25. GOLDEN CALF 2 – PUNISHMENT FOR IDOLATRY
Do you still remember what happened while Moses was on the mount with God?
Exodus 32:7 And the LORD said to Moses, Go, get you down; for your people, which you brought out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves:
God disowned Israel; He no longer spoke of them as “my people”
Verse 8,9 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 your gods, O Israel, which have brought you up out of the land of Egypt. And the LORD said to Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiff necked people:
A few weeks previously the people had entered into a solemn covenant with God and pledged themselves to obey Him (19:8; 24:3). Now that covenant was broken (PP 320).
Many of them, especially those of the “mixed multitude,” could not resist their old idolatrous practices (see 2 Peter 2:22).
Verse 10 Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of you a great nation.
Do you think that God was testing Moses and preparing him for what lay ahead (see Gen. 18:23–32; 32:26–28).
Moses perceived that God’s proposal was not final, and proceeded to intercede for his people.
The words of God, “Let Me alone,” he understood not to forbid but to encourage intercession, implying that nothing but the prayers of Moses could save Israel, but that if thus entreated, God would spare His people.
Make of thee.
The Lord confronted Moses with an opportunity to choose between his own glory, and the honor of God and the well-being of those who were under his charge (see Matt. 4:8–10).
He rose nobly to the occasion and thereby proved his loyal devotion to God and to the tasks committed to him.
Verse 11 And Moses sought the LORD his God, and said, LORD, why does your wrath wax hot against your people, which you have brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand?
Moses protests that Israel is still God’s people—not his (see v. 7).
God has done so much for them; surely He will not now reject them, and thereby acknowledge the failure of His own plan.
That God could not afford to do this, for His own name’s sake, was Moses’ first plea. Moses could not excuse the sin of his people, but he could intercede for their forgiveness (see Job 42:10; Jer. 14:19–21; Eze. 14:14, 20; Dan. 9:4–11).
Verse 12 Why 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 your fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against your people.
The surrounding nations had learned of the wonderful deliverance of the Hebrews from Egypt, and as a result they feared what the Lord might yet do for Israel.
If, therefore, Israel were now destroyed, the heathen would rejoice and God would be dishonored.
The accusations of the Egyptians would prove true, that instead of leading His people into the wilderness to sacrifice (5:1–3), He had brought them there to be sacrificed (10:10).
To avoid the exultant triumph of the heathen over Israel was Moses’ second plea.
Verse 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give to your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever.
The third plea consisted of reminding God of His promises to Abraham (Gen. 15:5; 17:2–8), Isaac (Gen. 26:4), and Jacob (Gen. 28:14; 35:11).
These promises had thus far been but partially fulfilled, and surely God would not fail to make good His word.
Verse 14 And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do to his people.
Someone wrote these words:
“As Moses interceded for Israel, his timidity was lost in his deep interest and love for those for whom he had, in the hands of God, been the means of doing so much.
The Lord listened to his pleadings, and granted his unselfish prayer. God had proved His servant; He had tested his faithfulness and his love for that erring, ungrateful people, and nobly had Moses endured the trial.
His interest in Israel sprang from no selfish motive. The prosperity of God’s chosen people was dearer to him than personal honour, dearer than the privilege of becoming the father of a mighty nation.
God was pleased with his faithfulness, his simplicity of heart, and his integrity, and He committed to him, as a faithful shepherd, the great charge of leading Israel to the Promised Land.
The Lord was moved by the earnest, selfless prayer of His faithful servant. God could not refuse the pleadings of one who thought more of his people than he did of his own exaltation and honor.
What a tribute this was to the character of Moses, what a revelation of divine love (John 3:16; Phil. 2:5–8). How are we praying for the salvation of the godless?
The words “the Lord repented” are a feeble attempt to express the divine will in human language. Strictly speaking, God cannot change His purpose, for He knows “the end from the beginning” (1 Sam. 15:29; Isa. 46:9, 10; 55:11).
However, when sinners forsake their sin and turn to Him, when His children supplicate Him for mercy and forgiveness, then He does “repent.” He changes from wrath to mercy, from judgment to gracious pardon (Ps. 106:44, 45; Jer. 18:5–10; 26:3; Joel 2:12–14; Jonah 3:9, 10; 4:2).
Verses 15,16 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. And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven on the tables.
Elsewhere this incident is described as follows:
Deuteronomy 9:15 So I turned and came down from the mount, and the mount burned with fire: and the two tables of the covenant were in my two hands.
Can you picture Moses coming down from the mountain, holding the most precious document ever written in both hands?
Exodus 32:17,18 And when Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, There is a noise of war in the camp. 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.
In his descent Moses met Joshua, who remained where Moses had left him six weeks previously (see 24:12–18).
Together they made their way down to camp. Being a soldier, Joshua thought the sound they heard from the encampment was that of war, but Moses, having been warned by the Lord that something was wrong, suspected the true nature of the noise.
The latter part of the descent from Mt. Sinai denies a view of the plain below, so that any sound coming from the plain would be heard before its cause could be seen.
Verse 19 And it came to pass, as soon as he came near to 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 broke them beneath the mount.
Among the heathen, however, and especially so among the Oriental nations, such dances were of a loose and lascivious character. Egyptian dancers were professionals of a degraded type, and their dancing was sensual and indecent.
In Syria, Asia Minor, and Babylon dancing was a wild orgy. It was in this type of dancing that the Israelites now indulged, a fact which accounts for the heated anger of Moses. It was idolatry at its worst. It is not strange that he cast the two tables violently upon the ground and “brake them.”
By this he indicated that as they had broken their covenant with God, so God broke His covenant with them.
Verse 20 And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and strewed it on the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it.
From where did the water come?
Deuteronomy 9:21 And I took your sin, the calf which you had made, and burnt it with fire, and stamped it, and ground it very small, even until it was as small as dust: and I cast the dust thereof into the brook that descended out of the mount.
This was the only water available; when the Israelites drank it they risked swallowing particles of gold.
In completely destroying the golden calf, Moses taught the people the utter futility and nothingness of an idol (1 Cor. 8:4). If the calf could not save itself, it certainly could not save its worshipers (Ps. 115:3–9; Isa. 46:5–7).
Exodus 32:21-23 And Moses said to Aaron, What did this people to you, that you have brought so great a sin on them? And Aaron said, Let not the anger of my lord wax hot: you know the people, that they are set on mischief. For they said to 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 know not what is become of him.
Instead of humbly accepting the responsibility for their idolatry, Aaron justified himself by placing the blame for it upon the people.
Verse 24 And I said to them, whoever has 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.
The bewitching power of sin causes otherwise sound-minded men to engage in a rationalization of their course of action. Aaron would have been destroyed for his sin had it not been for the earnest intercession of Moses in his behalf (Deut. 9:20).
Because of his position as leader, in the absence of Moses, Aaron’s iniquity was the more reprehensible. To whom God grants much, of him is much expected (Luke 12:48).
Verse 25 And when Moses saw that the people were naked; (for Aaron had made them naked to their shame among their enemies:)
Perhaps some of the Amalekites were still in the vicinity to witness this riotous occasion and its licentious indecencies.
Verse 26 Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the LORD’s side? let him come to me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together to him.
Those who had not joined in the apostasy were to take their position at the right of Moses; those who were guilty but repentant, at the left. The command was obeyed.
It was found that the tribe of Levi had taken no part in the idolatrous worship. From among other tribes there were great numbers who, although they had sinned, now signified their repentance.
Verse 27 And he said to them, Thus said 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.
Wherever the Levites saw any still persisting in the licentious rites they were to “slay” them with the sword, ignoring every tie of family and friendship
Resolute action was necessary to quell rebellion. Jesus made it plain that no earthly ties are to be allowed to stand between us and our duty to Him (Matt. 8:21, 22; 10:37).
This summary execution of those who led out in idolatry among the people was necessary to prove to the surrounding nations the definite displeasure of God against heathen worship.
As the loving protector of Israel, God removed from them those determined to go their own rebellious way, lest they lead others to ruin.
Verses 28,29 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 today to the LORD, even every man on his son, and on his brother; that he may bestow on you a blessing this day.
The Hebrew word for “consecration” carries with it the idea of being ordained to a holy office.
Verse 30 And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses said to the people, You have sinned a great sin: and now I will go up to the LORD; peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin.
This suggests that the people had at last realized their great guilt and were terrified lest every offender be slain.
Moses’ love and pity toward his people led him to intercede with the Lord again on their behalf.
Verse 31,32 And Moses returned to the LORD, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if you will forgive their sin–; and if not, blot me, I pray you, out of your book which you have written.
This refers to the “book of life,” in which are recorded the names of all those who have professed to be children of God
Those who fall away from God, who because of their unwillingness to forsake sin become hardened against the influence of the Holy Spirit will have their names blotted out of the book of life, and be destroyed.
Moses performed many noble acts, but this was the noblest of them all. It is not easy to estimate the measure of love in such men as Moses and Paul.
Moses is a type of the Good Shepherd, who laid down His life for the sheep (John 10:11, 15), who was “cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression” of His people (Isa. 53:8; Dan. 9:26; John 15:13).
Verse 33 And the LORD said to Moses, Whoever has sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book.
There is only one substitutionary atonement that the Word of God accepts, and that is the atonement of Jesus Christ, who, being without sin, could be punished for the sins of others (Isa. 53:5, 6; John 1:29; 1 Cor. 15:3; Heb. 9:28; 1 Peter 2:24).
In interceding as he did for Israel, Moses typified the intercession of Christ for sinners. But he could not, as did our Lord, bear the guilt of the transgressors.
Verse 34 Therefore now go, lead the people to the place of which I have spoken to you: behold, my Angel shall go before you: nevertheless in the day when I visit I will visit their sin on them.
It has been suggested that this refers to the declaration that none of those who had left Egypt would enter Canaan (Num. 14:26–35).
Verse 35 And the LORD plagued the people, because they made the calf, which Aaron made.
After the slaying of the 3,000 (v. 28) a plague had broken out in the camp. Even this was an evidence of divine mercy to emphasize the danger of yielding to sin.
Though God was willing to forgive His people, if pardon were too easily obtained they would be emboldened to commit transgression again.
They must be made sensible to the evil effects of iniquity. Comfort was postponed that conviction might be the more deeply impressed.
In all of God’s dealings with us today we should study to understand His divine purpose and to learn the lessons He designs that we should learn. It is thus that He would develop and strengthen character.
After the break we will continue to delve deeper into God’s loving but righteous character