For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2005 James Melough

32:1.  “And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said to him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we know not what is become of him.”


In his second letter to the believers in Corinth, Paul wrote, “For we walk by faith, not by sight:” 2 Corinthians 5:7, the writer of Hebrews defining faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” Hebrews 11:1. 


This is a truth of which the unbeliever knows nothing.  What is imperceptible to his five senses he rejects; and unfortunately faith is all too often a mere shibboleth on the lips of many believers also.  Few of us have the faith to believe implicitly that, “All things work together for good to them that love God,” Romans 8:28.  When things seem to be going well we believe this; but let some small “misfortune” befall us, and immediately we think, even if we don’t say it, that God doesn’t love us.  It is difficult for even spiritual believers to walk always on that higher plane which is independent of our five senses.


This was the problem with Israel on the occasion recorded here.  Their faith was in Moses whom they could see, not in God whom they couldn’t see.  And to fill the void they wanted a “god” which they could see and touch, even though it was only a lump of gold fashioned by human skill into the form of a calf which could neither see, speak, hear, feel, nor smell.  It was a lifeless thing.  And this is what they would worship instead of the God whose miraculous power they had seen displayed in their deliverance from Egyptian bondage!


32:2.  “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.”


Aaron means light-bringer, and there is strange irony in the fact that he who was the High Priest of Israel, who ought to have been enlightening the people by teaching them truth, should instead have been leading them into the darkness of idolatry.


Gold is the biblical symbol of glory, the gold rings in the ears of the women declaring symbolically that they whose ears are open to hear and obey God’s voice, will be glorified by yielding obedience.  The removal of the golden earrings announced in unmistakable symbolic language that their disobedience was about to rob them of glory, and make them the objects of God’s righteous anger.


32:3.  “And all the people brake off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron.”


This surely teaches the great responsibility resting on the shoulders of those who are leaders amongst God’s people.  By his folly this one man, Aaron, led the whole nation astray, robbing them of blessing, and making them heirs of chastisement.


32:4.  “And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.”


Having melted the golden earrings, Aaron then shaped the lump of gold  into the form of a bull, the plural “these be thy gods” having reference possibly to the imaginary “gods” of which the golden bull was the visible representative and chief.  It is impossible to understand by what stretch of his imagination Aaron could have been impelled to utter such nonsense!


32:5.  “And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord.”


It is incredible that a man of Aaron’s caliber could have sunk to such abysmal depths of spiritual depravity, but he did, and it trumpets the warning relative to the terrible danger of taking even one disobedient step.  That one step can begin a journey that carries the offender very far from God.


Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord.  Aaron in his folly would invest idolatry with the character of genuine worship, just as today Christendom mistakes a religious ritual for worship.


32:6.  “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.”


They imagined that their presentation of burnt offerings would appease Jehovah, and guarantee their enjoyment of peace, little knowing that their idolatry provoked His anger, and guaranteed His chastisement.  And so is it today in Christendom which has aped Israel’s folly.  The dupes of the great false religious system which is Christendom “go to church” early on Sunday morning, so that they have the rest of the day free to “eat and drink and play,” and do as they please, the so-called “evening service” having been abandoned in virtually every denomination of American Christendom.  But still they babble, “In God we trust.”


Only lunatics would trust in a God they affronted as do most Americans the God of heaven, their blinded eyes failing to see in such “natural” disasters as the recent destruction of Louisiana, the expression of His wrath.


32:7.  “And the Lord said unto Moses, Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves:”


So fierce was God’s anger that He denied the people as being His, calling them instead “thy (i.e., Moses’) people.”  Men today have no compunction about denying God, but how great will be their terror on that day when He denies them, saying, “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” Matthew 7:23; “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels,” Matthew 25:41.


“...corrupted” is also translated done a disgraceful thing: depraved themselves: behaved wickedly: apostatized.  No more fitting word can be found to describe today’s society, whose wickedness is about to be punished by the now imminent terrible judgments of the Great Tribulation.


32:8.  “They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshiped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.”


It isn’t difficult to see in this the typological foreshadowing of the attitude of today’s world: it too worships the “golden calf” of earthly riches; and is about to experience Divine judgment, of which that described in verse 28 is but the OT type.


32:9.  “And the Lord said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people:”


That same God sees the stubborn rebellion and wickedness of today’s world, and is no less angered by it.


32:10.  “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.”


“... let me alone” may also be translated cease to importune me: stop pleading on their behalf.


“... I will make of thee a great nation” was a powerful incentive, but not sufficiently potent to stop Moses’ intercession, his love for the unworthy people being but a faint reflection of God’s love for sinners.


32:11.  “And Moses besought the Lord his God, and said, Lord, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand?”


32:12.  “Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth?  Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people.”


The Bible Knowledge Commentary makes the following pertinent comment here, “Moses pleads for mercy on two bases: his testimony to the Egyptians and God’s promises to the patriarchs.”


Few will have difficulty seeing in Moses’ love for the people, and his importunity on their behalf, a faint foreshadowing of Christ’s love for sinners, and His plea, even as He hung on the cross, on behalf of those who had crucified Him, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do,” Luke 23:34.


Repentance involves a change of heart, implying error in former judgment or conduct, and hence is never a necessity with God.  Moses therefore was pleading in the language of men, because he knew of no other way in which to present his petition.


32:13.  “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 failed to take account of Divine omnipotence when he thus implied that the annihilation of that generation of Israel would nullify God’s promises of eternal blessing to Abraham and his descendants.  The Lord Himself, addressing a later generation of Jews, who boasted of their descent from Abraham, declared, “... I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham,” Luke 3:8.  Paul, in his Galatian Epistle states that Christ is the fulfillment of that promise, “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made.  He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ,” Galatians 3:16.  Moses was forgetting that Jehovah is the God of resurrection: the One Who brings life out of death.


32:14.  “And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.”


The Liberty Bible Commentary explains this as follows: “This is an anthropomorphic expression (a description of God using human terminology), to indicate a change in His previously announced plans, due in this case to the intercession of Moses on Israel’s behalf.  In other cases, when men change their actions, God may change His, see e.g., Jonah 3:10.”


In verse 10 the emphasis is upon what the people deserved, and what God could do, rather than what He would do.


32:15.  “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 of the testimony” were the tablets on which God had written the Ten Commandments.


32:16.  “And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables.”


Their being engraved on stone may perhaps signify their immutability.


32:17.  “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.”


Joshua, accompanying Moses down from the mount, and hearing the sound of tumult in the camp, imagined wrongly that the Israelites were being attacked.


32:18.  “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.”


Moses however, knew better.  He recognized it as the noise of sinful revelry.


32:19.  “And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses’ anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount.”


The sight of the idolatrous debauchery in the camp inflamed Moses’ righteous anger, so that he smashed the newly-given tables of the Law; and it has been conjectured, rightly perhaps, that to have brought them intact into the camp would have resulted in the immediate descent of God’s judgment upon their guilty heads.  The broken tablets were the tangible evidence of the people’s moral breach of God’s commands.


32:20.  “And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and strawed (sprinkled) it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it.”


The gold powder sprinkled on the water polluted it, and Moses’s compelling them to drink the contaminated mixture seems to have been designed to teach them how utterly loathsome their idolatry had been to God.


32:21.  “And Moses said unto Aaron, What did this people unto thee, that thou hast brought so great a sin upon them?”


Moses’ question is also rendered, “What did this people ever do to you: What harm has this people done thee?” the clear implication being that Aaron’s wickedness was the equivalent of a subtle act of vengeance.  To lead another into sin is an act of very great evil in God’s sight.


32:22.  “And Aaron said, Let not the anger of my lord wax hot: thou knowest the people, that they are set on mischief.”


Aaron sought to excuse his sin by declaring the evil propensity of the people, an expedient that has its roots in the garden of Eden, when Adam, trying to blame Eve for his sin, said, “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat,” Genesis 3:12; and Eve in turn blamed the serpent, saying, “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat,” Genesis 3:13.  An inherent evil in man is his attempt to blame others for his wrongdoing; but the only thing that will bring pardon and cleansing is repentant confession, abandonment of one’s sin, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.


32:23.  “For they said unto me, Make us gods, which shall go before us: for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we know not what is become of him.”


One thing that distinguishes man from the brute creation is his innate proclivity to worship, even if his god be only another man, the sun, the moon, an animal, bird, fish, stone, a figure of molten metal, or carved wood, etc.  No other creature has ever evinced a desire that even comes close to man’s impulse to worship.  But only men and women of faith worship without having the object of their adoration in tangible form, for “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” Hebrews 11:1, it being also written, “... without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him,” Hebrews 11:6.


Believers, without sensory evidence, are convinced of the reality of God’s existence; but unbelievers, because they lack faith, cannot know Him.  Israel, except for the small believing minority in their midst, believed in God theoretically, but not with that reverential fear which expresses itself practically in obedience. They knew Him only through His human representative Moses, and when he wasn’t available they wanted some other tangible agent such as an idol.


It is ominously significant that they credited Moses, not God, with having delivered them out of Egyptian bondage.


32:24.  “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’s puerile attempt to exonerate himself would be ludicrous were it not so tragic.  He tried to make it appear that he was blameless in the matter.  He just asked the people to give him their golden ornaments which he then just threw into the fire, and out came the golden calf idol!  But why did he ask for their golden jewelry?  Why did he throw the pieces into the fire?  What did he think was going to happen to the gold as a result of his throwing it into the fire?  An honest admission of his guilt would have been preferable to his infantile “explanation.”  The appearance of the golden calf was not the chance happening he tried to present.  He had made it deliberately to satisfy the demand of the rebellious people for a “god” they could see and touch.


Nor has the passage of time changed anything.  In Christendom today, particularly in Roman Catholicism, there are the statues and paintings of Mary and the child Jesus, together with those of so-called saints.  There are candles and incense, and gorgeously robed prelates, ranging in rank from the Pope down to the local parish priest.  There are magnificent buildings, costly musical instruments, beautifully attired choirs, etc.; everything to appeal to the senses, to exalt and titillate the flesh.


Nor is Protestantism guiltless in this respect.  A great deal of its doctrine and practice is little different from that of Roman Catholicism.


32:25.  “And when Moses saw that that the people were naked, (for Aaron had made them naked unto their shame among their enemies:)”


“... naked” is also rendered loose: unrestrained: run wild: revolted: sinning


Moses’ view of things was very different from Aaron’s.  Moses saw their activity as being utterly sinful: Aaron, on the other hand, foolishly imagined it to be worship.  The same distinction exists today: what the unconverted think is worship, spiritual believers recognize as the religious, but sinful activity of the flesh: it is sinful because every such activity of the unbeliever is an abomination in God’s sight.  How can He accept anything from those who reject His Son?


As has been noted already, garments are to the body what habits are to the life.  The licentious activity of the unclothed people around the golden calf is the typological foreshadowing of the character of today’s unconverted Christendom.  That vast multitude is as naked spiritually as were the uncovered Israelites cavorting around the idol: they lack the robe of righteousness which clothes the believer, and without which no man can enter heaven.


Nor should we miss the significance of the words “among their enemies.”  Because the unbeliever is the enemy of faith, he watches carefully the conduct of believers, and is ready to pounce upon every inconsistency in their lives as an opportunity to discredit their testimony, and shame them.  


32:26.  “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.”


Levi means joined, and in the present context they represent believers, i.e., those who are joined to Christ through faith in Him as Savior; and as they were called upon that day to separate themselves from the sinful people, so are believers today to keep themselves separate from the unbelievers all around them, as recorded in 2 Corinthians 6:16-18, “And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God, as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.”


32:27.  “And he said unto them, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbor.”


In Romans 9:6-8 it is written, “... For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, in Isaac shall thy seed be called.  That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.”  This same principle applies still: not everyone who calls himself a Christian is a child of God, His children being only those who have been born again spiritually through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.  As the true believers were a small minority in Israel, so are they also today a small minority in the midst of professing but unconverted Christendom.


Their shameless conduct had revealed the true state of the reveling majority, the judgment which slew them foreshadowing that which will overtake their professing but unbelieving counterparts of this present dispensation, for only the spiritually blind will refuse to concede that the so-called Christian world is a moral cesspool spreading its contamination to every country on earth, and affronting the sensitivity of non-Christian nations with higher moral standards.


In a broader context that day of slaughter points not only to what will be in the impending Great Tribulation, but ultimately to the judgment of the Great White Throne, from which every unbeliever will be cast into the eternal torment of the terrible lake of fire, see Revelation 20:11-15.


32:28.  “And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men.”


The destruction of the offenders is the solemn reminder that God is not only a God of love: He is also a God of absolute justice Who will never permit one Divine attribute to compromise another.

He who will not confess himself a sinner, and trust in Christ as Savior, will suffer eternal torment in the lake of fire, see Re 20:15, “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”


The number slain is also instructive, for three, or any multiple thereof, speaks of resurrection, but in the present context the resurrection is that of damnation, not of life, see Revelation 20:5-6, “But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished.  This is the first resurrection.  Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.”


William MacDonald makes the interesting comment that, “Here the broken law brought death to three thousand ... people.  At Pentecost the gospel of grace brought salvation to 3,000 people.”


32:29.  “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.”


This was addressed to the Levites, alternate translations of concescrate  being “.... you have consecrated yourselves today as priests to the Lord,” “.... you have ordained yourselves for the service of the Lord,” “.... you have won yourselves investiture as priests of Jehovah.” 


“... every man upon his son, and upon his brother” is also translated, “For every man has been against his son and against his brother ...” “... for you have obeyed God even though it meant killing your own sons and brothers.”  But their obedience, as always, commanded God’s blessing.


32:30.  “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.”


Moses as mediator is a type of the Lord Jesus Christ, the true Mediator, as it is written, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” 1 Timothy 2:5.


32:31.  “And Moses returned unto the Lord, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold.”


The confession was specific: the sin was named, and one lesson at least being taught in this is that all confession requires the same precise identification of the sin being confessed.  And for a very good reason: a general plea, such as “Father, forgive my sins” indicates a lack of real conviction relative to the enormity of sin in God’s sight; but the naming of every sin of which I know myself to be guilty contributes to the abhorrence of sin, and strengthens the resolve to forsake it.


The plural gods doesn’t refer to many idols, but to the fact that each individual sinning Israelite regarded that one golden idol as his god.


Israel’s worship of a literal idol is the symbolic picture of a corresponding pervasive sin rampant in Christendom today: the worship of mammon, relative to which God declares that “The love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.  But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness,” 1 Timothy 6:10-11.


32:32.  “Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin - and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.”


Moses leaves unfinished the first part of the sentence, which might be paraphrased,  “If you will, forgive their sin, etc.,” i.e., he prayed that it might be God’s will to forgive their sin. His willingness to be himself rejected by God, if that might spare the people, foreshadows the love of the Lord Jesus Christ Who has willingly given His life for the salvation of all who will confess themselves sinners, and trust in Him as Savior.


“... thy book” is generally taken to mean the book of life, in which God, according to His foreknowledge, has inscribed the name of every believer, a fact which is not to be construed as His having predestinated anyone to be saved.  God’s foreknowing should never be confused with His having predestinated some to be saved and others lost.


32:33.  “And the Lord said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book.”


The application here is clearly not literal, for that would imply error on God’s part in having inscribed their names in the first instance, a thing impossible, for God never makes a mistake.  The whole teaching of Scripture makes it clear that those referred to are sinners whose names were never in God’s book of life because He foreknew that they would never repent.


32:34.  “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.”


Moses was to continue leading the people to Canaan, the visible form of God’s Angel being the pillar of cloud which led them by day, and the pillar of fire, by night, those pillars being symbols of the Holy Spirit Who indwells every believer of this present dispensation.  It is to be noted also that the people were free to choose whether to follow the guiding pillars, as believers today are free to accept or reject the leading of the Holy Spirit.


“... nevertheless in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them,” visit, in the present context being related to the idea of overseeing or executing judgment, and it is soberingly significant that of that whole generation only two, Joshua and Caleb, entered Canaan, Moses and all the others dying out in the wilderness.  This however, may not be taken to mean that all who died were unbelievers, for clearly Moses was a believer.  What it may be teaching is that a relatively small number of Christians enter into the understanding and enjoyment of the deeper truths woven into the fabric of the Bible’s literal language.  The majority of even genuine believers are blind to the spiritual treasures presented figuratively in the Bible’s symbolic language, its numbers, colors, compass directions, metals, materials, animals, plants, etc.


32:35.  “And the Lord plagued the people, because they made the calf, which Aaron made.”


Neither the nature of the plague, nor the number who died, is recorded, but it is instructive to note what is written in 1 Corinthians 11:29-32 relative to disorders at the Lord’s Supper, “For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.  For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.  For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.  But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.”

[Exodus 33]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough