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Exodus 32:21-24

Verses covered in this passage:

  • Exodus 32:21
  • Exodus 32:22
  • Exodus 32:23
  • Exodus 32:24

The book of Exodus is the second book of the Torah (“law”). It continues the story of Genesis concerning the migration of the family of Jacob (the Israelites) to Egypt (Genesis 50). It describes the commissioning of Moses and Aaron as God’s representatives on earth to accomplish God’s deliverance of His people from slavery in Egypt and lead them to the Promised Land (the land of Canaan). It also relates the miraculous deliverance from Egypt beginning with the plagues on Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea. It then describes the journey to Mount Sinai and the establishment of the Mosaic covenant with the Israelites. The last part of the book involves the specifications and building of the tabernacle – the place where the Lord Himself dwelt amongst His people.

In the book of Exodus, the focus shifts to the deliverance of God’s people.


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 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.

The people had been confronted about their sin of idolatry, and now it was Aaron’s turn to be challenged by Moses. Moses asked him a simple question—What did this people do to you, that you have brought such great sin upon them? Moses presumes that Aaron would not have done this willingly, so his question of Aaron presumes the people must have done something to coerce him into this action.

Since Aaron was the high priest to the LORD, he should have made a stand against the people’s idolatrous ways. In light of this, Moses gives Aaron the benefit of the doubt, giving him an out to explain that the people had threatened, intimidated, or tricked him into making the idol. The question, however, made it very clear that it was a “great sin” that occurred.

Aaron begins his defense politely by saying do not let the anger of my lord burn. Interestingly, this is similar to Moses’ opening statement when he engaged with God in verse 11. Aaron used the Hebrew word for lord or “master” (“‘adoni,” not the word for the LORD, Yahweh), which showed politeness and respect. He does not refer to the LORD’s burning anger here.

Aaron sidesteps the opportunity to tell Moses that he was coerced, rather, he simply blames the people for the debacle. He tells Moses that you know the people yourself, that they are prone to evil. This may imply that Moses should not have been surprised at what the people did and that his burning anger was not justified. The Hebrew for prone to evil is literally “in evil it is,” and it implies that the people were inclined to do evil, that it came naturally to them.

Aaron then recounted what happened. He told Moses that they said to me, ‘Make a god for us who will go before us; for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him. This part of the story was true (see v. 1) as was Aaron’s response—I said to them, ‘Whoever has any gold, let them tear it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire.

The last part of his answer to Moses seems to be pure fabrication. Aaron told Moses that after he put the gold in the fire, out came this calf. The wording here implies that a miracle happened, where Aaron threw many pieces of gold into the fire and a fully-sculpted calf idol miraculously jumped out of the fire. Perhaps Aaron is attributing the calf to the work of the LORD. This would be the latest in a long list of the LORD’s miracles starting with the plagues on Egypt, the Red Sea crossing, the daily supply of manna, and so on.

The truth was that Aaron chose to go along with the people’s idolatry when he should have known better. He played an active role, fashioning the gold into the image of a calf with manmade tools.

Amazingly, Moses did not pronounce judgment upon his brother, but rather he interceded for him to the LORD, Who wanted to kill him (Deuteronomy 9:20).

Biblical Text

21 Then Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you, that you have brought such great sin upon them?” 22 Aaron said, “Do not let the anger of my lord burn; you know the people yourself, that they are prone to evil. 23 For they said to me, ‘Make a god for us who will go before us; for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 24 I said to them, ‘Whoever has any gold, let them tear it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.”

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