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Exodus: Chapter 32

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1When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 2Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. 4He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, a Gk Vg Compare Tg: Heb Today ordain yourselves and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” 5When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the LORD.” 6They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well‐being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.

7The LORD said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; 8they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ ” 9The LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff‐necked they are. 10Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.”

11But Moses implored the LORD his God, and said, “O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. 13Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’ ” 14And the LORD changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.

15Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain, carrying the two tablets of the covenant b Heb YHWH; see note at 3.15 in his hands, tablets that were written on both sides, written on the front and on the back. 16The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved upon the tablets. 17When Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a noise of war in the camp.”

18But he said,

“It is not the sound made by victors, or the sound made by losers; it is the sound of revelers that I hear.”

19As soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets from his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. 20He took the calf that they had made, burned it with fire, ground it to powder, scattered it on the water, and made the Israelites drink it.

21Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you have brought so great a sin upon them?” 22And Aaron said, “Do not let the anger of my lord burn hot; you know the people, that they are bent on evil. 23They said to me, ‘Make us gods, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 24So I said to them, ‘Whoever has gold, take it off’; so they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!”

25When Moses saw that the people were running wild (for Aaron had let them run wild, to the derision of their enemies), 26then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, “Who is on the LORD's side? Come to me!” And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. 27He said to them, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Put your sword on your side, each of you! Go back and forth from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill your brother, your friend, and your neighbor.’ ” 28The sons of Levi did as Moses commanded, and about three thousand of the people fell on that day. 29Moses said, “Today you have ordained yourselves a Or for thousands for the service of the LORD, each one at the cost of a son or a brother, and so have brought a blessing on yourselves this day.”

30On the next day Moses said to the people, “You have sinned a great sin. But now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” 31So Moses returned to the LORD and said, “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin; they have made for themselves gods of gold. 32But now, if you will only forgive their sin—but if not, blot me out of the book that you have written.” 33But the LORD said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book. 34But now go, lead the people to the place about which I have spoken to you; see, my angel shall go in front of you. Nevertheless, when the day comes for punishment, I will punish them for their sin.”

35Then the LORD sent a plague on the people, because they made the calf—the one that Aaron made.


a Gk Vg Compare Tg: Heb Today ordain yourselves

a Heb YHWH; see note at 3.15

b Or for thousands

Text Commentary view alone

Chs 32–34 : Israel breaks the covenant, but God reestablishes it.

32.1–35 : The Israelites break the covenant.

Even as God is giving Moses the instructions for establishing covenant worship, the Israelites impatiently begin worshiping in their own unacceptable way (contrast 24.7; cf. 15.22–17.16 ).

1–6 :

During Moses' absence the people, becoming anxious, speak disrespectfully of Moses, choose Aaron as their new leader, and demand a tangible sign of God's presence immediately.

1 :

Moses has stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights ( 24.18 ). Gods … who shall go before us, ironically, they want visible symbols of the divine presence, which are exactly what God is even now telling Moses how to create.

2–3 :

Gold earrings, 3.21–22n.; Gen 35.4; Judg 8.24 .

4–6 :

The calf, or young bull, symbolizing strength and fertility, is an illegitimate way of depicting God's throne in contrast with the cherubim of 25.17–22 . The calf was probably understood originally as a pedestal or divine throne, like the cherubim, but at some stages in the complex literary history of the passage it is understood as an idol. The use of two calves by King Jeroboam I (1 Kings 12.25–33 ) has influenced this narrative, including the plural form gods (vv. 4,8,31; contrast Neh 9.18 ). God intends Aaron's leadership, gold, altar, festival, offerings, eating, and drinking all to be part of the worship of the tabernacle. The people, however, in their impatience, use all of these to dedicate a calf, a worship symbol with which God will have nothing to do.

6 :

Revel, with overtones of an orgy.

7–10 :

God angrily resolves to destroy the Israelites and start over with Moses.

7 :

Your people, whom you brought up, God disowns both the people and the divine role in the liberation.

11–14 :

Moses' first intercession succeeds. Your people, whom you brought out, Moses insists on God's continuing relationship and uses God's liberating triumph (v. 11 ), reputation with the Egyptians (v. 12; 5.2n. ), and covenant with the ancestors (v. 13 ) to persuade God to relent.

14 :

Changed his mind, Gen 6.5–6; Am 7.3,6 .

15–20 :

Moses angrily responds to the people.

15–16 :


17 :

Joshua, 17.9–13n.

19 :

By breaking the tablets Moses is not only venting his anger, but also symbolizing that the covenant relationship has been broken (v. 15 ).

20 :

Moses subjects the people to a trial by ordeal (Num 5.16–28 ). Those who suffer ill effects from drinking the water and pulverized metal are regarded as guilty and fall in a plague (v. 35 ).

21–24 :

Moses' rebuke of Aaron contrasts starkly with his priestly prestige and intercessory role as described in chs 28–30 . Aaron feebly disclaims responsibility by shifting the blame both to the people and to the calf.

25–29 :

The Levites, Moses' and Aaron's own tribe, respond to Moses' challenge by killing three thousand; Aaron, however, remains unpunished, as he does in Num 12 . In return Moses declares them ordained to God's service. Instead of being consecrated by a ceremony such as that prescribed in ch 29 , the Levites have ordained themselves by their passionate loyalty to God despite social and family ties (Deut 33.8–11 ). Underlying this passage is probably rivalry between two priestly groups.

30–35 :

Moses' second intercession, for complete forgiveness, is asking too much.

30 :

Make atonement, that is, obtain forgiveness (v. 32 ).

32 :

The book, following Mesopotamian ideas, is the register of the members of the covenant community destined for life (Ps 69.28; Isa 4.3; Dan 12.1; Mal 3.16 ).

34 :

Angel, 23.20–21 .

35 :

The plague attacks those who have failed the ordeal (v. 20 ).

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