King James Bible
with Catholic Commentary by George Leo Haydock

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Exodus 32

The people cause Aaron to make a golden calf. (1-6) God’s displeasure, The intercession of Moses. (7-14) Moses breaks the tables of the law, He destroys the golden calf. (15-20) Aaron’s excuse, The idolaters slain. (21-29) Moses prays for the people. (30-35)

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The people cause Aaron to make a golden calf

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.

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.

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

4 And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.

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.

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.

God’s displeasure, The intercession of Moses

7 And the LORD said unto Moses, Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves:

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.

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

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.

11 And Moses besought the LORD 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?

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.

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.

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

Moses breaks the tables of the law, He destroys the golden calf

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.

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

17 And when Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said unto Moses, There is a noise of war in the camp.

18 And he said, It is not the voice of them that shout for mastery, neither is it the voice of them that cry for being overcome: but the noise of them that sing do I hear.

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.

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.

Aaron’s excuse, The idolaters slain

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

22 And Aaron said, Let not the anger of my lord wax hot: thou knowest the people, that they are set on mischief.

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.

24 And I said unto them, Whosoever hath any gold, let them break it off. So they gave it me: then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf.

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

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.

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.

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.

29 For Moses had said, Consecrate yourselves today to the LORD, even every man upon his son, and upon his brother; that he may bestow upon you a blessing this day.

Moses prays for the people

30 And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses said unto the people, Ye have sinned a great sin: and now I will go up unto the LORD; peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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G Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Ver. 1. Delayed. They waited perhaps about a month, with some patience; and then, becoming seditious, assembled against Aaron, and extorted from him a compliance with their impious request. He was thus guilty of a grievous crime, though the violence might extenuate it in some degree. Salien. — He was not yet ordained high priest. C. xl. 12. H. — Gods. Aaron gratified their request by the golden calf. They had the pillar to conduct them, but they wanted something new. They speak with contempt of Moses. M.

Ver. 2. And your sons. The Sept. omit this. But in the East, it was fashionable for men also to wear ear-rings. Plin. xi. 37. Judg. viii. 24. Ezec. vii. 20. Aaron hoped the people would relent at this proposal. S. Aug. q. 141.

Ver. 4. Received them, “in a purse, (as Gideon did afterwards, Judg. viii. 25,) he made a molten calf.” Jonath. — Perhaps he engraved on it the peculiar marks of the Egyptian idol, Apis; a square white spot on the forehead, and a crescent upon the side. For it is generally believed, that this calf was designed to imitate that object of worship, to which the Hebrews had been too much accustomed. Acts vii. 39. 41. S. Jer. in Ose. iv. The Egyptians adored not only the living ox, but also its image, which they kept in their temple. Porphyr. Abst. ii. Mela. i. 8. Some of the fathers think, that the head of a calf only appeared. S. Amb. Lactant. &c. The rest of the figure was perhaps human, as Osiris was represented with the head of an ox, as well as Astarte and Serapis. Monceau pretends that Aaron represented the true God, under the form of a cherub, in which he falsely asserts he had appeared on Mount Sinai, and that his fault consisted only in giving occasion of superstition to the people. But his opinion (though adopted by many Protestants, who excuse all from the guilt of idolatry, but papists. H.) has been condemned at Rome, and refuted by Visorius, &c. — Thy gods, &c. Thus spoke the infatuated ringleaders. C. — And they changed their glory, the true God, into the likeness of a calf that eateth grass. Ps. cv. 19. — They forgot God, who saved them, ib. (v. 21,) and forsook Him, (Deut. xxxii. 18,) to adore the calf. W.

Ver. 5. The Lord. The most sacred name of God is prostituted, (Judg. xvii. and xviii. Wisd. xiv. 21,) and an altar is erected to this idol; though some pretend, that Aaron meant God to be adored under this similitude. His weakness was unaccountable, and God would have slain him, had not Moses interceded. Deut. ix. 20. Those who undertake to justify him, enter not into the sentiments of God; and the offender himself pleads no excuse, but the violence of the people, v. 23. Salien. — To-morrow, when the 40 days expired, and Moses returned arrayed in terrors. H.

Ver. 6. They offered, by the hands of Aaron, to whom the Sept. refer all this. “He offered,” &c. appearing at the head of the idolaters. A Lapide insinuates, that he wished to supplant his brother in the supreme command; and after a faint resistance, became the promoter of idolatry, to ingratiate himself with the people. The Scripture lays not this, however, to his charge. C. — To eat of the victims. — To play, dancing and singing in honour of their idol, probably with many indecent gestures, as was customary on such occasions among the nations of Chanaan. H. — Tertullian (de jejunio) understands impure play. The word means also to dance, and to play on instruments of music. Ludere quæ vellem calamo permisit agresti. Virg. Ec. i. C. — Sulpitius says, the people abandoned themselves to drunkenness and gluttony, or debauchery, vinoque se & ventri dedisset. H. — They might get wine from Madian. Salien. — Foolish mirth is the daughter of gluttony, and the mother of idolatry. S. Greg. Mor. xxxi. 31. W.

Ver. 7. Thy people. They are not worthy to be styled my people; and thou didst ratify the covenant with me, in their name, and as their interpreter. They have sinned, giving way to idolatry in thought, word, and deed.

Ver. 9. And again. The Sept. omit this verse. Moses, at the first intimation of the people’s sin, fell prostrate before the Lord, to sue for pardon, and pleaded the natural weakness of an ungovernable multitude, in order to extenuate their fault. This God admits. — I see, &c. But while he seems bent on punishing them, to try his servant, he encourages him inwardly to pray with fervour. Salien.

Ver. 10. Alone. One fully determined on revenge will bear with no expostulation; whence S. Greg. (Mor. ix. 11,) and Theodoret (q. 67,) look upon this as an incitement to pray more earnestly, seeing God’s servants have such influence over Him. The mercy of God struggled with his justice, and stopped its effects. — Nation, as I promised to Abraham; or I will make thee ruler over a nation greater than this, as Moses explains it, (Deut. ix. 14,) and as the like offer is made, Num. xiv. 12. The Sam. subjoins here, “And God was likewise much irritated against Aaron, and would have destroyed him; but Moses prayed for him:” which we are assured was the case. Deut. ix. 20. C.

Ver. 11. Why, &c. Calvin here accuses Moses of arrogance, in prescribing laws to God’s justice. But S. Jerom (ep. ad Gaud.) commends his charity and “prayer, which hindered God’s power.” W.

Ver. 12. Craftily. Heb. “with a malicious design.” Moses insinuates, that the glory of God is interested not to punish the Hebrews, lest the Gentiles should blaspheme, particularly as the land of Chanaan seemed to be promised unconditionally to the posterity of Abraham, who were now, all but one, to be exterminated. H.

Ver. 13. Thy servants. Thus God honours his friends, and rewards their merits, which are the effects of his grace. W.

Ver. 14. Appeased. Yet of this Moses was not fully assured, and in effect only those who were less guilty, were reprieved to be punished afterwards, v. 30. 35. H.

Ver. 15. Both sides. The ten commandments were written twice over, or on both sides, that all who stood round Moses, might be able to read them. M. — On one side, appeared the laws regarding God; on the other, those which relate to man. H. — They were like two originals. The common way of writing was only on one side. C.

Ver. 17. Josue, who was waiting for Moses lower down on the mountain. C. xxiv. 13.

Ver. 18. Cry, &c. Heb. “the cry answering strength…or…weakness,” which the Vulgate elucidates. — Singers. Sept. “I hear the cry of those who contend for pre-eminence in wine,” or over their cups. H.

Ver. 19. Mount. “Finding the people abandoned to luxury and sacrilege, he broke the tables, deeming it a nation unworthy to be entrusted with the law of God.” Sulpit. i. 33. By this action, Moses foreshewed the dissolution of the covenant with the Jews, that the new covenant might take place. S. Aug. q. 144. The Jews kept the 17th of the fourth month as a fast, in memory of this event. S. Jer. in Zac. viii.

Ver. 20. Calf. Having manifested his disapprobation of the people’s conduct, in the most signal manner, by breaking the two tables; Moses proceeds to convince them of their stupidity, in adoring what he, in a few minutes, reduces to powder. H. — He breaks the calf in pieces, after burning it, and then grinds it to dust in a mill, with files; as the Heb. Chal. and Sept. intimate. He throws it, with contempt, into the torrent, which supplied the camp with water, and thus caused the idolaters to swallow their god. T. — Sa assures us, that he saw an alchymist pulverize gold, which Abenezra says is done by means of some herbs, which turn the gold quite black, when it is melted. C. — Some use aquafortis for this purpose. T. — But from the account of Moses, (Deut. ix. 21,) it seems fire, and the mille, or file, reduced the gold into the smallest particles, so as to be even potable. Josephus (viii. 2,) mentions the gold dust used by the courtiers of Solomon. C.

Ver. 22. Evil. Aaron answers his younger brother with humility, being now touched with repentance; on which account, God still grants him the high priesthood. H.

Ver. 24. Came out. The Rabbins pretend alive, and able to walk. Hence they say Aaron was filled with astonishment, and induced to erect the altar in its honour. R. Salomo and Burgens. But these are Jewish fables, injurious to God, and invented to hide, in some degree, the shame of their ancestors. For the same reason, Josephus passes over the whole in silence, and Philo throws the blame on a few Egyptian converts. They might very probably be the ringleaders, as Num. xi. 4. But the Hebrews in general readily gave in to the delusion. 1 Cor. x. 7. H.

Ver. 25. Naked. Having lost not only their gold, and their honour, but what was worst of all, being stripped also of the grace of God, and having lost him. — The shame of the filth. That is, of the idol, which they had taken for their god. It is the usual phrase of the Scripture to call idols filth, and abominations. Ch. — Of the filth, is not in Heb. But it serves to explain how the Hebrews came to be so unprotected and disconcerted. See 2 Par. xxviii. 19.

Ver. 26. All the sons; that is, the great majority of them; for some were probably slain, v. 29.

Ver. 28. About, &c. The Heb. letter c means about, and stands also for twenty. All the versions, and some copies of the Vulg. retain the first signification; but our edition gives also the second. Sixtus V. and the Louvain Bible have about 33,000. H. — S. Paul (1 Cor. x. 7. 8,) mentions, that three and twenty thousand perished, in punishment of their fornication (with the Moabites), which some explain of the adoration of the calf, and say that Moses only specifies those slain by the Levites; while S. Paul gives the number of all those who perished by the hand of God on this occasion, v. 35. C. — S. Cyril, Alex. glap. 2, Sulpit. and many other fathers, agree with the Vulgate. The fornication with the Moabites, was followed by the death of 24,000. Num. xxv. 9. So that S. Paul cannot refer to it, unless he only mention those who perished in one day; and Moses expresses the total amount of the slain during the whole affair. H.

Ver. 29. To you. Thus they merited the priesthood, and a blessing; (Deut. xxxiii. 9. M.) having been the ministers of God’s just indignation, without sparing any of the most guilty. With these they could not be unacquainted. No external signs on their bodies were requisite to make the delinquents known. They had appeared to publicly. H. — The Levites acted with due authority and order, which their father, Levi, had neglected. Gen. xxxiv. W.

Ver. 30. You. Many who had not been slain, had followed the bad example, and Aaron, in particular, had brought upon them a most heinous sin. v. 21. Yet on account of their repentance, they were not subjected to immediate punishment; but they were visited afterwards, v. 34. Though God was appeased, (v. 14,) so as not to destroy the whole multitude, Moses thought it a very arduous task to obtain a full reconciliation, notwithstanding the exemplary vengeance he had taken of the ringleaders. Hence he addresses himself to God with the greatest humility, and with such earnestness as scarcely seems justifiable, if we understand that he put his own eternal salvation at stake. But he makes an impossible supposition, or proposal, which he knew God would not admit, to extort as it were the requested favour. As he is willing to die for his people, God pardons them for his sake. S. Aug. q. 147, &c. H.

Ver. 32. The book of predestinate. S. Paul uses a similar expression, Rom. ix. 3. Neither could he really desire or consent to be accursed, even for a time. Hence their words can be understood only as an hyperbole, to denote the excess of their love for their brethren, as if a child should say to his father, pardon my brother, or kill me. T. — Some explain this book, of the law or covenant, by which Moses was appointed the prince of the Hebrews, which title he is willing to forego, with pleasure, to obtain their pardon. C. — Others understand the book, or register of the living. He is willing to die for his people. See Num. xi. 15. S. Greg. Mor. x. 7. S. Jer. ad Algas. — This sense is very good, and sufficiently expresses the fervour of Moses. Greater live than this no man hath. Jo. xv. 13.

Ver. 33. Book: him will I slay; and, if he die impenitent, I will punish him for ever. H.

Ver. 35. Struck, with some judgment, not specified; (Lyran.) or perhaps, the various punishments which were inflicted on the Hebrews in the wilderness, were all partly designed to chastise this first act of idolatry. Calmet explains this of the devastation caused by the Levites, as he supposes the narration of Moses does not deserve the order of time. He thinks Moses expostulated with the people, and was then sent by God to punish them; and while they were unarmed, (C. xxxiii. 5,) the Levites fell upon them. Then Moses removed the tabernacle out of the camp, and obtained of God that he would go before them, and not an angel only, v. 34. C. xxxiii. 17. Moses continued full forty days, standing or lying prostrate on the mount, before the Lord, to obtain the pardon of his people. Deut. ix. 25. x. 10. At the expiration of which term he returned, with an order to prepare two other tables of stone, on which, after a supplication of the same length of time, he obtained the law to be again engraven. C. xxxiv. 28. The favour cost him therefore 120 days’ earnest prayer; and yet how little are we touched with God’s mercy, in giving us his law! H.