Exodus 32:9-10 I have seen these people, the Lord said to Moses. . . . Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.
God was so angry at his people for breaking his law, that he wanted to destroy them, and start over with Moses. This was an opportunity for Moses himself to become a great nation. But Moses was more concerned about God’s reputation than for his own legacy. He even preferred death to seeing God’s people destroyed (Exodus 32:32).
This reminds of Jesus Christ who was also willing to die so that we might live forever. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13), he said. Jesus laid down his life for us, so we could live forever through him (John 6:47).
Exodus 32:14 Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.
Moses’ intercession saved God’s people from total destruction. This also reminds us of the intercession of Christ. When we consider how often we sin, and how badly, it is surprising we did not perish years ago. This is because Jesus intercedes for us, guaranteeing that his salvation is applied for all time. [H]e is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them (Hebrews 7:25), says Hebrews.
Whenever sin threatens to separate us from God, Jesus pleads on our behalf. Because of his death, and constant intercession, God pardons our sins and will never give up on us. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us (Romans 8:34), wrote Paul. We are saved not only by the death of Jesus Christ, but also by his intercession.
Exodus 32:15-16 Moses turned and went down the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.
When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. And he took the calf the people had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it (Exodus 32:19-20).
By breaking the tablets in front of God’s people Moses showed how violently the people had broken their covenant with God. It would later be renewed (Exodus 34:10-28), but was presently shattered. Throughout the centuries, God’s people often broke the covenant, and often had to renew it (Deuteronomy 29, Joshua 8, Joshua 24, 2 Kings 23). This imperfect arrangement showed the need for for a better covenant, one foretold by the prophet Jeremiah.
The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them, declares the Lord.
This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. . . . For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
This covenant was put into effect by the Lord Jesus Christ the night before his death. [H]e took the cup, saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you (Luke 22:20). The new covenant is based on the sacrifice of Christ and is eternal (Hebrews 13:20). We show our participation in the new covenant, not by bringing a sacrifice, but by receiving the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:24-25).
We do not live under the old covenant which God made with his people at Mount Sinai. We live under the new covenant which God made with his people through Jesus Christ. Because of the new covenant, the old is obsolete (Hebrews 8:13), says Hebrews. These two covenants should never be confused.
Exodus 32:21 He said to Aaron, What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?
People who are caught in a sin will often lie to get out of it, and that is what Aaron did. Do not be angry, my lord, Aaron answered. You know how prone these people are to evil. They said to me, Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we do not know what has happened to him. So I told them, Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off. Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf! (Exodus 32:22-24).
This, of course, was absolute nonsense, but Aaron was desperate. He was the future high priest of God’s chosen people, and he failed at his calling before he even began. Instead of leading God’s people into proper worship, he led them into idolatry.
Aaron’s failure reminds us of our need for a perfect high priest. Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself (Hebrews 7:26-27), says Hebrews. Jesus is the perfect high priest, who offered himself as the perfect sacrifice for all time.
Exodus 32:25 Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control.
Moses recovered control by having three thousand people put to death (Exodus 32:28). They were probably the worst offenders, and became an example to the others. God also showed his disapproval by sending a plague (Exodus 32:35). From this we learn that true religion should never be mixed with false religion. For God is a righteous judge, a God who displays his wrath every day (Psalm 7:11), wrote David.
Reflection and Review
Why is Jesus’ intercession important for our salvation?
Why did the old covenant need to be replaced by a new covenant?
Why is Jesus a perfect high priest?