THE PENTATEUCH PART II: EXODUS
Lesson 16: Exodus chapters 31:1-33:18
The Sabbath Obligation and The Sin of the Golden Calf

Lord of the Sabbath:
In Your mercy, O Lord, You gave Your people the Old Covenant Sabbath as a weekly call to restoration and fellowship. In the Sabbath You provided Your people with rest from physical labor and temporary freedom from the burden of sin. But in the New Covenant in Christ Jesus, the New Covenant Lord's Day offers liberation without end in the perfect sacrifice of the unblemished Lamb of God, Jesus our Savior. Your Old Covenant Sabbath was the preparation for the Gospel of salvation and the liberating power of the Eucharist! Send Your Holy Spirit, Lord, to guide us in our study of the instructions for the building of the first earthly Tabernacle, in the instructions for atonement and restoration through blood sacrifice, and the instructions for Your covenant people to serve as participants in a communal liturgy that prefigured both the Eucharistic assembly and the heavenly banquet. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Moses recalling Israel's fall from grace at Sinai: At Horeb, you provoked Yahweh, and Yahweh was so angry with you that he was ready to destroy you. I had gone up the mountain to receive the stone tablets, the tablets of the covenant that Yahweh was making with you. I stayed forty days and forty nights on the mountain, with nothing to eat or drink. Yahweh gave me the two stone tablets inscribed by the finger of God, exactly corresponding to what Yahweh had said to you on the mountain, from the heart of the fire, on the day of the Assembly. After forty days and forty nights, having given me the two stone tablets, the tablets of the covenant, Yahweh said to me, "Get up, go down quickly, for your people, whom you have brought out of Egypt, are corrupting one another. They have been quick to leave the way I marked out for them; they have cast themselves a metal idol." Deuteronomy 9:8-12

At Horeb they made a calf, bowed low before cast metal; they exchanged their glory for the image of a grass-eating bull. They forgot the God who was saving them, who had done great deeds in Egypt, such wonders in the land of Ham, such awesome deeds at the Sea of Reeds. He thought of putting an end to them, had not Moses, his chosen one, taken a stand in the breach and confronted him, to turn his anger away from destroying them. Psalm 106:19-23

The instruction for the vestments and ordination rites of the priesthood cannot help but impress the reader with the magnificence and splendor of the priestly garments as well as with the priesthood's immense mediatorial responsibilities. Read the marvelous description of the High Priest Simon II (high priest c. 220-195 BC) offering the sacrifice of the morning Tamid lamb in liturgical worship service at the Jerusalem Temple in Sirach 50:1-21/25, and re-read the list of priestly responsibilities we studied last week in Sirach 45:14-17 (17-21). In his role as God's mediator of blood sacrifice to the people and the people's representative to God, Aaron served as a "type" of Christ Jesus who is the High Priest of the New and everlasting Covenant (Heb 8:15; 9:15). What the Aaronic priesthood was not able to offer in expiation and restoration of fellowship (Heb 10:1-7), Jesus was able to offer eternally because He is both the unblemished sacrifice and the perfect High Priestly King after the order of Melchizedek (Gen 14:18; Heb 7:11-12; 20-28) who offers His sacrifice continually before the throne of God (Heb 8:6-7; 10:11-18; Rev 5:6). In the fullness of time Christ's eternal priesthood was to furnish the substance of what the Aaronic priesthood was only the type, the shadow, and the symbol (Col 2:17; Heb 8:5; 9:8-14).

With the instructions for the ordination of the priesthood completed, Yahweh continued to instruct Moses concerning the men who were to be divinely appointed to build the Sanctuary.

Please read Exodus 31:1-11: Selection of the Sanctuary Craftsmen
31:1Yahweh then spoke to Moses and said, 2 Look, I have singled out Bezalel son or Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 3and have filled him with the spirit of God in wisdom, knowledge and skill in every kind of craft: 4in designing and carrying out work in gold and silver and bronze, 5in cutting stones to be set, in wood carving and in executing every kind of work. 6And to help him I have given him Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, and have endowed the hearts of all the skilled men with the skill to make everything I have ordered you: 7the Tent of Meeting; the ark of the Testimony; the mercy-seat above it; and all the furniture of the tent; 8the table and all its accessories; the pure lamp-stand and all its equipment; the altar of incense; 9the altar of burnt offerings and all its accessories; the basin and its stand; 10the liturgical vestments, the sacred vestments for Aaron the priest, and the vestments for his sons, for their priestly functions; 11the anointing oil and the fragrant incense for the sanctuary. They will do everything as I have ordered you.'

Exodus 31:1-3: 1Yahweh then spoke to Moses and said, 2 Look, I have singled out Bezalel son or Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 3and have filled him with the spirit of God in wisdom, knowledge and skill in every kind of craft:

Just as God's spirit oversaw the first creation (Gen 1:2ff), so now will God's spirit direct the building of the Sanctuary and all its furnishings by indwelling and empowering two men specially selected and spiritually endowed for the task (also see Ex 28:3 and 35:30-31). In the Old Testament God's spirit usually "rests upon" or "comes upon" men selected for a special mission or service (i.e., Num 11:17, 25-26, 29; 24:2; Judg 3:10; 6:34; 1 Sam 11:6; 16:13; etc.). This is the one case I have found in the Old Testament where God's spirit actually indwelled/filled men as His Spirit will fill men and women after the advent of Christ in the New Testament (i.e., Lk 1:15, 41, 67; Acts 2:4; 4:8, 31; 9:17; 13:9; Eph 5:8). Bezalel's name means "in the shadow [meaning "protection"] of God" (for additional references to Bezalel see Ex 35:30; 36:1-2; 37:1; 38:22; 1 Chr 2:20; 2 Chr 1:5).

Question: What man of importance in the Exodus narrative was Bezalel's grandfather? See Ex 17:10-12; 24:14; 31:2; 35:30; 38:22; 1 Chr 2:18-20.

Answer: Bezalel was the grandson of Hur of the tribe of Judah, a man who along with Joshua was Moses' trusted aid: ... Caleb married Ephrath, who bore him Hur. Hur fathered Uri, Uri fathered Bezalel (1 Chr 2:19-20).

Hur was first mentioned when he helped to support Moses' arms at the battle against the Amalekites. Both Aaron and Hur were appointed by Moses to lead the people when he ascended Mt. Sinai to receive the instructions for the Sanctuary and the establishment of liturgical worship ( Ex 17:12; 24:14).(1)

Exodus 31:6: And to help him I have given him Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, and have endowed the hearts of all the skilled men with the skill to make everything I have ordered you:

Nothing else is known about Bezalel's assistant Oholiab (Aholiah), except that he was a member of the tribe of Dan (Ex 31:6; 35:4; 36:1-2; 38:23). His name either means "the tent of the father" or "the father is my tent" (meaning "my protection). Oholiah's name is probably used as an intentional word-play since he is the man Yahweh appoints to help construct the Tent of Meeting in verse 7 (JPS Commentary, page 200).

Exodus 31:11b: They will do everything as I have ordered you.'

Nothing was to be left to human initiative except the execution of the instructions. Everything was to be completed exactly as God commanded.

Please read Exodus 31:12-18: Instructions for the Sabbath Rest and the Giving of the Tablets of the Law
31:1212 Yahweh (then) said to Moses, 13 [You you] speak to the Israelites [sons of Israel] and say, "[Nevertheless], You will keep my Sabbaths properly, for this is a sign between myself and you for all your generations to come, so that you will know it is I, Yahweh, who sanctify you. 14You will keep the Sabbath, then; you will regard it as holy. Anyone who profanes it will be put to death; anyone who does any [a] work on that day will be outlawed from his people. 15Work must be done for six days, but the seventh day will be a day of complete rest, consecrated to Yahweh. Anyone who works on the Sabbath day will be put to death. 16The Israelites will keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath for all their generations to come: this is an eternal covenant. 17Between myself and the Israelites, this is a sign for ever, for in six days Yahweh made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day he rested and drew breath."' 18When he had finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the Testimony, tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God.
[..]= literal translation (JPS Commentary: Exodus, page 201, and Propp, Exodus, page 491).

This is the seventh formula statement: "Yahweh (then) said to Moses" (Ex 26:1; 30:11, 17, 22, 34; 31:1, 12). It completes the seventh part of the instructions to Moses that comprise Part V of the covenant treaty formulary: Disposition of the covenant documents and succession arrangements.

Question: Like the seven-time repeated formula statement "God saw it was good/ very good" from the Creation event, what follows the seventh statement which completes the instructions for the Sanctuary? See Gen 1:31-2:4a.
Answer: The seven parts of the instructions for the earthly Sanctuary begins with the formula statement "Yahweh (then) said to Moses." At the end of the instructions there is the seventh formula statement followed by the Scripture passage about the Sabbath rest just like the Creation account has the seventh part formula statement "God saw it was good" (Gen 1:4, 10, 13, 18, 21, 25, 31), and the seventh formula statement which completes the Creation account (Gen 1:31-2:1) and which was then followed by the passage on the Sabbath rest (Gen 2:2-3).

Exodus 31:13: You you speak to the sons of Israel and say, "Nevertheless, you will keep my Sabbaths properly, for this is a sign between myself and you for all your generations to come, so that you will know it is I, Yahweh, who sanctify you.
* = literal translation.

The Sabbath is intensely personal "Yahweh identifies the weekly obligation of liturgical worship as "my Sabbaths," a phrase defined in verses 15 and 17. It is the sacred time in which Yahweh sanctifies His people and even though Israel is commanded to build the Sanctuary and its Tabernacle, the Sabbath must take precedence and the Sabbath obligation must be observed. Moses is personally responsible for teaching Israel about the Sabbath obligation, hence the redundancy of the "you-you", which emphasizes Moses' responsibility.

In the last part of Moses' instructions the observance of the Sabbath rest, which became a covenant command in Exodus 20:8-11 and which was repeated in Exodus 23:12-13, is repeated a third time. To "profane" the Sabbath was to treat the Sabbath as an ordinary day; such an act ritually pollutes the offender (see Is 56:2, 6; Ez 20:13, 16, 21, 24; 22:8; 23:38; Neh 13:17-18).

Question: What was the penalty for failing to observe the Sabbath or for working the Sabbath? Jesus was frequently accused of "working" on the Sabbath by the Pharisees (see Mt chapter 12; Mk 2:23-3:6; Lk 6:1-11; Jn 5:10-18).
Answer: Failure to keep the covenant obligation of the Sabbath rest could result in being excommunicated from the covenant community for a single violation of work. But to profane the Sabbath or to take part in collective labors on the Sabbath was a death penalty offense.

Exodus 31:17: Between myself and the Israelites, this is a sign for ever, for in six days Yahweh made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day he rested and drew breath."'

The Hebrew word va-yinnafash , translated "drew breath" or "was refreshed" is derived from the noun nefesh, a term that can refer to a person's soul/life essence, vitality, or essential character. Together with the verb form used in this verse it conveys the sense of "a fresh infusion of spiritual and physical vigor" (JPS Commentary, page 202) "a regeneration of the life-force of one's entire being (also see the same phrase used in the Sabbath obligation command in Ex 23:12). The Sabbath obligation of worship and rest is necessary to regenerate men and women spiritually and physically to prepare them to face the challenges of life in the next six days of the week.

Question: What is different about this third command concerning the Sabbath obligation?

Answer: The obligation of worship on the Sabbath is more than a covenant command; it is now the visible sign of the living and active covenant between Yahweh and His covenant people just as the Ark of the Covenant in the Tabernacle is the visible sign of God's presence among His people.

The command to keep the Sabbath worship obligation is repeated in the Pentateuch ten times: Ex 20:8-11; 23:12; 31:12-17; Ex 34:21 (after the sin of the Golden Calf); 35:1-3 (in the covenant renewal); Lev 19:3b, 30; 23:3; 26:2; Dt 5:12-15. Sacred time and sacred space are to become the meeting place between man and God.

Exodus 31:18: When he had finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the Testimony, tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God.

Notice that there are two tablets. In Exodus 25:15-16 God informed Moses that He was to place the "tablets of the Testimony" inside the Ark of the Covenant. The word translated "testimony" is the Hebrew word edut (Interlineal Bible: Hebrew-English, page 228; Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew-English Lexicon, page 730), which according to other Middle Eastern parallels means the stipulations in a treaty imposed by a great king on his vassal. In this case the covenant treaty is the Decalogue, written on both sides of two stone tablets (Ex 32:15) that are referred to as the "tablets of the Testimony (Ex 31:18; 32:15; 34:29), indentifying the Decalogue as the written treaty of the Sinai Covenant. The tablets are written on both sides because it is likely that one tablet is intended for each party: God and the Israelites. In the case of ancient Near Eastern covenant treaties, both treaty partners received a copy of the agreement to be kept in their sacred shrines. In this case there is one sacred shrine, the Ark of the Covenant, which is where both documents are to be kept (Ex 25:15-16; Dt 10:2, 5).(2)

Question: What is the role of the Ten Commandments in the lives of New Covenant Christians? See CCC 2068.

Answer: The Law of the Ten Commandments continues to bind all Jews and all Christians; it was not a part of the law that Christ abrogated.

St. Augustine pointed out that in the Ten Commandments there is no command to circumcise nor is there a command for animal sacrifices, Old Covenant sacraments that were fulfilled and/or transformed and no longer in effect in the New Covenant (see Augustine, On the Spirit and the Letter 14.23). Instead, the moral commandments found in the Law of the Decalogue are as relevant to the covenant faithful today as when they were first given.

It is fitting that the last two sections of the instructions Moses received on Mt. Sinai concludes with Yahweh's command to remain faithful to the instructions for building the Tabernacle (Ex 31:1-11) followed by the command to observe the Sabbath (Ex 31:12-17). The Sabbath is God's vessel of sacred time as the Tabernacle is God's vessel of sacred space. To observe sacred Sabbath worship within the sacred Sanctuary is eternally incumbent upon those who participate in covenant with Yahweh.

The Sin of the Golden Calf and Covenant Renewal

St. Stephen speaking about Moses and Israel's sin: This is the man that our ancestors refused to listen to; they pushed him aside, went back to Egypt in their thoughts, and said to Aaron "Make us a god to go at our head; for that Moses, the man who brought us here from Egypt, we do not know what has become of him." It was then that they made the statue of a calf and offered sacrifice to the idol. They were perfectly happy with something they had made for themselves. God turned away from them and abandoned them to the worship of the army of heaven, as Scripture says in the book of prophets... Acts 7:39-42

Please read Exodus 32:1-6: The Golden Calf
32:1When the people saw that Moses was a long time before coming down the mountain, they gathered round Aaron and said to him, Get to work, make us a god [elohim = gods plural] to go [they-will-go] at our head; for that Moses, the man who brought us here from Egypt "we do not know what has become of him.' 2Aaron replied, Strip off the gold rings in the ears of your wives and your sons and daughters, and bring them to me.' 3The people all stripped off the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4He received what they gave him, melted it down in a mould and with it made the statue of a calf. Israel,' the people shouted, here is your God who brought you here from Egypt!' 5Observing this, Aaron built an altar before the statue and made this proclamation, Tomorrow will be a feast in Yahweh's honor.' 6Early next morning they scarified burnt offerings and brought communion sacrifices. The people then sat down to eat and drink, and afterwards got up to amuse themselves.

You may remember the last time the people saw Moses he was going up into the cloud on top of the mountain "a mountain that was illuminated by a devouring fire at its peak (Ex 24:17-18). After a forty day absence they reached the conclusion that Moses was probably dead and they demanded that Aaron make them a god(s) to lead them.

Scholars have long debated the correct interpretation of the Hebrew word elohim (gods) in Exodus 32:1. Normally when elohim is used for the One True God, the masculine plural noun is used with a singular verb form, as in Genesis 1:1, but here the word appears as a masculine plural noun followed by a plural verb yeleku = "they-will-go" (Davis, Studies in Exodus, pages 292-293). Scholars who favor the interpretation that the people were speaking of only one god and that the golden idol was to be a physical representation of Yahweh point out that there is, after all, only one golden calf. However, while it is true Aaron created only one idol and the people proclaimed: here is your God (elohim) who brought you out of Egypt (Ex 32:4), identifying the idol with Yahweh, the plural word gods identified with plural verbs may reflect the intent of the people to worship a false idol(s), a claim made by the prophet Amos (Amos 5:25-27), a practice strictly forbidden in the Decalogue (Ex 20:3-6) and in the Book of the Covenant (i.e. Ex 20:23).(3) It is also interesting that there is no mourning for the perceived loss of their liberator and covenant mediator, Moses. They may have respected and feared Moses, but the Israelites did not love him "the Israelites refer to him as "that Moses, the man who brought us out of Egypt," was a disrespectful way of referring to their leader. They loved Aaron, to whom they now turned.

Question: What is curious about Aaron's response to the people and who is absent or not consulted in making the decision to comply with people's demand to make an image of god/gods? Whose decision was it to make the image a calf?

Answer: It is curious that Aaron offered not the slightest protest and Hur, who Moses had also appointed to lead the people in his absence, is not mentioned. Instead Aaron entered whole-heartedly into the suggesting by telling the people to bring him their gold jewelry, and then after he decided to cast the idol of a calf, he suggested a festival in honor of the idol he identified as Yahweh (32:5).

Question: What does Aaron's readiness to comply with the demands of the people suggest about his character? What is the future implication of Aaron's sin? See Lev 4:3.

Answer: In his clear breach of the covenant commands it would appear that he cared more about being popular with the people than about being obedient to the commands of God. From this time forward an anointed high priest's individual sin becomes the sin of the whole covenant community.

For the first time we have a suggestion of Aaron's profession in Egypt. He must have been a gold-smith or a metallurgist to have the skill to produce the metal-covered idol. The Golden Calf is not described as a solid gold image and since it will be destroyed by burning and pulverizing (Ex 32:20) it was probably made of a wooden sub-structure covered with gold plate.

Exodus 32:6:Early next morning they scarified burnt offerings and brought communion sacrifices. The people then sat down to eat and drink, and afterwards got up to amuse themselves.

We might ask the question, "Of all the images Aaron could have made, why did he make an image of a golden calf? In Egypt the people would have been exposed to the worship of the Apis bull, a bull worshipped as the physical manifestation of the god Ptah, a fertility god associated with agriculture and procreation. Verse six suggests the kind of revelry associated with an orgy, the kind of festival behavior associated with worship of the fertility god Ptah. Aaron and the people may have said the golden image was Yahweh, but they were worshipping the image as Ptah.

Exodus 32:7-10: Yahweh Commands Moses to Return to His People
32:7Yahweh then said to Moses, Go down at once, for your people whom you brought here from Egypt have become corrupt. 8They have quickly left the way which I ordered them to follow. They have cast themselves a metal calf, worshipped it and offered sacrifice to it, shouting, "Israel, here is your God who brought you here from Egypt!" 9Yahweh then said to Moses, 'I know these people; I know how obstinate [stiff-necked] they are! 10So leave me now, so that my anger can blaze at them and I can put an end to them! I shall make a great nation out of you instead.'

Yahweh ordered Moses to return to his sinful people; notice that God does not call them Yahweh's people but Moses' people. This is the beginning of the breach between God and the Israelites. The formula saying "Yahweh said to Moses" will be repeated eight times (Ex 32:7, 9, 33; 33:1, 5, 17; 34:1; 34:27) during the critical period of Israel's fall from grace and the restoration of the covenant community, perhaps indicating that despite God's anger His grace was still at work in His plans for Israel's salvation (eight is the number of salvation). This formula saying will not be repeated again until Exodus 40:1 (between 39:1-31 it will be replaced by the seven-time repeated formula saying "as Yahweh commanded Moses") and will not reappear after 40:1 until its next seven-time repetition in Leviticus (Lev 4:1-7:28).

Exodus 32:8: They have quickly left the way which I ordered them to follow. They have cast themselves a metal calf, worshipped it and offered sacrifice to it, shouting, "Israel, here is your God who brought you here from Egypt!"

Some scholars have suggested that the golden image was not a representation of Yahweh but that it was the footstool of the unseen God in the same way the Ark of the Covenant functioned as the visible link between the Israelites and God, acting as a guide and the point of mediation.(4) However, this verse seems to refute that interpretation as Yahweh states the Israelites have worshipped the idol and offered sacrifice to it. Verse ten also reflects God's judgment on Israel: So leave me now, so that my anger can blaze at them and I can put an end to them!

Exodus 32:9-10: Yahweh then said to Moses, I know these people; I know how obstinate [stiff-necked] they are! 10 So leave me now, so that my anger can blaze at them and I can put an end to them! I shall make a great nation out of you instead.'

God's reference to "these people" is a repeat of the Israelite's disrespectful reference to His covenant mediator as "that Moses" (Ex 32:1). In the literal translation God characterized the Israelites as "stiff-necked," an image of willful disobedience and obstinacy derived from untrained oxen that resist the guidance of the farmer plowing his field. God is the Master and His people are to be His obedient servants who do not pull against His guiding hand. This image will become one of the reoccurring images of the prophets in depicting Israel's stubborn refusal to submit to their Master, Yahweh (see the chart "Symbolic Images of the Old Testament Prophets").

Question: In judging the sin of Israel as idolatry (see CC 2112-13), what does God tell Moses will be unfaithful Israel's collective punishment?

Answer: Yahweh told Moses He will destroy Israel and that He will make a "great nation" through Moses' descendants.

Question: God's phrase "great nation" recalls what divine promise? See Gen 12:2; 18:18; 46:3.

Answer: It is a reference to God's repeated promise to the Patriarchs.

The creation of the golden idol and the people's decision to worship it was as great a fall from grace as Adam and Eve's sin in eating the forbidden fruit in the garden Sanctuary of Eden. God had taken Israel out of Egypt, but Egypt remained in the people "the sins of Egypt remained in the thoughts of the people and were reflected in their actions (Ex 14:12; 16:3; Acts 7:39-43). The incident of the Golden Calf was a mortal sin because the idol was created with knowledge of the covenant breach and with the intent to worship (mortal sin presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act in opposition to God's law, and a deliberate consent (see CCC 1857 and 1859). The sin was equally Aaron's and the people. It is a breach of sin that will remain as a barrier between God and His people until the coming of the Redeemer-Messiah (Jer 31:31-34).

Exodus 32:11-14: Moses' First Intercessory Prayer
32:11Moses tried to pacify Yahweh his God. Yahweh,' he said, why should your anger blaze at your people, whom you have brought out of Egypt by your great power and mighty hand? 12Why should the Egyptians say, "He brought them out with evil intention, to slaughter them in the mountains and wipe them off the face of the earth?" Give up your burning wrath; relent over this disaster intended for your people. 13Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to whom you swore by your very self and made this promise: "I shall make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven, and this whole country of which I have spoken, I shall give to ;your descendants, and it will be their heritage for ever."' 14Yahweh then relented over the disaster which he had intended to inflict on his people.

If it was God's intent to prompt Moses to remember the covenant promises to the Patriarchs with the phrase "great nation," Moses intercessory prayer in this passage is evidence that the plan worked. Exodus 32:11-14 together with 34:1-10 comprise the Synagogue Torah reading at the afternoon worship services on fast days other than Yom Kippur (JPS Commentary: Exodus, page 205).

Question: Moses' intercessory prayer and petition to God on Israel's behalf is based on what four considerations?
Answer:

  1. The Israelites are God's chosen people.
  2. He chose them when He manifested His power in liberating them from Egyptian bondage.
  3. The destruction of Israel at this time would diminish the witness to the Egyptians of God's mighty acts of power and mercy in freeing the Israelites.
  4. God must keep the promises He made to the Patriarchs.

Question: Why did Yahweh grant Moses' petition? What does the granting of the petition of His covenant mediator Moses foreshadow in salvation history? See Heb 7:25.

Answer: Yahweh accepted Moses' petition to spare Israel not because of Israel's merit but because of the plea for mercy from His covenant mediator and His promises to the Patriarchs. As the covenant mediator Moses' intercession foreshadows the New Covenant mediator, Jesus Christ, who prayed on the altar of the Cross for sinners and who is still praying for us in the heavenly Sanctuary: Therefore, he is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them (Heb 7:25 NJB).

Exodus 32:15-24: Moses Confronts Aaron and the People
32:15Moses turned and came down the mountain with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, tablets inscribed on both sides, inscribed on the front and on the back. 16The tablets were the work of God, and the writing on them was God's writing, engraved on the tablets. 17When Joshua heard the noise of the peopleshouting, he said to Moses, There is the sound of battle in the camp!' 18But he replied: No song of victory is thissound, no lament for defeat this sound; but answering choruses I hear!' 19And there, as he approached the camp, he sawthe calf and the groups dancing. Moses blazed with anger. 20He threw down the tablets he was holding, shattering them at the foot of the mountain. He seized the calf they had made and burned it, grinding it into powder which he scattered on the water, and made the Israelites drink it. 21Moses then said to Aaron, 'What have these people done to you for you to have brought so great a sin on them?' 22Aaron replied, My lord should not be so angry. You yourself know what a bad state these people are in! 23They said to me, "Make us a god to go at our head; for that Moses, the man who brought us here from Egypt "we do not know what has become of him." 24I then said to them, "Anyone with gold, strip it off!" They gave it to me. I threw it into the fire and out came this calf!'

The size of the two tablets of the covenant is not given in Scripture; however their dimensions are limited to the size of the Ark of the Covenant which is roughly 3.75 ft by 2.25 ft (c. 1.12m. by 0.67 m.)

Exodus 32:16: The tablets were the work of God, and the writing on them was God's writing, engraved on the tablets. This statement amplifies Ex 24:12. Just as Creation was the work of God's "fingers" (Ps 8:3/4), so have the creation of the tablets of the Decalogue come about directly through Divine will (Ex 31:18; Ps 33:6; Jn 1:1-3).

Exodus 32:17-18:When Joshua heard the noise of the people shouting, he said to Moses, There is the sound of battle in the camp!' 18But he replied: No song of victory is this sound, no lament for defeat this sound; but answering choruses I hear!'

Question: When Moses ascended the mountain in Exodus 24:13-14, where did he leave Joshua?

Answer: Joshua stayed at a point mid-way up Mt. Sinai.

At his vantage point mid-way up the mountain Joshua could hear the sounds coming from the camp and interpreted those sounds as the noise of war. Moses, however, knew the people were not under attack from a foreign enemy but that the sound was from a responsorial cultic chant "the people were at war with holiness and sin had conquered them.

Exodus 32:19-20a: And there, as he approached the camp, he saw the calf and the groups dancing. Moses blazed with anger. 20He threw down the tablets he was holding, shattering them at the foot of the mountain.

Moses' action in breaking the tablets of the "ten words" is tersely described in ten Hebrew verbs (Inerlineal Hebrew-English Bible, vol. I, page 230).

Question: Why did Moses destroy the sacred tablets of the Decalogue? Was it an impulsive act that was simply a result of Moses' righteous anger or was there another reason? Hint: What was the purpose of the tablets?

Answer: The tablets were the covenant treaty document that represented the covenant between Yahweh and Israel. Moses' action in destroying the tablets was not an impetuous act that was a result of his anger; it was a deliberate and symbolic act.

Moses' action signified the breaking of the covenant treaty, and he performed this symbolic act in front of the people assembled at the foot of the mountain.(5)

Exodus 32:20b: He seized the calf they had made and burned it, grinding it into powder which he scattered on the water, and made the Israelites drink it.

The idol was apparently made of wood and covered with gold. The metal was ground into a powder and the wood burned to ash.

Question: What additional information is given in Deuteronomy 9:21?

Answer: Moses threw the powdered remains of the idol into a brook that came down out of the mountain and force the people to drink the water.

Since there was a single source of water for the camp from the stream (the water from the rock of Ex 17:5-6), no one in the camp could escape the ordeal of drinking the bitter water mingled with the residue of their sin.(6)

Exodus 32:21: Moses then said to Aaron, 'What have these people done to you for you to have brought so great a sin on them?'

The Hebrew word for "great sin" is used here as legal term and is similar to terms discovered in ancient documents from Ugarit (Syria) and in Egyptian marriage contracts referring to adultery (JPS Commentary: Exodus, page 208). The same word is found in King Abimelech's condemnation of Abraham's conduct in Genesis 20:9, and a similar use of this term is found in Joseph's refusal of Potiphar's wife (Gen 39:9). All other uses of this term refer to "the great sin" of idolatry (Ex 32:21, 30, 31; 2 Kng 17:21; Interlineal Hebrew-English Bible).

Exodus 32:22-24: 22Aaron replied, My lord should not be so angry. You yourself know what a bad state these people are in! 23They said to me, "Make us a god to go at our head; for that Moses, the man who brought us here from Egypt "we do not know what has become of him." 24I then said to them, "Anyone with gold, strip it off!" They gave it to me. I threw it into the fire and out came this calf!'

Question: How does Aaron respond to Moses' reproach?

Answer: He does not accept responsibility but excuses his conduct by vilifying the people and side-stepping his own involvement. In his most ludicrous statement he offers that he threw some metal into the fire and the idol just came out!

This was the point at which Moses probably had to intercede for Aaron's life "Aaron who conceived of and created the golden calf and then suggested the people declare a festival to worship it: Yahweh was enraged with Aaron and was ready to destroy him too; I also pleaded for Aaron on that occasion (Dt 9:20).

Exodus 32:25-29: The Levites Slaughter the Rebels
32:25When Moses saw that the people were out of hand "for Aaron had let them get out of hand to the derision of their enemies all round them " 26Moses then stood at the gate of the camp and shouted, Who is for Yahweh? To me!' And all the Levites rallied round him. 27He said to them, Yahweh, God of Israel, says this, "Buckle on your sword, each of you, and go up and down the camp from gate to gate, every man of you slaughtering brother, friend and neighbor."' 28The Levites did as Moses said, and of the people about three thousand men perished that day. 29 Today,' Moses said, you have consecrated yourselves to Yahweh, one at the cost of his son, another of his brother; and so he bestows a blessing on you today.'

Question: What happened after Moses destroyed the idol?

Answer: Moses' action apparently triggered a revolt.

Aaron's excuses in 32:22-24 did not impress Moses who clearly blamed Aaron for the present danger to the people from God and from their enemies since their "festival" left the camp unprotected: for Aaron had let them get out of hand to the derision of their enemies all round them.

Exodus 32:26: Moses then stood at the gate of the camp and shouted, Who is for Yahweh? To me!' And all the Levites rallied round him.

Moses' question makes it clear that there are only two choices left for the people "either they are for God and support Moses as His representative or they stand against God. His declaration also implies that whatever the intention of the people, the use of the calf image or any such image is irreconcilable with monotheism.

Question: Of all the people, which group of them should have been the first to rally to God's representative? Which group answered Moses' call?

Answer: All the first-born sons spared the night of the ten Egyptian plague and who were consecrated to Yahweh by the blood of the Passover lambs and kids should have been the first to rally to Moses; instead Moses' own tribe of the Levites remained faithful to the covenant and loyal to Moses.

Exodus 32:27: 27He said to them, Yahweh, God of Israel, says this, "Buckle on your sword, each of you, and go up and down the camp from gate to gate, every man of you slaughtering brother, friend and neighbor."' 28The Levites did as Moses said, and of the people about three thousand men perished that day.

Moses commanded the Levites to be absolutely impartial in carrying out their mission to restore order and to end the revolt "whether it was sibling, friend, or son who opposed them. Moses will remember the terrible deed he asked his kinsmen to perform in his farewell blessing of the Levites before his death (Dt 33:9).

Question: How many died in the struggle and where therefore lost to the covenant people? Why is this number significant later in Acts 2:37-41?

Answer: About 3,000 of the covenant people died that day. After St. Peter's first homily on Pentecost Sunday, 30 AD, about 3,000 of the Old Covenant people were added to the New Covenant family of God. What was lost in the first generation of the people of the Sinai Covenant was added in the new generation of the New Covenant in Christ Jesus.

Exodus 32:29: Today,' Moses said, you have consecrated yourselves to Yahweh, one at the cost of his son, another of his brother; and so he bestows a blessing on you today.'

The first-born sons' failure to rally to Moses and therefore to God strips Israel of her priestly nation status. Every first-born son of every woman in every Israelite family was intended to serve the Aaronic priesthood and the people as lesser priests "creating "priestly nation" status. Now that honor will be given to one tribe "Moses' tribe of Levi who has been consecrated in the sacrificial blood of their brother Israelites: Yahweh spoke to Moses and said: Look, I myself have chosen the Levites from the Israelites instead of the first-born, those who emerge first from the womb in Israel; the Levites therefore belong to me (Num 3:11-12; also see 8:16-19).

Exodus 32:30-35: Moses' Second Intercessory Prayer and the Offering of his own Life in Atonement for the Sins of his People
32:30On the following day Moses said to the people, You have committed a great sin. But now I shall go up to Yahweh: perhaps I can secure expiation for your sin.' 31Moses then went back to Yahweh and said, Oh, this people has committed a great sin by making themselves a god of gold. 32And yet, if it pleased you to forgive their sin...! If not, please blot me out of the book you have written!' 33Yahweh said to Moses, Those who have sinned against me are the ones I shall blot out of my book. 34So now go and lead the people to the place I promised to you. My angel will indeed go at your head but, on the day of punishment, I shall punish them for their sin.' 35And Yahweh punished the people for having made the calf, the one Aaron had made.

Having successfully petitioned Yahweh to spare the lives of the Israelites (32:11-14), the day after the revolt Moses attempted to make expiation for the people's sin when he went up the summit of Sinai to speak to Yahweh. The "book" Moses mentions in verse 33 is the Book of Life in which the names of all those destined for salvation are recorded (Ps 69:27-28; Is 4:3; Jer 22:30; Ez 13:9; Dan 12:1; Rev 3:5; 20:12). There is more than one book in the heavenly Sanctuary (Dan 7:9-10; Rev 20:12). In addition to the Book of Life there is the Book of Remembrance, also called the Book of Deeds, in which the works of human beings, both good and evil, are recorded ( Ps 40:8; 51:3; 56:8; 109:14; Is 65:6; Jer 17:1, 13; Neh 13:14; Mal 3:16; Lk 10:20; Rev 20:12).

Question: What does Moses offer Yahweh in atonement for the sin of the people?

Answer: Moses offers God his own life.

Question: Why didn't God accept his offer?

Answer: This is not the time and Moses is not the man who, in God's plan of salvation, is intended to offer his life for the atonement of the covenant people.

Perhaps God's threat to wipe the Israelites off the face of the earth in Exodus 32:9-10 was intended to bring Moses to the point of this act of supreme sacrifice out of love for his people. It is certainly a gesture that prefigures the sacrificial atonement Jesus the Redeemer-Messiah will make out of both love for mankind and obedience to God, not only for the sins of Israel but for the sins of all mankind. It is another example of Moses as a "type" of Christ the Redeemer.

Question: What is the rest of Yahweh's answer to Moses' petition?

Answer: Yahweh will allow the Israelites to take possession of the Promised Land, and His angel will lead them, but the people will receive just punishment for their sin.

Exodus 33:1-6: Yahweh Announces His Decision to Allow Israel to Proceed to Canaan
33:1Yahweh then said to Moses, Leave, move on from here, you and the people whom you have brought here from Egypt, to the country that I swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that I would give to their descendants. 2I shall send an angel in front of you and drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites. 3Move on towards a country flowing with milk and honey, but I myself shall not be going with you or I might annihilate you on the way, for you are an obstinate people.' 4On hearing these stern words the people went into mourning and no one wore his ornaments. 5Yahweh then said to Moses, Say to the Israelites, "You are an obstinate people. If I were to go with you even for a moment, I should annihilate you. So now take off your ornaments, and I shall decide how to deal with you!"' 6So, from Mount Horeb onwards, the Israelites stripped themselves of their ornaments.

This chapter opens with a repeat of God's command to lead the Israelites to Canaan. For a third time God repeats His promise made in Exodus 23:20 (before the incident of the Golden Calf) and 32:34 (after the people's sin). But this time the divine emissary is not designated as "My messenger/angel" but "an angel."(7) Perhaps this is an ominous prelude to the next statement, which will deeply trouble Moses: but I myself shall not be going with you or I might annihilate you on the way, for you are an obstinate people.'

Question: Yahweh's statement of withdrawal from the midst of Israel is intended to be merciful. Why?

Answer: His withdrawal is intended to be a preventative measure for Israel's protection in her sinful state.

Exodus 33:6: So, from Mount Horeb onwards, the Israelites stripped themselves of their ornaments.

From that time until the conquest of the Promised Land the Israelites wore no ornamentation as a sign of their repentance for the sin of the Golden Calf, made with their jewelry. Yahweh's statement of the withdrawal of His Divine Presence has a further dire implication that is not lost on Moses. It will be the subject of Moses' next intercessory prayer and petition.

Exodus 33:7-11: The Temporary Tent of Meeting
33:7Moses used to take the Tent and pitch it outside the camp, far away from the camp. He called it the Tent of Meeting. Anyone who wanted to consult Yahweh would go out to the Tent of Meeting, outside the camp. 8Whenever Moses went out to the Tent, the people would all stand up and every man would stand at the door of his tent and watch Moses until he went into the Tent. 9And whenever Moses went into the Tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and station itself at the entrance to the Tent, while Yahweh spoke with Moses. 10The people could all see the pillar of cloud stationed at the entrance to the Tent and the people would all stand up and bow low, each at the door of his tent. 11Yahweh would talk to Moses face to face,as a man talks to his friend, and afterwards he would come back to the camp, but the young man who was his servant, Joshua son of Nun, never left the inside of the Tent.

Since God vowed to withhold His presence from the camp of Israel at this time, Moses erected a temporary "Tent of Meeting" with Yahweh located outside the Israelite camp. That the tent was erected "far away from the camp" symbolized the spiritual and physical absence of God's Presence from the Israelites. At this time there was no Tabernacle and no ordained priesthood. This tent was instead a private place where Moses could commune with God and where individual righteous Israelites could come to seek God's Presence.

Question: What is the sign of God's presence at the Tent of Meeting and who is the guardian of the Tent of Meeting?

Answer: The Glory Cloud appears whenever Moses entered the tent. Joshua is the guardian of the Tent of Meeting.

The appearance of the Glory Cloud is a sign for the people that Moses continues in God's favor. The people showed proper reverence for the presence of God by facing the Tent and by bowing low whenever the Glory Cloud appeared.

Exodus 33:11: Yahweh would talk to Moses face to face, as a man talks to his friend,

The phrase "face to face" is anthropomorphic language. The same expression is found in Deuteronomy 34:10 but in Numbers 12:6-8 the expression is that God communicated with Moses "mouth to mouth." The "face" of God must refer to His Divine Presence rather than to His form because in Exodus 33:20 Yahweh tells Moses: But my face,' he said, you cannot see, for no human being can see me and survive.' God's holiness is so far removed from man's sinful human nature that anyone who looks on God or even hears his voice will perish (see Ex 19:21; Lev 16:2; 17:1; Num 4:20; 6:27; Dt 5:24-26; 18:16). It is for this reason that Moses, Elijah and the Seraphim cover their faces in His presence (see Ex 3:6; 1 Kng 19:13; Is 6:2) and in his encounter with God the prophet Ezekiel fell to the ground (with his face to the ground), prostrating himself before the awesome presence of God (Ez 1:26-2:1). To remain alive after coming into the Divine Presence is a rare occurrence and those so honored were overwhelmed with astonishment, awe, and gratitude (see Gen 32:31; Dt 5:24; Judg 6:22-23; 13:22; Is 6:5; the Book of Revelation) or like Ezekiel, who was so overcome by the experience that he was in a state of total physical collapse for seven days (Ez 3:15).

Question: No human being can safely be in the presence of the holy Almighty God and view His face except in one place. Where is that place? See Mt 5:8; 1 Cor 13:12 and 1 Jn 3:2.

Answer: In heaven.

Question: In addition to the Old Testament prophets Isaiah (Is 6:1-13) and Ezekiel (Ez 1:2-28ff), and the New Testament prophet St. John (in the Book of Revelation), to what other two men in salvation history does God grant the special favor of coming into His Divine Presence? Hint: both of these men were to be witnesses of the New Testament Theophany "the transfiguration of Jesus the Son of God. See Ex 33:11, 21-23; Num 12:7-8; Dt 34:10 and I Kng 19:11; Mt 17:1-3; Mk 9:1-4; Lk 9:28 "31.

Answer: Moses and Elijah.

Exodus 33:12-18: Moses' third Intercessory Prayer and Two Petitions to God
33:12Moses said to Yahweh, Look, you say to me, "Make the people move on," but you have not told me whom you are going to send with me, although you have said, "I know you by name and you enjoy my favor." 13If indeed I enjoy your favor, please show me your ways, so that I understand you and continue to enjoy your favor; consider too that this nation is your people.' 14Yahweh then said, I myself [my face] shall go with you and I shall give you rest.' 15To which he said, If you do not come yourself, do not make us move on from here, 16for how can it be known that I and my people enjoy your favor, if not by your coming with us? By this we shall be marked out, I and your people, from all the peoples on the face of the earth.' 17Yahweh then said to Moses, Again I shall do what you have asked, because you enjoy my favor and because I know you by name.' 18Then he said, Please show me your glory.'

This passage is another illustration of the intimate discourse between God and His prophet. Moses is concerned that the plans for the Sanctuary and the Tabernacle, where God had announced He would reside in the midst His people (and not outside the camp), may be cancelled because of Israel's sin (Ex 25:21). Moses wants to know God's plan but he also wants to know God more intimately "to know His attributes that impact on how God governs man and the world "Moses wants God to "please show me your ways so that I understand you...". Moses also wants to extend God's favor to embrace not only himself but also God's people Israel (vs. 13). This is the first of three petitions in this encounter.

Question: What are Moses' three petitions in Exodus 33:12-18?

Moses makes three petitions in Exodus 33:12-18:

  1. That God will show him God's ways (vs. 14).
  2. That God's Presence will accompany the people on their journey (vs. 15).
  3. That God will reveal His Glory to Moses (vs. 18).

Question: What is Yahweh's response to Moses first petition?

Answer: He promises to go with Moses and to give him "rest."

"I will give you rest" is a phrase most often found in Scripture in giving relief from one's enemies "especially from Israel's enemies in association with the Promised Land (Dt 3:20; 12:10; 25:19; Josh 1:13, 15; 21:42; 22:4; 23:1; 2 Sam 7:1-11; 1 Kng 5:18; 1 Chr 22:9/8, 18 /17; 23:25; 2 Chr 14:5, 6; 15:15; 20:30). In this case the úrest Ě promised Moses is that he can have confidence that God will keep His promise (also see Dt 12:10; 25:19; Josh 1:13: 22:4; 23:1 and Ps 95:11).

Exodus 33:15-16: To which he said, If you do not come yourself, do not make us move on from here, 16 for how can it be known that I and my people enjoy your favor, if not by your coming with us? By this we shall be marked out, I and your people, from all the peoples on the face of the earth.'

Since God does not mention Israel, Moses presses the point by emphasizing that his future is bound to the future of Israel and that Israel's uniqueness among the nations of the world lies in its special relationship with Yahweh (vs. 15-16).

Question: What is God's response to Moses' petition?

Answer: Again God grants Moses' petition to reside in the midst of His people, which means the Tabernacle will be built.

The third petition and God's response to it will be covered in next week's lesson. In granting Moses' third petition God will give Moses an intimate experience that will justify his title as Yahweh's greatest Old Testament prophet "having reached a level of intimacy with God that only one other Old Testament prophet will experience.

The sin of the people in their fall from grace through the sin of the Golden Calf is both ironic and tragic. It is ironic that in their desire to have the assurance of Yahweh's presence in a visual image that the idol the Israelites had Aaron create actually separated them from God's continuing presence in the midst of His covenant people. Instead of accepting the One True God for what He was and accepting their role to live in obedience and faithfulness in His likeness and image, they sought to re-create God in their own idea of His image and likeness. It is a sin that is on-going today as professing believers seek to transform God into other than what He is by rejecting those parts of Scripture and Church teaching that do not fit into their "idea" of God and re-creating a god who fits their morality.

And it is tragic that the sin of the Golden Calf rendered the Israelites, created to be holy in the presence of God, as a morally defective people. It is a defect that left Israel as unfit and separated them from their priestly status as well as from the presence of God. After the sin of the Golden Calf they no longer had unrestricted access to God because their idolatry had broken the covenant treaty and they had become like "unclean" animals that were not acceptable for sacrifice or like a disqualified priest, unable to come into God's presence in the Sanctuary. This separation was emphasized when God called the people "corrupt" (Ex 32:7; Num 14:27; Dt 32:5, 20), using a Hebrew word that was also used to describe an animal that was blemished and unfit for use as a holy sacrifice on Yahweh's altar or a priest who had become morally unfit for liturgical service (see Lev 22:25; Num 3:11-13; 18:1-7; Mal 1:14; 2:8).(8)

After the sin of the Golden Calf the law was expanded as were the classifications of blood sacrifice and the sacred feasts. The expanded Law of Moses became the most through attempt in history to use religion as a regulator of every detail of human life: diet, personal hygiene, medical quarantine and disinfecting by fire for disease control, laws regulating menstrual and natal hygiene, public sanitation, religious law, civil law, and sexual morality. After the sin of the Golden Calf, the Law of Moses became "the tightest garment into which life was ever laced" (Jewish scholar and author E. Renen, History of the People of Israel).

Questions for group discussion:

Like Adam in the first Creation event, the newly created covenant people of God faced a covenant ordeal that resulted in a fall from grace in the idolatrous worship of the Golden Calf. A covenant ordeal is a decision that involves a direct and willful violation of covenant duties, obligations, or moral principles of the laws of holiness (i.e., the Ten Commandments) when faced with a worldly opportunity that appears to be attractive and personally beneficial. For example, Adam and Eve knew that God directly forbid the eating of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but they allowed themselves to be seduced by the serpent's argument that it looked good, it tasted good and it gave superior knowledge that would make Adam and Eve god-like. They failed their covenant ordeal by submitting to the attractive temptation. Other examples of covenant ordeals include a lonely King David's adulterous affair with the beautiful and available Bathsheba and St. Peter's fearful denial of Christ in the High Priest's courtyard when faced with the possibility that he too could be arrested and killed. The most dangerous part of a covenant ordeal is not recognizing the test and not appreciating the spiritual and eternal implications of the covenant failure.

Question: When have you faced a covenant ordeal? Where you able to resist the temptation?

Question: Is failing a covenant ordeal a mortal sin? For sin to be mortal what three conditions must be met? See 1 Jn 5:16-17; CCC 1854-61 (mortal sin defined).

Question: How does one rise above the desire to reach out for what has been forbidden, even when rejecting the temptation can lead to personal suffering?

Question: What can one do when one fails such a covenant ordeal?

Question: The Israelites weren't rejecting Yahweh in the creation and worship of the Golden Calf; they were re-creating God "in their image," an image and idea of God that was their own making "deciding for themselves how to worship God and what He required of them in their relationship with Him. Has this serious failure and separation from the One True God and His one covenant with His people been repeated in the New Covenant in Christ Jesus by people who profess to believe in the God of Abraham? Give examples.

Endnotes:

1. There is some confusion over the fact that there are two Calebs (1 Chr 2:19-20; 42) within the tribe of Judah in the Exodus generation. Hur son of Caleb son of Herzon (1 Chr 2:18) of Judah is not the son of the Caleb who was a gentile Kenizzite (Num 32:12) who married into the tribe of Judah and became a faithful covenant member and hero of Israel throughout the wilderness journey and the conquest of Canaan. Bezalel's great grandfather Caleb was the son of Herzon (1 Chr 2:18) while the gentile convert and hero Caleb was the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite. Caleb son of Jephunneh left Egypt with the Israelites and became a covenant member at Sinai. Caleb the Kenizzite convert will be selected as the representative of the tribe of Judah along with Joshua (Hosea) for the tribe of Ephraim when they become two of the twelve spies sent to reconnoiter the Promised Land (Num 1-6, 8; Josh 14:7, 13-15), and he will be a hero of the wilderness journey and the conquest of Canaan.

2. The tablets of the Decalogue were place inside the Ark of the Covenant, while the Book of the Covenant (Ex 24:4-7), containing the commands and prohibitions of the Law, which Moses continued to write in until the end of his life, was to be placed beside the Ark of the Covenant (Dt 31:24-27). According to Jewish tradition there are 613 articles of the Law of Moses. It is an easy number to remember since 6 + 1 + 3 = 10.

3. You will recall that the command in the Decalogue stated: You shall have no other gods to rival me. You shall not make yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything in heaven above or on earth beneath or in the waters under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them (Ex 203-5a). This prohibition means they are not to represent any thing in nature to worship, whether as a false god or as a representation of Yahweh. The Golden Calf image was a covenant violation and punishment was justified. Scripture identifies the sin as the worship of the idol (Ps 106:19-20; Acts 7:41; CCC 212-13).

4. In Ps 106:19-20 two Hebrew words are used to refer to the casting of the golden "calf": egel (a young bull) and shor (an ox). In the ancient Near East the bull was a symbol of kingship, power, vitality, and fertility. Its image was often deified and worshiped or was used as a representation of a deity (as in the case of the Apis bull). It was also common in ancient times for a bull or ox or some other powerful animal like a lion to be the pedestal on which the image of the god stood, suggesting the animal's perceived power, ferocity or fertility was ascribed to the god who was represented above it. It is this historical practice that has led some scholars to suggest it was not the bull who was being worshipped but the invisible image of Yahweh above it (NJ Bible commentary, notes b & c).

5. In the legal terminology of ancient Near Eastern states "to break the tablet" meant to invalidate or repudiate a documented agreement (JPS Commentary: Exodus, page 207).

6. In Scripture the marital bond is defined as a covenant (Prov 2:17; Mal 2:14). Israel's covenant with Yahweh is symbolized as a union between Yahweh the Bridegroom and Israel His virtuous Bride (i.e., Ex 16:6-14). Israel's lapses into idol worship are therefore characterized as adultery (Ex 34:16; Num 15:39; Jer 3:1-5, 8; 5:7-9; Ez 16:15-19; 23:27; Hos 2). In the expanded Law of Moses an accused adulteress is made to undergo an ordeal by drinking a mixture of bitter water mingled with dust taken from the floor of the Sanctuary (Num 5:12-31), reminiscent of Israel's ordeal in drinking the bitter water of the destroyed calf idol.

7. The Septuagint translation has "My angel."

8. St. Peter will use a similar term in Greek to describe the "corrupt" generation of the Old Covenant people who rejected Jesus the Redeemer-Messiah in St. Peter's 30 AD Pentecost homily in Acts 2:40.

Catechism References for Exodus chapters 31-33:

31:15

2168, 2189

32:15

2058

31:16

2171*

33:9-10

697*

31:17

2172

33:11

2576

31:18

700, 2056, 2058, 2068

33:12-18

210*

32:1-35

210*, 2112-13

32:1-34:9

2577

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2010 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.