Exodus 32

The Golden Calf

1 Now when the people saw that Moses 1delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron and said to him, "Come, 2make us a god who will go before us; as for 3this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him."
2 Aaron said to them, "4Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me."
3 Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron.
4 He took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool and made it into a 5molten calf; and they said, "This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt."
5 Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, "Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD."
6 So the next day they rose early and 6offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and 7the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up 8to play.
7 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, "Go down * at once, for your people, whom 9you brought up from the land of Egypt, have 10corrupted themselves.
8 "They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. 11They have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and 12have sacrificed to it and said, '13This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!' "
9 14The LORD said to Moses, "I have seen this people, and behold, they are 15an obstinate * people.
10 "Now then 16let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and 17I will make of you a great nation."

Moses' Entreaty

11 Then 18Moses entreated the LORD his God, and said, "O LORD, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?
12 "Why should 19the Egyptians speak, saying, 'With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth '? Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people.
13 "Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You 20swore by Yourself, and said to them, 'I will 21multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and 22all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.' "
14 23So the LORD changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.
15 24Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, 25tablets which were written on both sides; they were written on one side and the other.
16 The tablets were God's work, and the writing was God's writing engraved on the tablets.
17 Now when Joshua heard the sound of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, "There is a sound of war in the camp."
18 But he said, "It is not the sound of the cry of triumph, Nor is it the sound of the cry of defeat; But the sound of singing I hear."

Moses' Anger

19 It came about, as soon as Moses came near the camp, that 26he saw the calf and the dancing; and Moses' anger burned, and 27he threw the tablets from his hands and shattered them at the foot of the mountain.
20 28He took the calf which they had made and burned it with fire, and ground it to powder *, and scattered it over the surface of the water and made the sons of Israel drink it.
21 Then Moses said to Aaron, "What did this people do to you, that you have brought such great sin upon them?"
22 Aaron said, "Do not let the anger of my lord burn; you know the people yourself, 29that they are prone to evil.
23 "For 30they said to me, 'Make a god for us who will go before us; for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.'
24 "I said to them, 'Whoever has any gold, let them tear it off.' So they gave it to me, and 31I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf."
25 Now when Moses saw that the people were out of control -for Aaron had 32let them get out of control to be a derision among their enemies -
26 then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, "Whoever is for the LORD, come to me!" And all the sons of Levi gathered together to him.
27 He said to them, "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, 'Every man of you put his sword upon his thigh, and go * back and forth from gate to gate in the camp, and kill every man his brother, and every man his friend, and every man his neighbor.' "
28 So 33the sons of Levi did as Moses instructed, and about three thousand men of the people fell that day.
29 Then Moses said, "Dedicate yourselves today to the LORD -for every man has been against his son and against his brother -in order that He may bestow a blessing upon you today."
30 On the next day Moses said to the people, "34You yourselves have committed a great sin; and now I am going up to the LORD, perhaps I can 35make atonement for your sin."
31 Then Moses returned to the LORD, and said, "Alas, this people has committed a great sin, and they have made a 36god of gold for themselves.
32 "But now, if You will, forgive their sin -and if not, please blot me out from Your 37book which You have written!"
33 The LORD said to Moses, "Whoever * has sinned against Me, 38I will blot him out of My book.
34 "But go now, lead the people 39where * I told you. Behold, 40My angel shall go before you; nevertheless 41in the day when I punish, 42I will punish them for their sin."
35 43Then the LORD smote the people, because * of 44what they did with the calf which 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 44

  • 1. Exodus 24:18; Deuteronomy 9:11, 12
  • 2. Acts 7:40
  • 3. Exodus 14:11
  • 4. Exodus 35:22
  • 5. Deuteronomy 9:16; Nehemiah 9:18; Psalms 106:19; Acts 7:41
  • 6. Acts 7:41
  • 7. 1 Corinthians 10:7
  • 8. Exodus 32:17-19; Numbers 25:2
  • 9. Exodus 32:4, 11; Deuteronomy 9:12
  • 10. Genesis 6:11
  • 11. Ex 20:3, 4, 23
  • 12. Exodus 22:20; Exodus 34:15; Deuteronomy 32:17
  • 13. 1 Kings 12:28
  • 14. Numbers 14:11-20
  • 15. Exodus 33:3, 5; Exodus 34:9; Isaiah 48:4; Acts 7:51
  • 16. Deuteronomy 9:14
  • 17. Numbers 14:12
  • 18. Deuteronomy 9:18, 26
  • 19. Numbers 14:13-19; Deuteronomy 9:28; Joshua 7:9
  • 20. Genesis 22:16-18; Hebrews 6:13
  • 21. Genesis 15:5; Genesis 26:4
  • 22. Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:15; Genesis 15:18; Genesis 17:8; Genesis 35:12; Exodus 13:5, 11; Exodus 33:1
  • 23. Psalms 106:45
  • 24. Deuteronomy 9:15
  • 25. Exodus 31:18
  • 26. Exodus 32:6; Deuteronomy 9:16
  • 27. Deuteronomy 9:17
  • 28. Deuteronomy 9:21
  • 29. Deuteronomy 9:24
  • 30. Exodus 32:1-4
  • 31. Exodus 32:4
  • 32. 1 Kings 12:28-30; 1 Kings 14:16
  • 33. Numbers 25:7-13; Deuteronomy 33:9
  • 34. 1 Samuel 12:20, 23
  • 35. Numbers 25:13
  • 36. Exodus 20:23
  • 37. Psalms 69:28; Isaiah 4:3; Daniel 12:1; Malachi 3:16, 17; Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5; Revelation 21:27
  • 38. Exodus 17:14; Deuteronomy 29:20; Psalms 9:5; Revelation 3:5
  • 39. Exodus 3:17
  • 40. Exodus 23:20
  • 41. Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 2:5, 6
  • 42. Psalms 99:8
  • 43. Exodus 32:28
  • 44. Exodus 32:4, 24

Footnotes 24

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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