Exodus 32

These small group studies of Exodus contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, and applications.  Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.

Exodus 32 Inductive Bible Study

Outline:

I. The people and Aaron make a golden calf and sacrifice to it (1-6)

II. God alerts Moses to the problem and tests him (7-10)

III. Moses intercedes for the people (11-14)

IV. Moses discusses with Joshua what is going on (15-18)

V. Moses is angry and judges the camp (19-29)

VI. Moses again intercedes for the people (30-35)

I. The people and Aaron make a golden calf and sacrifice to it (1-6)

What was the situation which gave rise to the people making the golden calf?

What did this show about the heart of the people?

Why do you think they did this when Moses was gone, but not when he was there? What does this show about their relationship to God? How about us? When will our true character come out?

Why do you think Aaron gave into them (and so easily)? What does this tell you about Aaron?

Why make a golden calf? What do you think their purpose was in this? Which commandments did they violate?

Did they completely abandon worship of the true God? What does this tell us about how Satan works? How about the process of turning away from God?

What did the people do right after engaging in this idol worship? What does this tell us about the connection between idol worship and other sinful actions?

1. The people did this great sin while Moses wasn’t there. This doesn’t mean that Moses is to blame. A leader CANNOT always watch the people he is leading. That is impossible and impractical, as well as not beneficial for their own spiritual walk. The problem is that the people did not have a close walk or perhaps any walk with God themselves. They were paying lip service to God because of Moses’ strong leadership. This was confirmed many times including when the people turned away from God after Joshua and the elders passed away. God had performed many great miracles through Moses. The result was that the people greatly respected Moses and followed his instructions while he was there. When he was away that is a different story. In America we have an idiom “While the cats are away, the mice will play.” Moses was the enforcer to keep everybody in line. There is a very clear lesson we can learn from this. Our true colors will often show themselves when authority isn’t around and we won’t be caught for doing wrong. Examples: Kids disobey parents while parents are gone. Students cheat while the teacher is out of class. Employees are lazy while the boss is out of the office (IHV – in house vacation). Citizens break the laws when the police aren’t around (just like American drivers slow down when they see a police car). There are many more examples. The issue is that people are afraid of being caught and that is their motivation for doing right. What is the right motivation for doing right? We should each examine ourselves to see if our behavior is different depending on who is around. If it is different, then we have a problem we need to confess and resolve.

2. We see also that people are basically spiritual. While Moses was gone clearly worship of the true God suffered greatly. But the people still felt a need to express themselves spiritually so just like Romans 1 they decided to exchange worship of the true God for an idol made with human hands. It is an astounding decision considering how God had proved Himself to them again and again through all kinds of miracles while saving them from Egypt and delivering them from Pharaoh’s army. Remember that not too long before (maybe 3 months or so) these events culminated in the parting of the Red Sea. What did the people do after that? They worshiped the Lord spontaneously with praise songs. What lesson can we learn from this quick reversal? People have short-term memories. Also, people’s hearts are extremely wicked. Satan will use any chance to build on doubt and turn people from God. It is unlikely this decision just came one day after devoutly following God. Much more likely this was a slow spreading cancer throughout the camp. After Moses left real worship and teaching was likely given up soon. Then came laziness and disorder, etc. This was evidence of the people’s distance from God rather than the only cause of it.

3. Notice the undue respect they give to Moses at God’s expense. They say that Moses is the “man who brought us up from the land of Egypt.” When actually it was God who did that.

4. What can we say about Aaron here? His “performance” is very discouraging. As a leader of the people God held him to a higher standard. He should have stood up to the people. He should have quickly and severely dealt with this wicked and foolish idea, just as Moses did when he returned. But we see here that Aaron is very weak. He gives in immediately to them. Perhaps it is because he is just a weak follower who does what others ask him to. Perhaps it was deeper and he enjoyed being the center of attention, getting out of his brother’s shadow, and doing something of his own for once. On this earth, we will never know his motivation. But we do see into his heart, and it is not a very pretty picture. The lesson we should get from this is that leaders should never give into to public pressure of those under them to do wrong. This might be the quickest and most convenient thing to do, but it is not necessarily right. Many politicians make decisions solely on the basis of public opinion surveys. Can you remember anyone in the Bible who did this? Pilate. One thing I respected about George Bush (I know most Chinese hate him), is that he seemed to always do what he thought was right even if it was very unpopular. This is a rare quality. Aaron would have done well to remember the verse we discussed a few weeks ago “Don’t follow the masses to do evil.” We would do well to be reminded of this lesson again.

5. People throughout history have liked worshiping something visible, perhaps since “seeing is believing.” To me, however, it goes against all logic. I would think “I see this calf being made right now in front of my eyes and it couldn’t possibly have saved us from Israel.” Sin doesn’t always make sense. It could be completely unreasonable. People are blinded by Satan and their own love of wickedness, which is why they fall into it.

6. Amazingly, the people didn’t completely abandon worship of Yahweh. Verse 5 shows us that they made a feast to the LORD, as they were sacrificing to this idol they had just made. This is called syncretism. It means blending false and pagan religions in together with the true one. This is often the first step towards abandonment of worshiping the true God. Can you think of any other biblical characters who had this problem? Solomon. Jeroboam. The Israelites were already letting themselves be influenced by the countries around them. We know that Egyptians believed cows to be sacred and holy and sometimes worshiped them. The Canaanites did this too in some places. It is almost unfathomable that the Israelites would adopt one of the Egyptians deities right after those very deities were defeated so miserably. The lesson is to never take one step down the slippery slope of syncretism.

7. Verse 6: You can see here the direct connection between idol worship and sin. I’ve mentioned many times before, but it is worth showing yet another example. Because idols can’t see, hear, or judge the people who make them have no fear of being punished for sin. They can also assign any standards to these idols since they created them. Basically it gives them complete freedom to do whatever they like and not feel guilty about it or worry about about discipline. Here we see that as soon as they started worshiping this false god, they lost all self control and started committing gross acts of immorality as a group.

II. God alerts Moses to the problem and tests him (7-10)

Why do you think God calls them “your people”: when before he called them “My People.?”

What adverb is used describing how they turned away from God? Why do you think they quickly turned away from God? Why do people turn away from God so much? How did God describe the people? Why would God consider destroying them? Why do you think he suggested making Moses into a great nation? Did God promise He was going to destroy the nation? Did they deserve His wrath? What does the fact that God was angry tell us about Him?

1. God called them “your people.” Perhaps it was His holy nature distancing Himself from the people or the fact that they were sinners like Moses. Or God could have said this because this is what the people were saying. They had assigned all the credit to their escape from Egypt to Moses just several verses earlier. So perhaps God is saying, “If they don’t want to be My people, then fine.”

2. Notice that God says they “quickly” turned aside from God’s commands. Just 40 days before, when Moses had not yet gone up the mountain, the people affirmed their complete commitment to following God’s commands. Yet here they are just over a month later basically completely rejecting God and disobeying three of the most important commandments. Why do you think they fell so far so fast? It is definitely a reminder to us not to live in the past trusting in a past commitment. Just because you promised to follow God yesterday or even did follow God yesterday doesn’t mean you will today. Just because you had victory over a temptation ysterday, doesn’t mean you will today. It only takes one moment of weakness, one bad decision, one loss of self-control and we could completely fall away from God (I don’t mean lose our relationship, but our fellowship) as well as destroy our testimony. No one is immune and it can happen fast. Therefore we have to be alert all the time because Satan is roaming about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.

3. God threatens to destroy this rebellious people. Notice He doesn’t make a divine decree that He will destroy them. Also there is a condition too, What is the condition? “Let Me alone, that…” God’s action appears to be at least partially conditional on Moses’ response. Keep in mind that doing this would not have nullified God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moses was their descendant too, so all of God’s promises would have still been alive. It definitely appears that God is testing Moses. He called the people Moses’. Now it is time to see if Moses will stand up for the people, or if he will give up on them and celebrate God’s judgment. This test could have definitely appealed to Moses’ pride. Now he could be the patriarch and he could be rid of these annoying complainers all at once!

III. Moses intercedes for the people (11-14)

What pronoun does Moses use in front of “people?” Why?

What words would you use to describe Moses here? What reasons did He give that God should spare the people? Were these reasonable? What can we learn about Moses’ character here? Why do you think he felt freedom to speak so boldly to God? Was God angry with Moses for speaking out? What does the fact that God didn’t rebuke Moses (but listened to him) show about Moses’ correctness in speaking this way?

What does verse 14 mean that God “changed His mind.” Does this mean God didn’t know everything about the future or made a mistake? Why did God say this to begin with?

1. Moses passed the test with flying colors, solidifying his leadership over the people. Firstly, Moses points out that these people belong to God, not him. By doing this he reminds God of God’s promises towards them as a nation and the fact that they are God’s chosen people. Although the Jews gave Moses credit for bringing them out of Egypt, Moses was unwilling to take this credit. Instead he correctly assigned it to God. God was the one who had saved them by His power.

2. In addition, Moses points out that this could be a bad testimony before the nations. Doing this could certainly stir up lots of doubt about God’s motivations and character to all the surrounding nations. This doubt would be unjustified as God had the perfect right to punish Israel for their sin, but it would have existed nonetheless.

3. Moses speaks out very boldly to God and entreats God to change His mind about harming the people. He doesn’t celebrate getting rid of them. He doesn’t sit back passively. He aggressively intercedes for them. Throughout Scripture we do see the greatest men of faith boldly coming before God with their requests and claiming God’s promises. Is this right? Based on the fact that God did not punish Moses, but listened to him, it is safe to say that God considered Moses’ response the right one. This is a reminder that we should be bold in our prayers, with the condition that we have the right motivation. Persisting in prayer doesn’t mean to keep asking for something we know we shouldn’t have (like Caleb asking again and again to play Itouch when I told him no already). It means unselfishly bringing other’s needs before God in faith. This is classic intercession. Do you regularly intercede for others or do you focus on your own needs? If you tell others you will pray for them, do you? Do you pray for them once and then stop? Do you care enough for them to pray these types of b old prayers to the Father?

4. Although this passage says that God “changed His mind” it doesn’t mean that God lied. We know God never lies and cannot even lie. This is from man’s perspective. Our language is incomplete anyway. It looked like from Moses’ standpoint that God changed His mind, but God already knew Moses’ response ahead of time and had decided not to destroy the people. Remember that this was not a divine decree. It was more like a threat and it contained a condition.

IV. Moses discusses with Joshua what is going on (15-18)

What did Joshua think was happening in the camp? What does this tell us about the state of things in the camp?

As Joshua and Moses descended the mountain loud noises like the sounds of war rose up from the camp. This shows just how wild and crazy things had gotten. The entire camp was in chaos and disarray. No self control remained. The people were following their fleshly impulses with no restraint. Alchohol was likely one contributing factor.

V. Moses is angry and judges the camp (19-29)

Was Moses’ anger right? Why do you think he was angry? What were the people doing when he saw them? What is the matter with dancing? Why did he break the commandments? Is there any irony/symbolism there?

What did he teach the people in verse 20?

Did Aaron confess his sin? What reasons did he give for leading the people into sin? Are these reasonable? Was it true that the calf came out of the fire by itself? Is Aaron’s response typical when a person is confronted with his sin or abnormal? What lessons can we learn from this?

Why does it describe a people as a “derision to their enemies?”

Who responded to Moses’ call to commitment to the Lord? Why was the task they were given so difficult? So what do we learn about the right order of priorities in our lives? Do you think it was necessary? Why or why not? Why was God going to bless the Levites?

1. Moses threw the tablets down and they shattered. The people broke God’s commands and symbolically Moses broke the written representation of those commands.

2. Moses is hot with anger here and with good reason. He leaves and people begin running from God as fast as they can. This is an example of righteous anger. Moses is angry because the people are disobeying God’s commands. It is not a selfish motivation. If he showed apathy, then nothing would be done and the sin would have continued. Instead this anger motivated Moses to quickly and decisively deal with the sin (notice at the end of the chapter that Moses doesn’t remain angry with them.)

3. Moses dealt decisively with this sin, a lesson to us that sin must not be tolerated even for a minute in any way, shape, or form. If we find it in our own lives we must deal with it ruthlessly. If we are a leader in a church or fellowship, we must also confront sin when we see it and do our best to root it out. It was fitting that this blind, deaf, and mute calf could do nothing to defend itself. The very people who made it, had to eat it! This was a financial loss and undoubtedly made many of them feel sick and realize the foolishness of their actions.

1. Moses then confronts Aaron first. As leader of the people, he is the most responsible for what happened. Instead of using his influence to stop them, he aided and abetted them.

2. Aaron would have done well to quickly admit his sin and seek forgiveness. Did he? No. Like most people do when confronted with sin, Aaron answered from his flesh. He makes one the most ludicrous excuses in the entire Bible, saying that the calf sprung up from the fire itself!!! Moreover, he blamed the people saying that they “are prone to evil.” In other words he is assigning blame to them and depicts himself as a reluctant and unwilling victim. In the heat of confrontation many people make excuses that don’t make any sense and are often outright lies. Aaron does this here. If he had stopped to think first, he could have realized the foolishness of his words. Instead it seems he says the first thing that pops into his mind. This is one of the “never do like he did” examples in the Bible.

1. It was getting so out of control, that even the heathen and pagan nations around them would have laughed and scoffed at them. They were supposed to be a holy and pure nation, but were acting even more foolish than the nations around them. Satan was scoring a huge victory. But desperate times call for desperate measures.

2. Moses makes a quick decision to deal with this revolt against God. He calls all those still commited to the Lord to him. The Levites very admirably respond. This certainly wasn’t an easy thing to do. They were in the distinct minority. Less than one in ten Israelites were from the tribe of Levi so they were one small band against the rest of the nation. True commitment to God will stand firm even when others around them don’t. This dedication to the Lord would later be the reason why the Levites were chosen as priests.

3. Moses commanded them to go through the camp executing the people around them including their friends and family members. If there was ever a difficult command to obey this was it. The ultimate choice between obeying God and family, God and country. Their priorities would be tested. This is a real life example of Jesus’ statement almost two thousand years later that He came to bring a sword and not peace. Sometimes believing in God divides families. In those cases we have to choose God first.

VI. Moses again intercedes for the people (30-35)

What does the word “alas” (verse 31) tell us about Moses’ attitude?

What does verse 32 tell us about Moses’ commitment and love for his people? Is there anyone else in the Bible who makes a similar declaration? Can you make a similar declaration about your love for your countrymen? Can you even give up one day a week or one day a month to reach out to them?

Did God accept Moses’ idea? Why not?

What was God’s decision about this situation? How did He display mercy? How did He display justice?

Study Exodus 33

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