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And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men.
For Moses had said, Consecrate yourselves to-day to the LORD, even every man upon
his brother; that he may bestow upon you a blessing this day.
And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses said unto the people, Ye have sinned a great sin: and now I will go up unto the Lord; peradventure I shall make an atonement for
sin. And Moses returned unto the LORD, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold.
Yet now if thou wilt forgive their sin: and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.
And the Lord said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book.
Therefore now go, lead the people unto the place of which I have spoken unto thee: behold, mine angel shall go before thee : nevertheless, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them.
And the LORD plagued the people, because they made the calf which Aaron made.
And the Lord said unto Moses, Depart, and go up hence, thou and the people which thou hast brought up out of the land of Egypt, unto the land which I sware unto Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, untoihy seed will I give it:
And I will send an angel before thee: and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite :
Unto a land flowing with milk and honey: for I will not go up in the midst of thee; for thou art a stiffnecked people ; lest I consu:ne thee in the way.
ANNOTATIONS AND REFLECTIONS. It seems the Israelites were impatient to pursue their journey : and, perhaps, supposed that Moses had pe. rished in the devouring fire that appeared on the top of the mountain ; and that the cloudy pillar would no longer guide them towards Canaan, so they resolved to have some visible representation of God, according to the practice of the heathens among whom they had lived, who made images of gods which had no existence but in the imaginations of their worshippers. The idol which Aaron made, from its being called a calf, is supposed to have been in imitation of the god Apis, a bull, which was worshipped by the Egyptians, and which they used to conduct in great trimuph to Memphis, their capital city.
The setting up of this idol was a very heinous crime; especially as the LORD God had made it a part of His Covenant with them, that they should not make to themselves graven images, or set up any thing in competition with Himself, the only DIVINE IMAGE, who is very God of rery God.
The people had justly incurred the displeasure of God; but the SUPREME BEING is not like mankind, subject to a variety of conflicting passions, which agitate the mind, and sometimes rise to such a height as to produce revenge, hatred, and malice : God is at all times the same : therefore when we read here, that GOD was angry, and that His wrath waxed hot--and that the LORD repented of the evil, &c. we are to understand, that the wickedness of men deserved that His justice should punish them with severity; that His mercy abated the rigour of the sentence.
The Lord had already determined what he would do, in respect to his rebellious people, namely, to accept
of the intercession of their mediator, and save their as a nation, for his sake; but that Moses might have an opportunity of shewing the regard which he had for the honour of God, and the extent of his love for the Israelites, the LORD did not make known this purpose to him, but put him to the proof, that he might shew himself to be a faithful Mediator.
The first intercession which Moses made, shewed, that the honour of the LORD was his principal object. The arguments he used were such as would justify God in sparing the people; and God acted by the Israelites in conformity to these arguments, sparing that nation, for His onth's sake, which had forfeited the privileges He had granted then.
No wonder that Moses was provoked tò so great a degree, when he found the Israelites in the very act of rebellion against their Heavenly King; or that he should break the Tables of the Testimony, when they had broken the covenant. The honour of God was concerned that he should do so; for they were unworthy of being his people when they had rejected him as their Gov.
From the excuse that Aaron made for himself, he seems to have been influenced by fear of the people ; while those, who required him to make a god for them, acted from a rebellious presumptuous spirit: as his was á sin of infirmity, he met with mercy ; but it was the will of the Lord that the presumptuous sinner should be cut off *.
It is said, that Aaron had made the people naked to their enemies: the meaning of this expression is, that having forfeited the protection, which God had pro. mised to them while they adhered to Him, they rere now in a defenceless state.
* Numbers xv, 27, &c.
The Levites were required to testify their zeal for the honour of The LORD, by slaying every man his brother, his companion and neighbour, if they found any such among the worshippers of the golden calf : but it does not appear, that they had occasion to put to death any of their relations ; for the whole tribe of Levi were faithful to the LORD; on which account they were consecrated to Him, or set apart from the other tribes to be employed in the holy offices Red ligion.
When the idolaters were dead, Moses, most likely was directed by a Divine impulse to endeavour to make án åtonement for the rest, who perhaps had joined in the offence through ignorance, fear, inconsideration, &c. which, though very sinful, did not exclude themi from the forgiveness of God. Every act of wicked ñéss, strictly speaking, is a sin against God: but those offences, which have a direct tendency to dishonour His Holy Name, are called emphatically sins against God.
It is evident, that Moses greatly regretted the necesa sity he had been under, of commanding the Levites to cut off the presumptuous sinners; and that he wished to preserve the nation, even at the expence of his own life. The expression, Blot me out of thy book, &c. signifies, Let me die, rather than sec them cast out from thy favour, and exterminated from the earth.
The intercession having been made, God assured Moses that the Israelites should be saved: He gave them to him, and promised that he would, for his sake, and for the sake of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, preserve them, and put them into possession of the land of Canaan.
The Angel, who is here promised, we may suppose was one of those celestial beings who execute the divine
will in a manner incomprehensible to us in our present state; probably one of those who conducted Lot and his family out of Sodom.
According to the rules of Divine justice, God could not, without destroying them, go up in the midst of a people who had so heinously offended Him, as they had not yet as a nation humbled themselves, and ob tained His pardon ; but we shall find that, when they did this, He suffered the intercession of Moses to pre. vail, and then went up in the midst of them.
We learn from this section, that the Mediator of a Covenant betwixt God and his people may intercede and make atonement for sins committed against that covenant; and that God, for his sake, spares those for whom the mediator pleads, provided they repent, and testify their repentance in the Lord's appointed way.
It is shocking to read of the Israelites falling into idolatry so soon after the Lord had graciously ratified his Covenant with them: but it shews the weakness of human nature. Christians, under a better Covenant than that of the Israelites, are but too apt to dishonour the Lord God, not indeed by setting up images of silver and gold, but by various other trangressions equally offensive.
As the Lord accepted the Mediator of the Temporal Covenant, and remitted the punishment of temporal death, which the Jews as a body of people had incurred by apostacy, we may be certain that the intercession of the Mediator of the Frerlasting Covenant has prevailed, so as to redeem those for whom he interceded; our blessed Saviour has prevailed, and that he has redeemed all mankind from everlasting death; but if individuals will not fulfil the conditions required on their part, they will forfeit this redemption, and all the blessings and privileges of the Covenant of Grace.