehovah had given him a clear
forewarning of what awaited him, somehow he seems not to have taken in
the full drift of Jehovah’s words. It is not till he gets down into the camp
and sees the golden image, and the revelry and riot, and the implication of
his own brother in a broken covenant, that he discerns the full extent of the
calamity, and the difficulty, almost the impossibility of bringing together
again Jehovah and His revolted people. Vain is it to seek for anything like
sure conclusions in the details of Moses’ conduct on this occasion. The
things he did were almost as the expressions of a heart beside itself with
holy grief. There is a good deal of obscurity in this portion of the narrative;
and our wisest course is to turn to what is clear and certain and most
instructive, namely, the great result which came out of this experience. It
was truly a result, beyond all estimation, to have been led to the conclusion
— “This people have sinned a great sin.” That was just the light in which
Jehovah looked upon their conduct; and though Moses could not see all
that Jehovah saw, we may well believe that he saw all that a brother man
could see, one whose own heart’s vision was not yet perfectly clear.
Blessed is that man who, for himself and for others, can see the reality and
magnitude of the human heart’s departure from God. (Like those mentioned
in Ezekiel 9:4 who “sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be
done.....” in Jerusallem – CY – 2017) It would not, indeed,
be hard, from a certain point of view, to frame a very plausible story on
behalf of these Israelites; but it is far better to bear in mind that just at this
particular juncture this very Moses who at first had expostulated with
Jehovah, making not the slightest reference to the people’s sin, is now
found on account of that sin bending himself in the utmost submission
before God. Aaron came to Moses with an excuse (vs. 22-24); he spoke
in the spirit of Adam, laying the blame elsewhere. But Moses attempts
neither excuse nor extenuation. Nor was any enlargement needed. The
brief sentence he spoke, standing in all its naked severity, was quite
confession is as full and emphatic as it can be, but the heart is of necessity
very doubtful as to what may come out of the confession. The words of
Moses here are very consistent with the quick fluctuations of human
nature. From extreme to extreme the pendulum swings. Previously he
spoke as almost rebuking Jehovah for thinking to destroy His people; now
even when the insulting image is ground to powder, and the ringleaders in
transgression destroyed, he makes his way into the Divine presence as one
who is fully prepared for the worst. “If thou wilt forgive them.” One can
imagine the stammering, half-ashamed tones in which these words would
issue from the lips of Moses. The man who was so fruitful of reasons
before is silent now. Jehovah’s past promises and past dealings he cannot
urge; for the more he thinks of them, the more by an inevitable
consequence, he thinks of the broken covenant. The light of these glorious
promises shines for the present, upon a scene of ruin and shame. Then it is
noteworthy that Moses had to go up, from the impulse of his own heart.
We do not hear as yet of any general confession; it is not the weeping and
wailing of a nation returning in penitence that he bears before God. If only
the people had sent him to say, “We have sinned a great sin;” if only they
had made him feel that he was their chosen spokesman; if only their
continued cry of contrition, softened by distance, had reached his ears, as
he ventured before God, there might have been something to embolden
him. But as yet there was no sign of anything of this sort. He seems to have
gone up as a kind of last resort, not encouraged by any indication that the
people comprehended the near and dreadful peril. Learn from this that
there can be no availing plea and service from our great advocate, except
as we look to Him for the plea and service, in full consciousness that we
cannot do without them. We get no practical good from the advocacy of
Jesus, unless as in faith and earnestness, we make Him our advocate.
(I John 2:1)
THE FATE OF HIS BRETHREN. He could not but feel the difference
there was between his position and theirs; but at the moment there was a
feeling which swallowed all others up, and that was the unity of
brotherhood. The suggestion to make out of him a new and better
covenant people came back to him now, with a startling significance which
it lacked before. Israel, as the people of God, seemed shut up to
destruction now. If God said the covenant could not be renewed; if He said
the people must return and be merged and lost in the general mass of
human-kind, Moses knew he had no countervailing plea; only this he could
pray that he also might be included in their doom. He had no heart to go
unless where his people went; and surely it must have a most inspiring and
kindling influence to meditate on this great illustration of unselfishness.
Moses, we know, HAD BEEN BROUGHT VERY NEAR TO GOD –
what glimpses must have been opened up to him of a glorious future.
But then he had only thought of it as being his future along with his people.
In the threat that God was about to forsake those who had forsaken Him,
there seemed no longer any brightness even in the favor of God to him
as an individual. Apostate in heart and deed as his brethren were, he felt
himself a member of the body still; and to be separated from them would
be as if the member were torn away. He who had preferred affliction with
the people of God rather than the pleasures of sin for a season (Hebrews
11:28), now prefers obliteration along with his own people rather than to
keep his name on God’s great book. It can hardly be said that in this he
spurns or depreciates the favor of God; and it is noticeable that God does
not rebuke him as if he were preferring human ties to Divine. Jehovah
simply responds by stating the general law of what is inevitable in all
sinning, He who sins must be blotted out of God’s book. God will
not in so many words rebuke the pitying heart of his servant; but yet
we clearly see that there was no way out by that course which Moses
so very deferentially suggests. When first Moses heard of the
he speaks as if it might be found in his own submission and self-sacrifice;
but God would have him understand that whatever chance there may be
depends on a much needed change in the hearts of the people, a change
of which all sign so far was lacking.
33 “And the LORD said unto Moses, 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 take the punishment of others – that is
JESUS CHRIST, THE RIGHTEOUS SON OF GOD, OUR SAVIOR!
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.”
Lead the people unto the place, etc. This was a revocation of
the sentence of death passed in v. 10. The people was to be spared, and
to conduct them to
thee. Mine Angel — not I myself (compare ch. 33:2-3). Another
threatened punishment, which was revoked upon the repentance of the
people (ibid. vs.4, 6), and the earnest prayer of Moses (ibid. vs.14-16).
I will visit their sin upon them. Kalisch thinks that a plague was at once sent,
and so understands v. 35. But most commentators regard the day of visitation
as that on
which it was declared that none of those who had quitted
fact, provoked by the golden calf idolatry (ibid. vs. 22-23).
35 “And the LORD plagued the people, because they made the calf,
which Aaron made.” 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.
Moses as the Forerunner of Christ (vs. 30-34)
“A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you like unto me,” said
the great lawgiver, ere he left the earth (Deuteronomy 18:15,18); and
the parallelism between Christ and Moses is in many respects most striking:
“a man of the house of Levi.”
— Herod — Pharaoh.
thirty, Moses for forty years.
their brethren. “He came unto his own, and His own received Him not”
(John 1:11). “He supposed his brethren would have understood how
that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not”
earth, and thus made it manifest that their missions were from God.
of an imperfect, Christ of a perfect law — (“ the perfect law of love”).
Christ of the Christian Church.
the wilderness of this life to heaven.
the one sacrifice (v. 33), but could and did accept the other. “Yet it pleased
the LORD to bruise Him; He hath put Him to grief: when thou shalt
make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong
His days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand.
He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied: by His
knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for HE SHALL
BEAR THEIR INIQUITIES” – (Isaiah 53:10-11)
Judgment and Mercy (vs. 15-35)
ENTRANCE INTO A WORLD OF SIN (vs. 15-29).
Ø He came with tables written by God’s own finger. The Divine origin
and claims of the law are still attested by its own nature and by man’s
Ø He was met by the exhibition of gross and defiant sin. The law does not
come to a people waiting to receive the knowledge of God’s will, but
busy with their idolatry and breaking what they already know to be
Ø The law’s advent, therefore, is in wrath (v. 19).
o The broken tables declare that God’s covenant is broken. This is still
shown in the taking away of God’s word from the sinful: it is not
understood. Though held in the hand, a veil is drawn between the soul
§ Spiritual death,
§ rationalism, and
are tokens today of God’s broken covenant.
o The burning of the idol, etc. The broken law is a prophecy and foretaste
o The slaughter of the persistent idolaters. The place of feasting becomes
the place of death.
Ø His deep consciousness of the evil of their sin (vs. 30-31). The
intercessor cannot make light of man’s iniquity. He who bore our
burdens felt their weight and terribleness as we have never yet done.
(“And being in an agony He prayed more earnestly: and His sweat
was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”
Ø His love. Though he hates their iniquity, his life is bound up with
theirs (v. 32).
THE DIVINE ANGER.
Ø The impossibility of ransom. “Whosoever hath sinned against me him
will I blot out of my book.” There is but one sacrifice which avails, and
that reaches the heart of the sinful and changes it, THE BLOOD OF
JESUS CHRIST WHICH WAS SHED UPON THE CROSS FOR US
Ø Mercy to the unrenewed only means A DELAYED JUDGMENT!
“Nevertheless, in the day when I visit I will visit their sins upon
them.” (v. 34)
Moses’ Second Intercession (vs. 30-35)
This second intercession of Moses is even more wonderful than the first.
The question raised on that former occasion — Is Moses more merciful
than God? — will, indeed, no longer occur. Those who might have been
disposed to press that question then will probably not be disposed to press
it now. They have since had sufficient evidence of Moses’ severity. They
have found that, whatever elements of character are lacking to him, he is
not wanting in energy of indignation at patent wickedness. The temptation,
on the contrary, may now be to accuse the lawgiver of unjustifiable and
unholy anger — of reckless disregard of human life. The charge is
groundless; but if, for a moment, it should appear natural, the reply to it is
found in the study of this second scene upon the mount. Surely, if ever
human heart laid bare its intense and yearning love for those whose sin
fidelity to duty yet compelled it to reprobate and loathe, it is the heart of
Moses in this new, and altogether marvelous, juncture in his history.
confession of the sin of the people. This confession was:
Ø Holy. He has just views of the demerit of the sin for which he seeks
forgiveness. His impressions of its enormity are even stronger than at the
time of his first intercession. So heinous does it now appear to him that
he is mentally in doubt whether God possibly can forgive it.
Ø Perfectly truthful. Moses fully admits the people’s sin. He does not
make light of it. He does not seek to minimize it. Not even to secure the
salvation of the people over whom he yearns with so intense an affection
will he unduly palliate (make a disease or its symptoms less severe or
unpleasant without removing the cause their offence) or feign an excuse
where he knows that there is none to offer. Mark how, in both of these
respects, Moses answers to the true idea of a mediator. “A mediator is
not a mediator of one” (Galatians 3:20). It is his function, in conducting
his mediation, to uphold impartially the interests of both of the parties
between whom he mediates. Both are represented in his work. He stands
for both equally. He must do justice by both. His sympathy with both
must be alike perfect. He must favor neither at the expense, or to the
disadvantage, of the other. These acts of intercession show in how
supreme a degree this qualification of the mediator is found in Moses.
He has sympathy with the people, for whose sin he is willing, if need
be, even to die; he has also the fullest sympathy with God. He looks
at the sin from God’s standpoint. He has sympathy with God’s wrath
against it. He is as jealous for God’s honor as he is anxious for the
forgiveness of the people. He is thus the true daysman (Job 9:33),
able to lay his hand upon both.
Ø Vicarious. He confesses the people’s sin for them. On the depth to
which this element enters into the idea of atonement, and on the place
which it holds in the atonement of Jesus!
impressions Moses had received of the enormity of the people’s conduct
gave rise in his mind to the feeling of the need of atonement. “Now I will
go up to the Lord,” he says to them, “peradventure I shall make an
atonement for your sin” (v. 30). That the intercessory element entered
into Moses’ idea of “making an atonement” is not to be denied. But it is
not the only one. So intensely evil does the sin of the people now appear to
him that he is plainly in doubt whether it can be pardoned without some
awful expression of God’s punitive justice against it; whether, indeed, it
can be PARDONED AT ALL! This sense of what is due to justice resolves
itself into the proposal in the text — a proposal, probably, in which Moses
comes as near anticipating Christ, in His great sacrifice on
possible for any one, beating the limitations of humanity, to do (compare
Romans 9:3). Observe:
Ø The proposal submitted. It amounts to this, that Moses, filled with an
immense love for his people, offers himself as a sacrifice for their sin. If
God cannot otherwise pardon their transgression, and if this will avail, or
can be accepted, as an atonement for their guilt, let him — Moses —
perish instead of them. The precise meaning attached in Moses’ mind to
the words, “If not, blot me, I pray thee, out of the book which thou hast
written,” must always be a difficulty. Precision, probably, is not to be
looked for. Moses’ idea of what was involved in the blotting out from
God’s book could only be that afforded him by the light of his own
dispensation, and by his sense of the exceeding greatness of God’s wrath.
His language is the language of love, not that of dogmatic theology.
Infinite things were to be hoped for from God’s love; infinite things were
to be dreaded from His anger. The general sense of the utterance is, that
Moses was willing to die; to be cut off from covenant hope and privilege;
to undergo whatever awful doom subjection to God’s wrath might imply;
if only thereby his people could be saved. It was a stupendous proposal to
make; an extraordinary act of self-devotion; a wondrous exponent of his
patriotic love for his people; a not less wondrous recognition of what was
due to the justice of God ere sin could be forgiven — a glimpse even,
struck out from the passionate yearning of his own heart, of the actual
method of redemption. A type of Christ has been seen in the youthful
Isaac ascending the hill to be offered on the altar by Abraham his father.
A much nearer type is Moses, “setting his face” (compare Luke 9:51) to
ascend the mount, and bearing in his heart this sublime purpose of
devoting himself for the sins of the nation. “Greater love hath no man
than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
Ø The alternative desired. If the people must perish — this meaning also
seems to be conveyed in the words — Moses would wish to perish with
them. Not only has the proposal to make of him “a great nation”
(ch. 32:10) no allurement for his mind, but, if the people are to be
destroyed, he would prefer to die with them. He desires no life outside of
theirs. Patriotic devotion could no further go. Noble Moses! Yet only the
type of the nobler than himself, who, devoting Himself in the same spirit,
has actually achieved the redemption of the world. See in this incident:
o The connection of a feeling of the need of atonement with just views of
o The certainty, when just views of sin are entertained, of this feeling of
the need of atonement arising. In declining the proposal of Moses, God
does not say that atonement is not needed. He does not say that His
servant has exaggerated the enormity of the sin, or the difficulties which
stand in the way of its forgiveness. He does not say that it is not by
means of atonement that these difficulties connected with the forgiveness
of sins are ultimately to be removed. On the contrary, the spirit of Moses
in this transaction is evidently in the very highest degree pleasing to
Jehovah, and so far as atonement is made for the people’s sins, it is by
Jehovah accepting the spirit of his sacrifice, even when rejecting the
proposal in its letter.
(3) The naturalness of this method of salvation. The proposal sprang
naturally from the love of Moses. It expressed everything that was grandest
in his character. It shadowed forth a way in which, conceivably, a very true
satisfaction might be offered to Divine justice, while yet mercy was
extended to the sinner. The fulfillment of the prophecy is the Cross.
Ø The atonement is declined in its letter. God declares that so far as
there is to be any blotting from the book of life, it will be confined
to those who have sinned. It may be noted, in respect to this declinature
(a plea denying jurisdiction) of the proposal of Moses that, as above
remarked, it does not proceed on the idea that atonement is not needed,
o Moses could not, even by his immolation (offering himself in sacrifice),
have made the atonement required.
o God, in His secret counsel, had the true sacrifice provided. (Christ
stood as a lamb slain from the foundation of the world! – Revelation
13:8 – CY – 2017)
o Atonement is inadmissible on the basis proposed, viz. that the innocent
should be “blotted out from the book of life.” Had no means of salvation
presented itself but this, the world must have perished. Even to redeem
sinners, God could not have consented to the “blotting from his book”
of the sinless. The difficulty is solved in the atonement of the Son,
who dies, yet rises again, HAVING MADE AN END OF SIN!
No other could have offered this atonement BUT CHRIST!
Ø While declining the atonement in its letter, God accepts the spirit of it.
In this sense Moses, by the energy of his self-devotion, does make
atonement for the sins of
sentence. Further intercession is required to make the reconciliation
complete. (And this Christ did nearly 1500 years later! “But when
the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of
a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under
the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.”- Galatians 4:4-5 –
CY – 2017)
Ø God makes known His purpose of visiting the people for their sin
(v. 34). The meaning is:
o That the sin of the people, though for the present condoned, would be
kept in mind in reckoning with them for future transgressions.
o That such a day of reckoning WOULD COME! (“But the day of
the Lord WILL COME....” – II Peter 3:10) GOD IN THE
CERTAINTY OF HIS FOREKNOWLEDGE SEES ITS APPROACH!
foreknowledge, sees its approach.
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