Haydock Catholic Bible Commentary
Delayed. They waited perhaps about a month, with some patience; and then, becoming seditious, assembled against Aaron, and extorted from him a compliance with their impious request. He was thus guilty of a grievous crime, though the violence might extenuate it in some degree. (Salien.) --- He was not yet ordained high priest, chap. xl. 12. (Haydock) --- Gods. Aaron gratified their request by the golden calf. They had the pillar to conduct them, but they wanted something new. The speak with contempt of Moses. (Menochius)
And your sons. The Septuagint omit this. But in the East, it was fashionable for men also to wear ear-rings. (Pliny, [Natural History?] xi. 37; Judges viii. 24; Ezechiel vii. 20. Aaron hoped the people would relent at this proposal. (St. Augustine, q. 141.)
Received them, "in a purse, (as Gideon did afterwards, Judges viii. 25,) he made a molten calf." (Jonathan) --- Perhaps he engraved on it the peculiar marks of the Egyptian idol, Apis; a square white spot on the forehead, and a crescent upon the side. For it is generally believed, that this calf was designed to imitate that object of worship, to which the Hebrews had been too much accustomed. (Acts vii. 39, 41.; St. Jerome in Osee iv.) The Egyptians adored not only the living ox, but also its image, which they kept in their temple. (Porphyrius, Abst. ii. Mela. i. 8.) Some of the fathers think, that the head of a calf only appeared. (St. Ambrose; Lactantius, &c.) The rest of the figure was perhaps human, as Osiris was represented with the head of an ox, as well as Astarte and Serapis. Monceau pretends that Aaron represented the true God, under the form of a cherub, in which he falsely asserts he had appeared on Mount Sinai, and that his fault consisted only in giving occasion of superstition to the people. But his opinion (though adopted by many Protestants, who excuse all from the guilt of idolatry, but papists; Haydock) has been condemned at Rome, and refuted by Visorius, &c. --- Thy gods, &c. Thus spoke the infatuated ringleaders. (Calmet) --- And they changed their glory, the true God, into the likeness of a calf that eateth grass, Psalm cv. 19. --- They forgot God, who saved them, (Psalm cv. 21,) and forsook Him, (Deuteronomy xxxii. 18,) to adore the calf. (Worthington)
The Lord. The most sacred name of God is prostituted, (Judges xvii. and xviii.; Wisdom xiv. 21,) and an altar is erected to this idol; though some pretend, that Aaron meant God to be adored under this similitude. His weakness was unaccountable, and God would have slain him, had not Moses interceded, Deuteronomy ix. 20. Those who undertake to justify him, enter not into the sentiments of God; and the offender himself pleads no excuse, but the violence of the people, ver. 23. (Salien.) --- To-morrow, when the 40 days expired, and Moses returned arrayed in terrors. (Haydock)
They offered, by the hands of Aaron, to whom the Septuagint refer all this. "He offered," &c., appearing at the head of the idolaters. Cornelius a Lapide insinuates, that he wished to supplant his brother in the supreme command; and after a faint resistance, became the promoter of idolatry, to ingratiate himself with the people. The Scripture lays not this, however, to his charge. (Calmet) --- To eat of the victims. --- To play, dancing and singing in honour of their idol, probably with many indecent gestures, as was customary on such occasions among the nations of Chanaan. (Haydock) --- Tertullian (de jejunio) understands impure play. The word means also to dance, and to play on instruments of music. Ludere quæ vellem calamo permisit agresti. (Virgil, Eclogues i) (Calmet) --- Sulpitius says, the people abandoned themselves to drunkenness and gluttony, or debauchery, vinoque se & ventri dedisset. (Haydock) --- They might get wine from Madian. (Salien.) --- Foolish mirth is the daughter of gluttony, and the mother of idolatry. (St. Gregory, Mor. xxxi. 31.) (Worthington)
Thy people. They are not worthy to be styled my people; and thou didst ratify the covenant with me, in their name, and as their interpreter. They have sinned, giving way to idolatry in thought, word, and deed.
And again. The Septuagint omit this verse. Moses, at the first intimation of the people's sin, fell prostrate before the Lord, to sue for pardon, and pleaded the natural weakness of an ungovernable multitude, in order to extenuate their fault. This God admits. --- I see, &c. But while he seems bent on punishing them, to try his servant, he encourages him inwardly to pray with fervour. (Salien.)
Alone. One fully determined on revenge will bear with no expostulation; whence St. Gregory (Mor. ix. 11,) and Theodoret (q. 67,) look upon this as an incitement to pray more earnestly, seeing God's servants have such influence over Him. The mercy of God struggled with his justice, and stopped its effects. --- Nation, as I promised to Abraham; or I will make thee ruler over a nation greater than this, as Moses explains it, (Deuteronomy ix. 14,) and as the like offer is made, Numbers xiv. 12. The Samaritan subjoins here, "And God was likewise much irritated against Aaron, and would have destroyed him; but Moses prayed for him:" which we are assured was the case, Deuteronomy ix. 20. (Calmet)
Why, &c. Calvin here accuses Moses of arrogance, in prescribing laws to God's justice. But St. Jerome (ep. ad Gaud.) commends his charity and "prayer, which hindered God's power." (Worthington)
Craftily. Hebrew, "with a malicious design." Moses insinuates, that the glory of God is interested not to punish the Hebrews, lest the Gentiles should blaspheme, particularly as the land of Chanaan seemed to be promised unconditionally to the posterity of Abraham, who were now, all but one, to be exterminated. (Haydock)
Thy servants. Thus God honours his friends, and rewards their merits, which are the effects of his grace. (Worthington)
Appeased. Yet of this Moses was not fully assured, and in effect only those who were less guilty, were reprieved to be punished afterwards, ver. 30, 35. (Haydock)
Both sides. The ten commandments were written twice over, or on both sides, that all who stood round Moses, might be able to read them. (Menochius) --- On one side, appeared the laws regarding God; on the other, those which relate to man. (Haydock) --- They were like two originals. The common way of writing was only on one side. (Calmet)
Josue, who was waiting for Moses lower down on the mountain, chap. xxiv. 13.
Cry, &c. Hebrew, "the cry answering strength....or....weakness," which the Vulgate elucidates. --- Singers. Septuagint, "I hear the cry of those who contend for pre-eminence in wine," or over their cups. (Haydock)
Mount. "Finding the people abandoned to luxury and sacrilege, he broke the tables, deeming it a nation unworthy to be entrusted with the law of God." (Sulpitius i. 33.) By this action, Moses foreshewed the dissolution of the covenant with the Jews, that the new covenant might take place. (St. Augustine, q. 144.) The Jews kept the 17th of the fourth month as a fast, in memory of this event. (St. Jerome in Zac. viii.)
Calf. Having manifested his disapprobation of the people's conduct, in the most signal manner, by breaking the two tables; Moses proceeds to convince them of their stupidity, in adoring what he, in a few minutes, reduces to powder. (Haydock) --- He breaks the calf in pieces, after burning it, and then grinds it to dust in a mill, with files; as the Hebrew, Chaldean, and Septuagint intimate. He throws it, with contempt, into the torrent, which supplied the camp with water, and thus caused the idolaters to swallow their god. (Tirinus) -- Sa assures us, that he saw an alchymist pulverize gold, which Abenezra says is done by means of some herbs, which turn the gold quite black, when it is melted. (Calmet) --- Some use aquafortis for this purpose. (Tirinus) --- But from the account of Moses, (Deuteronomy ix. 21,) it seems fire, and the mille, or file, reduced the gold into the smallest particles, so as to be even potable. Josephus ([Antiquities?] viii. 2,) mentions the gold dust used by the courtiers of Solomon. (Calmet)
Evil. Aaron answers his younger brother with humility, being now touched with repentance; on which account, God still grants him the high priesthood. (Haydock)
Came out. The Rabbins pretend alive, and able to walk. Hence they say Aaron was filled with astonishment, and induced to erect the altar in its honour. (R. Salomo and Burgens.) But these are Jewish fables, injurious to God, and invented to hide, in some degree, the shame of their ancestors. For the same reason, Josephus passes over the whole in silence, and Philo throws the blame on a few Egyptian converts. They might very probably be the ringleaders, as Numbers xi. 4. But the Hebrews in general readily gave in to the delusion, 1 Corinthians x. 7. (Haydock)
Naked. Having lost not only their gold, and their honour, but what was worst of all, being stripped also of the grace of God, and having lost him. --- The shame of the filth. That is, of the idol, which they had taken for their god. It is the usual phrase of the Scripture to call idols filth, and abominations. (Challoner) --- Of the filth, is not in Hebrew. But it serves to explain how the Hebrews came to be so unprotected and disconcerted. See 2 Paralipomenon xxviii. 29.
All the sons; that is, the great majority of them; for some were probably slain, ver. 29.
About, &c. The Hebrew letter c means about, and stands also for twenty. All the versions, and some copies of the Vulgate, retain the first signification; but our edition gives also the second. Sixtus V. and the Louvain Bible have about 33,000. (Haydock) --- St. Paul (1 Corinthians x. 7, 8,) mentions, that three and twenty thousand perished, in punishment of their fornication (with the Moabites), which some explain of the adoration of the calf, and say that Moses only specifies those slain by the Levites; while St. Paul gives the number of all those who perished by the hand of God on this occasion, ver. 35. (Calmet) --- St. Cyril, Alex. glap. 2, Sulpitius, and many other fathers, agree with the Vulgate. The fornication with the Moabites, was followed by the death of 24,000, Numbers xxv. 9. So that St. Paul cannot refer to it, unless he only mention those who perished in one day; and Moses expresses the total amount of the slain during the whole affair. (Haydock)
To you. Thus they merited the priesthood, and a blessing; (Deuteronomy xxxiii. 9.; Menochius) having been the ministers of God's just indignation, without sparing any of the most guilty. With these they could not be unacquainted. No external signs on their bodies were requisite to make the delinquents known. They had appeared to publicly. (Haydock) --- The Levites acted with due authority and order, which their father, Levi, had neglected, Genesis xxxiv. (Worthington)
You. Many who had not been slain, had followed the bad example, and Aaron, in particular, had brought upon them a most heinous sin, ver. 21. Yet on account of their repentance, they were not subjected to immediate punishment; but they were visited afterwards, ver. 34. Though God was appeased, (ver. 14,) so as not to destroy the whole multitude, Moses thought it a very arduous task to obtain a full reconciliation, notwithstanding the exemplary vengeance he had taken of the ringleaders. Hence he addresses himself to God with the greatest humility, and with such earnestness as scarcely seems justifiable, if we understand that he put his own eternal salvation at stake. But he makes an impossible supposition, or proposal, which he knew God would not admit, to extort as it were the requested favour. As he is willing to die for his people, God pardons them for his sake. (St. Augustine, q. 147, &c.) (Haydock)
The book of predestinate. St. Paul uses a similar expression, Romans ix. 3. Neither could he really desire or consent to be accursed, even for a time. Hence their words can be understood only as an hyperbole, to denote the excess of their love for their brethren, as if a child should say to his father, pardon my brother, or kill me. (Tirinus) --- Some explain this book, of the law or covenant, by which Moses was appointed the prince of the Hebrews, which title he is willing to forego, with pleasure, to obtain their pardon. (Calmet) --- Others understand the book, or register of the living. He is willing to die for his people. See Numbers xi. 15; St. Gregory, Mor. x. 7; St. Jerome, ad Algas. --- This sense is very good, and sufficiently expresses the fervour of Moses. Greater live than this no man hath, John xv. 13.
Book: him will I slay; and, if he die impenitent, I will punish him for ever. (Haydock)
Struck, with some judgment, not specified; (Lyranus) or perhaps, the various punishments which were inflicted on the Hebrews in the wilderness, were all partly designed to chastise this first act of idolatry. Calmet explains this of the devastation caused by the Levites, as he supposes the narration of Moses does not deserve the order of time. He thinks Moses expostulated with the people, and was then sent by God to punish them; and while they were unarmed, (chap. xxxiii. 5,) the Levites fell upon them. Then Moses removed the tabernacle out of the camp, and obtained of God that he would go before them, and not an angel only, ver. 34. and chap. xxxiii. 17. Moses continued full forty days, standing or lying prostrate on the mount, before the Lord, to obtain the pardon of his people, Deuteronomy ix. 25. and x. 10. At the expiration of which term he returned, with an order to prepare two other tables of stone, on which, after a supplication of the same length of time, he obtained the law to be again engraven, chap. xxxiv. 28. The favour cost him therefore 120 days' earnest prayer; and yet how little are we touched with God's mercy, in giving us his law! (Haydock)