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, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 2 So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” 5 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 And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.
-That last word is indeed “play”, easy to miss and think it says “pray”. They were going to have a celebration! Aaron must have known better but was interested in crowd control. He saw a riot coming and did what he thought he had to do. He may not have thought it was that big of a deal, all he was doing was giving the people an image they can see of the God that helped them because He wasn’t around at the time. Perhaps he assumed the 2nd commandment only meant other Gods and thought it was fine to make an image of the one true God. Regardless, this was a huge affront and its crazy to think how the Israelites could have possibly forgotten all the miraculous things they had just witnessed. There must have been Spiritual warfare going on that the people had no understanding of, how could they be so foolish? In 46 days, only a day before Moses would return, the people could not stand it anymore and Aaron did what he thought he had to do to maintain order. Remember Moses, Joshua, and 70 elders went up a ways then only Moses and Joshua went further up for seven days then Moses went to the top alone for 40 days. It can’t be an accident that the day after the crafting of the golden calf would be a feast and the day Moses happened to come down. This is a good lesson in impatience. We must wait on our leaders and sometimes it seems they are taking forever and we don’t understand. We can take matters into our own hands and get into a whole mess of trouble.
7 And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. 8 They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” 9 And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. 10 Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.”
-Although the gods that were crafted were intended to be the real God, this was every bit an abomination that incurred God’s wrath because they were misidentifying who He is and He must punish it. This is the whole reason all the rituals and even the high priests garments were given such specific instructions, otherwise God would be misrepresented. This is why a priest could be killed for performing the ritual in any wrong way. Now God is prepared to kill the whole nation of Israel and start over from Moses’ descendants.
11 But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” 14 And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.
-What boldness Moses’ shows but his logic is sound. Egypt and the rest of the world will think of Him a cruel God to rescue His people only to kill them in the desert and while Moses is a descendant so technically the promise of Abraham will still be kept, it would be more accurate to say Moses was the father of Israel if God went ahead with this plan. Keep in mind of course, Moses was not actually arguing and convincing God that he was right, although he may have thought so, God knows all and is perfect. He did not “lose His temper” and almost do something foolish, this was a test for Moses. Moses had spent enough time with God to understand who God is and His argument is based on telling God essentially “this is not like your nature”. Every interaction God has with man is for the growth of man to be more like God. While writing the two tablets, God was also growing Moses further into a leader after His own heart and this declaration was a test.
15 Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets that were written on both sides; on the front and on the back they were written. 16 The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.
-Just like with “finger of God” last chapter, these statements seem to be suggesting rather clearly that God literally wrote the tablets, they weren’t dictated for Moses to write down. We don’t know what Moses did all those 40 days and 40 nights up there but it seems he did not do any writing. It was all given.
17 When Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a noise of war in the camp.” 18 But he said, “It is not the sound of shouting for victory, or the sound of the cry of defeat, but the sound of singing that I hear.”
-Remember, Joshua was not with Moses the 40 days and 40 nights but at a lower level by himself that whole time. He and Moses had gone up with 70 elders but the two went further up and the Joshua was left behind alone as Moses went the rest of the way to the top. Joshua shows great loyalty to wait this whole time because as far as we know from scripture, he did not know how long Moses would take. Why wouldn’t he go up looking for him or give up and return to the people? Joshua’s patience is a sign of a future great leader.
19 And as soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. 20 He took the calf that they had made and burned it with fire and ground it to powder and scattered it on the water and made the people of Israel drink it.
-Moses truly was becoming more like God because his reaction seems fitting for how God reacted. It reminds me to of when Jesus chased the money lenders out of the temple with a whip. Tradition explains Moses was startled and accidentally dropped the tablets (maybe not too unlike Mel Brook’s History of the World Part I) but Moses already knew what was going on and it says he “threw the tablets out of his hands”. Sounds pretty intentional to me. He seemed to be reacting in anger just like God did when He said that He wanted to start over with Moses. Moses consciously seemed to decide the people did not deserve what was on the tablets and set out to punish them by making them drink water contaminated with gold powder.
21 And Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you have brought such a great sin upon them?” 22 And Aaron said, “Let not the anger of my lord burn hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil. 23 For they said to me, ‘Make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 24 So I said to them, ‘Let any who have gold take it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.”
-What a little weasel! “I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf”??? Sure, Aaron. It just happened by magic right? A real miracle! Perhaps that what he told the people so they would believe him but he would not even take responsibility for crafting it himself.
25 And when Moses saw that the people had broken loose (for Aaron had let them break loose, to the derision of their enemies), 26 then Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said, “Who is on the Lord’s side? Come to me.” And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. 27 And he said to them, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘Put your sword on your side each of you, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill his brother and his companion and his neighbor.’” 28 And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And that day about three thousand men of the people fell. 29 And Moses said, “Today you have been ordained for the service of the Lord, each one at the cost of his son and of his brother, so that he might bestow a blessing upon you this day.”
-I bet you did not hear this story in Sunday school! Moses called the Levites over, the one’s who would be the priests, and commanded them to kill their brothers as well as their friends and neighbors. Basically, he commanded all Levites to cut off any ties that might influence their priestly duties. By numbers, 3,000 out of a population that included 603,550 men able to be soldiers, it wasn’t that much. Still a bunch of Levites who would be priests went around camp and murdered their family and friends! This is definitely one the skeptics enjoy using to disprove the compassionate nature of God and the truth of any of this in general. But didn’t Jesus Himself say in Luke 14:26, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sister, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” The people the Levites killed were likely other Levites. All Levites were commanded to become priests and so if they did not follow Moses when he called them, they were disobeying God. Tribes likely stuck to themselves and there is no mention of what was done to other Levites who did not comply so all 3,000 were likely killed right here so that all Levites were now to become priests. Bare in mind, God was ready to kill them all and they all deserve death certainly for making the golden calf so the fact that only 3,000 died who were likely all Levites who were rejecting God is quite a mercy. This of course doesn’t mean we need to go around killing our families if we want to be Christian. The word “hate” is not hate in the sense of anger but rather in the sense that you with something didn’t exist. Hate is the opposite of love and depending on the relationship, love means either sacrifice or obedience. If a person is obeying someone contrary to God, they are not loving God and need to cut ties with this person so that they can obey God. This also doesn’t mean people can’t have families. Very often, loving your family is the same as loving God, it’s if you friends and family are not willing to follow God as well is when you should “hate” them and cut off ties with them. So here, these other Levites were refusing to follow God. Since they are Israelites and have nowhere else to go, they were killed since the Levites who were obedient could exactly leave.
30 The next day Moses said to the people, “You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” 31 So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. 32 But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.”
-”blot me out of your book that you have written” seems to imply Moses knows about the book of life which is mentioned only in Psalm 69:28, Philippians 4:3, and various times in the Book of Revelation. Many could use this to argue that Moses did indeed write the Pentateuch because he was given knowledge of the future and other mysteries. If Moses does indeed understand this, Moses is taking responsibility as a leader and is even willing to give up his place in heaven because of the sin of the people he leads. This is also a statement that seems to prove before Jesus, righteous men were saved and will appear in heaven in the new earth. How Moses became saved and what the requirements are not mentioned here. We know Abraham had faith in God and it was counted as righteousness and only the righteous can get into heaven. We also know God does not change so the same faith needed to believe in Christ now is the same faith that saved back then. Even though they did not know how, they still had to believe God loved them and God would find a way to forgive their sins. Moses is asking for atonement and offering himself as a sacrifice for his people, just like Jesus, this proves his righteousness beyond any doubt. Not a lack of sin of course, but the faith that God desires to see. After all, if every man is given a chance, how could a person be saved if they go their whole life never hearing of Jesus? They are judged the same way everyone before Jesus was judged, not by deeds since everyone is a sinner, but by faith.
33 But the Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book. 34 But now go, lead the people to the place about which I have spoken to you; behold, my angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them.” 35 Then the Lord sent a plague on the people, because they made the calf, the one that Aaron made.
-God basically tells Moses that it is His job to deal with the problem, not Moses. Of course He does in the role of Jesus Christ for all sin later. For now, He cannot wipe out all the people but He also cannot punish such a huge sin and so a plague is visited. It does not say, but it can be assumed people died as a result of this.