Worshipping the gold bull calf
32 The people saw that Moses was taking a long time to come down from the mountain. They gathered around Aaron and said to him, “Come on! Make us gods who can lead us. As for this man Moses who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we don’t have a clue what has happened to him.”
2 Aaron said to them, “All right, take out the gold rings from the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took out the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 He collected them and tied them up in a cloth. Then he made a metal image of a bull calf, and the people declared, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”
5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf. Then Aaron announced, “Tomorrow will be a festival to the Lord!” 6 They got up early the next day and offered up entirely burned offerings and brought well-being sacrifices. The people sat down to eat and drink and then got up to celebrate.
7 The Lord spoke to Moses: “Hurry up and go down! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, are ruining everything! 8 They’ve already abandoned the path that I commanded. They have made a metal bull calf for themselves. They’ve bowed down to it and offered sacrifices to it and declared, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” 9 The Lord said to Moses, “I’ve been watching these people, and I’ve seen how stubborn they are. 10 Now leave me alone! Let my fury burn and devour them. Then I’ll make a great nation out of you.”
11 But Moses pleaded with the Lord his God, “Lord, why does your fury burn against your own people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and amazing force? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘He had an evil plan to take the people out and kill them in the mountains and so wipe them off the earth’? Calm down your fierce anger. Change your mind about doing terrible things to your own people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, whom you yourself promised, ‘I’ll make your descendants as many as the stars in the sky. And I’ve promised to give your descendants this whole land to possess for all time.’” 14 Then the Lord changed his mind about the terrible things he said he would do to his people.
15 Moses then turned around and came down the mountain. He carried the two covenant tablets in his hands. The tablets were written on both sides, front and back. 16 The tablets were God’s own work. What was written there was God’s own writing inscribed on the tablets. 17 When Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “It sounds like war in the camp.”
18 But Moses said,
“It isn’t the sound of a victory song.
It isn’t the sound of a song of defeat.
The sound of party songs is what I hear.”
19 When he got near the camp and saw the bull calf and the dancing, Moses was furious. He hurled the tablets down and shattered them in pieces at the foot of the mountain. 20 He took the calf that they had made and burned it in a fire. Then he ground it down to crushed powder, scattered it on the water, and made the Israelites drink it.
21 Moses said to Aaron, “What did these people do to you that you led them to commit such a terrible sin?”
22 Aaron replied, “Don’t get angry with me, sir. You know yourself that these people are out of control. 23 They said to me, ‘Make us gods who can lead us. As for this man Moses who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we don’t have a clue what has happened to him.’ 24 So I said to them, ‘Whoever has gold, take it off!’ So they gave it to me, I threw it into the fire, and out came this bull calf!”
25 Moses saw that the people were out of control because Aaron had let them get out of control, making them an easy target for their enemies. 26 So Moses stood at the camp’s gate and said, “Whoever is on the Lord’s side, come to me!” All the Levites gathered around him. 27 Moses said to them, “This is what the Lord, Israel’s God, says: Each of you, strap on your sword! Go back and forth from one end of the camp to the other. Each of you, kill your brother, your friend, and your neighbor!” 28 The Levites did as Moses commanded. About three thousand people were killed that day. 29 Moses said, “Today you’ve been ordained to the Lord, each one of you at the cost of a son or a brother. Today you’ve gained a special blessing for yourselves.”
30 The next day Moses said to the people, “You’ve committed a terrible sin. So now I will go up to the Lord. Maybe I can arrange reconciliation on account of your sin.” 31 So Moses went back to the Lord and said, “Oh, what a terrible sin these people have committed! They made for themselves gods of gold. 32 But now, please forgive their sin! And if not, then wipe me out of your scroll that you’ve written.”
33 But the Lord said to Moses, “The ones I’ll wipe out of my scroll are those who sinned against me. 34 Now go and lead the people to the place I described to you. My messenger here will go in front of you. When the day of reckoning comes, I’ll count their sin against them.” 35 Then the Lord sent a plague on the people because of what they did with the bull calf that Aaron made.
The Lord: “I can’t go”
33 The Lord said to Moses, “Go and leave this place, you and the people whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt. Go to the land I promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob when I said, ‘I’ll give it to your descendants.’ 2 I’ll send a messenger before you. I’ll drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 3 Go to this land full of milk and honey. But I won’t go up with you because I would end up destroying you along the way since you are a stubborn people.”
4 When the people heard the bad news, they were sorry. No one put on any jewelry, 5 because the Lord had said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites, ‘You are a stubborn people. If I were to go up with you even for a single moment, I would destroy you. So now take off your jewelry, while I figure out what to do with you.’” 6 So after leaving Mount Horeb the Israelites rid themselves of their jewelry.
Speaking with the Lord at the meeting tent
7 Moses took the tent and pitched it outside the camp, far away from the camp. He called it the meeting tent. Everyone who wanted advice from the Lord would go out to the meeting tent outside the camp. 8 Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people would rise and stand at the entrance to their tents and watch Moses until he had gone into the tent. 9 When Moses entered the tent, the column of cloud would come down and stand at the tent’s entrance while the Lord talked with Moses. 10 When all the people saw the column of cloud standing at the tent’s entrance, they would all rise and then bow down at the entrances to their tents. 11 In this way the Lord used to speak to Moses face-to-face, like two people talking to each other. Then Moses would come back to the camp. But his young assistant Joshua, Nun’s son, wouldn’t leave the tent.
Moses pleads with God
12 Moses said to the Lord, “Look, you’ve been telling me, ‘Lead these people forward.’ But you haven’t told me whom you will send with me. Yet you’ve assured me, ‘I know you by name and think highly of you.’ 13 Now if you do think highly of me, show me your ways so that I may know you and so that you may really approve of me. Remember too that this nation is your people.”
14 The Lord replied, “I’ll go myself, and I’ll help you.”
15 Moses replied, “If you won’t go yourself, don’t make us leave here. 16 Because how will anyone know that we have your special approval, both I and your people, unless you go with us? Only that distinguishes us, me and your people, from every other people on the earth.”
17 The Lord said to Moses, “I’ll do exactly what you’ve asked because you have my special approval, and I know you by name.”
18 Moses said, “Please show me your glorious presence.”
19 The Lord said, “I’ll make all my goodness pass in front of you, and I’ll proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord.’ I will be kind to whomever I wish to be kind, and I will have compassion to whomever I wish to be compassionate. 20 But,” the Lord said, “you can’t see my face because no one can see me and live.” 21 The Lord said, “Here is a place near me where you will stand beside the rock. 22 As my glorious presence passes by, I’ll set you in a gap in the rock, and I’ll cover you with my hand until I’ve passed by. 23 Then I’ll take away my hand, and you will see my back, but my face won’t be visible.”