“And Yahweh struck the people.” This is the idiom of permission. Yahweh did not personally strike the people, instead, their sin opened the door for the Devil to afflict the people. However, because God put the laws in place that the people broke, in the Hebrew idiom He is held responsible.
The Hebrew word translated as “struck” is also used for a plague, which is why some Bible versions say that Yahweh “plagued” the people, and the REV and some other translations say that Israel was struck with a plague. Since Israel was not attacked by an enemy army at this time, that Israel was struck with a plague is the most logical explanation of what happened, especially since “struck” can mean “struck with a plague.”
[For more on the idiom of permission, see commentary on Exod. 4:21.]
“they made the calf, the one that Aaron made.” This sounds a little strange to us in English, but it expresses a powerful truth, especially when we understand the history of the golden calf. Moses had been gone for some time, and so the people came to Aaron, who was in charge, and told him to make them gods, ostensibly to “go before us,” and thus lead us into the Promised Land (Exod. 32:1). However, given the thousands of gods of Egypt, it was no accident that a calf god, a fertility god, was chosen, because the worship of it then involved the people in sex, which they almost certainly wanted anyway (see commentary on Exod. 32:6, “play”).
From God’s perspective, it was the people who pressured Aaron into making the calf, and they are responsible for that. Thus, they “made the calf.” However, Aaron actually was the one who took the gold from the people and fashioned a metal calf from it. The Hebrew text is written in such a way that both parties are guilty of the sin of making an idol.