Book of Exodus Chapter Thirty-Two Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
Judgment And Mercy
How do you feel when you don't get what you want when you want it? When your wishes are delayed, what do you do? Here's what Israel did, beginning in Verse 1: "Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron and said to him, 'Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.'" Notice their impatience, which is not so different from ours. And note their misplaced faith: They believed it was Moses who brought them out of Egypt, when in fact it was the Lord who delivered them. Now Moses was gone, along with their faith. Who provides your income? Your food, health and everything else? It is the Lord.
Moses brother, Aaron, panicked badly at this point. He was supposed to be the leader, and his people were now out of control. "Aaron said to them" in Verse 2, “Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me." When faced with an angry mob, it isn't always best to become part of the problem, which is what Aaron now did. It is true they might have torn Aaron apart if he didn't help them, and the people responded in Verse 3: "Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron." Verses 4-5 report that "He took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool and made it into a molten 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.'" Can you imagine? This man was an insider, an eyewitness who saw the hand of God miraculously deliver his nation; and yet now he betrayed his Savior. Have you done that? We all have betrayed Him, often in subtle ways not easily seen. These verses suggest that Aaron had the skills to build this "calf" and "altar" himself, and he might have directed the workmen of the preceding chapter to fashion them. Errors in judgement like his lead to bad behavior, and in Verse 6, "So the next day they rose early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play." Actually, they were "playing with fire," as the saying goes, and all were now in great danger, just as are we when we deviate from God's purpose for our lives.
You're not alone when you think you are, for God sees everything, and He may well be communicating your failures to someone likely to help you, as Moses would. In Verses 7-8: "Then the Lord spoke to Moses, 'Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. 8 They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. They have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and have sacrificed to it and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!’" As seen in places like Psalm 139:1-4, God knows our thoughts, actions and words better than we do, which is wonderful because He loves us. He won't endorse our sins, but He knows who will really trust in Him, and He watches over us, often in subtle, yet amazing ways.
Prayer is actually intended to be a dialogue, and the Lord continued in Verses 9-10: "The Lord said to Moses, 'I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. 10 Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation." God knew Moses, just as He knew Israel, and a factor here is that God is utterly holy, pure and just, not willing to abide sin in any form. Yet He is also full of love and answers prayer. He knew that Moses, this good man, would pray for the people, and he did in Verses 11-13: "Then Moses 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 the 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 swore by Yourself, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.'"
Remember these verses when you are tempted to give up and quit praying, especially Verse 14: "So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people." Note that God HEARD the prayer of Moses and He ANSWERED that prayer, changing the future of Israel in the process. And also see the prayer of Moses, who loved this rebellious people so much that he would NOT become the progenitor of the nation. When you trust in the Lord as Moses did, God will change you for the good, enabling you to even pray for the politician you dislike and the enemy who did you harm.
Verses 15-16: "Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets 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." These were the words written by God, as seen in Exodus Chapter 20. "I will show them God's Word," Moses likely thought, "and then things will be all right."
But it was not all right. Joshua, Moses' assistant, must have been at some point on the mountain on the way back to the camp, and in Verse 17, we see his concern: "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.'" Verse 18 is the response of Moses: "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.'" Joshua was right in a way...the people were at war with God, and in Verses 19-20, "It came about, as soon as Moses came near the camp, that he saw the calf and the dancing; and Moses’ anger burned, and he threw the tablets from his hands and shattered them at the foot of the mountain. 20 He 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." Moses was older now, but he still had a hot temper, and these people had become a danger to themselves and an offense to God by their actions. Moses' heart was broken and so was the Law of God. Making them drink the powdered gold was an insult, but they deserved every sip.
Verse 21 begins a dialogue between Moses and his brother: "Then Moses said to Aaron, 'What did this people do to you, that you have brought such great sin upon them?'" And notice Aaron's quick answer in Verses 22-24: "Aaron said, 'Do not let the anger of my lord burn; you know the people yourself, that they are prone to evil. 23 For they 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 I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.'" Notice that Aaron lied in two ways. First, he blamed the people for what he had done, and then he passed-off the making of the golden idol, inferring that it was some kind of miraculous event. Why didn't God destroy Aaron right on the spot? At this point, we should recall the times we have bent the truth, lying our way out of something. Why didn't God destroy US? We're all sinners, aren't we? And just like God had mercy on Aaron, he continually has mercy on you and me.
But the problem still remained, for the people were filled with rebellion. They had to learn, as we do, that "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23), and so in Verses 25-28, "Now when Moses saw that the people were out of control—for Aaron had let 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 the sons of Levi did as Moses instructed, and about three thousand men of the people fell that day." Out of death comes life, for as Romans 6:23 continues, "but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Thousands died, but millions lived, for death took their thoughts away from sin, just as the death of Christ Jesus demands our attention and rescues those who trust in the Lord.
"Then Moses said (in
'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.'" As you look around the world, every person, each family and all nations tend to be against somebody, and we who love the Lord do well when we re-dedicate ourselves to Him on a regular basis. Verse 30 continues, "On the next day Moses said to the people, 'You yourselves have committed a great sin; and now I am going up to the Lord, perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.'" Most of us have wondered, "How could a good God allow death?" The answer is that our sin is the cause of death. As in Romans 3:23 and many other places, "ALL have sinned and some short of the glory of God." And we can't deliver ourselves.
The need is not that our bodies will continue to function long after we would ordinarily die, but as it was for Moses, we must be changed inside. He became a man of prayer and we can see this changed man in Verses 31-32: "Then Moses returned to the Lord, and said, 'Alas, this people has committed a great sin, and they have made a god of gold for themselves. 32 But now, if You will, forgive their sin—and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written!'" Do you love the people you serve more than you love yourself? Moses had become that kind of person as seen in these verses, and much later in time, the same transition would occur in the heart of the Apostle Paul, who said of his people, the Jews: "I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers" (Romans 9:3). To serve others in love is to become willing, as God leads, to give up everything on their behalf.
In Verses 33-34, "The Lord said to Moses, 'Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book, 34 But go now, lead the people where I told you. Behold, My angel shall go before you; nevertheless in the day when I punish, I will punish them for their sin." reminding us again of Romans 6:23—"The wages of sin is death." This is far worse than physical death—it's the end of our hope for eternity. Now remember how Romans 6:23 continues: "But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." An example had to be made of this rebellious people, for their descendants and for everyone else, as seen in Verse 35: "Then the Lord smote the people, because of what they did with the calf which Aaron had made." Some, those who had faith, did survive. Many of the faithless would die physically as an example of God's displeasure, though He always has grace for us, but life is even more. It's a preparation for eternity, and all who have faith in the Lord will find abundant life—forever.
Father, we have sinned against You. We have lied about what we did, even to ourselves, in a vain attempt to make us look good. We are sorry, Lord. We can't change what's done. We have done it and so we ask for mercy and grace in Christ Jesus. Save us, Lord. Forgive us and give us peace. Thank You. In Jesus Name. Amen.