32:1 1 When the people saw that Moses delayed 2 in coming down 3 from the mountain, they 4 gathered around Aaron and said to him, “Get up, 5 make us gods 6 that will go before us. As for this fellow Moses, 7 the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what 8 has become of him!”
32:2 So Aaron said to them, “Break off the gold earrings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 9 32:3 So all 10 the people broke off the gold earrings that were on their ears and brought them to Aaron. 32:4 He accepted the gold 11 from them, 12 fashioned 13 it with an engraving tool, and made a molten calf. 14 Then they said, “These are your gods, 15 O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”
32:5 When 16 Aaron saw this, 17 he built an altar before it, 18 and Aaron made a proclamation 19 and said, “Tomorrow will be a feast 20 to the Lord.” 32:6 So they got up early on the next day and offered up burnt offerings and brought peace offerings, and the people sat down to eat and drink, 21 and they rose up to play. 22
1 sn This narrative is an unhappy interlude in the flow of the argument of the book. After the giving of the Law and the instructions for the tabernacle, the people get into idolatry. So this section tells what the people were doing when Moses was on the mountain. Here is an instant violation of the covenant that they had just agreed to uphold. But through it all Moses shines as the great intercessor for the people. So the subject matter is the sin of idolatry, its effects and its remedy. Because of the similarities to Jeroboam’s setting up the calves in Dan and Bethel, modern critics have often said this passage was written at that time. U. Cassuto shows how the language of this chapter would not fit an Iron Age setting in Dan. Rather, he argues, this story was well enough known for Jeroboam to imitate the practice (Exodus, 407-10). This chapter can be divided into four parts for an easier exposition: idolatry (32:1-6), intercession (32:7-14), judgment (32:15-29), intercession again (32:30-33:6). Of course, these sections are far more complex than this, but this gives an overview. Four summary statements for expository points might be: I. Impatience often leads to foolish violations of the faith, II. Violations of the covenant require intercession to escape condemnation, III. Those spared of divine wrath must purge evil from their midst, and IV. Those who purge evil from their midst will find reinstatement through intercession. Several important studies are available for this. See, among others, D. R. Davis, “Rebellion, Presence, and Covenant: A Study in Exodus 32-34,” WTJ 44 (1982): 71-87; M. Greenberg, “Moses’ Intercessory Prayer,” Ecumenical Institute for Advanced Theological Studies (1978): 21-35; R. A. Hamer, “The New Covenant of Moses,” Judaism 27 (1978): 345-50; R. L. Honeycutt, Jr., “Aaron, the Priesthood, and the Golden Calf,” RevExp 74 (1977): 523-35; J. N. Oswalt, “The Golden Calves and the Egyptian Concept of Deity,” EvQ 45 (1973): 13-20.
2 tn The meaning of this verb is properly “caused shame,” meaning cause disappointment because he was not coming back (see also Judg 5:28 for the delay of Sisera’s chariots [S. R. Driver, Exodus, 349]).
3 tn The infinitive construct with the lamed (ל) preposition is used here epexegetically, explaining the delay of Moses.
4 tn Heb “the people.”
5 tn The imperative means “arise.” It could be serving here as an interjection, getting Aaron’s attention. But it might also have the force of prompting him to get busy.
6 tn The plural translation is required here (although the form itself could be singular in meaning) because the verb that follows in the relative clause is a plural verb – that they go before us).
7 tn The text has “this Moses.” But this instance may find the demonstrative used in an earlier deictic sense, especially since there is no article with it.
8 tn The interrogative is used in an indirect question (see GKC 443-44 §137.c).
9 sn B. Jacob (Exodus, 937-38) argues that Aaron simply did not have the resolution that Moses did, and wanting to keep peace he gave in to the crowd. He also tries to explain that Aaron was wanting to show their folly through the deed. U. Cassuto also says that Aaron’s request for the gold was a form of procrastination, but that the people quickly did it and so he had no alternative but to go through with it (Exodus, 412). These may be right, since Aaron fully understood what was wrong with this, and what the program was all about. The text gives no strong indication to support these ideas, but there are enough hints from the way Aaron does things to warrant such a conclusion.
10 tn This “all” is a natural hyperbole in the narrative, for it means the large majority of the people.
11 tn Here “the gold” has been supplied.
12 tn Heb “from their hand.”
13 tn The verb looks similar to יָצַר (yatsar), “to form, fashion” by a plan or a design. That is the verb used in Gen 2:7 for Yahweh God forming the man from the dust of the ground. If it is here, it is the reverse, a human – the dust of the ground – trying to form a god or gods. The active participle of this verb in Hebrew is “the potter.” A related noun is the word יֵצֶּר (yetser), “evil inclination,” the wicked designs or intent of the human heart (Gen 6:5). But see the discussion by B. S. Childs (Exodus [OTL], 555-56) on a different reading, one that links the root to a hollow verb meaning “to cast out of metal” (as in 1 Kgs 7:15).
14 sn The word means a “young bull” and need not be translated as “calf” (although “calf” has become the traditional rendering in English). The word could describe an animal three years old. Aaron probably made an inner structure of wood and then, after melting down the gold, plated it. The verb “molten” does not need to imply that the image was solid gold; the word is used in Isa 30:22 for gold plating. So it was a young bull calf that was overlaid with gold, and the gold was fashioned with the stylus.
15 tn The word could be singular here and earlier; here it would then be “this is your god, O Israel.” However, the use of “these” indicates more than one god was meant by the image. But their statement and their statue, although they do not use the holy name, violate the first two commandments.
16 tn The preterite with the vav (ו) consecutive is subordinated as a temporal clause to the next preterite.
17 tn The word “this” has been supplied.
18 tn “Before it” means before the deity in the form of the calf. Aaron tried to redirect their worship to Yahweh, but the people had already broken down the barrier and were beyond control (U. Cassuto, Exodus, 413).
19 tn Heb “called.”
20 sn The word is חַג (khag), the pilgrim’s festival. This was the word used by Moses for their pilgrimage into the wilderness. Aaron seems here to be trying to do what Moses had intended they do, make a feast to Yahweh at Sinai, but his efforts will not compete with the idol. As B. Jacob says, Aaron saw all this happening and tried to rescue the true belief (Exodus, 941).
21 tn The second infinitive is an infinitive absolute. The first is an infinitive construct with a lamed (ל) preposition, expressing the purpose of their sitting down. The infinitive absolute that follows cannot take the preposition, but with the conjunction follows the force of the form before it (see GKC 340 §113.e).
22 tn The form is לְצַחֵק (lÿtsakheq), a Piel infinitive construct, giving the purpose of their rising up after the festal meal. On the surface it would seem that with the festival there would be singing and dancing, so that the people were celebrating even though they did not know the reason. W. C. Kaiser says the word means “drunken immoral orgies and sexual play” (“Exodus,” EBC 2:478). That is quite an assumption for this word, but is reflected in some recent English versions (e.g., NCV “got up and sinned sexually”; TEV “an orgy of drinking and sex”). The word means “to play, trifle.” It can have other meanings, depending on its contexts. It is used of Lot when he warned his sons-in-law and appeared as one who “mocked” them; it is also used of Ishmael “playing” with Isaac, which Paul interprets as mocking; it is used of Isaac “playing” with his wife in a manner that revealed to Abimelech that they were not brother and sister, and it is used by Potiphar’s wife to say that her husband brought this slave Joseph in to “mock” them. The most that can be gathered from these is that it is playful teasing, serious mocking, or playful caresses. It might fit with wild orgies, but there is no indication of that in this passage, and the word does not mean it. The fact that they were festive and playing before an idol was sufficient.