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Deeper Commentary


Exo 32:1 When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain-
"Delayed" is more commonly translated 'to be ashamed'. They may have gotten the impression that Moses was ashamed of them, and he and Yahweh were now going to make a new people. The very opposite was to be the case. This is what God proposed, and it was only the selfless pleading of Moses which changed it.

The Lord's warnings about the unfaithful believers who misbehave because their Lord delays His coming is clearly based upon this (Mt. 24:48; 25:5). Moses' return from the mountain (cp. Heaven) is therefore understood by the Lord as a type of His second coming.

The people gathered themselves together to Aaron, and said to him, Come, make us gods, which shall go before us-
God had 'gone before' Israel through the Angel which was to lead them through the desert (s.w. Ex. 23:23). But as with all religious but not spiritual people, they wanted a visible leader. And so when Moses apparently disappeared in the mountain, they demanded that gods be made to "go before us". It was only by grace that God responded that despite their apostacy, He would still "go before you" through the Angel (Ex. 32:34; 33:14). Even the Gentile world had more faith than Israel in this; they believed that Yahweh "went before" His people in an Angel (Num. 14:14). But Israel themselves at the time of the golden calf didn't believe that. Moses in his final speech therefore urges the people to believe that indeed the Angel was going before them (Dt. 1:30,33; 31:6,8).  

For as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we don’t know what has become of him-
This terrible apostacy was performed with the fire of God's glory and judgment burning above them (Dt. 9:15). Clearly enough, visible manifestation of God in miracles is not enough to inculcate faith. Pentecostalism has so misunderstood this. The people likewise were getting manna daily at this time. But still they wanted to make visible "gods" to lead them back to where their hearts were, Egypt. We note they never formally abrogated their connection to Yahweh, their apparent issue was with Moses. But he was God's representative.

Stephen in Acts 7 stresses the way in which Moses was rejected by Israel as a type of Christ. At age 40, Moses was "thrust away" by one of the Hebrews; and on the wilderness journey the Jews “thrust him from them, and in their hearts turned back again into Egypt" (Acts 7:27,35,39). This suggests that there was far more antagonism between Moses and Israel than we gather from the Old Testament record- after the pattern of Israel's treatment of Jesus. It would seem from Acts 7:39 that after the golden calf incident, the majority of Israel cold shouldered Moses. Once the point sank in that they were not going to enter the land, this feelings must have turned into bitter resentment. They were probably unaware of how Moses had been willing to offer his eternal destiny for their salvation; they would not have entered into the intensity of Moses' prayers for their salvation. The record seems to place Moses and "the people" in juxtaposition around 100 times (e.g. Ex. 15:24; 17:2,3; 32:1 NIV; Num. 16:41 NIV; 20:2,3; 21:5). They accused Moses of being a cruel cult leader, bent on leading them out into the desert to kill them and steal their wealth from them (Num. 16:13,14)- when in fact Moses was delivering them from the house of bondage, and was willing to lay down his own salvation for theirs. The way Moses submerged his own pain is superb; both of their rejection of him and of God's rejection of him from entering the Kingdom. The style of Moses' writing in Num. 20:12-14 reveals this submerging of his own pain. He speaks of himself in the third person, omitting any personal reflection on his own feelings: "The Lord spake unto Moses... Because you believed me not... you shall not bring the congregation into the land... and Moses sent messengers from Kadesh unto the King of Edom...". Likewise all the references to “the Lord spake unto Moses” (Lev. 1:1). Moses submerged his own personality in writing his books. 

Exo 32:2 Aaron said to them, Take off the golden rings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them to me-
When Gideon received the golden earrings of the Ishmaelites (Jud. 8:24-27), his mind should have flown back to how golden earrings were turned into the golden calf (Ex. 32:2). He was potentially given the strength to resist the temptation to turn them into an idol. But he must have blanked out that Biblical precedent in his heart; he ignored his spiritual potential.

Exo 32:3 All the people took off the golden rings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron-
Ps. 106:20 says that they changed or altered (Heb.) their glory into a mere ox. The glory of God was visible to them on Sinai at the time. God's glory was in His invisible leading of them through the Angel (:1). But they changed that into the visible and secular. They were not totally rejecting Yahweh, but making an ox / calf similar to one facet of the cherubim. This is classic apostacy, mixing truth with error.

Exo 32:4 He received what they handed him, and fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made it a molten calf; and they said-
The mention of the tool and fashioning it is in order to point up the lie which Aaron later tells- that he put the gold in the fire, and out popped a golden calf.

These are your gods, Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt-
The human desire to believe in a god rather than a man is demonstrated in Israel’s attitude to Moses. They complained about “this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt”; and therefore made the golden calf. Note in passing how they created one calf, but worshipped it as gods plural. They committed the trinity fallacy of many centuries later. They couldn’t handle a saviour who was human, like them, and so they decided that a god had been their saviour, who existed as a plurality, gods, within a unity, i.e. the golden calf. I will note on :18 that they were to praise the calf with "antiphonal singing", of the kind in Ex. 15:21 when they praised Yahweh for delivering them from Egypt. But it wasn't that they had totally abrogated Yahweh, just as we probably won't become atheists. But they worshipped idols, with all the associated immorality, in the name of Yahweh worship. And this is our abiding temptation, to mix the flesh and Spirit. 

Exo 32:5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation, and said, Tomorrow shall be a feast to Yahweh-
As noted on :4, this was not a rejection of Yahweh in so many words, but rather a justification of idolatry in the name of Yahweh worship. We note the emphasis on what Aaron did. No wonder God wanted to slay him at this time (Dt. 9:20), and he was only saved by grace thanks to Moses' intercession.

Exo 32:6 They rose up early on the next day, and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play-
It appears that Israel identified the golden calf with the Egyptian goddess Hathor. “The Egyptian goddess Hathor came in the form of a cow, a woman with a cow’s head, or a woman with cows horns and / or cows ears. She bore several other titles including The Golden One and Mistress of Music. She was the patron of love, motherhood, drunkenness, fun, dance and music. The worship of Hathor degenerated into immorality and she is depicted in some scenes and statues as a sensual young woman. Hathor was the protector of travellers from Egypt to various areas including Sinai”. So Israel so quickly forgot the lesson so artlessly taught them – that the idols / demons of Egypt were of no power at all, seeing they had all been targetted by the plagues.

The following references to Hathor provide further insight; supporting references are to be found in my book "The Real Devil" section 4-2-3:
Hathor had several forms including, a cow, a women with a cow’s head, or a woman with cows horns and or ears.
Hathor was also known as ‘The Golden One’
Hathor was the protector of travellers from Egypt to various areas including Sinai
Patron of drunkenness
Hathor had the title ‘Mistress of Music’
The worship of Hathor included playing on all kinds of musical instruments together with dancing
The worship of Hathor was for the joy and pleasure of those who took part
Hathor is also the goddess of love
The worship of Hathor degenerated into immorality.

Exo 32:7 Yahweh spoke to Moses, Go, get down; for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves!-
"Themselves" is added to the text. They had "corrupted" not just themselves, but their understanding of Yahweh. As explained on :4-6, they were worshipping an idol in the name of Yahweh worship. They had corrupted or turned the glory of God into the form of an ox which eats grass (Ps. 106:20). And this is the abiding temptation for us all. "Corrupted" is the word used about the corruption of the people which resulted in the flood (Gen. 6:11-13,17). We are therefore to expect a "flood" of destruction. But thanks to grace and Moses' intercession, this didn't come. But it is the same word used of the threatened destruction of everyone in Sodom, which Abraham's intercession avoided (s.w. Gen. 18:28,31). That incident surely motivated Moses to rise up to the same possibility of dialogue with God in order to change His intended purpose. We too are to be motivated by Biblical examples of intercession. There is a gap between God's statement of judgment, and His carrying it out. And in that gap, we can ask God to change His intended purpose of judgment; and He is willing to. Understanding God this way gives such intensity and significance to our prayers and intercession.   

"Corrupted" is s.w. "'destroyed" or "perish". All judgment is finally self inflicted. Sin is its own judgment; hence the Hebrew word for "corruption" also means "destruction", for moral corruption is its own destruction. God Himself does judge, but always prefers men to judge themselves.

Exo 32:8 They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them-
As explained on Ex. 32:4-6, the people considered that their idolatry was a form of Yahweh worship. But Yahweh makes it clear that it was in fact a rejection of Him.

They have made themselves a molten calf-
"Molten" is literally 'covered'. They had presumably made the calf of the common acacia wood, and covered it with gold- just as the tabernacle furniture was to be constructed in a similar way. Again we see that they were mixing Yahweh worship with idolatry.

And have worshiped it, and have sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt'-
The calf was likely an imitation of the Egyptian calf god Apis, despite the fact the plagues had targetted the gods of Egypt and shown them to be nothing. They mixed the worship of Yahweh with that of idols, and this is the abiding temptation for God's people.

Exo 32:9 Yahweh said to Moses, I have seen these people, and behold, they are a stiff-necked people-
Pharaoh was condemned and Egypt overthrown because of his hard heart- but the very word is used to describe the hardness of Israel's heart at the time (Ex. 32:9; 33:3-5; 34:9). Israel were really no better than Egypt- just as Egypt was plagued "so that they could not drink the water" (Ex. 7:24), so we find Israel in the same situation right after leaving Egypt (Ex. 15:23). As the Egyptians were stripped of their jewellery, so Israel stripped themselves of it before the golden calf (Ex. 12:36; 33:6). Although the people were "stiff-necked", refusing to bow their necks in obedience, and thereby liable to destruction if God was amongst them (Ex. 32:9; 33:3,15), God was willing to give this stiff-necked people a place in God's Kingdom (Dt. 9:6). And so although God had said that He would not go in the midst of a stiff-necked people, yet Moses asks Him to do so (Ex. 34:9)- for He senses God's desire to save them by grace despite their hardened disobedience. We contrast this with the God who demands respect, the God who slew Uzzah and insists upon loyalty to Him.  

Exo 32:10 Now therefore leave Me alone-
This seems to suggest that God knew both Himself and Moses well enough to know that Moses could well persuade Him to change His mind, against His ideal intention. And Moses doesn't leave God alone, and does persuade Him. We marvel at the humility and humanity of God, and His extreme openness to human intercession. 

Think of God's bitter disappointment with Israel when He invites Moses into the mount as their representative, in order to enter into further covenant with them. Down below, they started worshipping other gods. When God says to Moses "Leave me alone..." (Ex. 32:10), He may well refer to the desire for isolation / solitude which a person in extreme grief desires. And of course we are aware of how Moses reasons with God, and asks God to consider His own future and how it might turn out, and how that can be avoided. And God takes Moses seriously, with integrity, and appears to even acquiesce to his arguments. It's amazing. This God is our God.

That My wrath may burn hot against them, and that I may consume them; and I will make of you a great nation-
Note how God’s anger “burned hot” and so did that of Moses. But Moses asks God not to wax hot in anger (Ex. 32:10,11,19). What are we to make of this? Surely, positively, Moses was totally in tune with the feelings of God. And yet he does himself what he asks God not to do. 

There is almost a pattern with God- to devise His purpose, and then in the 'gap' until its fulfillment, be open to the persuasion of His covenant people to change or ammend those plans. This could be what Am. 3:7 is speaking of: "Surely the Lord God does nothing without revealing His secret to His servants the prophets". It's as if He reveals His plans to them so that they can then comment upon them in prayer. And maybe this is why God tells Jeremiah not to pray to Him to change His stated plans against Israel (Jer. 7:16 cp. Jer. 11:14; 14:11; 15:1), and why He asks Moses to 'leave Me alone' and not try to persuade Him to change His mind (Ex. 32:10). He didn't want, in these cases, His stated plans to be interrupted by the appeals of His people to change them. Interestingly, in both these examples, Moses and Jeremiah know God well enough, the relationship is intimate enough, for them to still speak with Him- and change His mind. Those who've prayed to God in cases of terminal illness [and countless other situations] will have sensed this 'battle', this 'struggle' almost, between God and His friends, His covenant people, and the element of 'persuasion' which there is going on both ways in the dialogue between God and ourselves. The simple fact that God really can change- there are over 40 references to His 'repentance' in Scripture- is vital to understand- for this is the basis of the prayer that changes things, that as it were wrestles with God.

Exo 32:11 Moses begged Yahweh his God, and said, Yahweh, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, that you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?-
See on Ex. 34:9; 33:1. If God's wrath burns hot against people, it means death for them (s.w. Ex. 22:24; Num. 11:1,33; 22:22; 25:3; Dt. 6:15; 31:17). But Moses averted this at the time of Ex. 32:10 by his intercession. He does so because God's wrath had burned hot against him personally (Ex. 4:14 s.w.), but he had been saved from death by grace. And so he reflects this in appealing for he salvation of others, against whom God's wrath burned hot (Ex. 32:10.11). But Moses at the end of his life warns them not to make God's wrath burn hot against them again- because he will not be around to intercede for them (Dt. 6:15; 7:4; 11:17).

When God told Moses to leave Him alone to destroy them, and go back down to the people immediately (Dt. 9:12), Moses stayed on to plead with God not to destroy them. And God listened (Ex. 32:7-14). He repented of the evil He had thought to do. He changed His mind, because Moses stayed on. There is an element of striving with God in prayer, knowing that His mind is open to change (Rom. 15:30). This is what stimulates me to what intensity in prayer I can muster. That God is open to hearing and even changing His holy mind about something. Such is His sensitivity to us. Such is His love, that God changing His mind becomes really feasible as a concept. And such is the scary implication of the total freewill which the Father has afforded us. This is why God could reason with Moses as a man speaks to his friend and vice versa. It was a dynamic, two way relationship in thought and prayer and being. Jacob likewise changed God's intentions with him in his night of wrestling in prayer with the Angel; and Jacob is a symbol of us all. He became Israel, he who struggles with God. And this is a key feature of all those who comprise the true Israel.

The manifestation of God in a person leads to a mutuality between them. There’s a nice example of the mutuality between God and Moses in Ex. 33:1, where God says that Moses brought up Israel out of Egypt; but in Ex. 32:11, Moses says [as frequently] that God brought Israel out of Egypt. And we too can experience this mutuality in relationship with the Father. Through Moses allowing himself to become part of God manifestation, he found a confidence to achieve that which felt impossible to him. He asks God: "Who am I...?" to do the great things God required... and the answer was "I will be who I will be" (Ex. 3:11-13). Moses' sense of inadequacy was met by the principle of God's manifestation in him; and so will ours be, if we participate in it.

Exo 32:12 Why should the Egyptians speak, saying-
Moses seems to have shared the primitive idea that a god rose or fell according to the fortunes of his worshippers, when he asks God to not cut off Israel in case the nations mock Yahweh. Yahweh could have responded that this was far too primitive and limited a view. But no, He apparently listens to Moses and goes along with his request!

‘He brought them forth for evil, to kill them in the mountains-
The mountains around Sinai.

And to consume them from the surface of the earth?’ Turn from Your fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against Your people-
This turning of Yahweh from His wrath was inspirational even generations later, for the Ninevites repeat this phrase and cling onto it in hope (Jonah 3:9 s.w.). David and the restoration Psalmists likewise allude to it, and ask for it to be repeated in their context (s.w. Ps. 85:3,4), and so can we be likewise inspired.

Exo 32:13 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 the sky, and all this land that I have spoken of I will give to your seed, and they shall inherit it forever’-
God could have given legitimate answers to each of Moses' objections; for there were indeed times when He did not turn from the fierceness of His wrath (:12)- such as Jer. 4:8; 2 Kings 23:26. He intended to fulfil the promises to Abraham, but through Moses. But such is His sensitivity and pure pity that He accepted Moses' pleas. 

Exo 32:14 Yahweh changed His mind of the evil which He said He would do to His people-
Due to Moses’ prayer, “the Lord repented of the evil which he had said he would do unto his people” (Ex. 32:14 RV). Yet these are the very words of Jer. 18:8- if a nation repents, then God will repent. But in this case, God accepted the singular prayer of Moses. This opens up the question of the degree to which our spiritual effort can affect the eternal outcomes for third parties (see on Mk. 2:5).

The LXX uses the word translated “propitiation” in the NT with reference to how God forgave / propitiated for Israel’s sins for His Name’s sake (Ex. 32:14; Ps. 79:9). That propitiation was only for the sake of the Lord’s future death, which would be the propitiation God ultimately accepted. Having no past or future with Him, Yahweh could act as if His Son’s death had already occurred. But that death and forgiveness for “His name’s sake” were one and the same thing. The Son’s death was the expression of the Father’s Name.

We are told that God "hearkened" to Moses' prayers for them (Dt. 9:19; 10:10). He prayed for them with an intensity they didn't appreciate, he prayed for and gained their forgiveness before they had even repented, he pleaded successfully for God to relent from His plans to punish them, even before they knew that God had conceived such plans  (Ex. 32:10,14; 33:17 etc.). The fact we will, at the end, be forgiven of some sins without specifically repenting of them (as David was in Ps. 19:12) ought to instill a true humility in us. This kind of thing is in some ways a contradiction of God's principles that personal repentance is required for forgiveness, and that our own effort is required if we are to find acceptability with Him. Of course ultimately these things are still true, and were true with respect to Israel.

Exo 32:15 Moses turned, and went down from the mountain, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand; tablets that were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other they were written-
Dt. 9:15 says that Moses carried one in each hand. They were likely very small, which is why they were written on both sides. There is double emphasis upon this, perhaps because this was unheard of on Egyptian tablets. 

Exo 32:16 The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tables-
This seems to lead up to the tragedy of Moses breaking them. They were the most exquisite artwork, God's own handwriting. This was how intimately He was engaged with the covenant He offered Israel, and the tragedy of it being broken. The Hebrew for "engraved" is haruth, the same consonants as heruth, freedom / liberty. This connection between law and freedom is played on in James 1:25; 2:12. The law, therefore, is not a leash, a chore to be performed, but as David often observes, God's law is the way to run free. Divine law is the way to help man find his true identity and spiritually blosssom.  This of course is the opposite to human law, which seeks to constrain and 'keep the loonies on the path'. A comparison of God's law with other legal codes of the time, such as the laws of Hammurabi, reveals how God seeks to value the human person. His law was the same for all, unlike the contemporary human laws which excused the higher classes from obedience. Human life always trumped material issues; the death penalty was used very sparingly in God's laws. And above all, the Divine laws are always positioned in relation to the fact that "I am Yahweh your God". Obedience was part of a personal covenant relationship with God, and an act of gratitude for His personal salvation. There is constant connection between law and covenant relationship; hence Hos. 8:1 "they have broken My covenant, and rebelled against My law". Related to this is the constant repetition that the law was given by God, and "You shall be holy, for I am holy"- and not arrived at from human consultation and development of legal tradition. This is why God's law begins with the statement "I am the Yahweh your God" (Ex. 20:2). Thus the Sabbath rest was because God had rested on the seventh day; and the ten "He said..." statements of the Genesis creation can be connected with the ten commandments, which were aimed at a new spiritual creation of people.  

Exo 32:17 When Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, There is the noise of war in the camp-
It has been noted that the people must have been camped in the plain near Sinai known as Er-Raheh, which was not visible from the peak of Sinai known as Jebel Musa. The path up the mountain to that point would have gone around the mountain, rather than straight up from the plain. This explains why they first heard rather than saw what was going on, and is another internal evidence for Biblical inspiration. 

This incident could be read as an example of Joshua’s genuine naivety- thinking that Israel were far stronger than they were. He mistook the sound of their idolatrous partying for the sound of a battle; and Moses almost rebukes him for his naivety. He allowed the leaders of Israel to lead him into wrong decisions about the initial attack on Ai, and also into being deceived by the Gibeonites. And yet as a younger man, he had boldly stood up to the peer pressure of the princes of Israel in faithfully declaring that Israel could and should go up into Canaan; when the other princes must have put huge pressure upon him to agree with them. He is described as maintaining “another spirit” to theirs (Num. 14:24). The resolution of youth seems to have been somewhat lost as he grew older. The character presentation of Joshua is absolutely psychologically credible.

Exo 32:18 He said, It isn’t the voice of those who shout for victory, neither is it the voice of those who cry for being overcome-
The Lord alludes to this: "You shall weep and lament, but the (Jewish) world shall rejoice" (Jn. 16:20). Israel rejoiced in the works of their own hands (Acts 7:41), the golden calf, while Moses was absent- cp. Christ's absence in the grave, with the Jews rejoicing and the disciples lamenting. In another sense, the return of Moses from the mountain may look ahead to Christ's return from Heaven- to find the majority of the new Israel apostate, although thinking they are being especially obedient to Yahweh (Ex. 32:5). The peak of selfless love for Israel which Moses showed at this time therefore points forward to the zeal of Christ for our forgiveness and salvation at his return (Ex. 32:32). Moses at his finest hour of intercession and willing self sacrifice thus typifies Christ at his return. And after the golden calf incident, Israel are encouraged to enter the Kingdom (Ex. 33:1)- as at the second coming.

But the noise of those who sing that I hear-
The Hebrew implies "antiphonal singing", of the kind in Ex. 15:21, and s.w. Ps. 88:1. This is a classic case of mixing the flesh and the spirit; for they were worshipping the golden calf as a form of Yahweh worship, praising the golden calf for their deliverance from Egypt just as they had praised Yahweh for this in Ex. 15:21.

Exo 32:19 It happened, as soon as he came near to the camp, that he saw the calf and the dancing; and Moses’ anger grew hot, and he threw the tablets out of his hands, and broke them beneath the mountain-
His anger growing hot was exactly the feeling of God. But unlike God, he immediately broke the symbols of the covenant with Israel. Again, God is revealed as more gracious and patient than man. As Moses had pleaded with Yahweh not to be so angry, so Aaron was to do so with the furiously angry Moses. Aaron in all his weakness therefore becomes as Moses, who was also weak before God's presence. 

Exo 32:20 He took the calf which they had made-
This is emphasized. Aaron's claim it just popped out of the fire was a lie (:24).

And burnt it with fire, ground it to powder, and scattered it on the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it-
They were forced to drink / eat dust, just as Adam had to; for he was dust and had to eat the fruit of the dust in punishment. His sin was the essence of every man's sin, including Israel's at this time. The reference to their being made naked (:25) is another allusion to Adam. Israel had been an unfaithful wife to Yahweh, and so they were punished as the woman tested for adultery was (Num. 5:24). Dt. 9:21 says that "grinding it very small until it was as fine as dust". As gold is so heavy, this would be necessary for it to float on the surface on the water.

Exo 32:21 Moses said to Aaron, What did these people do to you, that you have brought a great sin on them?-
Aaron's excuse was pathetic and untruthful, and Moses doesn't even engage with it. There are times when we too are wise not to engage with evident untruth and self justification, but to cut to the essence of the situation. It was only thanks to Moses' intercession for Aaron that Aaron's life was spared at this point (Dt. 9:20). We see here how intercession even for the impenitent can be effective (for Aaron in Ex. 32:24 was impenitent, claiming the calf had jumped out of the fire ready made). This has huge pastoral implications for our ministry and prayer life, recalling how for the sake of the faith of the friends, the Lord pronounced the paralyzed man forgiven (Mk. 2:5; also James 5:20).

"A great sin" is the phrase used of Jeroboam's golden calf, which was based upon this calf (2 Kings 17:21). Again, people can be made to sin by others- a sober reminder to watch our behaviour.

Exo 32:22 Aaron said, Don’t let the anger of my lord grow hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil-
Aaron reasons with Moses, surely unconsciously, just as Moses had reasoned with God. And we have these situations in our lives too- where others beg us for mercy and understanding (even if not in so many words), just as we have asked God to show us. But the man who is so arrogant and insensitive to his own sins that he has never done this before God... will not be inclined to be merciful and understanding to those whose situations beg him to do likewise.

Dt. 9:20 must be given its full weight: "Yahweh was very angry with Aaron to destroy him, and I prayed for Aaron also at the same time". Aaron comes over in Ex. 32:22 as more worried about the wrath of Moses his brother than that of God: "Don’t let the anger of my lord grow hot". And so it can easily be with us. We can forget God's feelings and worry only about our image with our family and brethren.

Exo 32:23 For they said to me, ‘Make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we don’t know what has become of him’-
Aaron quotes their words of :1 absolutely verbatim, careful to be truthful. But then in :24 he tells a pathetic lie. This is totally psychologically credible; that a man prefaces a point blank lie with a careful and strict statement of truth. The Biblical records, unlike the histories of other nations at the time, have total credibility. 

Exo 32:24 I said to them, ‘Whoever has any gold, let them take it off;’ so they gave it to me; and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf-
The mention of the tool and fashioning of it in :4 is in order to point up the lie which Aaron later tells- that he put the gold in the fire, and out popped a golden calf.

The Jewish interpreters go to great lengths to rework the narrative here in order to justify Aaron and Israel, blaming the event on "Satan" rather than Israel. The targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel asks us to read Aaron's words as: "I cast it into the fire, and Satan entered into it, and it came out in the form of this calf!". But the Biblical record is clear that the sin was Aaron's fault, and Israel's (:21,22,31,35); he engraved the calf with a tool. There is no mention of any" Satan" figure. We see again how humans prefer to wriggle out of responsibility for sin by blaming their failure upon a cosmic "Satan" figure, of which the Bible says nothing- and indeed, deconstructs by placing the blame for sin squarely upon human beings and their hearts (:22).

Exo 32:25 When Moses saw that the people were naked, (for Aaron had made them naked, for a shame among their enemies)-
The Assyrians led Israel away into captivity [s.w. to make naked], "they discovered her nakedness" (Ez. 23:10), and yet in their sin Israel made themselves naked (2 Chron. 28:19 cp. Ex. 32:25; Gen. 3:10). The day of Yahweh's judgment upon them through their invaders was only a reflection of their own self-condemnation. Eli's sons made themselves accursed, and were only therefore [and thereby] judged by God (1 Sam. 3:13 AVmg.).

They were forced to drink / eat dust (:20), just as Adam had to; for he was dust and had to eat the fruit of the dust in punishment. His sin was the essence of every man's sin, including Israel's at this time. The reference to their being made naked is another allusion to Adam.

Exo 32:26 then Moses stood in the gate of the camp-
They appeared to have made a fence around themselves with gates in it (:27 "from gate to gate").

And said, Whoever is on Yahweh’s side, come to me!-
Literally, "Who unto Yahweh?". The phrase is only used in Jer. 30:21, where we read that under the new covenant, this will be true of all God's people.

All the sons of Levi gathered themselves together to him-
This doesn't have to mean that the Levites hadn't sinned in this, because these loyal Levites were asked to kill their own brothers and neighbours in their tribal encampment area (:27). But their motive may have been that they were loyal to Moses because he was of their tribe, and they could foresee that there was a rebellion against Moses as the people didn't want him as their leader. All human motivation is so sadly mixed.

Exo 32:27 He said to them, Thus says Yahweh, the God of Israel, ‘Every man put his sword on his thigh, and go back and forth from gate to gate throughout the camp, and every man kill his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour’-
These loyal Levites were asked to kill their own brothers and neighbours in their tribal encampment area. So we are wrong to think that all the Levites were loyal to Moses and spurned the golden calf. Indeed it could be that those slain were the unfaithful amongst the tribe of Levi.

Exo 32:28 The sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men-
I suggested on :27 that these 3000 may have been the apostate amongst the tribe of Levi (Dt. 33:9).

There is “a remarkable correlation between the signs recorded in John, and the plagues Moses brought upon Egypt. There cannot be a complete match as the numbers are unequal, but the differing types of miraculous signs all find their counterpart in the plagues”. The purpose of all these allusions to the time of Moses' return from Sinai was surely to make the following point: As Moses disappeared into Sinai to attain the old covenant, so Christ died for three days to attain the new covenant. The majority of Israel, egged on by their high priest, turned to apostacy. On Moses' return, only some of the Levites were faithful; they sacrificed all their natural relationships in order to defend the Faith (Dt. 33:9). Likewise, the majority of Israel turned to apostacy in the first century, mixing the desires of the flesh with their keeping of the Law of Moses, just as they did with the golden calf. The 'little of both' syndrome is one of our most common enemies. Moses' return was like Christ's resurrection. The Levites represent the disciples who went on to become the teachers of Israel, a new priesthood. Those Levites represent us (1 Pet. 2:5), a minority who stand alone, both in the world and perhaps also among the covenant people, motivated by the word, yet like the disciples at the time of Christ's resurrection- rather unsure, struggling within their own faith, yet going on to be the teachers of the world.

Exo 32:29 Moses said, Consecrate yourselves today to Yahweh, yes, every man against his son, and against his brother; that He may bestow on you a blessing this day-
This could as well be: "You have consecrated yourselves today". They had slain their own Levitical relatives, even their own sons and brothers; encouraging us to see the 3000 they slew as actually a purge of the tribe of Levi. By this they had demonstrated their loyalty to Yahweh as being greater than what they felt towards their own families. And this was highly significant, in an age when family meant absolutely everything. And so having purged their tribe, they had consecrated themselves to Yahweh, and He therefore consecrated them to Himself as His special servants. Previously, the intention had been that all Israel would be a nation of priests. But now that had been adjusted, so that only a self-cleansed tribe would do that work. 

Exo 32:30 It happened on the next day, that Moses said to the people, You have sinned a great sin. Now I will go up to Yahweh. Perhaps I shall make atonement for your sin-
See on Rom. 9:3; Dt. 1:37. Moses is called up into Sinai and speaks with God. While there, Israel turn away from God, and God wants to make Moses' family His people and reject Israel. But Moses argues with God against this, again showing his humility and his appreciation of God manifestation in Israel, and his earnest desire that God would save Israel. "He said that he would destroy them, had not Moses his chosen stood before him in the breach, to turn away his wrath". This was only months after his weak faith and reluctance to lead Israel out of Egypt. He says that he will "go up (and) make an atonement" (Ex. 32:30). And yet he knew the principle that atonement was impossible without shedding blood. Yet he goes further than that: "Blot me, I pray thee (he really wanted to do this) out of thy book" (Ex. 32:32) AV- i.e. the book of salvation (Ez. 13:9; Dan. 12:2; Lk. 10:20; Rev. 20:12). Moses is willing to give his physical life and also his eternal salvation so that Israel can enter the land. Surely he reached matchless heights of selflessness. And he begged Yahweh to accept this for 40 days and nights, fasting without food or water (Dt. 9:17; 10:10). It wasn’t just a once off, emotional outburst of a moment.

To be blotted out of the book God had written may have been understood by Moses as asking for him to be excluded from an inheritance in the promised land; for later, a ‘book’ was written describing the various portions (Josh. 18:9). The connection is made explicit in Ez. 13:9: “…neither shall they be written in the writing of the house of Israel, neither shall they enter into the land of Israel”. To be blotted out of the book meant to not enter the land (surely Ezekiel is alluding to Moses’ experience). If Israel were to be blotted out there and then in the wilderness, then Moses wanted to share this experience. God had just spoken of ‘blotting out’ Israel from before Him (Dt. 9:14), and making a nation of Moses; but now Moses is asking to share in their condemnation rather than experience salvation without them. This was the extent of his devotion. On the last day of his life, Moses reeled off the great speech of Deuteronomy, knowing full well that he was to die without entering the land. In Dt. 9:18 he says that his prayer of Ex. 32:32 was heard- in that he was not going to enter the land, but they would. Hence his urging of them to go ahead and enter the land- to experience what his self-sacrifice had enabled. In this we see the economy of God, and how He works even through sin. On account of Moses’ temporary rashness of speech, he was excluded; Moses didn't enter the land. And yet by this, his prayer was heard. He was temporarily blotted out of the book, so that they might enter the land. Moses’ fleeting requests to enter the land must be read as a flagging from the height of devotion he reached, rather like the Lord’s request to escape the cross in Gethsemane. But ultimately he did what he intended- he gave his place in the Kingdom / land so that they might enter [although of course he will be in the future Kingdom]. This is why Moses stresses on the last day of his life that he wouldn’t enter the land for Israel’s sake (Dt. 1:37; 3:26; 4:21). He saw that his sin had been worked through, and the essential reason for him not entering was because of the offer he had made. It “went ill with him for their sakes” (Ps. 106:32).   In all this, Moses was typifying the death of the Lord. Is. 53:8 describes His cross as being “cut off [Strong: ‘excluded’] from the land of the living” (s.w. ‘the congregation’- of Israel), for the transgression of His people. This is undoubtedly reference to the self-sacrificial exclusion of Moses from the land, that Israel might enter. The Lord died the death of a sinner, He chose like Moses to suffer affliction with us, that we might be saved. The intense prayer of Moses for Israel’s salvation inspired David in prayer (Ps. 25:11 = Ex. 32:30,31).

Paul in 2 Tim. 2:24,25 makes a series of allusions to Moses, which climax in an invitation to pray like Moses for the salvation of others:
“The servant of the Lord [A very common title of Moses] must not strive [As Israel did with him (Num. 26:9)] but be gentle unto all [The spirit of Moses] apt to teach [As was Moses (Ex. 18:20; 24:12; Dt. 4:1,5,14; 6:1; 31:22)], patient [As was Moses], in meekness [Moses was the meekest man (Num. 12:3)] instructing those that oppose themselves [at the time of Aaron and Miriam’s self-opposing rebellion] if God peradventure will give them repentance [i.e. forgiveness] [“Peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin” (Ex. 32:30)]"- and he prayed 40 days and nights for it. And note too: 2 Tim. 2:19 = Num. 16:5,26; 2 Tim. 2:20 = Num. 12:7; 2:21 = Num. 16:37; 2 Tim. 2:22 = Num. 12:2; 16:3; 2 Tim. 2:26 = Num. 16:33. This is quite something. The height of Moses’ devotion for His people, the passion of his praying, shadowing as it did the matchless intercession and self-giving of the Lord, really is our example. It isn’t just a height to be admired. It means that we will not half-heartedly ask our God to ‘be with’ brother x and sister y and the brethren in country z, as we lie half asleep in bed. This is a call to sustained, on our knees prayer and devotion to the salvation of others. For the Judaists, an appeal to be like Moses, to emulate him in teaching, was blasphemous; for they considered Moses at such a level that he could never be imitated. Yet Paul urges timid Timothy and all teachers to realistically be Moses to our audience.

Exo 32:31 Moses returned to Yahweh, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made themselves gods of gold-
Moses was willing to give his physical life and also his eternal salvation so that Israel can enter the land. Surely he reached matchless heights of selflessness. And he begged Yahweh to accept this for 40 days and nights, fasting without food or water (Dt. 9:17; 10:10). It wasn’t just a once off, emotional outburst of a moment.

Exo 32:32 Yet now, if You will, forgive their sin- and if not, please blot me out of Your book which You have written-
It is simply fantastic that Moses could love those people so intensely, despite their aggression and indifference towards him. He was prepared to give his place in the Kingdom so that they might enter; he prayed God to accept his offer. He knew that atonement could only be by sacrifice of blood (Lev. 17:11; Heb. 9:22; and see the similarity with Phinehas making an atonement for Israel’s forgiveness through the slaying of Zimri and Cozbi in Num. 25:8,13); and yet he climbed the Mount with the intent of making atonement himself for Israel's sin (Ex. 32:30); he intended to give his life for them. And he didn't make such a promise in hot blood, as some men might. He made the statement, and then made the long climb to the top of the mount. He climbed that mountain (nearly a day's work), and at the top he made an even finer and altogether higher offer to the Angel: "If thou wilt forgive their sin... blot me, I pray thee (notice the earnestness of his desire) out of thy book" (Ex. 32:32 AV). And he begged Yahweh to accept this for 40 days and nights, fasting without food or water (Dt. 9:17; 10:10). It wasn’t just a once off, emotional outburst of a moment. And during that climb, it seems he came to an even higher spiritual level; he was prepared not only to offer his physical life, but also his place in the Kingdom (Ex. 32:32 cp. Ez. 13:9; Dan. 12:2; Lk. 10:20; Phil. 4:3; Rev. 3:5; 20:12).

Now although hopefully we are not rejecting Christ as they did, the fact still stands that the love of Moses for Israel typifies the love of Christ towards us. The degree, the extent of Moses' love, is but a dim foretaste of the degree of the love of Christ for us. Now in this is something wonderful, something we really need to go away and meditate about. And the wonder of it all is that Israel did not realize the extent of Moses love at the time. At the end of his life he recounts how God has threatened to destroy the people, and then “I turned and came down from the mount” (Dt. 9:15). He doesn’t record his 40 days of pleading with the Father, and how he turned down the offer of having himself made into a great nation. In this we see tremendous spiritual culture, pointing forward to the Lord’s own self-perception of His sacrifice.

We'll all be like Moses was at the end, in essence; we'll share his finest hours. Our names will not be blotted out of the book of life (Rev. 3:5), as Moses' wasn't (Ex. 32:32).

Moses was willing to sacrifice his place in the Kingdom for the sake of Israel, and this impressed Paul deeply. For he alludes to it often. "Neither count I my life dear unto myself" (Acts 20:24). "I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh" (Rom. 9:3). Paul is here rising up to imitate Moses at perhaps his finest hour- willing, at least in principle, to give up his eternal life for the sake of Israel's salvation. The extent of Paul's love for natural Israel does not come out that strongly in the Acts and epistles; but this allusion to Moses says it all. The RVmg. renders Rom. 9:3: “I could pray…”, more clearly alluding to Moses’ prayer that the people might enter and he be rejected. Yet Paul perceived that God would not accept a substitute offering like that; and hence he says he could pray like this. In essence, he had risen to the same level. Likewise he wrote in 1 Thess. 2:8 RV that he was “well pleased [i.e. theoretically willing] to impart unto, you not the gospel of God only, but our own souls, because ye were dear unto us”. He perceived the difference between mere imparting of the Gospel in preaching, and being willing to give ones’ soul, ones salvation, because of a heart that bleeds for others. No wonder Paul was such a convincing preacher, with such love behind his words.

Exo 32:33 Yahweh said to Moses, Whoever has sinned against Me, him will I blot out of My book-
All substitutionary models of the atonement are here declared null and void. Moses saved the people by being their representative, and offering to not enter the land for their sakes, so that they might enter. And in a way this was accepted by God. God didn’t accept Moses’ offer to die as a substitute for Israel, for each must be judged for their own sins. But He did accept Moses as a representative of Israel and accepted his mediation for their salvation on this basis; just as He accepted the work of Christ on the same basis. Paul learnt the lesson when he says that he could wish himself condemned and Israel saved (Rom. 9:1-3); but he recognized God didn’t accept Moses’ offer of dying for them as a substitute.

Exo 32:34 Now go, lead the people to the place of which I have spoken to you. Behold, My angel shall go before you-
As explained on :1, they had disbelieved this. They wanted visible gods to "go before" them. They are again being bidden accept invisible Divine leadership rather than visible secular leadership. It is the struggle between religion and spirituality.

Ex. 33:11,12 show Moses talking to the LORD "face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend"- i.e. in a relaxed, friendly way. Thus the identity of the 'LORD' is clearly an Angel. This Angel says in Ex. 33:20 that  His face cannot be seen by any man, but His back parts may be seen by Moses. The fact He could be seen at all shows He was not God Himself.  Perhaps we are hearing another Angel speak, more mighty than the one with whom Moses spoke face to face. Or the Angel with whom Moses spoke started to manifest God to a different degree. The 'LORD'- the Angel- then says, Ex. 33:14, "My presence shall go with you". This "presence" was another Angel, as Ex. 32:34 makes clear. This would suggest there were two Angels involved.

Nevertheless in the day when I punish, I will punish them for their sin-
That God 'visits' or punishes sin is a fundamental part of God's Name (Ex. 34:7 s.w.). The question is when and how. Israel's sin of rejecting Yahweh for an idol (Ex. 32:34 s.w.) need not have been 'visited' or 'punished'- had they repented. But there is no evidence that they did, neither in that immediate generation nor in subsequent ones. And so finally, God 'visited' His people's sins in the destructions at the hands of the Babylonians and Assyrians (s.w. Jer. 14:10; Hos. 8:13; 9:9).  

Exo 32:35 Yahweh struck the people, because they made the calf, which Aaron made-
The Biblical record highlights the sin of Aaron and the people; the Jewish literature excuses it by blaming it on Satan / "mastema". Time and again, the Jewish apocryphal literature wrongly sought to distance God from doing anything negative in human life. Gen. 22:1 clearly states that it was God who put Abraham to the test by asking him to kill his son Isaac; Jubilees retells the story with "Prince Mastema", the Satan figure, telling Abraham to do this (Jub. 17:15-18). Likewise Ex. 4:24 recounts how "the Lord", presumably as an Angel, met Moses and tried to kill him for not circumcising his son; but Jubilees again claims that Mastema / Satan did this (Jub. 48:1-3). Indeed, several times the Hebrew word mastema ['hostility, enmity'] occurs, it is in the context of urging Israel to see that they and their internal desires to sin are the true mastema. Hos. 9:7 is an example: "Because your sins are so many and your hostility [mastema] so great".