The Bible

 

Exodus 32:1-20 : The Golden Calf

     

Study the Inner Meaning

1 And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.

2 And Aaron said unto them, Break off the golden earrings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them unto me.

3 And all the people brake off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them unto Aaron.

4 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.

5 And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, To morrow is a feast to the LORD.

6 And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.

7 And the LORD said unto Moses, Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves:

8 They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.

9 And the LORD said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people:

10 Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation.

11 And Moses besought the LORD his God, and said, LORD, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand?

12 Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people.

13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever.

14 And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.

15 And Moses turned, and went down from the mount, and the two tables of the testimony were in his hand: the tables were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other were they written.

16 And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables.

17 And when Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said unto Moses, There is a noise of war in the camp.

18 And he said, It is not the voice of them that shout for mastery, neither is it the voice of them that cry for being overcome: but the noise of them that sing do I hear.

19 And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses' anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount.

20 And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and strawed it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it.

   Study the Inner Meaning
From Swedenborg's Works

Other references to this story:

Arcana Coelestia 375, 588, 2180, 3103, 4197, 4289, 4311, ...

Apocalypse Revealed 242, 433, 490, 529, 555, 669, 748

Divine Providence 95, 132, 243

Sacred Scripture 51

Doctrine of Life 59

True Christian Religion 226, 284, 323


References from Swedenborg's unpublished works:

Apocalypse Explained 279, 365, 392, 433, 1156, 1182

Canons of the New Church 31

Other New Christian Commentary

  Stories and their meanings:



Hop to Similar Bible Verses

Genesis 6:6, 12:2, 15:5, 7, 17:8, 18:27, 22:16, 17, 28:14

Exodus 6:6, 8:8, 13:21, 17:15, 20:4, 24:12, 18, 31:18, 32:22, 23, 33:1, 3, 5, 34:1, 9, 29

Numbers 14:12, 13, 16, 19, 20, 16:21, 21:7

Deuteronomy 4:16, 9:1, 9, 10:2, 10, 31:8, 27, 29, 32:26, 27, 36

Joshua 7:9, 26

Judges 2:17, 18, 19, 8:24, 27

2 Samuel 24:16

1 Kings 12:28, 32

2 Chronicles 27:2, 30:8

Nehemiah 9:16, 17, 18

Psalms 74:1, 90:13, 106:19, 20, 23

Isaiah 1:4, 3:19, 46:6, 64:7, 8

Jeremiah 15:1, 18:8, 26:19, 31:32

Daniel 9:15

Hosea 9

Amos 7:3, 6

Acts of the Apostles 40, 41, 51

1 Corinthians 10:7

James 5:16

Word/Phrase Explanations

saw
The symbolic meaning of "seeing" is "understanding," which is obvious enough that it has become part of common language (think about it; you might see...

moses
Moses's name appears 814 times in the Bible (KJV), third-most of any one character (Jesus at 961 actually trails David at 991). He himself wrote...

down
"Down" is used many different ways in natural language, and its spiritual meaning in the Bible is highly dependent on context. Phrases like "bowing down,"...

Mount
Mount Gilead, as in Genesis 31:21, 23, as a boundary, in a spiritual sense, signifies the first good, which is that of things pertaining to...

aaron
Aaron was the brother of Moses. He symbolizes two things, one during the first part of the exodus, when he was Moses' spokesperson, and another...

said
As with many common verbs, the meaning of “to say” in the Bible is highly dependent on context. Who is speaking? Who is hearing? What...

Make
'To make,' as in Hosea 8:11, refers to good. In the opposite sense it refers to evil. To make heaven, and earth, and the sea,...

Us
Because people are governed by angels and spirits, in Genesis 1:26 it says 'let us make man into our image.' But because the Lord alone...

gods
The Lord is called "Jehovah" in the Bible when the text is referring to his essence, which is love itself. He is called "God" when...

go
In the physical world, the places we inhabit and the distances between them are physical realities, and we have to get our physical bodies through...

go before
To "go before" in the Bible means either to lead or to prepare, depending on context. When it is said of the Lord or things...

before
In most cases, the meaning of "before" is pretty straightforward, both as a way of assessing relative time, and in its use meaning "in someone's...

man
"Man" is a tricky word to discuss, because the Hebrew of the Old Testament uses six different words that are generally translated as "man," with...

Land
Land' in the Word, denotes the church, for the things which signify the church also signify the things relating to the church, for these constitute...

land of
'The land of Rameses,' as in Genesis 47:11, signifies the inmost of the spiritual principle in the natural mind.

Egypt
In the Bible, Egypt means knowledge and the love of knowledge. In a good sense that means knowledge of truth from the Lord through the...

golden
Gold means good, and just as gold was the most precious metal known to ancient mankind so it represents the good of the highest and...

wives
The Hebrew of the Old Testament has six different common words which are generally translated as "wife," which largely overlap but have different nuances. Swedenborg...

Sons
'Sons of Canaan,' as in Genesis 10, are people who kept external worship separate from internal.

Daughters
"Behold I have two daughters,” etc. (Gen. 19:8), signifies the affections of good and truth, and the blessedness perceivable from the enjoyment thereof, by those...

bring
As with common verbs in general, the meaning of “bring” is highly dependent on context, but in general it represents an introduction to a new...

hand
In Genesis 27:22, 'voice' relates to truth, and 'hand,' to good.

Tool
'To form an idol with a graving tool,' as in Exodus 32:4, denotes from self-intelligence.

Israel
'Israel,' in Jeremiah 23:8, signifies the spiritual natural church. The children of Israel dispersed all the literal sense of the Word by falsities. 'The children...

built
To build something generally means to put together a variety of simpler pieces to make a useful and more complex structure, as to build a...

altar
The first altar mentioned in the Word was built by Noah after he came out of the ark. On that altar, he sacrificed clean animals...

feast
There are two kinds of feasts mentioned in the Bible. Some were held to commemorate specific, one-time events, such as the feast Abraham held to...

the Lord
The Bible refers to the Lord in many different ways, which from the text seem indistinguishable and interchangeable. Understood in the internal sense, though, there...

rose
It is common in the Bible for people to "rise up," and it would be easy to pass over the phrase as simply describing a...

early
Since the sun represents the Lord, the early morning and sunrise represent a state of enlightenment, with a new and clear understanding coming after a...

Offerings
'Offerings' signify worship.

peace
In ordinary life, we tend to think of "peace" as essentially "a lack of conflict." As a nation, if we're not at war, it's a...

sat
If you think about sitting, it seems fair to say that where you're sitting is more important than that you're sitting. Sitting in a movie...

eat
When we eat, our bodies break down the food and get from it both energy and materials for building and repairing the body. The process...

drink
Food in the Bible represents the desire for good, and water and other drinks represent the understanding and true ideas we need to recognize what...

Play
To play,' as in Zechariah 8:5, signifies some kind of interior festivity arising from the affection of truth and good.

Quickly
'Quickly' signifies certain and full, because 'time' signifies state and so 'quickly' and 'speedily' mean a current state of affection and thought, or what is...

Way
'To set a way,' as in Genesis 30:36, signifies being separated.

alone
To be alone in the Bible represents being free of evil and false influences. That's why the Lord seeks solitude to pray, and why the...

Hot
'Hot' signifies being in spiritual love.

nation
The Bible generally uses two different terms for large groups: “people” and “nation.” When it uses the term “nation,” it is talking about a group...

God
The Lord is love itself, expressed in the form of wisdom itself. Love, then, is His essence, His inmost. Wisdom - the loving understanding of...

great power
In Revelation 11:17, 'thou hast taken to thee thy great power' signifies divine omnipotence, which is and was His from eternity.

Power
Power,' as in Revelation 4, signifies salvation, because all divine power regards this as its final purpose. A person is reformed by divine power, and...

Mighty
Mighty,' as in Revelation 19:18, signify people who are educated about doctrine derived from the Word. By extension, 'mighty' signifies education or learning derived from...

Egyptians
Egyptians represent those who are in natural science, thus the natural, but the Hebrews, those who are of the church, thus respectively the spiritual. The...

Slay
'To slay' or 'to kill' in the Word, means destroying souls, which is spiritually killing.

mountains
The Writings tell us that the Lord's love is the sun of heaven, and it is natural for us to look above ourselves to the...

face
“The eyes are the windows of the soul.” That’s a sentiment with roots somewhere in murky antiquity, but one that has become hopelessly cliché because...

earth
"Earth" in the Bible can mean a person or a group of like-minded people as in a church. But it refers specifically to the external...

turn
Swedenborg says that the Lord is the sun of heaven, and like the natural sun of our world shines on everyone, good or evil. What...

Remember
'To remember,' as in Genesis 41:9, signifies conjunction. 'Remembering' denotes conjunction because the remembrance of anyone in the other life joins them together, because as...

Abraham
Abraham (or Abram, as he is named in the beginning of his story) is one of the major characters in the story of the sacred...

Isaac
'Isaac' represents spiritual love. 'Isaac,' in Genesis 17:19, signifies the rational divine. 'Isaac' signifies the Lord's divine rational in reference to divine good. Isaac' signifies...

servants
“Servant” literally means “a person who serves another,"" and its meaning is similar in reference to the spiritual meaninngs of the Bible. Our lives in...

own
In many cases, the spiritual meaning of "own," both as a verb and as an adjective, is relatively literal. When people are described as the...

multiply
'Spreading themselves on the earth,' as in Genesis 8:17, signifies the internal self operating on the external.

Seed
'A seed' signifies love, and everyone who has love, as in Genesis 12:7. 8:15, 16. 'A seed' signifies faith grounded in charity. 'A seed' signifies...

Stars
'Stars' signify the knowledge of truth and good. 'Stars' are frequently mentioned in the Word, and always signify goods and truths, but in an opposite...

spoken
Like "say," the word "speak" refers to thoughts and feelings moving from our more internal spiritual levels to our more external ones – and ultimately...

give
Like other common verbs, the meaning of "give" in the Bible is affected by context: who is giving what to whom? In general, though, giving...

inherit
In Biblical times, possessions passed from fathers to sons, a patriarchal system that would not be accepted in today's society – but one that is...

thought
Those who are 'anxious' are not content with their own lot, and do not trust the Divine, but only themselves. They only look to worldly...

two
The number "two" has two different meanings in the Bible. In most cases "two" indicates a joining together or unification. This is easy to see...

Tables
'Tables,' as in Exodus 32:16, signify the external of the Word, because they are distinct from the writing, which is its internal. The external of...

written
If knowing what’s right were the same as doing what’s right, we would all be thin, healthy, hard-working, law-abiding, faithful to our spouses and free...

sides
'Side' signifies good or spiritual love.

one side
Generally when things in the Bible are described as having two sides – especially when the two sides are equal – it has to do...

one
A company might have executives setting policy and strategy, engineers designing products, line workers building them, managers handling personnel and others handling various functions. They...

upon
'Over' or 'upon' in the Word, signifies being within, because the highest part in successive order becomes inmost in simultaneous order. This is why the...

joshua
Joshua is first mentioned in Exodus 17, where he is told to select men to fight for the children of Israel against the Amalekites in...

noise
'A voice crying,' and 'the voice of a cry,' are common expressions in the Word, and are applied whenever there is a noise or disturbance,...

war
War in the Word represents the combat of temptation when what is good is assaulted by what is evil or false. The evil that attacks...

camp
Camps in the Bible represent spiritual order – a person’s (or a church community’s) whole collection of desires for good and true ideas on how...

Voice
'Voice' signifies what is announced from the Word. 'Voice' often refers and is applied to things that cannot have a voice, as in Exodus 4,...

Shout
'To shout from the top of the mountain,' as in Isaiah 42:11, signifies worship from the good of love.

Cry
As with most common verbs, the spiritual meaning of “crying” or “crying out” (meaning a shout or wail, not weeping) is highly dependent on context....

Overcome
'To overcome' signifies receiving in heart. 'To overcome' signifies conquering temptations, and remaining in a state of faith derived from charity.

hear
Thanks to modern science, we now understand that hearing actually happens in the brain, not the ears. The ears collect vibrations in the air and...

came to pass
The phrase “it came to pass,” often also translated as “it happened,” generally indicates the end of one spiritual state and the beginning of a...

came
As with common verbs in general, the meaning of “come” in the Bible is highly dependent on context – its meaning is determined largely by...

Pass
'To pass,' as in Genesis 31:52, signifies flowing in. 'To pass the night,' as in Genesis 24:54, signifies having peace. 'To pass through,' as in...

Nigh
'Nigh' denotes truth in affinity with good.

anger
'Wrath,' as in Genesis 49:7, signifies aversion from truth. 'Great wrath,' as in Revelation 12:12, signifies hatred against the new church.

hands
Scientists believe that one of the most crucial developments in the evolution of humans was bipedalism – walking on two legs. That left our hands...

beneath
Generally speaking things that are seen as lower physically in the Bible represent things that are lower or more external spiritually. In some cases this...

to
‘To grind to powder,’ as in Exodus 32:20, signifies to form what is false from infernal pleasure, thus the infernal false. See Mill.

fire
Just as natural fire can be both comforting in keeping you warm or scary in burning down your house, so fire in the spiritual sense...

ground
Is there any difference in meaning between “earth” and “ground”? At first it doesn’t seem so; both refer to the soil making up the land...

Powder
'Powder' or 'dust' refers to love of self and the world.

water
Water was obviously of tremendous importance in Biblical times (and every other time). It is the basis of life, the essential ingredient in all drinks,...

children
A child is a young boy or girl in the care of parents, older than a suckling or an infant, but not yet an adolescent....

Resources for parents and teachers

The items listed here are provided courtesy of our friends at the General Church of the New Jerusalem. You can search/browse their whole library at the New Church Vineyard website.


 Does the Lord Get Angry?
This lesson and the activities look at how and why a loving God can seem angry at times.
Religion Lesson | Ages over 15

 The Golden Calf
A New Church Bible story explanation for teaching Sunday school. Includes lesson materials for Primary (3-8 years), Junior (9-11 years), Intermediate (12-14 years), Senior (15-17 years) and Adults.
Teaching Support | Ages over 3

 The Golden Calf (3-5 years)
Project | Ages 4 - 6

 The Ten Commandments Received, The Golden Calf
Lesson outline provides teaching ideas with questions for discussion, projects, and activities.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 7 - 10

 Worshiping the Golden Calf
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

Commentary

 

The Golden Calf      

As this story begins, the Children of Israel have escaped Egypt, and are camped near Mount Sinai. Moses, their leader, as climbed up the mountain, and is receiving the Ten Commandments from Jehovah. The people get impatient, and think that perhaps Moses will not return, and they ask his brother Aaron, the High Priest, to make them new gods.

Aaron complies - which is surprising - given that he has been involved in the Exodus since the beginning, supporting Moses. But he does, and collects golden earrings, melts them down , and fashions them into a golden idol shaped like a calf. He builds an altar before the calf, and proclaims a feast to Jehovah.

God sees what is happening, and is angry, telling Moses that he will destroy these people, and start over again, using Moses to start a new church. Moses persuades God not to do this, reminding him of the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Yet, as Moses descends from the mountain, carrying the Ten Commandments etched by the hand of God on two tables of stone, and sees the extent of the forbidden idolatry, he too is angry. He shatters the tables of stone, grinds the calf into dust, mixes the dust into water, and makes the people drink it.

What's the inner meaning of this story?

It's explained in detail in Arcana Coelestia, starting in section 10395. Every detail is important. Very briefly, though:

If we don't realize, or recognize, that the Word contains truths from God, we can react by "gathering to Aaron" - just being religiously observant in an external, perfunctory way.

Detached from internal worship, we gravitate to developing false ideas - idols - that we use in religious teachings and worship. Not knowing Moses's whereabouts means a total unawareness of the internal truths of the Word.

When Aaron gathers the earrings, that signifies the external church cherry-picking truths from the literal sense of the Word to support a man-made religion that reinforces what it loves.

We can think ways that churches that have done this, and on a personal level, there's a strong tendency for us to do this, too - to think shallowly, to extract things from the Word and mold them into idols, or justifications for the things we want to do.

The two tables of stone are inscribed on both sides. There are internals and externals of religion. We need both. This is the reason why the internal meaning of the Word is so important to us all; it contains the inner truths that we need to understand, and live by, and learn to love.

This is much too brief a summary to do the story justice; it's one of they key turning points in the religious history of humankind, and it has profound meaning for us as individuals, and for our churches and nations.


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