Exodus 32 – Meanwhile Back in Camp

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31:18 He gave to Moses, when he finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, stone tablets, written with God’s finger.

32:1 When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron, and said to him, “Come, 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.”

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.”

32:3 All the people took off the golden rings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. 32:4 He received what they handed him, and fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made it a molten calf; and they said, “These are your gods, Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt.”

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.”

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.

32:7 Yahweh spoke to Moses, “Go, get down; for your people, who you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves! 32:8 They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them. They have made themselves a molten calf, 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.'”

32:9 Yahweh said to Moses, “I have seen these people, and behold, they are a stiff-necked people. 32:10 Now therefore leave me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them, and that I may consume them; and I will make of you a great nation.”

32:11 Moses begged Yahweh his God, and said, “Yahweh, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, that you have brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 32:12 Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, ‘He brought them forth for evil, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the surface of the earth?’ Turn from your fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against your people. 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.'”

32:14 Yahweh repented of the evil which he said he would do to his people.

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. 32:16 The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tables.

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.”

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; but the noise of those who sing that I hear.” 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. 32:20 He took the calf which they had made, and burnt it with fire, ground it to powder, and scattered it on the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it.

32:21 Moses said to Aaron, “What did these people do to you, that you have brought a great sin on them?”

32:22 Aaron said, “Don’t let the anger of my lord grow hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil. 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.’ 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.”

32:25 When Moses saw that the people had broken loose, (for Aaron had let them loose for a derision among their enemies), 32:26 then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, “Whoever is on Yahweh’s side, come to me!”

All the sons of Levi gathered themselves together to him. 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 neighbor.'” 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. 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.”

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.”

32:31 Moses returned to Yahweh, and said, “Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made themselves gods of gold. 32:32 Yet now, if you will, forgive their sin–and if not, please blot me out of your book which you have written.”

32:33 Yahweh said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book. 32:34 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 punish, I will punish them for their sin.” 32:35 Yahweh struck the people, because they made the calf, which Aaron made.


This is one of the most sad passages where Man and God have variances of opinion. Israelite s doubt Moses is alive any longer. God must have double crossed them. So before Moses returns, they take matters into their own hands. Showing a catastrophic mis-trust of God. This puts Moses in a difficult position between his people and God.

Because of the difficulty with how God is portrayed in verse 32:14 as a sinner that had to repent, I wanted a different perspective. It seems impossible that God could sin. So here NLT. of the same passage:

The Gold Calf

32 When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. “Come on,” they said, “make us some gods who can lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.”

So Aaron said, “Take the gold rings from the ears of your wives and sons and daughters, and bring them to me.”

All the people took the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron. Then Aaron took the gold, melted it down, and molded it into the shape of a calf. When the people saw it, they exclaimed, “O Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of the land of Egypt!”

Aaron saw how excited the people were, so he built an altar in front of the calf. Then he announced, “Tomorrow will be a festival to the Lord!”

The people got up early the next morning to sacrifice burnt offerings and peace offerings. After this, they celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry.

The Lord told Moses, “Quick! Go down the mountain! Your people whom you brought from the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. How quickly they have turned away from the way I commanded them to live! They have melted down gold and made a calf, and they have bowed down and sacrificed to it. They are saying, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.’”

Then the Lord said, “I have seen how stubborn and rebellious these people are. 10 Now leave me alone so my fierce anger can blaze against them, and I will destroy them. Then I will make you, Moses, into a great nation.”

11 But Moses tried to pacify the Lord his God. “O Lord!” he said. “Why are you so angry with your own people whom you brought from the land of Egypt with such great power and such a strong hand? 12 Why let the Egyptians say, ‘Their God rescued them with the evil intention of slaughtering them in the mountains and wiping them from the face of the earth’? Turn away from your fierce anger. Change your mind about this terrible disaster you have threatened against your people! 13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.[a] You bound yourself with an oath to them, saying, ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven. And I will give them all of this land that I have promised to your descendants, and they will possess it forever.’”

14 So the Lord changed his mind about the terrible disaster he had threatened to bring on his people.

15 Then Moses turned and went down the mountain. He held in his hands the two stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant.[b] They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. 16 These tablets were God’s work; the words on them were written by God himself.

17 When Joshua heard the boisterous noise of the people shouting below them, he exclaimed to Moses, “It sounds like war in the camp!”

18 But Moses replied, “No, it’s not a shout of victory nor the wailing of defeat. I hear the sound of a celebration.”

19 When they came near the camp, Moses saw the calf and the dancing, and he burned with anger. He threw the stone tablets to the ground, smashing them at the foot of the mountain. 20 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.

21 Finally, he turned to Aaron and demanded, “What did these people do to you to make you bring such terrible sin upon them?”

22 “Don’t get so upset, my lord,” Aaron replied. “You yourself know how evil these people are. 23 They said to me, ‘Make us gods who will lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.’ 24 So I told them, ‘Whoever has gold jewelry, take it off.’ When they brought it to me, I simply threw it into the fire—and out came this calf!”

25 Moses saw that Aaron had let the people get completely out of control, much to the amusement of their enemies.[c] 26 So he stood at the entrance to the camp and shouted, “All of you who are on the Lord’s side, come here and join me.” And all the Levites gathered around him.

27 Moses told them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Each of you, take your swords and go back and forth from one end of the camp to the other. Kill everyone—even your brothers, friends, and neighbors.” 28 The Levites obeyed Moses’ command, and about 3,000 people died that day.

29 Then Moses told the Levites, “Today you have ordained yourselves[d] for the service of the Lord, for you obeyed him even though it meant killing your own sons and brothers. Today you have earned a blessing.”

Moses Intercedes for Israel

30 The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a terrible sin, but I will go back up to the Lord on the mountain. Perhaps I will be able to obtain forgiveness[e] for your sin.”

31 So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Oh, what a terrible sin these people have committed. They have made gods of gold for themselves. 32 But now, if you will only forgive their sin—but if not, erase my name from the record you have written!”

33 But the Lord replied to Moses, “No, I will erase the name of everyone who has sinned against me. 34 Now go, lead the people to the place I told you about. Look! My angel will lead the way before you. And when I come to call the people to account, I will certainly hold them responsible for their sins.”

35 Then the Lord sent a great plague upon the people because they had worshiped the calf Aaron had made.

Footnotes

  1. 32:13 Hebrew Israel. The names “Jacob” and “Israel” are often interchanged throughout the Old Testament, referring sometimes to the individual patriarch and sometimes to the nation.
  2. 32:15 Hebrew the two tablets of the Testimony; see note on 25:16.
  3. 32:25 Or out of control, and they mocked anyone who opposed them. The meaning of the Hebrew is uncertain.
  4. 32:29 As in Greek and Latin versions; Hebrew reads Today ordain yourselves.
  5. 32:30 Or to make atonement.

The moral is God tolerates a little negotiation, but it appears he does what he wants in the end, he is God and will deal with treason as he wishes. Today, many of the people who where against God, were culled out of the herd. Now God’s people are stronger.

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