Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible
back to: Exodus
Book: Exodus
Chapter: 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.

1-6 While Moses was in the Mount, receiving the Law from God,
the people made a tumultuous address to Aaron. This giddy
multitude were weary of waiting for the return of Moses.
Weariness in waiting betrays to many temptations. The Lord must
be waited for till he comes, and waited for though he tarry. Let
their readiness to part with their Ear-rings to make an Idol,
shame our niggardliness in the service of the true God. They did
not draw back On account of the cost of their Idolatry; and
shall we grudge the expenses of religion? Aaron produced the
shape of an Ox or Calf, giving it some finish with a Graving
tool. They offered Sacrifice to this Idol. Having set up an
image before them, and So changed the Truth of God into a Lie,
their sacrifices were Abomination. Had they not, only a few days
before, in this very place, heard the voice of the Lord God
speaking to them out of the midst of the Fire, Thou shalt not
make to thyself any Graven image? Had they not themselves
solemnly entered into Covenant with God, that they would do all
he had said to them, and would be obedient? ch. 24:7. Yet
before they stirred from the place where this Covenant had been
solemnly made, they brake an express command, in defiance of an
express threatening. It plainly shows, that the Law was No more
able to make holy, than it was to justify; By it is the
knowledge of Sin, but not the cure of Sin. Aaron was set apart
By the Divine appointment to the office of the priesthood; but
he, who had once shamed himself So far as to build an Altar to a
Golden Calf, must own himself unworthy of the honour of
attending at the Altar of God, and indebted to free Grace alone
for it. Thus pride and boasting were silenced.

7-14 God says to Moses, that the Israelites had corrupted
themselves. Sin is the corruption of the sinner, and it is a
self-corruption; every Man is tempted when he is drawn aside of
his own Lust. They had turned aside out of the way. Sin is a
departing from the way of duty into a By-path. They soon forgot
God's Works. He sees what they cannot discover, nor is any
wickedness of the world hid from him. We could not Bear to see
the thousandth part of that evil which God sees every Day. God
expresses the greatness of his just displeasure, after the
manner of men who would have none to plead for those they resolve
to be severe with. Nothing but the Prayer of Moses could save them
from ruin; thus he was a Type of Christ, By whose mediation
alone, God would reconcile the world to himself. Moses pleads
God's Glory. The glorifying God's name, as it ought to be our
first petition, and it is So in the Lord's Prayer, So it ought
to be our great plea. And God's promises are to be our pleas in
Prayer; for what he has promised he is able to perform. See the
power of Prayer. In answer to the prayers of Moses, God showed
his purpose of sparing the people, as he had before seemed
determined On their Destruction; which change of the outward
discovery of his purpose, is called repenting of the evil.

15-20 What a change it is, to come down from the Mount of
Communion with God, to converse with a wicked world. In God we
see nothing but what is pure and pleasing; in the world nothing
but what is sinful and provoking. That it might appear an Idol
is nothing in the world, Moses ground the Calf to Dust. Mixing
this powder with their Drink, signified that the backslider in
Heart should be filled with his own ways.

21-29 Never did any Wise Man make a more frivolous and foolish
excuse than that of Aaron. We must never be drawn into Sin By
any thing Man can say or do to us; for men can but tempt us to
Sin, they cannot force us. The approach of Moses turned the
dancing into trembling. They were exposed to shame By their Sin.
The course Moses took to Roll away this reproach, was, not By
concealing the Sin, or putting any false Colour upon it, but By
punishing it. The Levites were to slay the ringleaders in this
wickedness; yet none were executed but those who openly stood
forth. Those are marked for ruin who persist in Sin: those who
in the morning were shouting and dancing, before night were
dying. Such sudden changes do the judgments of the Lord
sometimes make with sinners that are secure and jovial in their

30-35 Moses calls it a great Sin. The work of ministers is to
show people the greatness of their sins. The great evil of Sin
appears in the price of Pardon. Moses pleads with God for Mercy;
he came not to make excuses, but to make Atonement. We are not
to suppose that Moses means that he would be willing to perish
for ever, for the people's sake. We are to Love our neighbour as
ourselves, and not more than ourselves. But having that mind
which was in Christ, he was willing to lay down his Life in the
most painful manner, if he might thereby preserve the people.
Moses could not wholly turn away the wrath of God; which shows
that the Law of Moses was not able to reconcile men to God, and
to perfect our peace with him. In Christ alone, God So pardons
Sin as to remember it No more. From this history we see, that No
unhumbled, Carnal Heart, can long endure the holy precepts, the
humbling truths, and the spiritual Worship of God. But a God, a
Priest, a Worship, a doctrine, and a Sacrifice, suited to the
Carnal mind, will ever meet with abundance of worshippers. The
very Gospel itself may be So perverted as to suit a worldly
taste. Well is it for us, that the Prophet like unto Moses, but
who is Beyond compare more powerful and merciful, has made
Atonement for our souls, and now intercedes in our behalf. Let
us rejoice in his Grace.