Exodus 32 is the start of a new section that extends through chapter 34. It describes the blatant sin of idolatry committed by a large number of Israelites while Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the covenant of the LORD. This section is placed in between the instructions on how to build the tabernacle and its furnishings (chapters 25 – 31) and its construction (chapters 35 – 40).
Chapter 32 can be outlined as follows:
The Israelites Break the Covenant by Building a Golden Calf (32:1 – 6)
The LORD Threatens to Destroy the Israelites (32:7 – 10)
Moses Intercedes for the People (32:11 – 14)
Moses Destroys the People’s Idol in His Anger (32:15 – 20)
Moses Confronts Aaron (32:21 – 24)
Moses Confronts the People (32:25 – 29)
Moses Intercedes for the People Again (32:30 – 35)
After Moses stayed on Mt. Sinai longer than expected, the Israelites decided they would make their own god. Aaron went along with the plan and created a golden calf idol. After proclaiming the calf as their god, theIsraelites worshipped the calf through sexual immorality, typical of pagan practice.
The LORD informed Moses of the events happening in the Israelite camp. He then told him to go down from Mount Sinai to observe the golden calf that they were worshipping. The LORD then asked Moses to let Him alone so He could execute His judgment upon the people for this grievous sin.
Moses interceded for the people in an effort to convince God to relent from destroying them. He appealed to the LORD’s work protecting Israel and His love for Abraham.
Moses obeys the LORD and descended Mount Sinai carrying the two tablets of the law. He returned to the Israelite camp and saw the golden calf and the people’s revelry. After throwing down and shattering the tablets, he destroyed the calf idol and made the people of Israel drink its residue.
After making the people drink the dust of their idol, Moses then confronted Aaron about his role in the fiasco. Aaron provided a weak explanation of what happened, telling truth mixed with falsehood.
Moses called for those who were with him to stand up on the LORD’s behalf. The Levites did so, and they were then ordered to go through the camp and kill those who were connected to the idolatry (probably the ringleaders), resulting in three thousand Israelites being killed. Moses then urged the people to dedicate themselves to the LORD once again.
Moses offered to God to die or bear the consequences for the people. The LORD rejected his offer and declared that those who committed this terrible sin would suffer consequences. He also commanded Moses to lead the people according to the LORD’s instruction and revealed that His “angel,” rather than He Himself, would lead them.