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< 023215 > EXODUS 32:15-29 Our present section presents to us a vastly different scene than the one upon which we gazed in the preceding verses. There we beheld the typical mediator pleading so graciously and effectually before the Lord, turning away His wrath from His stiffnecked people. Here we see Moses coming down from the mount, where he had been in such wondrous and blessed communion with God, angered at the sin of idolatrous Israel, breaking the tables of stone, grinding the golden calf to powder, strewing it upon the water and making the people to drink. Here we see this man of prayer arraigning Aaron, the responsible and guilty leader, and then calling upon the Levites to put on their swords and “slay every man his brother.” The contrast is so radical, so strange, that many have been perplexed, and grotesque have been some of the explanations attempted.
It is therefore pertinent to ask at once, Does our type now fail us? Is Moses in our present passage no longer a foreshadowing of Christ? Surely after all that has been before us in the previous chapters of Exodus we should be slow to answer these questions in the affirmative. If we are unable to perceive the spiritual meaning and application of this picture, certainly that is no reason why we should say or even imagine that there is a defect in the holy Word of God. Far better and becoming for us to confess the dimness of our vision and betake ourselves to the great Physician, that He may anoint our eyes with eyesalve that we may see ( Revelation 3:18). It is only in His light that we ever “see light” ( Psalm 36:9). If we who take up our pens to write upon the Oracles of God did this more faithfully and frequently, there would be far less of darkening “counsel by words without knowledge” ( Job 38:2). Not that we dare to imply, though, that other writers have done this less than ourselves.
In his “Notes on Exodus,” which are for the most part very spiritual and helpful, and from which, under God, the writer himself has received not a little help, C.H.M. says on the opening verses of our present passage, “How different is this from what we see in Christ! He came down from the bosom of the Father, not with the tables in His hands, but with the law in His heart. He came down, not to be made acquainted with the condition of the people but with a perfect knowledge of what that condition was.
Moreover, instead of destroying the memorials of the covenant and executing judgment, He magnified the Law and made it honorable and bore the judgment of His people in His own blessed Person, on the cross” (page 316). Here is a case in point which shows the need for all of us to heed the Divine admonition, “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” ( Thessalonians 5:21) — which applies to our own writings equally as much as any others — for only thus shall we be able to “take forth the precious from the vile” ( Jeremiah 15:19).
In the first place, what we have here is not a type, either by comparison or contrast, of the first advent of God’s Son to this earth, coming here to seek and to save that which was lost. How could it be, when the section immediately preceding gives us a picture of His intercession on High? In the second place, when Christ was here, He did come with the ten commandments in His hands, came to enforce their righteous demands, though not to execute their inexorable penalty. He came here, full not only of “grace,” but of “truth” as well ( John 1:14), saying, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill” ( Matthew 5:17). In the four Gospels we see the tables of stone in the hands of Christ again and again: see Matthew 5:27-32; 15:3-6; 19:16-19; 23:2-3. In the third place, Moses did not come down from the mount” to be made acquainted with the condition of the people,” instead, he already had full knowledge of their awful state and sin before he descended, as vv. 7-9 clearly enough show.
That what is before us in the second half of Exodus 32 possesses a deep and wondrous typical significance we are fully assured, though nought but Divine guidance will enable us to rightly divide this portion of the Word of Truth. We believe that this type has a twofold application, first to Israel, second to Christendom. Its application to Israel has already been pointed out at the close of our comments upon Exodus 24 (Article 32), but as many of our present readers have not seen them, we shall here repeat briefly what was then said.
First, in Exodus 24:18 we behold Moses entering the glory (the “cloud”) consequent upon his having erected the altar and sprinkled the blood (vv. 4-8). If the reader will consult 24:16, 18 he will find that it was after “six days” — which speaks of work and toil, on the seventh day, which tells of rest, that the typical mediator was called by God to enter the glory Beautiful foreshadowment was this of Christ, as it is said of Him in Hebrews 4:10, “He that is entered into His rest, He also hath ceased from His works, as God from His.” And what was the “rest” into which He entered? Does not His own request in John 17:4,5 tell us! Thus, Moses going up into the mount and entering the cloud to commune with Jehovah is a type of the ascension of Christ, following the triumphant completion of the work which had been given Him to do. That which formed the subject of communion between the Lord and Moses in the mount was the revelation concerning the Tabernacle and its priesthood, which, coming in at this place in the book, tells of the provision of God’s grace for His people, secured to them by and in Christ during His absence.
Now the next event, chronologically, was Moses’ descent, recorded in Exodus 32. He did not end his days on the mount, but, in due time, returned unto the people. In like manner, the One whom Moses foreshadowed, is not to remain on High forever, but will come back again as truly and as literally as He went away. It is indeed striking to observe that Moses came down from Sinai twice after he had entered the glory.
First, as recorded in 32:15; second, in 34:29, having of course returned thither in the interval. So also will there be two stages in the second advent of Christ: the first when He descends into the air, to catch up His mints away from this scene ( 1 Thessalonians 4:16,17); the second when He returns to the earth itself ( Zechariah 14:4). These two stages in the Redeemer’s return will affect Israel very differently: the first will be followed by terrible judgment, the second will usher in an era of unparalelled blessing, even the Millennium. That which we have in our present passage is what immediately followed the first descent of Moses.
During his absence in the mount, the people had gathered themselves unto Aaron, saying “Up, mike us gods which shall go before us out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him” ( <023201> 32:1).
Is not that an accurate description of the spiritual state of the Jews all through this Day of Grace? They are all at sea over the long absence of their Messiah, not knowing what to think. While Moses was away, they made and worshipped a golden calf. And has not history again repeated itself? That which has characterized the Jews has not been the love of conquest or the lure of pleasure, as it has been with the Gentiles, but the lust for gold.
Now just as at his first descent Moses found Israel worshipping the golden calf, so at the first stage in the second advent of our Savior, Israel will still be pursuing their mad quest after material riches; and just as Moses’ response was to act in judgment, making them drink the dust of their idol and calling for the sword to smite them, so shall the Jews be made to drink the outpoured vials of God’s wrath and suffer beneath the sword. But just as the Nation was not completely exterminated under the anger of Moses, neither shall it be under the far sorer afflictions of the Tribulation period. In Exodus 33 and 34 that which followed the second descent of Moses anticipates millennial conditions.
Having dwelt on the application of our present type to Israel, let us view it now as it bears on Christendom. The action of Moses in the passage before us foreshadowed Christ in another character than that which was before us in our last article. There we viewed Him as the Mediator, making intercession for His people; here we behold Him as Judge, not consuming, but inspecting and executing corrective judgment. “Moses coming down from the mountain to expose and judge what was going on in the camp is very much like the Lord’s attitude in Revelation 2,3. He takes His place in the midst of the seven lamps to pass judgment upon what is evil and idolatrous, and also to take account of such faithfulness as might answer to what was found in the sons of Levi” (C. A. Coates).
We believe it is the first three chapters of the Revelation which supply the key to the meaning of our present type. “And Moses turned, and went down from the mount, and the two tables of the testimony were in his hand: the tables were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other were they written. And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables” (vv. 15, 16). This is not contradictory, but complementary, to that which precedes. First we have that which speaks of the grace of God, now that which Brings out His government. The tables of stone in the hands of Moses announced that the righteous requirements of the law cannot be set aside. “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” was addressed not to worldlings, but to Christians. Let the reader note attentively the inspired description of Christ in Revelation 1:12-18. There we behold One “like unto the Son of man” (cf. John 5:27) in the midst of the seven lamp-stands, and “out of His mouth goeth a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength” (v. 16)! “And when Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said unto Moses, There is a noise of war in the camp. And he said, It is not the voice of them that shout for mastery, neither is it the voice of them that cry for being overcome; but the noise of them that sing do I hear” (vv. 17, 18).
An important spiritual principle here receives exemplification. If the reader will turn back to Exodus 24:13-18 it will be found that though both Moses and Joshua went up into the mount, leaving the congregation below at its base, yet Moses alone went into the midst of the cloud, to talk to Jehovah. For forty days Joshua had, apparently, been left alone, while Moses “communed” with the Lord ( 31:18). The effect of this we see in the verses before us: Moses, and not Joshua, is the one who discerns the true state of affairs in the camp. His ear was able to interpret aright the noise and din which came up to them. Ah, it is not only true that in God’s light we alone see light, but only by much communion with Him do we acquire the hearing “ear.” “And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses’ anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount” (v. 19).
A most appalling spectacle was spread before these servants of God. The very people who had only recently bowed before the manifested majesty of Jehovah, were now obscenely sporting around the golden image of a calf.
In holy indignation Moses dashes the tables of stone to the ground, just as in the days of His flesh the Lord Jesus “made a scourge of small cords” and drove out of the Temple those who had desecrated His Father’s house; and just as in Revelation 1 He is seen with “His eyes as a flame of fire” (v. 14). “And Moses’ anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount.” This affords a most striking illustration of what is said in James 2:10, “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” Israel had offended “in one point.” God had said to them: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above or that is in the earth be-hearth, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them ( Exodus 20:4,5). This they had disobeyed, and the law being a unit, they are guilty of all” — hence the breaking of the two tables to show that the ten commandments, as a whole, had been violated. “And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and strawed it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it” (v. 20).
Some of the so-called “higher critics” with their customary scepticism have called into question the reference to Moses Strawing the powder upon “the water;” but if these men would but take the trouble to “search the Scriptures,” they would find that the Holy Spirit has granted light upon this point, though not in this chapter (for the Bible does not yield its meaning to lazy people), but in another book altogether. In Deuteronomy 9:21 we read, “I took your sin, the calf which ye had made, and burnt it with fire, and stamped it, and ground it very small, even until it was as small as dust: and I cast the dust thereof into the brook that descended out of the mount.”
What that “brook” was that “descended out of the mount” Exodus 17:6 tells us.
The Christian is bidden to keep himself from idols ( 1 John 5:21), which, we need scarcely add, covers very much more than bowing down to graven images. An “idol” is anything which displaces God in my heart. It may be something which is quite harmless in itself, yet if it absorbs me, if it be given the first place in my affections and thoughts, it becomes an “idol.” It may be my business, a loved one, or my service for Christ. Any one or anything which comes into competition with the Lord’s ruling me in a practical way, is an “idol.” And if I have set up an idol, then God, in His faithfulness and love, will break it down; not If I sow to the flesh, then of the flesh I must reap corruption ( Galatians 6:8). “And Moses said unto Aaron, What did this people unto thee, that thou hast brought so great a sin upon them?” Moses now arraigns the one who had been left in charge of the people, just as in Revelation 2,3, Christ addresses, in each case, the responsible “angel” or “messenger” of the local church. Sad it is to hear the reply of the one who should have maintained the honor and glory of Jehovah. “And Aaron said, Let not the anger of my Lord wax hot: thou knowest the people, that they are set on mischief. For they said unto me, Make us gods, which shall go before us: for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is be come of him” (vv. 22, 23).
Very sad indeed is this. There was no sense of the terribleness of the sin committed, no sign of repentance; instead, there was a throwing of the blame upon others. Thus it was at the beginning: when the Lord arraigned Adam, he blamed his wife ( Genesis 3:12); and when Eve was questioned, she blamed the Serpent. How often we hear the leaders in Christendom saying, “We have to make these concessions because the people demand it.” “What a contrast there is here between Aaron and Moses! Aaron afraid of the people, instead of protesting against their idolatrous wishes, actually making the calf; and then excusing himself in a way which is just a sample of the kind of excuses people make for doing evil (v. 24). Moses comes down in an energy that could take a stand single-handed against six hundred thousand men, that could execute judgment on their sin, and maintain what was due to God.
It is just the contrast between the servant who is with men and the servant who is with God. If a man acts with God he always acts in power. He may have plenty of exercise as to his own weakness in secret, but in public he acts in power and with no uncertainty or hesitation” (C.A.C.). “And I said unto them, Whosoever hath any gold, let them break it off. So they gave it me: then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf” (v. 24).
The breaking off of their “golden” ornaments was a figure of their being stript of their glory. This is ever what precedes all idolatry. What is man’s “glory?” To be in subjection to his Maker and to be grateful for His mercies. Man is only in honor when God is given His true place. Just as we read of the Gentiles, in Romans 1:21, “When they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful.” What followed? This: they “changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man” etc. Nothing will preserve from idolatry but a will bowed to God’s authority and a heart lifted up in thanksgiving for His bounties. If I do not bow to God, I shall quickly bow to something else that is of the creature, and thus be stripped of my “gold,” my glory. “So they gave it me: then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf.” In this purile manner did Aaron seek to deny all personal responsibility in the matter. Really, he told a downright lie, as a reference to v. 4 will show. Great indeed was his sin: marvellous the mercy which pardoned it. It is blessed to learn from Deuteronomy 9:20 that the life of Aaron was spared in answer to the supplications of Moses. Thus we see in type, again, the efficacy of the Mediator’s intercession for His people. “And when Moses saw that the people were naked; (for Aaron had make them naked unto their shame among their enemies): Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the Lord’s side? let him come unto me” (vv. 25, 26).
The situation called for drastic action. Having arraigned Aaron, Moses now considers the condition of the people, and beheld them naked and demoralized, having indulged in the idolatrous sensualism which they had so often witnessed in Egpyt, and whose mad merriment they had, no doubt, remembered with many a sigh. They had been disturbed in their abominable orgies, and had yielded only to the terror of Moses’ presence. A swift and summary vengeance must therefore be visited upon them, in order that the survivors might be brought to soberness and repentance, and that the Divine wrath, which had only been suspended by his intreaties, might be averted from utterly consuming the Nation. “Who is on the Lord’s side?” That was now the issue, clearly defined. “It was no time for concealment of the evil or for compromise.
When there is open apostasy there can be no neutrality. Neutrality when the question is between God and Satan is itself apostasy. He that is not with the Lord, at such a time, is against Him. And mark, moreover, that this cry is raised in the midst of those who were the Lord’s professing people. They were all Israelites. But now there must be a separation, and the challenge of Moses, ‘Who is on the Lord’s side?’ makes all manifest. He becomes the Lord’s center; and hence to gather to Him was to be for, to refuse his call was to be against the Lord” (Ed. Dennett). “And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him” (v. 26).
The Levites were the “overcomers” (cf. Revelation 2,3) of that day. They had, apparently, been preserved from the awful sin of their nation, and now promptly responded to the call of God’s servant. A most searching and severe test was presented to them: “And he said unto them, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate through the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbor” (v. 27).
Natural inclinations might well shrink from compliance with such a command. Sentiment would say, Not so, let us be gentle and gracious, we shall accomplish more by kindness than severity. Reason would argue, We can do no good by slaying people: there is far more power in love than in the sword; let us seek to woo and win them back to God. Such arguments sound very plausible, but the call was distinct and decisive, “Put every man his sword by his side.” There was nothing else for it in view of that calf. So in preaching to idolators today it is the wrath of a holy God, and not His love (which is a truth for His own people only), which needs pressing upon them.
As another has said in his application of this verse to the saints today, “It was obedience at all costs to the divine call, and hence complete separation from the evil into which Israel had fallen. God often tests His people in the same way; and whenever confusion and declension have begun, the only Path for the godly is that which is marked out by the course of Levi — that of full-hearted, unquestioning obedience. Such a path must be painful, involving for those who take it the surrender of some of the most intimate associations of their lives, and breaking many a tie of nature — of kindred and relationship; but it is only the path of blessing. Well may all challenge their hearts and inquire, if in this evil day they are apart from all that dishonors the Lord’s name, in subjection to His Word.”
The terrible sequel we must leave for our next article. May the Lord sanctify to our souls the solemn yet salutary lessons contained in the verses which have been before us.