James Gray - Concise Bible Commentary
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.Exodus 32:1-33:6
THE BREACH MADE AND REPAIRED
Moses for forty days has been absent in the mount, and to the people it seemed long. Had they forgotten the awe-inspired sights and sounds they had seen and heard? Had all the sublime and stirring events of the months since they departed from Egypt been obliterated from their memory? How can we explain the folly into which they now fell? If we cannot explain it, let us ask our own hearts if we know anything like it.
THE MOLTEN CALF (Exodus 32:1-6)
What demand was made of Aaron (Exodus 32:1)? How was their sinful impatience shown? How does the phrase, “who shall go before us,” indicate the cause of their impatience? Describe Aaron’s guilt (Exodus 32:2-5). Does this appear to have been a violation of the first or the second commandment?
The idol was probably a piece of wood carved into the shape of a calf, and overlaid with melted gold. The model was the bull worshipped by the Egyptians. The last words of Exodus 32:6 refer to unclean practices associated with such worship among the heathen.
DIVINE WRATH (Exodus 32:7-14)
By the use of what pronoun in Exodus 32:7 does God renounce leadership of the people? What test of loyalty is put to Moses in Exodus 32:10? How does he apparently ignore God’s rejection of the people in Exodus 32:11 ? Notice the two strong arguments he presents in his expostulation (Exodus 32:12-13). One is God’s honor in the sight of Egypt, and the other His honor in keeping of his original promise to Israel. But does Moses excuse the sin of the people? When it says, “the LORD repented,” does it mean that He had changeable feelings like a man? Or should we say, rather that He acted on His unchangeable principle, always to show mercy to the penitent?
SWIFT PUNISHMENT (Exodus 32:15-29)
Joshua probably had been awaiting Moses on the mount outside the cloud that enveloped him, and so had not heard the communication about the idolatrous worship. This explains the conversation in Exodus 32:17-18.
Observe what Moses did: (1) He broke the two tablets of testimony, doubtless as emblematic of the breach the sin of the people had made in their covenant with God; (2) he destroyed the image, grinding it into powder and casting it in the brook from which they were supplied with drink; then did they experience in a physical sense the bitter results of their infatuation; (3) he rebuked Aaron, whose act was inexcusable (compare Deuteronomy 9:15-21); and (4) he judged the people through the instrumentality of the sons of Levi.
“Fill your hand” (Exodus 32:29) means, as in a previous lesson, “consecrate yourselves this day unto the LORD.” If it seems strange that the Levites met no effective resistance in their righteously indicative work, an explanation may be found in that many sympathized with them and disapproved of the sin committed. Perhaps also there were many indifferent ones, who simply had been led away by strong and wicked leaders. Then, consider the weakening effect of a conscience stricken by the sense of sin, which must have followed Moses’ words and actions.
POTENT INTERCESSION (Exodus 32:30 to Exodus 33:6)
Instant destruction had been stayed, but full pardon had not been obtained, hence Moses’ action in these verses.
Note the impassionate form of entreaty in Exodus 32:32. The consequences if God will not forgive their sin are unutterable. He does not name them. He feels that he could not live or enjoy the blessings of eternity if this were not done. Compare Paul’s words concerning the same people (Romans 9:1-5).
What can he mean by “the book Thou hast written?” How interesting that phrase thus early in the history of revelation! The Israelites were familiar with a register of families. Did Moses grasp by faith that such a register of the saints was to be found above?
What divine principle concerning sin and sinners is laid down in Exodus 32:33? (Compare Ezekiel 17:19-23.) What command, promise and warning are found in Exodus 32:34? How does Exodus 32:35 show that God assumes the responsibility for what Moses and the Levites did? And how does it show that the people were held responsible for what Aaron did?
For “My Angel” of Exodus 32:34, compare Exodus 23:20 and recall the previous instruction that He possesses the attributes and prerogatives of God. Subsequent revelation will conclusively show Him to be the second Person of the Trinity.
The last clause of this verse shows that while “the intercessor has prevailed, he has not yet heard the word of full remission.” The breach is repaired, but the relationship with God is not yet what it was before. The next lesson shows how that is brought about.