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Go to Bible: Exodus 32
“gods.” The Hebrew word Elohim can be “gods” or “a god.” Although Aaron made the people a god, they may have wanted more or the one idol may have represented gods in general.(top)
|Exo 32:2||- (top)|
|Exo 32:3||- (top)|
|Exo 32:4||- (top)|
|Exo 32:5||- (top)|
“to play.” The Hebrew word is general and can refer to different types of play, including singing and dancing, but the context almost certainly involves sexual play as well, which was standard in the worship of a fertility god. Sexual revelry broke out later in the wilderness wanderings as well (Nu. 25:1-15). It seems if all the people did was dance before the idol, the text would have used a more specific word, and besides, the Israelites could sing and dance before Yahweh if all they wanted to do was to sing and dance. But in contrast to an Egyptian bull-god that would have encouraged all kinds of sexual activity, God, in the Book of the Covenant that the Israelites had just agreed to, was very pure when it came to sex. Marry, do not commit adultery, do not covet your neighbor’s wife, etc.
The golden calf idol no doubt came from the many years Israel had spent in Egypt, and the worship of the bull god Apis was very popular in Egypt, although the bull-gods of Mnevis and Buchis were also worshiped. The bull was a symbol of fertility and strength, and was also linked with the afterlife. The fact that the Israelites made a calf god is more good evidence that sex was a prime motivator in the making of this particular god and that the worship of it would have involved sexual activity.(top)
|Exo 32:7||- (top)|
“bowed down.” The common biblical way of bowing down before people or God was to fall to one’s knees and bow the upper body to the earth. It is the same Hebrew word as “worship.” [For more on bowing down, see commentary on 1 Chron. 29:20].(top)
|Exo 32:9||- (top)|
|Exo 32:10||- (top)|
|Exo 32:11||- (top)|
“change your mind about.” The Hebrew word translated “change your mind” is nacham (#05162 נָחַם), and here it refers to God changing His mind. God interacts with people and will sometimes change His mind and course of action if people have a change of heart and action (see commentary on Jer. 18:8; cp. CEB; GNV; NAB; NASB; NLT; NRSV).(top)
|Exo 32:13||- (top)|
“changed his mind about.” The Hebrew word translated “changed his mind” is nacham (#05162 נָחַם), and here it refers to God changing His mind. God interacts with people and will sometimes change His mind and course of action if people have a change of heart and action (see commentary on Jer. 18:8; cp. CEB; CJB; GNV; NAB; NASB; NLT; NRSV).(top)
“Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain.” This was Moses’ fifth time down Mount Sinai. [For more on Moses’ seven trips up Mount Sinai, see commentary on Exod. 19:3].(top)
|Exo 32:16||- (top)|
|Exo 32:17||- (top)|
|Exo 32:18||- (top)|
“Moses’ anger burned.” An idiom for the fact that Moses became very angry. When someone gets very angry their skin flushes and they get physically hot.
“and he threw the tablets out of his hands.” This record of Moses is very human and gives us an example of how human emotion often works. God had already told Moses that the people had a made a gold calf god and were worshiping it (Exod. 32:7-8), so Moses knew intellectually what the people were doing. But there is a big difference between “head knowledge” and actually experiencing something. In this case, although Moses knew the people had a made a gold calf god and were worshiping it, when he actually saw what the people were doing he was filled with emotion and threw down the stone tablets God had made and broke them. In the same way, most everyone has examples of times in life when we know about something that is bad or evil and yet can “keep it together” and not become overly emotional, but then when we come face to face with the bad thing we are overcome with emotion. That is a typically human trait.
We can understand why Moses would feel the way he did and break the tablets. The very first two commandments were “I am Yahweh your God...You must not have any other gods besides me. You must not make for yourself a carved image...you must not bow down to them and you must not serve them….” (Exod. 20:2-5). The people of Israel agreed to those commandments and made a covenant with God that they would obey them, and got sprinkled with covenant blood (Exod. 24:7-8). Furthermore, God had shown the leaders of Israel that He was on the mountain with Moses (Exod. 24:9-11). But now, after only a month or so of Moses being gone the Israelites completely abandoned the commitment they had made to God and turned to idols (Moses was gone for 40 days, but it would have taken a while to convince Aaron to make the calf god and then to actually make it and begin worship ceremonies, so it was likely a month or even less that Moses was gone when the process started).
There is also strong evidence that sexual activity that God would never tolerate was a prime motivator in the people making a calf god, which means that the people not only ignored the commandments they had agreed to about not making idols, they also ignored God’s commands about sexual purity (see the commentary on Exod. 32:6). In any case, when Moses actually saw for himself what the people were doing and realized that the people had broken many of the commandments that they had agreed to and some of which were written on the very tablets Moses was carrying, he was furious and broke the tablets because at that moment it must have seemed to Moses that the covenant was pointless.(top)
|Exo 32:20||- (top)|
|Exo 32:21||- (top)|
|Exo 32:22||- (top)|
|Exo 32:23||- (top)|
|Exo 32:24||- (top)|
“to be whispered about among their enemies.” The sin of Israel made Israel a laughingstock and an object of “whispering,” speaking badly about, among their enemies.(top)
“And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together to him.” This is how the Levites got to be in charge of the things of God such as the Tabernacle and Temple.(top)
|Exo 32:27||- (top)|
|Exo 32:28||- (top)|
|Exo 32:29||- (top)|
|Exo 32:30||- (top)|
“So Moses returned to Yahweh.” This is Moses’ sixth trip up Mount Sinai, and he went to ask God to forgive the sin of the children of Israel. [For more information on Moses’ seven trips up Mount Sinai, see commentary on Exod. 19:3].(top)
|Exo 32:32||- (top)|
|Exo 32:33||- (top)|
“Now go, lead the people.” This points to Moses’ sixth trip down Mount Sinai, which is not expressly stated in the Bible but which we know happened because Moses shows up with the people who are down at the base of Mount Sinai. [For more information on Moses’ seven trips up Mount Sinai, see commentary on Exod. 19:3].
“in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them.” When God “visited” someone, He intervened in their life, and He could intervene for the better or for the worse. God is a righteous God, and He holds people accountable for their actions. Although the word “visit” could be translated “punish” here, and many versions do that, the word “visit” shows that God does not just “punish,” He visits and evaluates the situation and then acts accordingly. In this case, “I will visit their sin upon them” means that God will punish people for their sin. [For more on “visit,” see commentary on Exodus 3:16 and 20:5].(top)
“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.(top)