The Golden Calf
32 Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, they gathered together before Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a [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.” 2 So Aaron replied to them, “Take off the gold rings that are in the ears of your wives, your sons and daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off the gold rings that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 And he took the gold from their hands, and fashioned it with an engraving tool and made it into a molten [b]calf; and they said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” 5 Now when Aaron saw the molten calf, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation, and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord!” 6 So they got up early the next day and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; then the people sat down to eat and drink, and got up to play [shamefully—without moral restraint].
7 Then the Lord said 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 themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!’” 9 The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are a stiff-necked (stubborn, rebellious) people. 10 Now therefore, let Me alone and do not interfere, so that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you (your descendants) a great nation.”
11 But Moses appeased and entreated the Lord his God, and said, “Lord, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil [intent] their God brought them out to kill them in the mountains and destroy them from the face of the earth’? Turn away from Your burning anger and change Your mind about harming Your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel (Jacob), Your servants to whom You swore [an oath] 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.’” 14 So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He had said He would do to His people.
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—they were written on one side and on the other. 16 The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God engraved on the tablets. 17 Now when Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a sound of battle in the camp.” 18 But Moses said,
“It is not the sound of the cry of victory,
Nor is it the sound of the cry of defeat;
But I hear the sound of singing.”
19 And as soon as he approached the camp and he saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned; and he threw the tablets from his hands and smashed them at the foot of the mountain. 20 Then Moses took the calf they had made and burned it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and scattered it on the surface of the water and made the Israelites drink it.
21 Then Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you, that you have brought so great a sin on them?” 22 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 us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 24 I said to them, ‘Let whoever has gold [jewelry], take it off.’ So they gave it to me; then I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.”
25 Now when Moses saw that the people were out of control—for Aaron had let them get out of control to the point of being an object of mockery among their enemies— 26 then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, “Whoever is on the Lord’s side, come to me!” And all the sons of Levi [the priestly tribe] gathered together to him. 27 He said to them, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘Every man strap his sword on his thigh and go back and forth from gate to gate throughout the camp, and every man kill his brother, and every man his friend, and every man his neighbor [all who continue pagan worship].’” 28 So the sons of Levi did as Moses instructed, and about three thousand men of the people [of Israel] were killed that day. 29 Then Moses said [to the Levites], “Dedicate yourselves today to the Lord—for each man has been against his own son and his own brother [in his attempt to escape execution]—so that He may restore and bestow His blessing on you this day.”
30 Then the next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a great sin. 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, “Oh, these people have committed a great sin [against You], and have made themselves a god of gold. 32 Yet now, if You will, forgive their sin—and if not, please blot me out of Your book which You have written (kill me)!” 33 But the Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book [not you].(A) 34 But now go, lead the people [to the place] where I have told you. Behold, My [c]Angel shall go before you; nevertheless, in the day when I punish, I will punish them for their sin!”(B) 35 So the Lord struck the people with a plague, because of what they had done with the calf which Aaron had made [for them].
- Exodus 32:1 Elohim in the Hebrew, a plural Hebrew form used most often to refer to the true God. It can also mean “gods,” which is an option here, but the account of the golden calf incident implies that the people wanted a single idol (see 32:4 and note). Assuming that they had just one idol in mind, it may be that the Israelites were demanding an idol representing God (Elohim) Himself.
- Exodus 32:4 The selection of a calf-god was probably inspired by the Egyptian bull-god Apis (Hapis), believed to be a living manifestation of the Egyptian god, Ptah.
- Exodus 32:34 “Angel” has been capitalized here to reflect the likelihood that it is God appearing in a visible form (see note Gen 16:7).