“Then Moses returned to the Lord, and said, “Alas, this people has committed a great sin, and they have made a god of gold for themselves. But now, if You will, forgive their sin—and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written!” (Exodus 32:31-32)
Although Aaron was involved with the Children Of Israel’s fall into idolatry, being the one who had constructed the Golden Calf, Moses had absolutely nothing to do with the incident. In fact, he was high atop Mt. Sinai, receiving the words of the Lord, while the people danced and bowed before their new “god” in the valley down below. Nonetheless, Moses identified himself with his people and entreated God on their behalf.
“Then the Lord spoke to Moses, “Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves.” (Exodus 32:7)
“Then Moses entreated the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?” (Exodus 32:11)
God stated to Moses that the people which he had brought out of Egypt had corrupted themselves. Moses responded that they were God’s people and that God had brought them out of Egypt. In this, Moses was reaffirming that it was entirely the work of the Lord which had brought them out of the land of bondage and that they, as a people, were entirely dependent upon God’s continued guidance in order to reach their destination.
The Lord told Moses to leave Him alone so that His anger would burn against the people so that he may destroy them (v. 10). But Moses did not leave Him alone. He pleaded their cause before the Lord and interceded on their behalf. Moses defended God’s reputation by suggesting that the Egyptians would mock the Lord if He destroyed them in the wilderness (v. 12) and He reminded God of His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (v. 13). We are told in verse 14 that the Lord “changed His mind.”
The sin of the people was not, however, without consequence. Moses burned the idol with fire and poured the melted gold into the drinking water, forcing the people to drink the bitterness of their transgression. Moses called to himself all who were on the Lord’s side and the Levites came to him. Then Moses instructed them to draw their swords and kill, presumably, those who persisted in their sinfulness and failed to turn back to God. Approximately 3,000 Israelites lost their lives that day (v. 28). Additionally, God told Moses that He would punish the rest of the guilty people at a later time (v. 34).
In this incident, we catch our first glimpse of the propensity for turning away from God which will plague the Israelites throughout their history. This is definitely not the last time we see them dabbling in idolatry! Yet in this incident we also witness a change in Moses, a maturing of his character as he is shaped more into the image of the Lord. God’s anger burned against the sinful people, and so did Moses’ anger. Verse 19 tells us that, like the Lord, Moses’ anger burned as he threw the Tablets of the Law and shattered them; just as the Israelites had broken the precepts of the Law, so did Moses break the stones upon which they were written. As Moses came closer to God, he began to love that which God loves and hate that which He hates. If we belong to the Lord, then we ought to love those whom He loves and we should detest the sin which offends Him. Our anger should burn against that which angers God.
And in Moses’ offer to have the Lord blot his own name out of the Book of Life, we see a type of the Lord Jesus Christ in His own willingness to give Himself for His people. The Apostle Paul also reflected the same sentiment in his expression of love for his Jewish countrymen when he wrote to the Romans:
“For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises” (Romans 9:3-4)
Moses’ response to the sin of his people was in all ways appropriate and commendable. Aaron, though guilty, sought to avoid the anger of the Lord and Moses by shifting the blame away from himself, even going so far as offering up the ridiculous explanation that he threw the gold into the fire and the Golden Calf walked out on its own (v. 24). Moses, though innocent, took his place as a leader of the people and willingly offered himself on their behalf.
To God goes all glory. In service to Him,
**Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission.
[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?”]