Exodus 32:20

20 And he took the calf the people had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it.

Read Exodus 32:20 Using Other Translations

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.
He took the calf that they had made and burned it with fire and ground it to powder and scattered it on the water and made the people of Israel drink it.
He took the calf they had made and burned it. Then he ground it into powder, threw it into the water, and forced the people to drink it.

What does Exodus 32:20 mean?

John Gill's Exposition of the Bible
Exodus 32:20

And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in
the fire
Melted it down into a mass of gold, whereby it lost its form, and had no more the appearance of a calf:

and ground it to powder;
but how this was done is not easy to say, whether by beating the mass of gold into thin plates, and then filing them small; for this art has remained unknown; the chemists have boasted of it as only possessed of it; but it seems Moses, learned in all the learning of the Egyptians, had it: however, it is now certain by various experiments, that gold, though a very thick and heavy body, consists of parts which are separable from one another, and to be divided into infinite subtler parts: the famous Dr. Halley has shown that one grain of gold may be divided into 10,000 parts, and yet visible; and Dr. Keil has demonstrated that a cubic thumb's breadth of gold is divisible into 47,619,047 parts, which do not escape the sight: according to the computation of the said Dr. Halley, leaf gold, with which silver threads are gilded, is not thicker than the 124,500 part of a thumb's breadth; so that a cube of the hundredth part of a thumb's breadth of the said subtle parts may contain 243,000,000 F12:

and strawed it upon the water;
of the brook that descended out of the mount, ( Deuteronomy 9:21 ) now called the fountain of St. Catharine; which Dr. Shaw F13 says, after it has supplied the demands of the convent (now built on this mount) is received without into a large basin, which running over, forms a little rill: and another traveller F14 speaks of a fountain about the middle of Mount Sinai, which, though small, was found in it running water very wholesome and refreshing: but if this was a brook of running water, it seems more likely that water was taken out of it and put into a proper vessel or vessels, on which the powder of the golden calf was strewed; or otherwise it would have been carried away with the stream, and could not have been taken up and given to the people to drink, as is next said; and this shows that it must be reduced to a very small light powder indeed, to float upon the top of the water and not sink to the bottom, as mere filings of gold would necessarily do:

and made the children of Israel drink of it;
not the whole body of them, or every individual, but the more principal persons, and such who had been the most active in encouraging the making of the calf, and the worshipping of it: this was done not only that they might entirely lose their gold and have no manner of profit by it, but that the idol, which is nothing in the world, might be brought to nothing indeed, and that there might be no remains of it to be abused to superstitious uses, as well as to show them their folly in worshipping that which could not save itself; and by drinking it, whereby it passed through them and became an excrement, to express the utmost abhorrence and detestation of it; as also to show that they deserved the curse of God to enter into them, as oil into their bowels, as that water did, and be utterly destroyed: the Jewish writers, as Jarchi and Aben Ezra, suppose this water, with the powder of the golden calf in it, had the same effect and was for the same use as the water of jealousy, that it made the bellies of those that drank it to swell: and the Targum of Jonathan observes, that whoever gave any golden vessel towards the making of the calf, there was a sign appeared in his countenance: and Aben Ezra suggests the same, but neither of them say what it was: but an ancient Latin poet, quoted by Selden F15, reports from the Hebrew writers, that whoever were guilty of this idolatry, as soon as they drank of the water their beards became yellow as gold, whereby the Levites knew who were guilty, and slew them; but as this is quite fabulous, so I have not met with it in any Jewish writer, only an author of theirs, of great antiquity and credit with them, says F16, that whoever kissed the calf with his whole heart, his lips became golden.


FOOTNOTES:

F12 Vid. Scheuchzer. Physic. Sacr. vol. 2. p. 247.
F13 Travels, p. 242. Ed. 2.
F14 Baumgarten. peregrinatio, l. 1. c. 24. p. 61, 62.
F15 De Diis Syris Syntagma, 1. c. 4. p. 156.
F16 Pirke Eliezer, c. 45.
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