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Exodus 32:25–35

“Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said, ‘Who is on the LORD’s side? Come to me.’ And all the sons of Levi gathered around him” (Ex. 32:26).

Worshiping the golden calf was no minor mistake; rather, it put the entire nation of Israel at risk of destruction (Ex. 32:1–10). God relented and did not destroy Israel when Moses interceded for the people (Ex. 32:11–14), but this did not mean that all was safe. The Lord’s relenting implies that action would be taken to purge the idolatry from Israel, for the holy God cannot preserve the impenitent forever (Ex. 34:6–7). Moses’ first step in cleansing Israel of idolatry was to destroy the image of the golden calf (Ex. 32:15–24). Today’s passage records the next step—getting rid of the impenitent idolaters.

Exodus 32:25–29 records how Moses took care of those who adamantly refused to turn from their idolatry. First, he rallied to his side those who were committed to the Lord. Notably, the Levites joined him, which is appropriate because they were appointed to keep guard over the worship of God, and the golden calf incident was a failure to worship the Lord rightly (Ex. 32:25–26; see Num. 1:53). Given that Aaron, who played a leading role in the sin with the golden calf, was later ordained as the first high priest of Israel (Lev. 8–10), we may properly assume that he repented of his sin and joined in with the Levites who rallied to Moses. Worshiping the golden calf was serious, but it was not the unforgivable sin, for those who repented of their idolatry could be spared. Exodus 32:27–29 confirms this, for we read that only three thousand men of Israel were killed by the Levites. Since the entire nation except Moses and Joshua (Ex. 32:15–20) had participated in the idolatry but only three thousand died, this suggests that only three thousand individuals refused to turn from their wickedness.

After executing the impenitent Israelites, Moses asked the Lord again to forgive the Israelites or, if not, to blot him out of the “book” (Ex. 32:30–32). In effect, Moses was offering to substitute himself for Israel and to take on the destruction they deserved if the Lord was unwilling to pardon them. God said that only those who had sinned would be blotted out (Ex. 32:33–35). The book mentioned here is elsewhere in Scripture called the “book of life,” the listing of those who have been saved (see Rev. 3:5). Some might take the references to being blotted out of this book as an indication that one can lose salvation, but the point of today’s passage is not to give instruction on whether eternal salvation can be lost. The point is rather simple: those who reject the Lord for false gods will not be saved in the end.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

John Calvin comments on the blotting out of people from the book of life: “We cannot hence infer any change in the counsel of God; but this phrase is merely equivalent to saying, that God will at length make it manifest that the reprobate, who for a season are counted amongst the number of the elect, in no respect belong to the body of the Church.” Some may for a time seem to be true believers, but if they do not have saving faith, they will finally manifest this reality.

for further study
  • Numbers 25:1–13
  • Psalm 69:13–28
  • Philippians 4:3
  • Revelation 20:15

    Moses Breaks the Tablets

    God Commands Israel to Leave Sinai

    Keep Reading A Reasonable Faith

    From the November 2022 Issue
    Nov 2022 Issue