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Verse 1. There is a sottishness, a madness, as well as a wickedness in certain vices, which, at first sight, we should deem inconsistent with each other. The irra. tionality of the brute, the frenzy of the lunatic, and the malignity of the demon, here discover themselves at once; and leave us perplexed which we are most to wonder at and deplore. What shall we say of the stupidity which talked of making gods, and of following that as a guide which itself could not move, but as it was carried? With what notes of indignation shall we mark our abhorrence of that base ingratitude which could speak contemptuously of such a benefactor as Moses; “ This Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him?" Verse 1. With what holy resentment must we execrate the spirit that could deal thus perfidiously, presumptuously, with God?
After we have vented our anger and astonishment upon the conduct of these vile Israelites, let us pause and examine ourselves. Asserted by a strong hand and a stretched-out arm into the glorious liberty of the sons of God, have we never reverted in thought, in desire, in practice, into that very thraldom of sin from which the Son of God came to set us free? Lying under the weight of benefits much more precious and bound by engagements equally solemn and explicit, have we never swerved from the path of duty, never lost sight of our vows, never failed in our obedience? With so much clearer and fuller discoveries of the being, nature and will of the one living and true God, have we feared and loved him, and only him; have we never bowed the knee to mammon, never worshipped in the house of Rimmon, never kissed the image of Baal? Alas, alas! we hate and condemn some sins merely because they are not our own, while we stand chargeable in the sight of God and man, with equal or greater offences of a different kind; so blinded as not to perceive, so self-deluded as not to feel their enormity.
Is it not amazing to observe on the part of Aaron no reluctance against this horrid proposal; to hear from his lips no remonstrance? Is it thus he discharges his sacred trust? Is this the man whom Jehovah was, in the mean while, designing to advance, and promoting to the dignity of the pristhood? Many things have been alleged in extenuation of his fault, though nothing can amount to a full vindication of his conduct. The conciseness of the sacred history, it has been said, may have suppressed some of the more favourable circumstances, and exhibited only a general view of the subject. Some of the Rabbing* pretend that his colleague in office, Hur, had lately been mas. sacred in a popular commotion for daring to resist the prevailing frenzy; and that Aaron complied, through fear of similar treatment, after having thus deprecated the divine displeasure; “O Lord, I look up to thee, who knowest the hearts of men, and who dwellest in the heavens: Thou art witness that I act thus contrary to my own will. Lay it not to my charge."
Others explain away great part of the criminality, both of Aaron and of the people, by alleging that all they demanded, and all he gave them, was an external object, where they might deposit the homage which they wished to render to a Supreme God: and thus they interpret the request of the people, “Make us a sensible object of divine worship, which may always be before our eyes, and supply the place of God, when we shall be told of all the wonders he wrought for us in Egypt.”+ And a learned prelatet of our own country labours to prove, that Aaron presented only a hieroglyphic of the strength and power of the Deity, and he produces a few passages from ancient authors to prove, that the ox was an emblem of royal and sovereign authority, and the horns, in particular, a common and well known emblem of strength.
* In Schemoth Rabba, Sect. xli. fol. 156. + R. Juda, in Lib. Cozri. Part 1. Sect. xcvii. fol. 47. Patrick, Bishop of Ely, on Exod. xxxii. 4. page 635.
A fourth excuse has been pleaded in behalf of Aaron, founded on the letter of the sacred text. He feigned readiness to comply, according to these apologists, * in hope that the demand of their golden ornaments for the fabrication of the idol, acting upon their love of finery, or of wealth, might bring them to a stand, and break their resolution. But why set up an elaborate defence for a man who stands condemned by his own brother, who had the best means of information; and for one who himself had nothing, or worse than nothing, to produce in his own behalf, when charged by Moses with his fault?
These spoils of the Egyptians had not been obtained in the most honourable manner. Israel “ borrowed and paid not again;" and it proves a dreadful snare to them. If they had not carried off the gold, they might perhaps have kept clear of the gods of Egypt. But ill-gotten wealth never was and never can be a blessing; and unwarrantable devices sooner or later come to entangle the feet of those who use them. Mark, how one rapacious domineering passion swallows up many others. “Can a maid forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire?” And yet behold the daughters of Israel cheerfully sacrificing the darling embellishments of their persons to a mistaken principle of religion! If there be a passion more violent than another, it is the love of gold in the heart of a Hebrew; but we see one more violent than even that, the delirium of idolatrous superstition.
It is dangerous to have the patterns of evil before Sur eyes. We soon learn to bear with what we see frequently; we are insensibly led to approve what we have learned to suffer without being shocked; and what we heartily approve we are not far from adopt. ing. Israel has sustained greater injuries in Egypt than we are at first aware of, and they have been more deeply hurt in their minds than in their persons. The stripes of an Egyptian task-master are healed by the lenient hand of time: but the wounds inflicted by the impure rites of Egyptian idols, are still festering at the heart, and threaten death.
*August. Tom. IV. Quæst. xl. in Exod. Page 113: and Theodoret. Tom. I. in Exod. Quæst. Ixvi, page 3.
Aaron is too eager and intent upon his shameful work, to escape the suspicion of being hearty in it; " And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf; and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt,” Verse 4. All that industry, all that art could do, is employed to confer lustre and value on this worthless object; and yet he would have it believed, when he is called to account, that the form and fashion of the idol was the effect of accident, not of design: “I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf,” Verse 24. What a pitiful figure does ingenious, industrious wickedness make, when it stands exposed, convicted, self-condemned! But the framing and erecting of this idol is not the whole extent of Aaron's criminality. I am still more shocked at heholding an attempt to blend with its profane worship, the sacred day, the sacred ceremo. nies and services of the true God. “And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation, and said, To-morrow is a feast to the Lord,” Verse 5. What concord hath Christ with Belial ? An attempt to form such an union as this, is more grossly insulting than even avowed neglect or opposition. It freezes the blood to observe a repetition of the same august ceremonies which were lately employed in the mount, for confirming the grand alliance between the great Jehovah and his people, in the seta tling of this strange league between Israel and a bauble of their own invention. “They rose up early,” as men intent upon their purpose; the altar is reared, the sacrifice is offered up, the peace-offering is provided, the feast of friendship is prepared and eaten. “ They offered burnt-offerings; and brought peaceofferings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play,” Verse 6. These last words are supposed by some commentators of note to be descriptive of a scene of extreme lewdness and debauchery. And certain it is, that one of the principal instruments of propagating and supporting idolatry, was the attraction of beauty and wantonness, vilely prostituted to decoy strangers into the homage of the impure and worthless deity of the place. That people must be in a dreadful state indeed, among whom religion, the foun. dation of good morals, the guard of virtue, is employed as a minister to unhallowed pleasure, and a hand-maid to vice.
The prevalence of evil practices is a lamentable thing, but the establishment of wrong principles is much
The wholesomest stream may be accidentally tainted and pulluted, and work itself pure again; but if the fountain be poisonous, nothing but death can flow from it. “When lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin; and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death,” James i. 15.
-We are now conveyed from this awful scene of pollution in the valley, to a much more awful scene of meditated vengeance on the mount.
While Moses was solacing himself in the pleasing prospect of being soon dispatched to the people of his charge with messages of love; while he was rejoicing in the important transaction so lately past, confident that all was now settled between God and his people; the joy of this exalted communication is suddenly interrupted by intelligence of a new, unprovoked and unexpected revolt. “And the Lord said unto Moses, Go, get thee down: