Matthew Poole's 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.The people commit idolatry by worshipping the molten image which Aaron made, Exodus 32:1-6. God makes it known to Moses, and threatens their destruction, Exo 32 7-10. Moses prays for them, Exo 32 11-13. God repents of the evil, Exo 32 14. Moses comes down from the mount with two tables, Exo 32 15; being God’s own writing, Exo 32 16. Moses hearing and seeing their idolatry, breaks the two tables, Exodus 32:19; and turns the calf into powder, Exodus 32:20. Aaron’s excuse, Exodus 32:21-24. Moses seeing their nakedness, Exodus 32:25, commands them to be slain, Exodus 32:26,27. He bids them consecrate themselves, Exodus 32:29. Moses charging them with sin, Exodus 32:30, prayeth for them, Exodus 32:31,32. God spareth them, Exodus 32:34; but afterward plagueth them, Exodus 32:35.
Moses had now been in the mount for near forty days.
The people, i.e. most or some of the people, as it is expressed 1 Corinthians 10:7.
Unto Aaron, as the chief person in Moses’s absence.
Make us gods, i.e. images or representations of God, whom, after the manner of idolaters, they call by God’s name. For it is ridiculous to think that the body of the Israelites, who were now lately instructed by the mouth, and words, and miraculous works of the eternal God, should be so senseless as to think that was the true God which themselves made, and that out of their own earrings; much more, that that was the God that brought them out of Egypt, as they say, Exodus 32:4.
Which shall go before us, to guide us through this vast wilderness to the Land of Promise, where they longed to be; for as for the cloud, which hitherto had guided them, that seemed now to be fixed upon the mount; and they thought both that Joshua and Moses had deserted them. The Jewish doctors note, that he doth not say, Make us gods whom we may worship, but which shall go before us, which, as they truly say, shows that they wanted not a God, whom they knew by infallible evidences they had, but a visible guide, who might supply the want of Moses, as the next words show.
This Moses; an expression of contempt towards their great deliverer.
What is become of him, whether he be not consumed by the fire in the cloud, or taken up to heaven, or conveyed away by God to some other place.
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.The golden earrings were of good value and common use among the eastern people, who seem to have used them superstitiously, Genesis 35:4 Judges 8:24; and therefore Aaron demands these, partly that he might take away one vice, or occasion of vice, whilst the people were intent upon another; and partly that the proposed loss of their precious earrings might cool their idolatrous desires.
In the ears of your wives, whom he thought most fond of their jewels, and most unlikely to part with them.
And all the people brake off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them unto Aaron.Whereby they show both their madness upon their idols, and their base ingratitude to their God, who had transferred these jewels from the Egyptians to them, Exodus 12:35,36, which therefore God upbraids them with, Ezekiel 16:11, &c.
In their ears, i.e. the men’s ears, for the affix is of the masculine gender; whereby it seems the men were more set upon idolatry than the women, parting with their earrings for it, which the women would not do.
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.A molten calf: the meaning of this translation is, that Aaron, to wit, by artificers, did first melt the god into one mass, and then by the graving-tool form it into the shape of a calf, and polish it; or as others render the words, he
formed it in a type or mould, made in the shape of a calf, into which he cast the molten gold, and so made it a molten calf. But the words may be translated thus, He put it, or them, into a purse; for so the Hebrew verb and noun are both used, 2 Kings 5:23; and in like manner Gideon disposed the earrings given him for the like use, Judges 8:24; and afterwards he made of them a molten calf. Now the people desired, and Aaron in compliance with them made this in the form of a
calf, or an ox, (for the word signifies both,) in imitation of the Egyptians, as Philo the Jew expressly affirms, and the learned generally agree; and it may thus appear:
1. The great idols of the Egyptians, Apis, Seraphis, and Isis, were oxen and cows, as is confessed.
2. The Egyptians, besides the creatures which they adored as gods, did also make, and keep, and worship their images, as even the heathen writers, Mela and Strabo, affirm.
3. The Israelites, whilst they were in Egypt, were many of them infected with the Egyptian idolatry, as it appears from Joshua 24:14 Ezekiel 20:7,8 23:3 Acts 7:39. And it is not unlikely divers of them hankered no less after the idols, than after the garlic and onions of Egypt. And being now, as they thought, forsaken by Moses, they might think of returning to Egypt, as afterwards they did, and therefore chose a god of the Egyptian mode, that they might more willingly receive them again.
These be thy gods, i.e. this is thy god, the plural number being put for the singular, as it is usual in this case. The meaning is, This is the sign, or symbol, or image of thy god; for such expressions are very frequent: thus this image of a calf is called a calf frequently, and the images of the temple of Diana are called shrines or little temples, Ac 19. So they intended to worship the true God by this image, as afterwards Jeroboam did by the same image, as we shall plainly see when we come to that place of Scripture. And it is absolutely incredible that the generality of the Israelites should be so void of all sense and reason, as to think that this new-made calf did bring them out Egypt before its own creation, and that this was the same Jehovah who had even now spoken to them from heaven with an audible voice, saying, I am the Lord thy God who brought thee out of the land 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.When Aaron saw, i.e. observed with what applause they received it, and with what fury and resolution they prosecuted their former desire, he was borne down with the stream, and, as it is probable, by the people’s instigation, built an altar to it.
To the Lord, Heb. to Jehovah; which title being peculiar to the true God, and being here given by Aaron to the calf, with the approbation of the people, makes it more than probable that the people designed to worship the true God in this calf, which they made only as a visible token of God’s presence with them, and an image by which they might convey their worship to God.
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.Brought peace-offerings, but no sin-offerings, which they most needed.
The people sat down to eat and to drink; for the sacrifices were accompanied with feasting, both among the worshippers of the true God, and among idolaters. See Exodus 18:12 24:11.
Rose up to play, by shouting, and singing, and dancing, as it appears from Exodus 32:17-19
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:No longer my people, as God had called them hitherto, Exodus 3:7 5:1, &c.; they have forsaken me, and I do hereby renounce them.
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
And the LORD said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people:Untractable, wilful, and stubborn, incorrigible by my judgments, ungovernable by mine or by any laws. A metaphor from those beasts that will not bend their necks to receive the yoke or bridle.
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.Do not hinder me by thy prayers, which I see thou art now about to make on their behalf.
I will make of thee; to come out of thy loins.
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?The Lord his God; emphatically so called: q.d. Moses had not lost his interest in God, though Israel had.
Why doth thy wrath wax hot, so hot as to consume them utterly? For though he saw reason enough why God should be angry with them, yet he humbly expostulates with God whether it would be for his honour utterly to destroy them. Or this is a petition delivered in form of an interrogation or expostulation, as Matthew 8:29, compared with Luke 8:28.
Against thy people, an ingenious retortion: q.d. They are not my people, as thou calledst them, Exodus 32:7, but thy people, which he proves in the following words.
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.In the mountains, i.e. in or at Mount Sinai, the plural number for the singular; or, in this mountainous desert.
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.i.e. Changed his sentence. See on Genesis 6:6.
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.Not on the inside and outside, which is unusual and unnecessary, but on the inside only, some of the ten commands being written on the right hand, and others on the left, not for any mystery, but only for conveniency of writing.
And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables.No text from Poole on this verse.
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 had waited all this while upon the middle of the hill for Moses’s return; and so neither knew what the people had done, nor heard what God had said to Moses.
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.The voice of them that shout for mastery, Heb. of a cry of strength, i.e. of strong men, or of the stronger and victorious party, who use to express themselves with triumphant shouts.
The voice of them that cry for being overcome, Heb. of a cry of weakness, i.e. of weak, and wounded, and vanquished men, who use to break forth into doleful cries.
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.Not through rash anger, but by Divine instinct, partly to punish their idolatry with so great a loss, and partly to show that the covenant made between God and them, so much to their advantage, which was contained in those tables, was by their sin broken, and now of none effect, and not to be renewed but by bitter repentance.
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.Ground it to powder; melted it either into one great mass, or rather into divers little fragments, which afterwards by a the or other instruments he, by the help of many others, might soon grind to powder, or dust of gold.
Strawed it upon the water; upon the brook which came out of the rock Horeb, Exodus 17:6.
The children of Israel; not all, which would require a long time, but some in the name of the rest; and most probably either the chief promoters of this idolatrous design, or the chief rulers of the people, who should by their power and authority have restrained the people from this wickedness.
To drink of it; of the water into which that dust was cast; partly to make them ashamed of their madness in worshipping a god which now must be drunk, and cast out into the draught; and partly to fill them with terror and dreadful expectation of some ill effect or curse of God to come upon them, either by this draught, or by other means.
And Moses said unto Aaron, What did this people unto thee, that thou hast brought so great a sin upon them?What injury or mischief had they done to thee, which thou didst so severely revenge? The sin of the people is charged upon Aaron, both because he did not resist and suppress their wicked suggestion, Exodus 32:1, by his counsel, and by the authority which Moses had left in his hand, which he should have done even with the hazard of his life, as the rabbins say that Hur did, whom they report to have been slain by the people whilst he dissuaded them from their attempt, and because he did not promote, and direct, and manage their enterprise, Exodus 32:4,5.
And Aaron said, Let not the anger of my lord wax hot: thou knowest the people, that they are set on mischief.Heb. are in evil, i.e. are altogether wicked, addicted to, or bent upon wickedness, so that it was impossible for me to stop or divert their course.
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.Not that he meant or thought to persuade Moses that the melted gold came out of the fire in the form of a calf by accident, without any art or industry of his, which was a ridiculous conceit, and easily confuted; but only he conceals his own sin in the forming and graving of it, and lays the whole blame upon the people.
And when Moses saw that the people were naked; (for Aaron had made them naked unto their shame among their enemies:)i.e. That they were stripped both of their ornament, which was not so much the jewels of their ears, as the innocency of their minds and lives; and of their defence, to wit, of the favour and protection of God, by which alone they were secured from the Egyptians, and were to be defended against those many and mighty enemies towards whom they were about to march; and that being thus disarmed and helpless, they would be a prey to every enemy: when Moses considered this, he took the following course to cover their nakedness, to expiate their sins, to regain the favour of God, and by punishing the most eminent and incorrigible offenders, to bring the rest to repentance.
Aaron had made them naked, as Ahaz is said to have made Judah naked, 2 Chronicles 28:19.
Quest. How were they made naked or ashamed amongst their enemies, when at this time they were in their own camp, remote from all their enemies?
Answ. He speaks not only of their present shame, but of their everlasting reproach, especially among their and God’s enemies, who, being constant to their idols, would justly scorn the Israelites for their levity in forsaking their God so quickly and easily. See Jeremiah 2:11. But the Hebrew word may be, and is by some, translated thus, amongst those that do or shall rise up or be born of them i.e. that shall succeed them; for so the word rising is used Exodus 1:8 Matthew 11:11. And so the Chaldee here renders it, amongst their generations; and the other Chaldee interpreter, and the Syriac, in their latter days, or in aftertimes. So the sense is, that Aaron had put a note of perpetual infamy upon them, even to all after-ages.
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.He chose the gate of the camp,
1. As the usual place of judicature.
2. That he might withdraw himself from the company of idolaters as far as he might.
3. As a fit place of concourse and resort for those that were on God’s side.
4. To prevent the escape of the greatest delinquents, the rest of the camp being probably surrounded with some trench, or such like thing, else gates had been superfluous and unprofitable.
Who is on the Lord’s side? who will take God’s part, and plead his cause against idolatry and idolaters?
All the sons of Levi, i.e. the most of that tribe, as that universal particle is oft understood; for some of them were destroyed as guilty.
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.The meaning is, slay every principal offender whom you meet with, without any indulgence or exception, though brother, or companion, or neighbour. There was no fear of killing the innocent in this case, because,
1. The people were generally guilty.
2. Moses had called to himself all that were on God’s side, who thereby where separated from the guilty.
3. The innocent might easily be discerned from the transgressors, either by the personal knowledge which the Levites or others had of the most forward idolaters, or by their abiding in their tents as ashamed and grieving for their sin, whilst the transgressors were impudently walking about in the camp, as trusting to their numbers; or by the direction of God’s providence, if not by some visible token.
And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men.And no more, for it is probable they slew only those whom they knew to have been the ringleaders to others in this mischief.
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.Offer up yourselves to the honour and service of the Lord in this work, which because it was joined with the hazard of their lives, he calls it a consecration or oblation of themselves, as Abraham for the like reason is said to have offered up Isaac.
Consecrate yourselves, Heb. fill your hands, & c., i.e. offer a sacrifice, for so the phrase is oft used, as Exodus 28:41 Judges 17:5,12. That work of justice which they were going to execute might seem an inhuman and barbarous act, but he tells them it was an acceptable sacrifice to God, as the destruction of God’s enemies is called a sacrifice, Isaiah 34:6 Ezekiel 39:17. Or he hereby intimates that this tribe was designed by God for his immediate service, and therefore recommends this work to them as an excellent initiation into their office, and as a demonstration that they were in some sort worthy of that great trust.
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.He speaks doubtfully, partly because he was uncertain how far God would pardon them, and partly to quicken them to the more serious practice of repentance.
And Moses returned unto the LORD, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold.No text from Poole on this verse.
Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin—; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.If thou wilt forgive their sin; understand here,
forgive it, or, or it is well, or, I and others shall praise thy name. His great passion for his people stops his words, and makes his speech imperfect.
Out of thy book, i.e. out of the book of life, as appears by comparing this with other places, as Psalm 69:28 Daniel 12:1 Luke 10:20 Philippians 4:3 Revelation 3:5 13:8 20:12; or, out of the catalogue or number of those that shall be saved. I suppose Moses doth not in this case wish his eternal damnation, because that state implies both wickedness in himself, and the dishonour of God, but his annihilation, or the utter loss of this life, and of that to come, and of all the happiness of both of them. Nor doth Moses simply desire this, but only comparatively expresseth his singular zeal for God’s glory, and charity to his people; signifying, that the very thoughts of the destruction of God’s people, and of the reproach and blasphemy which would be cast upon God by means thereof, were so grievous and intolerable to him, that he rather wisheth, if it were possible, that God would accept of him as a sacrifice in their stead, and by his utter destruction prevent so great a mischief. And it is to be considered that Moses speaks this, as also many other things, as the mediator between God and Israel, and as the type of the true Mediator, Jesus Christ, who was in effect to suffer this which Moses was content to suffer.
And the LORD said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book.Whosoever hath sinned, or, doth sin, to wit, presumptuously, obstinately, and impenitently, him will I cut off out of the land of the living, and eternally deprive of my favour and glory, and not thee who art innocent and righteous.
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.Behold, mine angel; not Christ, the Angel of the covenant, who had hitherto gone before them; but a created angel, as appears by comparing this with Exodus 33:2,3,12; though Moses obtained the revocation of this threatening, Exodus 33:14,17. I will visit their sin upon them; when I shall punish them for their other sins, which I foresee they will commit, I will remember and punish this also.
And the LORD plagued the people, because they made the calf, which Aaron made.This relates either to the destruction of three thousand of them by the Levites, or rather to the future plagues, in which God also reckoned with them for this sin.
Because they made the calf; they made it because they urged
Aaron to make it, as Judas is said to purchase the field, Acts 1:18, which was purchased by his money; and Aaron made it, by giving command to make it. The Chaldee, Syriac, Arabic, and Samaritan render the words thus,
they worshipped or sacrificed to the calf which Aaron made. And the word which signifies to make, is oft used for worshipping or sacrificing, as Exodus 10:25 Judges 13:15 1 Kings 18:26.