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Bible: What Does Exodus 31-32 Teach Us About God's Word and Idolatry?

Updated on August 20, 2016

Written with the Finger of God


God Has a Finger?

Does God have fingers?

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Bezalel and Aholiab/The Golden Calf Incident

The Testimony: "Written with the Finger of God"

Now the LORD names Bezalel (a certain Spirit-filled artisan from the tribe of Judah) to design structures, work with precious metals, cut jewels, and carve wood (vv. 1-5).

To assist him, God selects Aholiab of Dan (as well as other specially gifted artisans) to make every structure, utensil, garment, oil, and incense (vv. 6-11).

Yahweh repeats Israel’s need to keep Sabbaths as a sign of His sanctifying them (vv. 12-13).

Working six days a week is good, but anyone found working on the Sabbath receives the death penalty (vv. 14-15).

This day is a perpetual covenant (a sign); it memorializes the LORD’s model at Creation (vv. 16-17).

At this time, He gives Moses the two tablets of stone, the Testimony, “written with the finger of God” (v. 18).

The Golden Calf Incident




The Sin of the Golden Calf

Exodus 32

Aaron Fashions a Golden Calf to Worship

Impatient for Moses to descend from Sinai and ignorant of his status (that is, alive or dead), the people demand that Aaron make them a god, a symbol of Yahweh, to go before them (v. 1).

Under pressure to act, Aaron gathers their golden earrings and fashions a calf (vv. 2-4a).

As the people exult in their “god,” the high priest builds them an altar, and announces that the next day is a feast day for Him (v. 5).

On the morrow, they sacrifice to their idol and celebrate their “feast” (v. 6; cf. 1 Cor 10:7).

Moses Intercedes for Israel

From the mountaintop, Yahweh commands Moses to go down and “deal with” the people whom he brought out of Egypt, telling him what they have done to corrupt themselves (vv. 7-8).

In a test of Moses’ love for them, the LORD offers to annihilate them and start over with a more obedient people (vv. 9-10).

Quickly, Moses steps in and intercedes for Israel; he reasons with the LORD, pointing out that He is the One who brought them out of Egypt “with great power and with a mighty hand” (v. 11).

[The LORD is justified to destroy His people for their idolatry, but the text reads as though He is a hot-tempered deity and Moses is the conciliator.

Emphasized in this passage is the importance of human intercession].

“Reminding” the LORD of “the facts”—Egypt would develop a poor opinion of Yahweh’s character if He would destroy Israel and end His eternal covenant with them—Moses argues that He should relent (vv. 12-13).

[Again, the LORD does not need to be reminded or convinced of the implications of these truths, but Moses still must bring them up before Him for some reason].

Then the text merely reports that Moses’ intercession succeeded in its purpose (v. 14).

The Tablets


Rebellion at the Mount

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Moses Destroys the Golden Calf and Confronts Aaron

The prophet heads downhill, tablets in hand; in the record, he stresses their appearance (written on both sides) and their divine origin (the work of God, the writing of God) [vv. 15-16; cf. 31:18].

Reaching Joshua’s location/campsite, Moses informs him that the noise of singing, not war, emanates from Israel’s camp (vv. 17-18).

When he witnesses their idolatry and revelry, Moses angrily throws the tablets down and breaks them, thereby symbolizing the breaking of the covenant (v. 19).

After burning, grinding, and scattering the gold from the calf on a water source, he makes Israel drink it (v. 20).

[Since Israel is a nation of two or three million strong, whom does Moses make to drink the golden water?

What water source exists at this time at Sinai?

Notice the divine authority Moses has to administer this discipline].

Then he confronts Aaron, excoriating him for his weakness; Aaron, on his part, offers Moses a very flimsy excuse for his behavior, shifting the blame onto the people alone.

He seems to see himself as hardly culpable when he concludes, “. . . and this calf came out” (vv. 21-24).

Grieving over Israel’s unrestrained condition, yet wishing to salvage some part of their reputation, Moses calls for a separation between the faithful and the sinners (vv. 25-26a).

[The record points out his extreme disappointment with his brother Aaron].

After the sons of Levi gather to him, Moses orders them to kill those who disobeyed, some of whom are very close friends and relatives (vv. 26b-27).

About three thousand fall (v. 28).

[Again, this judgment must have been on a very limited basis for only three thousand to die].

Moses calls for everyone to consecrate himself anew in order for Yahweh to bless them all (v. 29).

Moses Meets with Yahweh Again

On the next day, Moses tells Israel he is going to ascend to God again to intercede for them (v. 30).

While on the mountain, he pleads with the LORD to spare the great sinners below; yet he says that if He chooses to destroy them, then neither does he want to live anymore (vv. 31-32).

[Moses probably refers to what is more than a “Book of Existence”; it is a “Book of Life.”]

God says that He will blot sinners out of His book (v. 33).

[It is difficult to know what it means for sinners to be “blotted out” of this book].

As for Moses, Yahweh commands him to lead the people to the Land, His Angel accompanying him (v. 34).

The LORD will judge them with a plague when the time comes (v. 35).

© 2012 glynch1


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