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The Lord spoke to Moses, “Go quickly, descend,[a] because your[b] people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have acted corruptly. They have quickly turned aside[c] from the way that I commanded them—they have made for themselves a molten calf and have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt.’”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people.[d] Look[e] what a stiff-necked people they are![f] 10 So now, leave me alone[g] so that my anger can burn against them and I can destroy them, and I will make from you a great nation.”

11 But Moses sought the favor[h] of 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? 12 Why[i] should the Egyptians say,[j] ‘For evil[k] he led them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy[l] them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger, and relent[m] of this evil against your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel your servants, to whom you swore by yourself and told them, ‘I will multiply your descendants[n] like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken about[o] I will give to your descendants,[p] and they will inherit it forever.’” 14 Then the Lord relented over the evil that he had said he would do to his people.

15 Moses turned and went down from the mountain with[q] the two tablets of the testimony in his hands. The tablets were written on both sides—they were written on the front and on the back. 16 Now the tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets. 17 When Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted,[r] he said to Moses, “It is the sound of war in the camp!” 18 Moses[s] said, “It is not the sound of those who shout for victory,[t] nor is it the sound of those who cry because they are overcome,[u] but the sound of singing[v] I hear.”[w]

19 When he approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses became extremely angry.[x] He threw the tablets from his hands and broke them to pieces at the bottom of the mountain.[y] 20 He took the calf they had made and burned it in the fire, ground it[z] to powder, poured it out on the water, and made the Israelites drink it.[aa]

21 Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you, that you have brought on them so great a sin?” 22 Aaron said, “Do not let your anger burn hot, my lord;[ab] you know these people, that they tend to evil.[ac] 23 They said to me, ‘Make us gods that will go before us, for as for this fellow Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has happened to him.’ 24 So I said to them, ‘Whoever has gold, break it off.’ So they gave it[ad] to me, and I threw it into the fire, and this calf came out.”[ae]

25 Moses saw that the people were running wild,[af] for Aaron had let them get completely out of control, causing derision from their enemies.[ag] 26 So Moses stood at the entrance of the camp and said, “Whoever is for the Lord, come[ah] to me.”[ai] All the Levites gathered around him, 27 and he said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, has said ‘Each man fasten[aj] his sword on his side, and go back and forth[ak] from entrance to entrance throughout the camp, and each one kill his brother, his friend, and his neighbor.’”[al]

28 The Levites did what Moses ordered,[am] and that day about 3,000 men of the people died.[an] 29 Moses said, “You have been consecrated[ao] today for the Lord, for each of you was against his son or against his brother, so he has given a blessing to you today.”[ap]

30 The next day Moses said to the people,[aq] “You have committed a very serious sin,[ar] but now I will go up to the Lord—perhaps I can make atonement[as] on behalf of your sin.”

31 So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Alas, this people has committed a very serious sin,[at] and they have made for themselves gods of gold. 32 But now, if you will forgive their sin…,[au] but if not, wipe me out[av] from your book that you have written.”[aw] 33 The Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me—that person I will wipe out of my book. 34 So now go, lead the people to the place I have spoken to you about. See,[ax] my angel will go before you. But on the day that I punish, I will indeed punish them for their sin.”[ay]

35 And the Lord sent a plague on the people because they had made the calf[az]—the one Aaron made.[ba]

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  1. Exodus 32:7 tn The two imperatives could also express one idea: “get down there.” In other words, “Make haste to get down.”
  2. Exodus 32:7 sn By giving the people to Moses in this way, God is saying that they have no longer any right to claim him as their God, since they have shared his honor with another. This is God’s talionic response to their “These are your gods who brought you up.” The use of these pronoun changes also would form an appeal to Moses to respond, since Moses knew that God had brought them up from Egypt.
  3. Exodus 32:8 tn The verb is a perfect tense, reflecting the present perfect nuance: “they have turned aside” and are still disobedient. But the verb is modified with the adverb “quickly” (actually a Piel infinitive absolute). It has been only a matter of weeks since they heard the voice of God prohibiting this.
  4. Exodus 32:9 sn This is a bold anthropomorphism; it is as if God has now had a chance to get to know these people and has discovered how rebellious they are. The point of the figure is that there has been discernible evidence of their nature.
  5. Exodus 32:9 tn Heb “and behold” or “and look.” The expression directs attention in order to persuade the hearer.
  6. Exodus 32:9 sn B. Jacob says the image is that of the people walking before God, and when he called to them the directions, they would not bend their neck to listen; they were resolute in doing what they intended to do (Exodus, 943). The figure describes them as refusing to submit, but resisting in pride.
  7. Exodus 32:10 tn The imperative, from the word “to rest” (נוּחַ, nuakh), has the sense of “leave me alone, let me be.” It is a directive for Moses not to intercede for the people. B. S. Childs (Exodus [OTL], 567) reflects the Jewish interpretation that there is a profound paradox in God’s words. He vows the severest punishment but then suddenly conditions it on Moses’ agreement. “Let me alone that I may consume them” is the statement, but the effect is that he has left the door open for intercession. He allows himself to be persuaded—that is what a mediator is for. God could have slammed the door (as when Moses wanted to go into the promised land). Moreover, by alluding to the promise to Abraham God gave Moses the strongest reason to intercede.
  8. Exodus 32:11 tn S. R. Driver (Exodus, 351) draws on Arabic to show that the meaning of this verb (חָלָה, khalah) was properly “make sweet the face” or “stroke the face”; so here “to entreat, seek to conciliate.” In this prayer, Driver adds, Moses urges four motives for mercy: 1) Israel is Yahweh’s people, 2) Israel’s deliverance has demanded great power, 3) the Egyptians would mock if the people now perished, and 4) the oath God made to the fathers.
  9. Exodus 32:12 tn The question is rhetorical; it really forms an affirmation that is used here as a reason for the request (see GKC 474 §150.e).
  10. Exodus 32:12 tn Heb “speak, saying.” This is redundant in English and has been simplified in the translation.
  11. Exodus 32:12 tn The word “evil” means any kind of life-threatening or fatal calamity. “Evil” is that which hinders life, interrupts life, causes pain to life, or destroys it. The Egyptians would conclude that such a God would have no good intent in taking his people to the desert if now he destroyed them.
  12. Exodus 32:12 tn The form is a Piel infinitive construct from כָּלָה (kalah, “to complete, finish”) but in this stem, “bring to an end, destroy.” As a purpose infinitive this expresses what the Egyptians would have thought of God’s motive.
  13. Exodus 32:12 tn The verb “repent, relent” when used of God is certainly an anthropomorphism. It expresses the deep pain that one would have over a situation. Earlier God repented that he had made humans (Gen 6:6). Here Moses is asking God to repent/relent over the judgment he was about to bring, meaning that he should be moved by such compassion that there would be no judgment like that. J. P. Hyatt observes that the Bible uses so many anthropomorphisms because the Israelites conceived of God as a dynamic and living person in a vital relationship with people, responding to their needs and attitudes and actions (Exodus [NCBC], 307). See H. V. D. Parunak, “A Semantic Survey of NHM,” Bib 56 (1975): 512-32.
  14. Exodus 32:13 tn Heb “your seed.”
  15. Exodus 32:13 tn “about” has been supplied.
  16. Exodus 32:13 tn Heb “seed.”
  17. Exodus 32:15 tn The disjunctive vav (ו) serves here as a circumstantial clause indicator.
  18. Exodus 32:17 sn See F. C. Fensham, “New Light from Ugaritica V on Ex, 32:17 (brʿh),” JNSL 2 (1972): 86-7.
  19. Exodus 32:18 tn Heb “he”; the referent (Moses) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  20. Exodus 32:18 tn Heb “the sound of the answering of might,” meaning it is not the sound of shouting in victory (U. Cassuto, Exodus, 418).
  21. Exodus 32:18 tn Heb “the sound of the answering of weakness,” meaning the cry of the defeated (U. Cassuto, Exodus, 415).
  22. Exodus 32:18 tn Heb “answering in song” (a play on the twofold meaning of the word).
  23. Exodus 32:18 sn See A. Newman, “Compositional Analysis and Functional Ambiguity Equivalence: Translating Exodus 32, 17-18, ” Babel 21 (1975): 29-35.
  24. Exodus 32:19 tn Heb “and the anger of Moses burned hot.”
  25. Exodus 32:19 sn See N. M. Waldham, “The Breaking of the Tablets,” Judaism 27 (1978): 442-47.
  26. Exodus 32:20 tn Here “it” has been supplied.
  27. Exodus 32:20 tn Here “it” has been Pouring the ashes into the water running from the mountain in the brook (Deut 9:21) and making them drink it was a type of the bitter water test that tested the wife suspected of unfaithfulness. Here the reaction of the people who drank would indicate guilt or not (U. Cassuto, Exodus, 419).
  28. Exodus 32:22 sn “My lord” refers to Moses.
  29. Exodus 32:22 tn Heb “that on evil it is.”
  30. Exodus 32:24 tn Here “it” has been supplied.
  31. Exodus 32:24 sn Aaron first tried to blame the people, and then he tried to make it sound like a miracle—was it to sound like one of the plagues where out of the furnace came life? This text does not mention it, but Deut 9:20 tells how angry God was with Aaron. Only intercession saved his life.
  32. Exodus 32:25 tn The word is difficult to interpret. There does not seem to be enough evidence to justify the KJV’s translation “naked.” It appears to mean something like “let loose” or “lack restraint” (Prov 29:18). The idea seems to be that the people had broken loose, were undisciplined, and were completely given over to their desires.
  33. Exodus 32:25 tn The last two words of the verse read literally “for a whispering among those who rose up against them.” The foes would have mocked and derided them when they heard that they had abandoned the God who had led them out of Egypt (S. R. Driver, Exodus, 354).
  34. Exodus 32:26 tn “come” is not in the text, but has been supplied.
  35. Exodus 32:26 tn S. R. Driver suggests that the command was tersely put: “Who is for Yahweh? To me!” (Exodus, 354).
  36. Exodus 32:27 tn Heb “put.”
  37. Exodus 32:27 tn The two imperatives form a verbal hendiadys: “pass over and return,” meaning, “go back and forth” throughout the camp.
  38. Exodus 32:27 tn The phrases have “and kill a man his brother, and a man his companion, and a man his neighbor.” The instructions were probably intended to mean that they should kill leaders they knew to be guilty because they had been seen or because they failed the water test—whoever they were.
  39. Exodus 32:28 tn Heb “did according to the word of Moses.”
  40. Exodus 32:28 tn Heb “fell.”
  41. Exodus 32:29 tn Heb “Your hand was filled.” The phrase “fill your hands” is a familiar expression having to do with commissioning and devotion to a task that is earlier used in 28:41; 29:9, 29, 33, 35. This has usually been explained as a Qal imperative. S. R. Driver explains it “Fill your hand today,” meaning, take a sacrifice to God and be installed in the priesthood (Exodus, 355). But it probably is a Piel perfect, meaning “they have filled your hands today,” or, “your hand was filled today.” This was an expression meant to say that they had been faithful to God even though it turned them against family and friends—but God would give them a blessing.
  42. Exodus 32:29 tn The text simply has “and to give on you today a blessing.” Gesenius notes that the infinitive construct seems to be attached with a vav (ו; like the infinitive absolute) as the continuation of a previous finite verb. He reads the verb “fill” as an imperative: “fill your hand today…and that to bring a blessing on you, i.e., that you may be blessed” (see GKC 351 §114.p). If the preceding verb is taken as perfect tense, however, then this would also be perfect—“he has blessed you today.”
  43. Exodus 32:30 tn Heb “and it was on the morrow and Moses said to the people.”
  44. Exodus 32:30 tn The text uses a cognate accusative: “you have sinned a great sin.”
  45. Exodus 32:30 tn The form אֲכַפְּרָה (ʾakhapperah) is a Piel cohortative, expressing intention, though context suggests only a possibility of success.
  46. Exodus 32:31 tn As before, the cognate accusative is used; it would literally be “this people has sinned a great sin.”
  47. Exodus 32:32 tn The apodosis is not expressed; it would be understood as “good.” It is not stated because of the intensity of the expression (the figure is aposiopesis, a sudden silence). It is also possible to take this first clause as a desire and not a conditional clause, rendering it “Oh that you would forgive!”
  48. Exodus 32:32 tn The word “wipe” is a figure of speech indicating “remove me” (meaning he wants to die). The translation “blot” is traditional, but not very satisfactory, since it does not convey complete removal.
  49. Exodus 32:32 sn The book that is referred to here should not be interpreted as the NT “book of life” which is portrayed (figuratively) as a register of all the names of the saints who are redeemed and will inherit eternal life. Here it refers to the names of those who are living and serving in this life, whose names, it was imagined, were on the roster in the heavenly courts as belonging to the chosen. Moses would rather die than live if these people are not forgiven (S. R. Driver, Exodus, 356).
  50. Exodus 32:34 tn Heb “behold, look.” Moses should take this fact into consideration.
  51. Exodus 32:34 sn The Law said that God would not clear the guilty. But here the punishment is postponed to some future date when he would revisit this matter. Others have taken the line to mean that whenever a reckoning was considered necessary, then this sin would be included (see B. Jacob, Exodus, 957). The repetition of the verb traditionally rendered “visit” in both clauses puts emphasis on the certainty—so “indeed.”
  52. Exodus 32:35 tn The verse is difficult because of the double reference to the making of the calf. The NJPS’s translation tries to reconcile the two by reading “for what they did with the calf that Aaron had made.” B. S. Childs (Exodus [OTL], 557) explains in some detail why this is not a good translation based on syntactical grounds; he opts for the conclusion that the last three words are a clumsy secondary addition. It seems preferable to take the view that both are true, Aaron is singled out for his obvious lead in the sin, but the people sinned by instigating the whole thing.
  53. Exodus 32:35 sn Most commentators have difficulty with this verse. W. C. Kaiser says the strict chronology is not always kept, and so the plague here may very well refer to the killing of the three thousand (“Exodus,” EBC 2:481).