וַיַּרְא הָעָם כִּי־בֹשֵׁשׁ מֹשֶׁה לָרֶדֶת מִן־הָהָר וַיִּקָּהֵל הָעָם עַל־אַהֲרֹן וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו קוּם עֲשֵׂה־לָנוּ 32:1
אֱלֹהִים אֲשֶׁר יֵלְכוּ לְפָנֵינוּ כִּי־זֶה מֹשֶׁה הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱלָנוּ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לֹא יָדַעְנוּ מֶה־הָיָה לֹו
Exod. 32:1 Now the people saw that Moses was delayed coming down from the mountain and the people gathered themselves by Aaron and said to him, “Rise, make gods for us that 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.”
Exod. 32:2 And Aaron said to them, “Break off the earrings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring to me.”
Well! Aaron seems to be willing to comply without qualms or objections. Aside from the fact that we never hear about Hur again, this verse seems to constitute all of the circumstantial evidence I mentioned with regard to Exod. 31:2 for the Talmudic belief that Hur had been murdered by the people when he allegedly protested. That would help to explain why Aaron succumbed to the request so readily. He would be fearful for his life. However, I question this “evidence.” I believe that if Hur had protested and been murdered for it, it would have been deemed important enough to mention in the text. To my mind it’s much more reasonable to presume that Hur remained silent before his uncle and that silence would have shamed him to the extent that he simply shrunk away from any leadership participation. I neglected to mention when the name of Hur first appeared (Exod. 17:10), that the name means hole. Did he dig himself a hole to hide in after this incident? That would more reasonably explain his disappearance.
וַיִּתְפָּרְקוּ כָּל־הָעָם אֶת־נִזְמֵי הַזָּהָב אֲשֶׁר בְּאָזְנֵיהֶם וַיָּבִיאוּ אֶל־אַהֲרֹן 32:3
Exod. 32:3 And all the people broke off the earrings of gold that were in their ears and brought to Aaron.
וַיִּקַּח מִיָּדָם וַיָּצַר אֹתֹו בַּחֶרֶט וַיַּעֲשֵׂהוּ עֵגֶל מַסֵּכָה וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלֶּה אֱלֹהֶיךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱלוּךָ 32:4
Exod. 32:4 And he took from their hand and he formed it with an engraving tool and he made it a molten calf, and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt.”
וַיַּרְא אַהֲרֹן וַיִּבֶן מִזְבֵּחַ לְפָנָיו וַיִּקְרָא אַהֲרֹן וַיֹּאמַר חַג לַיהוָה מָחָר 32:5
Exod. 32:5 When Aaron saw, then he built an altar before it, and Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.”
Is this a well-meaning act of contrition and guilt on Aaron’s part? Had he not realized what was happening until he heard what they said (in v. 32:3)? The first Hebrew word, translated as When ... saw, can also be translated as When ... considered, or When ... perceived, or When ... observed. All of these alternative translations seem to imply that Aaron had second thoughts after hearing what the people had said. But it was too late; the damage was done.
וַיַּשְׁכִּימוּ מִמָּחֳרָת וַיַּעֲלוּ עֹלֹת וַיַּגִּשׁוּ שְׁלָמִים וַיֵּשֶׁב הָעָם לֶאֱכֹל וְשָׁתֹו וַיָּקֻמוּ לְצַחֵק 32:6
Exod. 32:6 And they rose early the next day and they offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings, and the people sat down to eat and drink, and arose to make merry.
וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֶל־מֹשֶׁה לֶךְ־רֵד כִּי שִׁחֵת עַמְּךָ אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱלֵיתָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם 32:7
Exod. 32:7 And the Lord spoke to Moses: “Go get down, for your people whom you brought up from the land of Egypt is corrupted.”
סָרוּ מַהֵר מִן־הַדֶּרֶךְ אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִם עָשׂוּ לָהֶם עֵגֶל מַסֵּכָה וַיִּשְׁתַּחֲווּ־לֹו וַיִּזְבְּחוּ־לֹו וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלֶּה 32:8
אֱלֹהֶיךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱלוּךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם
Exod. 32:8 “They have turned away quickly from the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a molten calf and have bowed down to it and have sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt.’”
וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל־מֹשֶׁה רָאִיתִי אֶת־הָעָם הַזֶּה וְהִנֵּה עַם־קְשֵׁה־עֹרֶף הוּא 32:9
Exod. 32:9 And the Lord said to Moses, “I see this people and behold, it is an obstinate people.”
Exod. 32:10 “So now leave Me, as My ‘anger’ will flare up against them and I will consume them; then I will make you into a great nation.”
This verse contains two first-person imperfect verbs with non-inverting vavs. They are the fifth and fourth words from the end, translated as and I will consume them and then I will make, respectively.
וַיְחַל מֹשֶׁה אֶת־פְּנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהָיו וַיֹּאמֶר לָמָה יְהוָה יֶחֱרֶה אַפְּךָ בְּעַמֶּךָ אֲשֶׁר הֹוצֵאתָ מֵאֶרֶץ 32:11
מִצְרַיִם בְּכֹחַ גָּדֹול וּבְיָד חֲזָקָה
Exod. 32:11 And Moses sought the attention of the Lord, his God, and he said, “Why, Lord, should Your ‘anger’ flare up at your people that You brought up out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?”
לָמָּה יֹאמְרוּ מִצְרַיִם לֵאמֹר בְּרָעָה הֹוצִיאָם לַהֲרֹג אֹתָם בֶּהָרִים וּלְכַלֹּתָם מֵעַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה שׁוּב 32:12
מֵחֲרֹון אַפֶּךָ וְהִנָּחֵם עַל־הָרָעָה לְעַמֶּךָ
Exod. 32:12 “Why should the Egyptians tell, saying, ‘He brought them out with evil intent to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth?’ Turn from Your fierce ‘fury’ and take pity on the wretchedness of Your people.”
זְכֹר לְאַבְרָהָם לְיִצְחָק וּלְיִשְׂרָאֵל עֲבָדֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּעְתָּ לָהֶם בָּךְ וַתְּדַבֵּר אֲלֵהֶם אַרְבֶּה אֶת־זַרְעֲכֶם 32:13
כְּכֹוכְבֵי הַשָּׁמָיִם וְכָל־הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת אֲשֶׁר אָמַרְתִּי אֶתֵּן לְזַרְעֲכֶם וְנָחֲלוּ לְעֹלָם
Exod. 32:13 “Think of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Israel, Your servants, what You swore to them Yourself when You said to them, ‘I will multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken, I will give to your seed and they shall inherit it for ever.’”
Exod. 32:14 And the Lord relented of the evil that He thought to do to His people.
Are we to believe from these few verses that Moses has more common sense than God? I say, no! First of all, how would Moses know better than the Lord what the Egyptians would think? Would the Lord even care what the Egyptians think? He’d humbled them, for sure. Hadn’t even Jethro known of the plagues and the parting of the Reed Sea? Secondly, if the Lord were to totally wipe all the Israelites at the base of the mountain off the face of the earth, why would His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob be compromised? Didn’t God just say He would make Moses into a great nation? Isn’t Moses a seed of theirs? So Moses’ argument appears to be inappropriate. There must be another explanation for these verses -- and this is what I think it is. I believe this whole episode of the molten calf is intended to convey and emphasize God’s disapproval of the worship of false gods, especially by the children of Israel. God is depicted as so terribly angry that only a strong argument by Moses, His faithful servant, could turn His anger aside. Lucky for us that Moses hadn’t yet left the mountain!
Exod. 32:15 And Moses turned and went down from the mountain, and two tablets of the testimony were in his hand, tablets inscribed on both their sides; inscriptions were both on one side of them and on the other side.
Is this verse familiar to the artists who depict the tablets as inscribed on only one side? Surely someone has done it right. However, if these tablets were considered holy, and they had to be since they were the work of God and were to be stored in the ark of the testimony, according to Exod. 20:4 they are not to be pictured at all.
וְהַלֻּחֹת מַעֲשֵׂה אֱלֹהִים הֵמָּה וְהַמִּכְתָּב מִכְתַּב אֱלֹהִים הוּא חָרוּת עַל־הַלֻּחֹת 32:16
Exod. 32:16 And the tablets, they were the work of God, and the writing, it was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.
וַיִּשְׁמַע יְהֹושֻׁעַ אֶת־קֹול הָעָם בְּרֵעֹה* וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל־מֹשֶׁה קֹול מִלְחָמָה בַּמַּחֲנֶה 32:17
Exod. 32:17 When Joshua heard the voice of the people shouting, then he said to Moses, “It is the noise of battle in the camp.”
Apparently Joshua was not with the people at this time. Joshua must have been close to the base of the mountain. As he knew nothing of what was going on in the camp, had he been there for the forty days and nights during which Moses was on the mountain? It’s very likely that he was.
וַיֹּאמֶר אֵין קֹול עֲנֹות גְּבוּרָה וְאֵין קֹול עֲנֹות חֲלוּשָׁה קֹול עַנֹּות אָנֹכִי שֹׁמֵעַ 32:18
Exod. 32:18 But he said, “It is not the shouts of victory and it is not the shouts of defeat. It is the sound of singing I am hearing.”
וַיְהִי כַּאֲשֶׁר קָרַב אֶל־הַמַּחֲנֶה וַיַּרְא אֶת־הָעֵגֶל וּמְחֹלֹת וַיִּחַר־אַף מֹשֶׁה וַיַּשְׁלֵךְ מִיָּדֹו אֶת־הַלֻּחֹת 32:19
וַיְשַׁבֵּר אֹתָם תַּחַת הָהָר
Exod. 32:19 And it was, as he came closer to the camp, that he saw the calf and the dancing, and the anger of Moses waxed hot and he hurled the tablets from his hand and broke them below the mountain.
וַיִּקַּח אֶת־הָעֵגֶל אֲשֶׁר עָשׂוּ וַיִּשְׂרֹף בָּאֵשׁ וַיִּטְחַן עַד אֲשֶׁר־דָּק וַיִּזֶר עַל־פְּנֵי הַמַּיִם וַיַּשְׁקְ אֶת־בְּנֵי 32:20
Exod. 32:20 And he seized the calf that they had made and burned it in a fire, ground until it was powder, and dispersed over the surface of the water that he made the children of Israel drink.
Exod. 32:21 And Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you, that you brought such a great sin upon it?”
וַיֹּאמֶר אַהֲרֹן אַל־יִחַר אַף אֲדֹנִי אַתָּה יָדַעְתָּ אֶת־הָעָם כִּי בְרָע הוּא 32:22
Exod. 32:22 And Aaron said, “Do not let the anger of my lord wax hot. You understand the people, that it is into evil.” [Return to Deut. 9:20]
וַיֹּאמְרוּ לִי עֲשֵׂה־לָנוּ אֱלֹהִים אֲשֶׁר יֵלְכוּ לְפָנֵינוּ כִּי־זֶה מֹשֶׁה הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱלָנוּ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם 32:23
לֹא יָדַעְנוּ מֶה־הָיָה לֹו
Exod. 32:23 “And they said to me, ‘Make gods for us that 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.’”
וָאֹמַר לָהֶם לְמִי זָהָב הִתְפָּרָקוּ וַיִּתְּנוּ־לִי וָאַשְׁלִכֵהוּ בָאֵשׁ וַיֵּצֵא הָעֵגֶל הַזֶּה 32:24
Exod. 32:24 “And I had to say to them, who had gold, ‘Break off!’ And they gave to me and I had to cast it into the fire, and out came this calf.”
Which is the more accurate portrayal of events, vss. 32:1 to 4 or this verse? And what of the altar mentioned in v. 32:5? Was it really intended for the worship of the Lord?
Also of considerable importance, maybe more so than the above, can you hear Aaron making it seem as if he were an innocent victim of the crowd, perhaps even ending with a hint of a calf appearing magically? Interestingly, members of the Chasidic movement believe this is the more accurate description of events. What may be even more important, there are a number of words in this verse that are normally mistranslated. Two of them are imperfect first-person verbs (with non-inverting vavs) and are typically translated as if they were perfect. The other mistranslated words are identified below. The verse is usually translated something like the following:
“And I said to them, ‘Whoever has gold, let them break it off.’ And they gave to me and I cast it into
the fire, and out came this calf.”
The first word in the verse, translated by me as And I had to say, and the third, fourth, and fifth words, translated by me as who had gold, ‘Break off!’ and the fifth word from the end, translated by me as and I had to cast it, are the troublesome words. Compare the typical translation (in which I enboldened the troublesome phrases) and mine to see the full effect, which is that Aaron is saying something different from the typical translation. He’s making it seem as if he was forced to give in to the crowd’s demands.
וַיַּרְא מֹשֶׁה אֶת־הָעָם כִּי פָרֻעַ הוּא כִּי־פְרָעֹה אַהֲרֹן לְשִׁמְצָה בְּקָמֵיהֶם 32:25
Exod. 32:25 When Moses saw the people, that it had been let loose – for Aaron had dismissed it to be denigrated by their rising up,
Exod. 32:26 then Moses stood at the gate of the camp and said, “Who is for the Lord, to me!” And all the sons of Levi gathered to him. [Return to Numb. 8:19]
In v. 32:25, there is something implied by the Hebrew that is not obvious in the translation. The word for people and its first pronoun, it, are masculine in gender. The second pronoun suffix in the word for had dismissed it is feminine, and the word for to be shamed is feminine. The implication is that at least the scribe was showing contempt for the people. Using feminine terms -- verbs, adjectives, and pronouns -- for masculine nouns (of humans) in the bible often indicates shame or contempt.
וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם כֹּה־אָמַר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל שִׂימוּ אִישׁ־חַרְבֹּו עַל־יְרֵכֹו עִבְרוּ וָשׁוּבוּ מִשַּׁעַר לָשַׁעַר 32:27
בַּמַּחֲנֶה וְהִרְגוּ אִישׁ־אֶת־אָחִיו וְאִישׁ אֶת־רֵעֵהוּ וְאִישׁ אֶת־קְרֹבֹו
Exod. 32:27 And he said to them, “Thus says the Lord, God of Israel: Put, each his sword on his thigh, and cross through and return, from gate to gate, throughout the camp, and slay, of every man, his brother and of every man, his companion, and of every man, his neighbor.”
וַיַּעֲשׂוּ בְנֵי־לֵוִי כִּדְבַר מֹשֶׁה וַיִּפֹּל מִן־הָעָם בַּיֹּום הַהוּא כִּשְׁלֹשֶׁת אַלְפֵי אִישׁ 32:28
Exod. 32:28 And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses, and about three thousand men from the people perished in that day.
וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה מִלְאוּ יֶדְכֶם הַיֹּום לַיהוָה כִּי אִישׁ בִּבְנֹו וּבְאָחִיו וְלָתֵת עֲלֵיכֶם הַיֹּום בְּרָכָה 32:29
Exod. 32:29 And Moses said, “Consecrate yourselves today to the Lord, for every man has been at his son and at his brother, that He may be bestowing a blessing upon you today.”
וַיְהִי מִמָּחֳרָת וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל־הָעָם אַתֶּם חֲטָאתֶם חֲטָאָה גְדֹלָה וְעַתָּה אֶעֱלֶה אֶל־יְהוָה אוּלַי 32:30
אֲכַפְּרָה בְּעַד חַטַּאתְכֶם
Exod. 32:30 And it was on the next day that Moses said to the people, “You have sinned a great sin, so now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement on behalf of your sins.”
וַיָּשָׁב מֹשֶׁה אֶל־יְהוָה וַיֹּאמַר אָנָּא חָטָא הָעָם הַזֶּה חֲטָאָה גְדֹלָה וַיַּעֲשׂוּ לָהֶם אֱלֹהֵי זָהָב 32:31
Exod. 32:31 And Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Oh, this people has sinned a great sin and had made for themselves gods of gold.”
וְעַתָּה אִם־תִּשָּׂא חַטָּאתָם וְאִם־אַיִן מְחֵנִי נָא מִסִּפְרְךָ אֲשֶׁר כָּתָבְתָּ 32:32
Exod. 32:32 “And now will You forgive their sin? And if You will not, blot me out, please, from Your book that You have written.”
One might imagine that the book Moses mentions in this verse is the Book of Exodus, the Book of Deutoronomy, or the entire Torah. I’m inclined to believe that Moses attributing the writing of this book to the Lord is not meant to be taken literally. I believe he means that he was inspired by the Lord to write it or have it written. If the Lord wrote it, would it contain the mistakes, although few in number, and occasional logic flaws? I think not. Perhaps what Moses means is that the Lord dictated to Moses. Then the flaws would be those of the writer.
וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל־מֹשֶׁה מִי אֲשֶׁר חָטָא־לִי אֶמְחֶנּוּ מִסִּפְרִי 32:33
Exod. 32:33 And the Lord said to Moses, “Who it is that sinned toward Me, him shall I blot out from My book.”
Exod. 32:34 “And now go! Lead the people to where I have spoken of to you. Behold, My angel will go before you. But in the day of My reckoning, then I shall visit their sin upon them.”
This angel, who has been mentioned before (Exod. 23:20 and 23:23): Is it the pillars of smoke and fire, or is it Joshua, or is it a spiritual angel who will drive out the inhabitants of Canaan? We might never know.
When the Lord says He will visit the sin of the people against them, He must be referring to the sin of the golden calf -- see the next verse. Will He also reckon this sin against Aaron (as in v. 32:33)? When is the day of the Lord’s reckoning? Is this a reference to the end of days? Or is it the end of each person’s life?
וַיִּגֹּף יְהוָה אֶת־הָעָם עַל אֲשֶׁר עָשׂוּ אֶת־הָעֵגֶל אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה אַהֲרֹן 32:35
Exod. 32:35 So the Lord had smitten the people because of what they did, the calf that Aaron made.
I believe this verse is a summary of what happened in v. 32:28, not a reference to a second slaughter by the Lord. Therefore, I translated the word for had smitten in the past perfect tense, rather than the way it is usually translated: smote.