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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[Ex. 32]

MOSES again ascended the mountain, and remained there forty days and forty nights conversing with God. And when God had finished speaking with Moses, He gave him two tables of stone, on which were written the Ten Commandments. Now the people, seeing that Moses tarried in coming down from the mountain, rose up against Aaron and besought him, saying: “Make us gods that may go before us. For, as to this Moses, the man that brought us out of the land of Egypt, we know not what has befallen him.”

Hoping to dissuade them from their impious project, Aaron replied: “Take the golden ear-rings from the ears of your wives, and your sons and daughters, and bring them to me.” Contrary to his expectation, they brought their rings to Aaron who, fearing to offer resistance, accepted them, and made a molten calf, and built an altar. And the people exclaimed: “These are thy gods, O Israel, that have brought thee out of the land of Egypt.” Next morning they offered holocausts and peace-victims, and began to eat and drink and to dance, after the manner of the Egyptians.

Meanwhile Moses came down from the mountain with the two tables of stone, whereon God Himself had written His Commandments. When he heard the shouts of the people, and saw them dance before the golden calf, he dashed the tables to the ground and broke them at the foot of the mount. Then, laying hold of the calf, he burnt it and beat it to powder.

He severely rebuked Aaron for yielding to the wicked desires of the people. Then, standing in the gate of the camp, he said: “If any man be on the Lord’s side, let him join with me.” And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. Then Moses ordered them to take their swords, go through the camp, and slay every man whom they found practising idolatry. They did as they were commanded, and about twenty-three thousand men were put to death that day.

Next day Moses again ascended the mountain, and earnestly entreated the Lord for His ungrateful people. But the Lord said: “Let me alone that I may destroy them.” Still Moses insisted, saying: “I beseech Thee, this people hath sinned: either forgive them this trespass, or, if Thou do not, strike me out of the book that Thou hast written.”

 

Fig. 26. Apis. Egyptian Sculpture.

The Lord heard his prayer, and ordered him to cut two other tables of stone. Moses obeyed, and on those tables the Lord again wrote the Ten Commandments. But when Moses came down from the mountain with the tables in his hands, his face was so radiant with glory that the Israelites were afraid to come near; hence he veiled his face whenever he spoke to the people.

The Mercy of God. The people of Israel had sinned horribly against God by their idolatry, and yet, at Moses’ intercession, He forgave them.

Idolatry. The weak people were most ungrateful and faithless to God. The Lord had done such great things for them! Only forty days before, full of holy fear, they had heard His voice and had repeatedly promised obedience to His Commandments; and now they transgressed the first and most important of them, and forsook God to worship idols. St. Paul calls lust and covetousness idolatry. Whenever a man loves anything more than he loves God, he is guilty of idolatry.

Pleasure-seeking and sensuality lead to many sins, and finally to unbelief and impiety.

Fear of man. Aaron sinned grievously. It was from fear of man, fear for his life, that he sinned. He ought to have died rather than assist the people in their terrible sin.

Righteous anger. The anger of Moses was not sinful anger; it was, rather, a holy zeal for God’s honour and the good of the people. He who loves God cannot feel indifferent when he sees Him being offended; and he who really loves his neighbour must be pained when he sees him walking on the road to hell. We ought therefore to prevent sin, whenever we can; punish it, when we have the right to do so; and pray zealously for the conversion of sinners.

Intercession for sinners is pleasing to God. We can see this by the way in which God forgave the people their great sin, when Moses interceded for them; and we can also see how great a power is the intercession of Saints for sinners.

Love of our neighbour. Moses’ love for his people was truly wonderful. He even offered to sacrifice himself that they might be spared and not cast off by God. He sought neither his own honour nor advantage, but only the good of his people.

Moses, the eighth type of Jesus Christ. Through Moses God instituted the Old Law, on which account he is called the mediator of the Old Law. As such, Moses was a striking type of Jesus Christ, who instituted the New Law. Moses, as a child, was condemned to death by a cruel king, and was saved in a wonderful way; Jesus Christ was condemned by Herod, and also wonderfully saved. Moses forsook the king’s court so as to help his persecuted brethren; the Son of God left the glory of heaven to save us sinners. Moses prepared himself in the desert for his vocation, freed his people from slavery, and proved his divine mission by great miracles; Jesus Christ proved by still greater miracles that He was the only begotten Son of God. Moses was the advocate of his people; Jesus was our advocate with His Father on the Cross, and is eternally so in heaven. Moses was the law-giver of his people and announced to them the word of God: Jesus Christ is the supreme law-giver, and not only announced God’s word, but is Himself the Eternal Word made flesh. Moses was the leader of the people to the Promised Land: Jesus is our leader on our journey to heaven.

The fruits of prayer. After Moses had fasted and prayed a second forty days on the mountain, his countenance was glorified, and heavenly rays shone forth from it. This shows us that fervent prayer and communion with God ennoble a man, purify his heart and mind, and make him heavenly-minded. The Saints of the Old and the New Testament became holy by dint of fervent prayer and contemplation.

APPLICATION. I am sure you detest the ingratitude and faithlessness of the Israelites. But look into your own heart and search your own conscience to see whether you too have not been ungrateful and faithless. What did you promise when you were baptized, and when you renewed your baptismal vows, and every time that you have been to confession? Have you kept your promises? Have you never committed a mortal sin? Do you not know that mortal sin is an execrable ingratitude towards your loving Redeemer? Just think how weak and wavering you are! So do not trust in yourself, but pray humbly for God’s grace, and especially for the grace of perseverance.

Moses spent forty days in prayer, and yet was not weary, for prayer was his joy, his comfort and his strength. All the Saints of both the Old and New Testament have prayed willingly. How is it with you? We can learn to pray only by means of prayer. In this, as in other things, “practice makes perfect”. Never neglect your prayers, and try to be very recollected and devout during divine service. Put yourself in the presence of God several times each day, and thus you will learn how to pray well, and to find delight in prayer.








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