Bible Commentary

Exodus 32

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

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(Read all of Exodus 32)

Verse 1

[1] And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.

Up, make us gods which shall go before us. They were weary of waiting for the promised land. They thought themselves detained too long at mount Sinai. They had a God that stayed with them, but they must have a God to go before them to the land flowing with milk and honey. They were weary of waiting for the return of Moses: As for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of Egypt, we know not what is become of him - Observe how slightly they speak of his person, this Moses: And how suspiciously of his delay, we know not what is become of him. And they were weary of waiting for a divine institution of religious worship among them, so they would have a worship of their own invention, probably such as they had seen among the Egyptians. They say, make us gods which shall go before us. Gods! How many would they have? Is not one sufficient? And what good would gods of their own making do them? They must have such Gods to go before them as could not go themselves farther than they were carried!

Verse 2

[2] And Aaron said unto them, Break off the golden earrings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them unto me.

And Aaron said break off the golden ear-rings — We do not find that he said one word to discountenance their proposal. Some suppose, that when Aaron bid them break off their ear-rings, he did it with design to crush the proposal, believing that, though their covetousness would have let them do it, yet their pride would not have suffered them to part with them.

Verse 3

[3] And all the people brake off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them unto Aaron.

And all the people brake off their ear-rings — Which Aaron melted down, and, having a mold prepared, poured the melted gold into it, and then produced it in the shape of an ox or calf, giving it some finishing strokes with a graving tool.

Verse 5

[5] And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, To morrow is a feast to the LORD.

And Aaron built an altar before it, and proclaimed a feast — A feast of dedication; yet he calls it a feast to Jehovah; for, as brutish as they were, they did not design to terminate their adoration in the image; but they made it for a representation of the true God, whom they intended to worship in and through this image. And yet this did not excuse them from gross idolatry, no more than it will excuse the Papists, whose plea it is, that they do not worship the image, but God by the image; so making themselves just such idolaters as the worshippers of the golden calf, whose feast was a feast to Jehovah, and proclaimed to be so, that the most ignorant and unthinking might not mistake it.

Verse 6

[6] And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.

And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered sacrifice to this new made deity. And the people sat down to eat and drink of the remainder of what was sacrificed, and then rose up to play - To play the fool, to play the wanton. It was strange that any of the people, especially so great a number of them, should do such a thing. Had they not, but the other day, 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? - Yet They made a calf in Horeb, the very place where the law was given It was especially strange that Aaron should be so deeply concerned, should make the calf and proclaim the feast! Is this Aaron the saint of the Lord! Is this he that had not only seen, but had been employed in summoning the plagues of Egypt, and the judgments executed upon the gods of the Egyptians? What! And yet himself copying out the abandoned idolatries of Egypt? How true is it, that the law made them priests which had infirmity, and needed first to offer for their own sins?

Verse 8

[8] They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.

They have turned aside quickly — Quickly after the law was given them, and they had promised to obey it; quickly after God had done such great things for them, and declared his kind intentions to do greater.

Verse 9

[9] And the LORD said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people:

It is a stiff-necked people — Unapt to come under the yoke of the divine law, averse to all good, and prone to evil, obstinate to the methods of cure.

Verse 10

[10] Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation.

Let me alone — What did Moses, or what could he do, to hinder God from consuming them? When God resolves to abandon a people, and the decree is gone forth, no intercession can prevent it. But God would thus express the greatness of his displeasure, after the manner of men, who would have none to interceed for those they resolve to be severe with. Thus also he would put an honour upon prayer, intimating, that nothing but the intercession of Moses could save them from ruin, that he might be a type of Christ, by whose mediation alone God would reconcile the world unto himself.

Verse 11

[11] And Moses besought the LORD #1# his God, and said, LORD, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand?

And Moses besought the Lord his God — If God would not be called the God of Israel, yet he hoped he might address him as his own God. Now Moses is standing in the gap to turn away the wrath of God. Psalms 106:23. He took the hint which God gave him when he said, Let me alone, which, though it seemed to forbid his interceding, did really encourage it, by shewing what power the prayer of faith hath with God.

Verse 12

[12] Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people.

Turn from thy fierce wrath — Not as if he thought God were not justly angry, but he begs that he would not be so greatly angry as to consume them. Let mercy rejoice against judgment; repent of this evil - Change the sentence of destruction into that of correction, against thy people which thou broughtest up out of Egypt - For whom thou hast done so great things? Wherefore should the Egyptians say, For mischief did he bring them out - Israel is dear to Moses, as his kindred, as his charge; but it is the glory of God that he is most concerned for. If Israel could perish without any reproach to God's name, Moses could persuade himself to sit down contented; but he cannot bear to hear God reflected on; and therefore this he insists upon, Lord, What will the Egyptians say? They will say, God was either weak, and could not, or fickle, and would not compleat the salvation he begun.

Verse 13

[13] Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever.

Remember Abraham — Lord, if Israel be cut off, what will become of the promise?

Verse 14

[14] And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.

And the Lord repented of the evil he thought to do — Though he designed to punish them, yet he would not ruin them. See here, the power of prayer, God suffers himself to be prevailed with by humble believing importunity. And see the compassion of God towards poor sinners, and how ready he is to forgive.

Verse 15

[15] And Moses turned, and went down from the mount, and the two tables of the testimony were in his hand: the tables were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other were they written.

On both their sides — Some on one table and some on the other, so that they were folded together like a book, to be deposited in the ark.

Verse 16

[16] And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables.

The writing of God — Very probably the first writing in the world.

Verse 19

[19] And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses' anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount.

He saw the calf, and the dancing, and his anger waxed hot — It is no breach of the law of meekness to shew our displeasure at wickedness. Those are angry and sin not, that are angry at sin only. Moses shewed himself angry, both by breaking the tables, and burning the calf, that he might by these expressions of a strong passion awaken the people to a sense of the greatness of their sin. He broke the tables before their eyes, as it is Deuteronomy 9:17, that the sight of it might fill them with confusion when they saw what blessings they had lost. The greatest sign of God's displeasure against any people is his taking his law from them.

Verse 20

[20] And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and strawed it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it.

He burnt the calf — Melted it down, and then filed it to dust; and that the powder to which it was reduced might he taken notice of throughout the camp, he strawed it upon the water which they all drank of. That it might appear that an idol is nothing in the world, he reduced this to atoms, that it might be as near nothing as could be.

Verse 21

[21] And Moses said unto Aaron, What did this people unto thee, that thou hast brought so great a sin upon them?

What did this people unto thee — He takes it for granted that it must needs be something more than ordinary that prevailed with Aaron to do such a thing? Did they overcome thee by importunity, and hadst thou so little resolution as to yield to popular clamour! Did they threaten to stone thee, and couldest not thou have opposed God's threatenings to theirs?

Verse 23

[23] For they said unto me, Make us gods, which shall go before us: for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.

They said, make us Gods — It is natural to us to endeavour thus to transfer our guilt. He likewise extenuates his own share in the sin, as if he had only bid them break off their gold, intending but to make a hasty essay for the present, and childishly insinuates that when he cast the gold into the fire, it came out either by accident, or by the magic art of some of the mixt multitude (as the Jewish writers dream) in this shape. This was all Aaron had to say for himself, and he had better have said nothing, for his defence did but aggravate his offence; and yet as sin did abound, grace did much more abound.

Verse 25

[25] And when Moses saw that the people were naked; (for Aaron had made them naked unto their shame among their enemies: #1#

The people were naked — Stript of their armour, and liable to insults.

Verse 26

[26] Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the LORD's side? let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him.

Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, the place of judgment; and said, Who is on the Lord's side? - The idolaters had set up the golden calf for their standard, and now Moses sets up his in opposition to them.

Verse 27

[27] And he said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour.

Slay every man his brother — That is, Slay all those that you know to have been active for the making and worshipping of the golden calf, though they were your nearest relations or dearest friends. Yet it should seem they were to slay those only whom they found abroad in the street of the camp; for it might be hoped that those who were retired into their tents were ashamed of what they had done.

Verse 28

[28] And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men.

And there fell of the people that day about three thousand men — Probably these were but few in comparison with the many that were guilty; but these were the men that headed the rebellion, and were therefore picked out to be made examples of; for terror to others.

Verse 31

[31] And Moses returned unto the LORD, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold.

Oh, this people have sinned a great sin — God had first told him of it, Exodus 32:7, and now he tells God of it by way of lamentation. He doth not call them God's people, he knew they were unworthy to be called so, but this people. This treacherous ungrateful people, they have made them gods of gold.

Verse 32

[32] Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin--; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.

If not — If the decree be gone forth, and there is no remedy but they must be ruined, blot me, I pray thee out of the book which thou hast written - That is, out of the book of life. If all Israel must perish, I am content to perish with them. This expression may be illustrated from Romans 9:3. For I could wish myself to be an anathema from Christ, for my brethren's sake. Does this imply no more than not enjoying Canaan? Not that Moses absolutely desired this, but only comparatively expresses his vehement zeal for God's glory, and love to his people, signifying, that the very thought of their destruction, and the dishonour of God, was so intolerable to him, that he rather wishes, if it were possible, that God would accept of him, as a sacrifice in their stead, and by his utter destruction, prevent so great a mischief.

Verse 33

[33] And the LORD said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book.

Whosoever hath sinned, him will I blot out of my book — The soul that sins shall die, and not the innocent for the guilty.

Verse 34

[34] Therefore now go, lead the people unto the place of which I have spoken unto thee: behold, mine Angel shall go before thee: nevertheless in the day when I visit I will visit their sin upon them.

My angel shall go before them — Some created angel that was employed in the common services of his kingdom, which intimated that they were not to expect any thing for the future to be done for them out of the common road of providence.

When I visit — Hereafter he shall see cause to punish them for other sins, I will visit for this among the rest. From hence the Jews have a saying, that from hence-forward no judgment fell upon Israel, but there was in it an ounce of the powder of the golden calf.

Verse 35

[35] And the LORD plagued the people, because they made the calf, which Aaron made.

And the Lord plagued the people — Probably by the pestilence, or some other infectious disease. Thus Moses prevailed for a mitigation of the punishment, but could not wholly turn away the wrath of God.

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