Exodus 32

The Golden Calf

1 When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods[a] who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”
2 Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.”
3 So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron.
4 He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods,[b] Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”
5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD.”
6 So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.
7 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt.
8 They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’
9 “I have seen these people,” the LORD said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people.
10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”
11 But Moses sought the favor of the LORD his God. “LORD,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand?
12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people.
13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’ ”
14 Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.
15 Moses turned and went down the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back.
16 The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.
17 When Joshua heard the noise of the people shouting, he said to Moses, “There is the sound of war in the camp.”
18 Moses replied: “It is not the sound of victory, it is not the sound of defeat; it is the sound of singing that I hear.”
19 When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain.
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.
21 He said to Aaron, “What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?”
22 “Do not be angry, my lord,” Aaron answered. “You know how prone these people are to evil.
23 They said to me, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.’
24 So I told them, ‘Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off.’ Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!”
25 Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies.
26 So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, “Whoever is for the LORD, come to me.” And all the Levites rallied to him.
27 Then he said to them, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’ ”
28 The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died.
29 Then Moses said, “You have been set apart to the LORD today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day.”
30 The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.”
31 So Moses went back to the LORD and said, “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold.
32 But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.”
33 The LORD replied to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book.
34 Now go, lead the people to the place I spoke of, and my angel will go before you. However, when the time comes for me to punish, I will punish them for their sin.”
35 And the LORD struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made.

Exodus 32 Commentary

Chapter 32

The people cause Aaron to make a golden calf. (1-6) God's displeasure, The intercession of Moses. (7-14) Moses breaks the tables of the law, He destroys the golden calf. (15-20) Aaron's excuse, The idolaters slain. (21-29) Moses prays for the people. (30-35)

Verses 1-6 While Moses was in the mount, receiving the law from God, the people made a tumultuous address to Aaron. This giddy multitude were weary of waiting for the return of Moses. Weariness in waiting betrays to many temptations. The Lord must be waited for till he comes, and waited for though he tarry. Let their readiness to part with their ear-rings to make an idol, shame our niggardliness in the service of the true God. They did not draw back on account of the cost of their idolatry; and shall we grudge the expenses of religion? Aaron produced the shape of an ox or calf, giving it some finish with a graving tool. They offered sacrifice to this idol. Having set up an image before them, and so changed the truth of God into a lie, their sacrifices were abomination. Had they not, only a few days before, in this very place, heard the voice of the Lord God speaking to them out of the midst of the fire, Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image? Had they not themselves solemnly entered into covenant with God, that they would do all he had said to them, and would be obedient? ch. 24:7 . Yet before they stirred from the place where this covenant had been solemnly made, they brake an express command, in defiance of an express threatening. It plainly shows, that the law was no more able to make holy, than it was to justify; by it is the knowledge of sin, but not the cure of sin. Aaron was set apart by the Divine appointment to the office of the priesthood; but he, who had once shamed himself so far as to build an altar to a golden calf, must own himself unworthy of the honour of attending at the altar of God, and indebted to free grace alone for it. Thus pride and boasting were silenced.

Verses 7-14 God says to Moses, that the Israelites had corrupted themselves. Sin is the corruption of the sinner, and it is a self-corruption; every man is tempted when he is drawn aside of his own lust. They had turned aside out of the way. Sin is a departing from the way of duty into a by-path. They soon forgot God's works. He sees what they cannot discover, nor is any wickedness of the world hid from him. We could not bear to see the thousandth part of that evil which God sees every day. God expresses the greatness of his just displeasure, after the manner of men who would have prayer of Moses could save them from ruin; thus he was a type of Christ, by whose mediation alone, God would reconcile the world to himself. Moses pleads God's glory. The glorifying God's name, as it ought to be our first petition, and it is so in the Lord's prayer, so it ought to be our great plea. And God's promises are to be our pleas in prayer; for what he has promised he is able to perform. See the power of prayer. In answer to the prayers of Moses, God showed his purpose of sparing the people, as he had before seemed determined on their destruction; which change of the outward discovery of his purpose, is called repenting of the evil.

Verses 15-20 What a change it is, to come down from the mount of communion with God, to converse with a wicked world. In God we see nothing but what is pure and pleasing; in the world nothing but what is sinful and provoking. That it might appear an idol is nothing in the world, Moses ground the calf to dust. Mixing this powder with their drink, signified that the backslider in heart should be filled with his own ways.

Verses 21-29 Never did any wise man make a more frivolous and foolish excuse than that of Aaron. We must never be drawn into sin by any thing man can say or do to us; for men can but tempt us to sin, they cannot force us. The approach of Moses turned the dancing into trembling. They were exposed to shame by their sin. The course Moses took to roll away this reproach, was, not by concealing the sin, or putting any false colour upon it, but by punishing it. The Levites were to slay the ringleaders in this wickedness; yet none were executed but those who openly stood forth. Those are marked for ruin who persist in sin: those who in the morning were shouting and dancing, before night were dying. Such sudden changes do the judgments of the Lord sometimes make with sinners that are secure and jovial in their sin.

Verses 30-35 Moses calls it a great sin. The work of ministers is to show people the greatness of their sins. The great evil of sin appears in the price of pardon. Moses pleads with God for mercy; he came not to make excuses, but to make atonement. We are not to suppose that Moses means that he would be willing to perish for ever, for the people's sake. We are to love our neighbour as ourselves, and not more than ourselves. But having that mind which was in Christ, he was willing to lay down his life in the most painful manner, if he might thereby preserve the people. Moses could not wholly turn away the wrath of God; which shows that the law of Moses was not able to reconcile men to God, and to perfect our peace with him. In Christ alone, God so pardons sin as to remember it no more. From this history we see, that no unhumbled, carnal heart, can long endure the holy precepts, the humbling truths, and the spiritual worship of God. But a god, a priest, a worship, a doctrine, and a sacrifice, suited to the carnal mind, will ever meet with abundance of worshippers. The very gospel itself may be so perverted as to suit a worldly taste. Well is it for us, that the Prophet like unto Moses, but who is beyond compare more powerful and merciful, has made atonement for our souls, and now intercedes in our behalf. Let us rejoice in his grace.

Cross References 63

  • 1. S Genesis 7:4; Exodus 24:18; Deuteronomy 9:9-12
  • 2. S Exodus 13:21
  • 3. ver 23; Acts 7:40*
  • 4. Judges 8:24-27; Exodus 35:22
  • 5. S Exodus 20:23; Judges 17:3-4; Isaiah 30:22
  • 6. ver 8,24,35; Deuteronomy 9:16; Nehemiah 9:18; Psalms 106:19; Acts 7:41
  • 7. Exodus 20:23; Isaiah 42:17
  • 8. 1 Kings 12:28; 1 Kings 14:9; 2 Kings 10:29; 2 Kings 17:16; 2 Chronicles 13:8; Hosea 8:6; Hosea 10:5
  • 9. Leviticus 23:2,37; 2 Kings 10:20; Joel 2:15
  • 10. Exodus 20:24; Exodus 34:15; Leviticus 3:1; Leviticus 4:10; Leviticus 6:12; Leviticus 9:4; Leviticus 22:21; Numbers 6:14; Numbers 25:2; Deuteronomy 27:7; Judges 20:26; Ezekiel 43:27; Acts 7:41
  • 11. Judges 19:4; Ruth 3:3; 1 Samuel 1:9; 2 Samuel 11:11; 1 Kings 13:23; 1 Kings 18:42; Nehemiah 8:12; Job 1:4; Ecclesiastes 5:18; Ecclesiastes 8:15; Jeremiah 16:8
  • 12. ver 17-19; 1 Corinthians 10:7*
  • 13. ver 4,11; Exodus 33:1
  • 14. S Genesis 6:11-12; Ezekiel 20:8; Deuteronomy 9:12
  • 15. Jeremiah 7:26; Jeremiah 16:12; Malachi 2:8; Malachi 3:7
  • 16. S Exodus 20:4
  • 17. S ver 4
  • 18. Exodus 22:20
  • 19. 1 Kings 12:28; Ezekiel 23:8
  • 20. Exodus 33:3,5; Exodus 34:9; Deuteronomy 9:6,13; Deuteronomy 10:16; Deuteronomy 31:27; Judges 2:19; 2 Kings 17:14; 2 Chronicles 30:8; 2 Chronicles 36:13; Nehemiah 9:16; Psalms 78:8; Proverbs 29:1; Isaiah 46:12; Isaiah 48:4; Jeremiah 7:26; Ezekiel 2:4; Hosea 4:16; Acts 7:51
  • 21. 1 Samuel 2:25; Jeremiah 7:16; Jeremiah 11:14; Jeremiah 14:11
  • 22. Exodus 22:24; Exodus 33:3,5; Numbers 16:21,45; Deuteronomy 9:14,19; Psalms 106:23; Jeremiah 14:12; Ezekiel 20:13
  • 23. Numbers 14:12; Deuteronomy 9:14
  • 24. Deuteronomy 9:18; 2 Samuel 21:1; 2 Chronicles 15:2; Psalms 9:10; Psalms 34:4; Psalms 106:23; Isaiah 9:13; Jeremiah 15:1
  • 25. ver 13; Deuteronomy 9:26; 1 Samuel 7:9; Nehemiah 1:10; Psalms 136:12
  • 26. Numbers 14:13-16; Deuteronomy 9:28
  • 27. ver 14; Exodus 33:13
  • 28. S Exodus 2:24; Exodus 33:13
  • 29. S Genesis 22:16; Hebrews 6:13
  • 30. Genesis 15:5; Genesis 22:17; Genesis 26:4
  • 31. S Genesis 12:7
  • 32. Deuteronomy 9:19; 1 Samuel 15:11; 2 Samuel 24:16; 1 Kings 21:29; 1 Chronicles 21:15; Psalms 106:45; Jeremiah 18:8; Jeremiah 26:3,19; Amos 7:3,6; John 3:10
  • 33. Exodus 31:18; Hebrews 9:4
  • 34. S Exodus 19:18; Exodus 34:4,29; Deuteronomy 9:15
  • 35. 2 Corinthians 3:3
  • 36. S Exodus 24:12; Exodus 31:18
  • 37. S Exodus 17:9
  • 38. Deuteronomy 9:16
  • 39. ver 6; 1 Corinthians 10:7
  • 40. Ezra 9:3; Psalms 119:53,158
  • 41. Exodus 34:1; Deuteronomy 9:17
  • 42. Deuteronomy 7:25; Deuteronomy 12:3; Joshua 7:1; 2 Kings 23:6; 1 Chronicles 14:12
  • 43. 2 Chronicles 34:7; Micah 1:7
  • 44. Deuteronomy 9:21
  • 45. S Genesis 18:30
  • 46. Deuteronomy 9:24; Deuteronomy 28:20; 2 Kings 21:15; Ezra 9:13; Nehemiah 9:28; Jeremiah 4:4; Jeremiah 44:3; Ezekiel 6:9
  • 47. S ver 1; Acts 7:40
  • 48. S ver 4
  • 49. S Genesis 38:23
  • 50. Numbers 25:3,5; Deuteronomy 33:9; Ezekiel 9:5
  • 51. 1 Samuel 12:20; Psalms 25:11; Psalms 85:2
  • 52. Leviticus 1:4; Leviticus 4:20,26; Leviticus 5:6,10,13; Leviticus 6:7; Numbers 25:13
  • 53. Exodus 34:9; Deuteronomy 9:18
  • 54. S Exodus 20:23
  • 55. Numbers 14:19
  • 56. Romans 9:3
  • 57. Psalms 69:28; Ezekiel 13:9; Daniel 7:10; Daniel 12:1; Malachi 3:16; S Luke 10:20; Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5; Revelation 21:27
  • 58. S Exodus 17:14; S Job 21:20; Revelation 3:5; Deuteronomy 29:20; Psalms 9:5
  • 59. S Exodus 15:17
  • 60. Exodus 3:17
  • 61. S Exodus 14:19; Exodus 23:20
  • 62. S Genesis 50:19; Deuteronomy 32:35; Psalms 89:32; Psalms 94:23; Psalms 99:8; Psalms 109:20; Isaiah 27:1; Jeremiah 5:9; Jeremiah 11:22; Jeremiah 23:2; Jeremiah 44:13,29; Hosea 12:2; Romans 2:5-6
  • 63. S ver 4

Footnotes 2

  • [a]. Or "a god" ; also in verses 23 and 31
  • [b]. Or "This is your god" ; also in verse 8

Chapter Summary


This chapter gives an account of the idolatry of the Israelites making and worshipping a golden calf, Ex 32:1-6 the information of it God gave to Moses, bidding him at the same time not to make any suit in their favour, that he might consume them, and make a large nation out Moses's family, Ex 32:7-10 the intercession of Moses for them, in which he succeeded, Ex 32:11-14 his descent from the mount with the two tables in his hands, accompanied by Joshua, when he was an eyewitness of their idolatry, which raised his indignation, that he cast the two tables out of his hands and broke them, took the calf and burnt it, and ground it to powder, and made the children of Israel drink of it, Ex 32:15-20 the examination of Aaron about the fact, who excused himself, Ex 32:21-24 the orders given to the Levites, who joined themselves to Moses, to slay every man his brother, which they did to the number of 3000 men, Ex 32:25-29 another intercession for them by Moses, which gained a respite of them for a time, for they are threatened to be visited still for their sin, and they were plagued for it, Ex 32:30-35.

Exodus 32 Commentaries

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