Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Exodus 32

While the Lord has been busy over 40 days instructing Moses in how the Israelites are to worship, the Israelites have been busy shaping, with the help of Aaron, an idol in the form of a golden calf. The Lord plans to destroy the Israelites and take His people from Moses. The Lord is turned away from this plan only by Moses' entreaty that the Egyptians would take this as a sign that the Lord led the Israelites out of Egypt with malign intent. As an added point, Moses asks the Lord to remember the promises made to the patriarchs.

Joshua and Moses descend from the mountain. Moses is so furious at the Israelites's inconstancy that he flings the tablets of the Law to the ground, breaking them. He burns the golden calf, grinds it to powder, and makes the Israelites drink water into which he has cast the powder. Aaron minimizes his role in the fiasco, saying that he merely threw the gold in the fire and out came the Calf. Moses rallies the clan of Levi, and they kill three thousand. Moses declares these Levites to be blessed. Then Moses offers himself up to the Lord in place of Israel. God promises punishment for the Israelites and, indeed, strikes them with a plague.

This chapter is jam-packed with interesting material.
First, the tablets described here are created entirely by the finger of God (Exodus 31:18). The replacement tablets are chiseled from stone by Moses, though written on by God (Ex. 34:1). Moses did not drop the tablets in surprise. God told him what to expect when he returned to camp. Perhaps he smashed them so that the people would be ignorant of their sin and therefore, technically not guilty.
( In any event, Moses' anger destroys the one tangible connection between God and the Israelites.

The calf, of course, would represent Egyptian gods. Telushkin (Biblical Literacy) suggests that the reference to the people dancing was an implication that they engaged in an orgy. A number of Egyptian gods were associated with cattle. The most famous is Isis, shown with horns. However, a more likely candidate for this golden calf would be Hathor, " associated with love, fertility, naughtiness, moon, music and cavorting" ( Other candidates are Bat, Hesa, Mehturt, and Shenty.

There is an interesting transformation of the Levites in this chapter. Jacob cursed Levi, and by extension all of his descendants, for his violence (Gen. 49:5-7). Now the violence has found a socially-acceptable outlet in religious cleansing.


Post a Comment

<< Home