Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The Episode of the Golden Calf, and incidents arising out of it, or mentioned in connexion with it.
The narrative of these chapters, read from a purely religious point of view, is remarkably beautiful and impressive; a striking picture is given not only of Moses’ affection and noble self-devotion for his people, but also of the long intercession by which (cf. Genesis 18) he at last succeeds in winning from Jehovah Israel’s forgiveness, His promise again to be with His people, and the vision of His moral glory for himself. But ‘the connexion between its different parts, and the progress of the narrative, is often so imperfect and so far from clear’ (Di.) that to the historical student it presents problems and difficulties which are not readily solved. As Di. points out, ‘the want of connexion both backwards and forwards is most remarkable in Exodus 33:7-11 : why the Tent of Meeting is here suddenly introduced, is not explained, and can only be conjectured, and v. 12 goes on as if vv. 7–11 or vv. 4–11 were not there at all. The connexion between Exodus 34:9-10 is also imperfect: it is surprising in v. 9 to find Jehovah entreated to go with the people, when He has already in Exodus 33:14-16 promised to do so; and it is also surprising that Exodus 34:10 is no direct answer to the entreaty of v. 9. Even in ch. 32, where the narrative wears the appearance of being more consistent, it is remarkable that the questions put to Aaron in vv. 21–24 lead to nothing further, that in spite of the punishment inflicted in v. 27 f. further punishment is threatened in v. 34b, and that while in v. 35 a punishment is described vaguely, it does not read like the punishment threatened just before in v. 34b. Further, while in P the erection of the Tent of Meeting is not described till ch. 40, in Exodus 33:7-11 there appears, as already in regular use, a tent, called by precisely the same name. The angel of Jehovah, again, is in Exodus 33:3; Exodus 33:5 represented as distinct from, and exclusive of, Jehovah Himself, whereas in Exodus 23:20 he appears as His full and sufficient representative. The covenant of Exodus 34:10-27 is described as if it were one made for the first time; neither v. 10 nor v. 27 suggests that it is a second, or new, covenant. The laws in Exodus 34:10-26 are mostly identical verbally with a particular section of those contained in chs. 21–23’: what is the relation subsisting between the two recensions, and how is the repetition to be explained? It must be evident that all these difficulties and inconsistencies are due simply to the amalgamation—and sometimes the imperfect amalgamation—of different sources: they are lessened, though they can hardly be said to disappear, when these sources are recognized and disengaged from one another. Details will be better considered in the notes on the separate chapters, Exodus 34:29-35 belongs clearly to P: the rest of the three chapters is due principally to J, or the compiler of JE, but parts belong to E. The excerpts from J and E are also in several cases plainly incomplete at the beginning or the end, so that details or explanations are missing which can only be supplied by conjecture.
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 land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.1. delayed] Heb. caused shame (i.e. disappointment): the same idiom, Jdg 5:28 (lit. ‘Why doth his chariot put to shame in coming?’).
to Aaron] who had been left below by Moses (Exodus 24:14).
Up, &c.] Hitherto Moses has been Jehovah’s representative: now that he seems to have deserted them, the people want a substitute; so they ask Aaron to make them an image, which, in the manner of antiquity, they may regard as their leader.
gods] The Heb. ’ĕlôhim may have either a sing. or a plur. force; but the verb shall go is plur.: it seems, therefore, either that the plur. is a ‘plural of majesty’ (Genesis 35:7; G.-K. § 145i), or, though the image represents Jehovah (v. 5), that the people are represented as speaking polytheistically. So v. 23.
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.2. of your sons] earrings are not elsewhere in the OT. described as worn by males (unless indeed, by implication, in Genesis 35:4).
And all the people brake off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them unto Aaron.
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.4. fashioned it, &c.] the earrings having naturally been previously melted down, and cast approximately into the shape of a young bull. The image may either have been of solid gold, or, in spite of the term ‘molten’ (see Isaiah 30:22; and cf. Deuteronomy 7:25, Isaiah 40:19), have consisted of a wooden core, overlaid with gold: v. 24b—though the terms used can hardly be pressed—would suggest the former view, v. 20 would favour the latter.
a graving tool] a pointed metal instrument: the word rendered ‘pen’ (i.e. a sharp metal stylus) in Isaiah 8:1.
calf] The Heb. ‘çgel means a young bull, just as the fem. ‘eglâh (EVV. usually ‘heifer’) means a young cow; but it does not mean necessarily an animal as young as a ‘calf’: the ‘eglâh for instance might be three years old (Genesis 15:9), and give milk (Isaiah 7:21), or plough (Jdg 14:18).
These be thy gods] Cf. almost the same words in 1 Kings 12:28 : in the allusion, Nehemiah 9:18, the sing. ‘This’ is used. ‘These’ must refer to an actual plural, and is of course quite suitable in speaking of Jeroboam’s two calves; here it seems as if the narrator had used the plural for the purpose of introducing a covert polemic against the calf-worship of the N. kingdom. So v. 8.
which brought thee, &c.] They recognize in the calf, not only the god who should in the future (v. 1) go before them, but also the god who had already led them forth out of Egypt.
And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, To morrow is a feast to the LORD.5. Seeing the impression which the image made upon Israel, Aaron at once builds an altar before it, and proclaims a feast to Jehovah. The calf is thus clearly regarded, not as exclusive of Jehovah, but as representing Him.
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.6. burnt offerings and peace offerings] Cf. on Exodus 20:24.
to eat and to drink] i.e. to take part in the sacred meal accompanying the peace-offering; cf. on Exodus 18:12.
to play] to amuse themselves, e.g. by singing and dancing, vv. 18, 19. Comp. the quotation in 1 Corinthians 10:7.
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:7. thy people] not mine; Jehovah dissociates Himself from His sinful nation.
7, 8. Jehovah makes known to Moses the people’s sin. The verses are not necessarily by a different hand (RJE) from v. 18 f. Moses’ anger may naturally have been kindled by the spectacle of the doings in the camp, the full character of which he did not before realize.
 E See pp. xi, xii.
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 Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.8. the way, &c.] See Exodus 20:4; Exodus 20:23.
And the LORD said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people:9. stiffnecked] so Exodus 33:3; Exodus 33:5; Exodus 34:9; Deuteronomy 9:6; Deuteronomy 9:13 (repeated from here)†.
9–14. Jehovah declares that He will exterminate the people: but allows Himself to be diverted from His purpose by Moses’ intercession.
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.10. and I will make, &c.] The promise given to Abraham (Genesis 12:2) is now restricted to Moses (cf. Numbers 14:12).
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?11. besought] properly, as Arabic seems to shew, ‘made sweet the face of,’ fig. for, entreated, sought to conciliate: a frequent idiom, e.g. 1 Samuel 13:12, 1 Kings 13:6, Jeremiah 26:19; with a human object, Psalm 45:12, Proverbs 19:6, Job 11:19. In the prayer which follows, Moses urges four motives for mercy: (1) Israel is Jehovah’s people; (2) its deliverance has demanded the exertion of great power; (3) the mockery of the Egyptians, if it now perish; (4) the oath to the forefathers. Cf. the intercession in Numbers 14:13-19.
a mighty hand] See on Exodus 3:19.
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.12. For evil] i.e. with an evil purpose. Cf. Deuteronomy 9:28 b.
the mountains] viz. of the Sinaitic Peninsula.
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.13. to whom, &c.] See Genesis 22:16 (the only place in Genesis where the covenant is confirmed with an oath).
I will multiply, &c.] Genesis 22:17; cf. also Exodus 15:5; Exodus 26:4.
and all this land, &c.] Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:15; Genesis 15:7; Genesis 15:18; Genesis 26:4; Genesis 28:13 (all JE).
And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.14. And Jehovah repented, &c.] so Genesis 6:7, Jdg 2:18, 1 Samuel 15:11; 1 Samuel 15:35, 2 Samuel 24:16 al. Hebrew writers often express themselves ‘anthropopathically,’ i.e. attribute to God the feelings or emotions of a man. God is thus said to ‘repent,’ not because He really changes His purpose, but because He does so apparently, when, in consequence of a change in the character and conduct of men, He is obliged to make a corresponding change in the purpose towards them which He had previously announced, and adopt towards them a new attitude. See esp. Jeremiah 18, where it is taught that if man repents, a threat may be withdrawn (cf. Jeremiah 26:3; Jeremiah 26:13; Jeremiah 26:19, Jonah 3:9-10), while on the other hand if man turns to evil a promise may be revoked. Here Jehovah ‘repents,’ as a consequence of Moses’ intercession (cf. Amos 7:3; Amos 7:6). God is also said to ‘repent,’ when he stops a judgement in the midst, as it seems, of its course, through compassion (2 Samuel 24:16, Deuteronomy 32:36). Where, however, nothing is likely to occur to cause a change in Jehovah’s declared purpose, He is said to be ‘not a man, that he should repent’ (1 Samuel 15:29; cf. Numbers 23:19).
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.15. of the testimony] The expression is P’s (see on Exodus 25:16); and will have been introduced here by RP on the basis of Exodus 31:18 a, Exodus 34:29. E would have written ‘the tables of stone’ (Exodus 31:18 b).
 See pp. xi, xii.
written on both their sides, &c.] This statement is made only here. The tables, since Moses could carry them himself, will have been pictured by the writer as comparatively small.
15–20. Moses’ return to the camp. His punishment of the people for their sin.
And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables.16. the work of God, &c.] See Exodus 24:12, Exodus 31:18 b.
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.17. Joshua] whom Moses had left on the lower part of the mountain (Exodus 24:13), and whom he must be supposed to have now rejoined.
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.18. Lit. It is not the sound of the answering of might, neither is it the sound of the answering of weakness; the sound of answering-in-song do I hear; i.e. not the answering cries of victors and vanquished, but the answering voices of singers, are what Moses hears. The passage (Di.) ‘has a highly peculiar, almost poetical character’ (cf. v. 25); and there is a play on the double sense of the word ‘answer.’ For the sense of answering responsively in song, see on Exodus 15:21.
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.19. the dancing] For dancing at a religious ceremony, see on Exodus 15:20.
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 children of Israel drink of it.20. The people are made to drink their own sin.
burnt it with fire] i.e. either (cf. on v. 4) burnt the wooden core, and ground the gold plating to powder by rolling large stones to and fro over it; or, if it were wholly of gold, reduced it by fire to shapeless lumps of metal, which were then ground to powder similarly.
strewed it upon the water] Deuteronomy 9:21 says ‘and I cast the dust thereof into the wâdy that descended out of the mount’—apparently to carry it away, without any mention of the Israelites being made to drink it.
to drink of it] Cf. the curses to be drunk by the suspected wife, Numbers 5:24.
And Moses said unto Aaron, What did this people unto thee, that thou hast brought so great a sin upon them?21–24. Aaron, taken to task by Moses for what has occurred, makes excuses.
And Aaron said, Let not the anger of my lord wax hot: thou knowest the people, that they are set on mischief.22. Aaron first excuses himself by casting the blame upon the people: they are set on evil, and he merely (v. 33) responded to their request.
my lord] as Numbers 11:28; Numbers 12:11.
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 wot not what is become of him.
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.24. He next excuses himself by declaring that he merely threw the gold which they gave him into the fire, and the calf came out—as it were spontaneously, without any cooperation on his part.
Jehovah’s anger with Aaron individually, His threat to destroy him, and Moses’ intercession for him, narrated in Deuteronomy 9:20, are not mentioned in the extant parts of J or E in Exodus.
And when Moses saw that the people were naked; (for Aaron had made them naked unto their shame among their enemies:)25. broken loose … let them loose] viz. from their allegiance to Jehovah, under Aaron’s leadership: cf. for the word Exodus 5:4.
for a whispering (i.e. a derision: LXX. ἐπίχαρμα) among them that rose up against them] The expression is poetical, and may have been taken from an ancient song (so Ew. Hist. ii. 182). Their foes would deride, when they heard that they had deserted their national God, who they boasted had led them out of Egypt.
25–29. The people being in rebellion, the Levites, responding in a body to Moses’ appeal for help, seize their swords, and slay 3000 of them. For the zeal thus displayed on Jehovah’s behalf, they are rewarded with the priesthood. It is noticeable that, though Aaron is a ‘Levite’ (Exodus 4:17 : see note), the other ‘Levites’ here take part against him. For another view of these verses,—viz. that they are not in their original context, and that they describe the punishment, not for the worship of the Golden Calf, but for some independent act of rebellion against Jehovah,—see Di., C.-H., and McNeile (pp. xxxiv f., 207 f.).
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.26. Who, &c.] In the Heb., more tersely and forcibly, Who is for Yahweh? To me!
26, 27. Moses decides quickly that prompt measures must be taken.
26–28. The zeal of the sons of Levi for Jehovah. At Moses’ summons, they seize their swords, and slay 3000 of the rebels.
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 neighbour.27. Thus saith, &c.] as Exodus 5:1, Joshua 7:13, 1 Samuel 10:18 al. Moses speaks as a prophet. Cf. on Exodus 4:22.
And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men.
For Moses had said, Consecrate yourselves to day to the LORD, even every man upon his son, and upon his brother; that he may bestow upon you a blessing this day.29. The Levites are invited to qualify themselves to receive the priesthood as a reward for their zeal.
Fill your hand to-day to Jehovah] i.e. (see on Exodus 28:41), Provide yourselves with sacrifices, that you may be installed into the priesthood.
for every man (is) against, &c.] That is the spirit which you have shewn to-day, and which is demanded for the priesthood (Di.). Cf. Deuteronomy 33:9 (written under the monarchy), where the priestly tribe is eulogized for its abnegation of natural relationships, though it is uncertain whether the present incident is specifically alluded to.
that he may, &c.] The ‘blessing’ is the privilege of officiating as priests. Cf. Kennedy, DB. i. 341b.
In view of Deuteronomy 10:8 (‘At that time Jehovah separated the tribe of Levi to bear the ark’ &c.), where the fragment of an itinerary in vv. 6 f. must be either parenthetic, or misplaced (so that At that time will refer to the period of the stay at Horeb, the subject of Deuteronomy 9:8 to Deuteronomy 10:5), Di. and others can hardly be wrong in holding that JE’s narrative here was followed originally by an account of the consecration of the tribe of Levi—as a reward, presumably, for the display of zeal on Jehovah’s behalf described in vv. 26–29, which the compiler of Ex. did not deem it necessary to retain by the side of the more detailed particulars of P. In P, it will be remembered, the consecration of the priesthood is narrated in Leviticus 8, and that of the ‘Levites’ (in P the inferior members of the tribe, as distinguished from the priests) in Numbers 8:5 ff.; but down to the time when Dt. was written, any member of the tribe had the right to exercise priestly functions (Deuteronomy 18:1; Deuteronomy 18:6-8); and it would be during this stage in the history of the tribe that J or E—like the writer of Deuteronomy 10:8 f.—would speak of the whole tribe being set apart or consecrated For priestly functions.
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.30. Ye] the pron. is emphatic.
make propitiation] viz. by intercession. The word (kipper) is used, not in the technical sense which it has in P (see on Exodus 30:10), but in that of propitiating or appeasing—here by intercession, Genesis 32:20 by a present, Proverbs 16:14 by conciliatory behaviour, Isaiah 47:11 (fig., of propitiating calamity) by either a bribe or some religious ceremony (EVV. ‘put it away’). Cf. DB. iv. 129a, § 5.
30–34. Moses, with noble disinterestedness, offers his own life, if he can thereby secure his people’s pardon: Jehovah replies that He cannot on these terms take the life of the innocent; but He yields so far as to permit Moses to lead the people on to Canaan, though without His own personal presence. The passage (esp. vv. 30, 31) hardly reads as if it had been preceded by in vv. 9–14: still, the two passages are so far consistent that whereas in vv. 11–13 Moses had only petitioned that the people might not be destroyed, he now petitions for its entire forgiveness.
And Moses returned unto the LORD, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold.31. returned] viz. to the mountain.
Oh] Heb. ’ânnâ, a particle of entreaty: Genesis 50:17 ‘Oh, forgive, we pray’; Isaiah 38:3 ‘Oh, Lord’; Nehemiah 1:5 (EVV. ‘I beseech thee’).
Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin—; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.32. The sin of the Golden Calf, vv. 1–6; Jehovah, having told Moses that it is His intention to destroy the people in consequence, is diverted from His purpose by Moses’ intercession, vv. 7–14; Moses, coming down from the mount, and seeing the calf and the dancing, breaks the tables of stone, and then makes the people drink the powder of the calf, vv. 15–20; Aaron’s excuses, vv. 21–24; the insubordination of the people punished by the sons of Levi, who are rewarded for their zeal by the priesthood, vv. 25–29; Moses intercedes with Jehovah, and obtains from Him the promise that he may lead the people on to Canaan, though without His own personal presence, vv. 30–34; the people plagued for their sin, v. 35.
The account of some of the events narrated in this ch., given in the retrospect of Deuteronomy 9:8-29, deserves to be compared: the reader who will be at the pains to underline in his text of Dt. the passages in vv. 12–17, 21, 26–29 taken verbatim from Exodus 32:7-10; Exodus 32:15; Exodus 32:19-20; Exodus 32:11; Exodus 32:13; Exodus 32:12; Exodus 32:11, will find remarkable resemblances, and also some remarkable differences: in particular (vv. 26–29), words taken from Exodus 32:11-13 (and also from Numbers 14:16), but referred to a different occasion (comp. the writer’s Deut. pp. 10, 112 ff.).
Why, it may be asked, was the figure of a bull chosen to represent Jehovah? The same figure, it will be remembered, was chosen also by Jeroboam I, when he set up the two ‘calves’ in Bethel and Dan (1 Kings 12:28 f., cf. 32), in order to divert the people from going up on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and told the Israelites that they were the gods who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt: and the worship of these calves continued till the fall of the N. kingdom in b.c. 722 (2 Kings 10:29, Hosea 8:5-6; Hosea 10:5; Hosea 13:2, 2 Kings 17:16). From the time of Philo on wards it has commonly been supposed that the symbolism was derived from Egypt, where the bull Apis was revered in the temple at Heliopolis as the incarnation of Osiris, and the bull Mnevis in the temple of Ptah at Memphis, as the incarnation of the sun-god (Erman, Eg. Relig. 1907, p. 22; cf. Wilk.-Birch, iii. 86–95, 306 f.). There are however objections to this view. (1) The Egyptians worshipped only the living animals, not images of them; (2) it is unlikely that an image reflecting an Egyptian deity would have been chosen as the symbol of the national God, Jehovah, or have been represented as the deity who had delivered Israel from Egypt; (3) it is equally unlikely that Jeroboam should have sought to secure his throne by inviting his people to adopt the symbolism of a foreign cult. For these reasons most recent writers (including Di.) prefer to seek the origin of the bull-symbolism in the native beliefs either of the Israelites themselves, or of the Semitic nations allied to them. In Israel itself traces of bull-symbolism, other than that in question, are few and uncertain: not much can be built upon either the use of the term ’abbîr, ‘mighty one,’ both of bulls (Psalm 50:13 al.), and (in the form ’âbîr, const. ’ǎbîr) of the ‘Mighty one of Jacob’ (Genesis 49:24), or upon the oxen which supported Solomon’s molten sea, or which ornamented the panels of the bases of the lavers in the Temple (1 Kings 7:25; 1 Kings 7:29). But many representations have been found of Hadad, the Syrian storm-god, with lightnings in his hand, standing upon a bull; and a bull seems often also to have been regarded as a symbol of the Phoenician Baal (see particulars in Baudissin’s art. Kalb, goldenes, in PRE.3 ix. (1901), 708–710): in Assyria, also, though nothing is known of the bull as the material image of a deity, the bull in the Zodiac symbolized Marduk; and the huge winged bull-colossi, with human heads, which guarded the gates of Assyrian temples, are an indication that some mythological significance was attached to the animal. Among an agricultural people, also, a young bull would be a very natural symbol of strength and vital energy (cf. Deuteronomy 33:17). These facts make it not improbable that in the popular religion of Israel the bull may have been regarded as an emblem of divine might, and even perhaps used to represent Jehovah; and that this popular belief may have supplied the antecedents for the bull-worship which is actually mentioned in the OT., and which prevailed in the N. kingdom from the time of Jeroboam to its close in b.c. 722. The popular belief itself may have been derived from Israel’s nearest neighbours, the Canaanites, or (p. 416 f.) brought by the N. tribes directly from the East.
 Realencyklopädie für Protestantische Theologie und Kirche, ed. 3, edited by A. Hauck, 1896–1909.
The narrative represents Aaron as the first to suggest the worship of Jehovah under the form of a bull. This was the popular worship of the N. kingdom: it is not explicitly condemned by Amos; but Hosea inveighs against it strongly, on account of its unspirituality, and the ease with which Jehovah’s distinctive character might in consequence become obliterated, and His rites assimilated to those of Baal. The writers whose narratives stand combined in Exodus 32 stand on the side of the image-less worship of the Temple at Jerusalem: their standpoint was in principle the same as that of the Second Commandment and Hosea. In recording the condemnation of Aaron, they condemned at the same time the recognized worship of the N. kingdom. It is possible that—although Jeroboam himself appointed non-Levitical priests (1 Kings 12:31)—there may have been among the priests of the calves some who traced their ancestry to Aaron, and claimed him as the founder of the calf-worship in Israel. If this were the case, it would make Aaron’s condemnation the more pointed. But, however that may be, the chapter remains an emphatic protest against any attempt to represent Jehovah under a material form. See further Ew. Hist. ii. 182–185; Kennedy, art. Calf, Golden Calf in DB. i.; and Baudissin as cited above.
1–6 The people, disheartened by the length of Moses’ absence on the mount, induce Aaron to make them a god, who may act as their visible leader. The invisible, spiritual leadership of Jehovah is an idea to which evidently they have not risen. Cf. Acts 7:40-41.
32. Moses’ love for his people finds here noble and pathetic expression.
if thou wilt forgive their sin—] For the aposiopesis, comp. Genesis 30:27; Genesis 38:17, Daniel 3:15, Luke 13:9. LXX., Sam., Ps.-Jon. supply ‘forgive.’
and if not, blot me, &c.] i.e. let me die (cf. Numbers 11:15): Moses would rather not live than that his people should remain unforgiven. The ‘book’ which God has written is the ‘book of life,’ or ‘of the living’ (Psalm 69:28; cf. Isaiah 4:3), i.e. the book in which the names of the living are said metaphorically to be inscribed. The figure is borrowed from the custom of keeping registers of citizens (Jeremiah 22:30, Eze Exo 13:9). The ‘book’ is not to be understood in the NT. sense of the expression ‘book of life’ (Php 4:3, Revelation 3:5; Revelation 13:8; Revelation 17:8; Revelation 20:12; Revelation 20:15; Revelation 21:27), i.e. the register of the saints ordained to eternal life. Cf. Kirkpatrick’s note on Psalm 69:28 (in the Camb. Bible).
And the LORD said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book.33. Jehovah replies that He will blot out of His book not the righteous, but those only who have sinned against Him.
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.34. He yields, however, so far to Moses’ entreaty as to put off the punishment of the people to an indefinite future, and to bid Moses lead Israel on to Canaan, under the guidance—not indeed of Himself personally, but—of His angel. It is true, the angel usually (see on Exodus 3:1, Exodus 23:20) represents Jehovah so fully as not to be exclusive of Him: but Exodus 33:2 (see the note), 3, shew that (unless the clause is a later insertion) it must be exclusive of Him here.
And the LORD plagued the people, because they made the calf, which Aaron made.35. The verse seems here out of place (so Di.): perhaps it originally formed the sequel to v. 20 (We., Bä.). It does not read like a description of the punishment threatened at the end of v. 34.
which Aaron made] The words read like a scribe’s correction of the less exact ‘they made’ just before.