Lesson 54: Exodus 32
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“Lesson 54: Exodus 32,” Old Testament Seminary Teacher Manual (2014)

“Lesson 54,” Old Testament Seminary Teacher Manual

Lesson 54

Exodus 32


While Moses was on Mount Sinai speaking with the Lord, the children of Israel made a golden calf and worshipped it. The Lord told Moses that those who did not repent would be destroyed. Moses descended the mountain and destroyed the stone tables as well as the golden calf. Three thousand rebellious Israelites were also killed. Moses acted as a mediator between the Lord and the people (see Joseph Smith Translation, Galatians 3:19–20 [in the Bible appendix]).

Suggestions for Teaching

Exodus 32:1–8

While Moses is on Mount Sinai, the children of Israel make and worship a golden calf

[Christ's image]

Before class, place a picture of Jesus Christ (Gospel Art Book [2009], no. 1; see also at the front of the class and a picture of a golden calf at the back of the class (you can draw a simple picture of a golden calf or write the words Golden Calf on a piece of paper). Invite the class to stand, and ask students to name events that they think helped the Israelites come closer to Jesus Christ. (Students’ answers may include the plagues on the Egyptians, the protective pillar of fire, the parting of the Red Sea, the miracles of manna and quail, and water flowing out of a rock, as well as the Lord giving Moses the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.) After each response, list the event on the board and ask students to take a step closer to the picture of Jesus Christ.

Explain that Moses had spent 40 days and nights on Mount Sinai, and the people began to wonder what had happened to him. Invite a student to read Exodus 32:1–6 aloud. Ask students to look for what the Israelites did in Moses’s absence.

  • Based on these verses, which direction were the Israelites now facing? (Invite students to turn around and face the drawing of the golden calf.)

  • According to verse 6, what type of behavior accompanied their worship of the golden calf? (You may need to explain that the phrase “rose up to play” implies that the Israelites became unruly, riotous, and immoral.)

  • Why do you think the Israelites would stop their progression toward Jesus Christ and instead direct their attention and devotion toward a golden calf?

Ask students to return to their seats. Invite a student to read Exodus 32:7–8 aloud. Ask students to follow along, looking for phrases that describe the direction the Israelites were heading.

  • According to verse 7, what had the Israelites done to themselves? What do you think it means that they had “corrupted themselves”? (They had become unworthy.)

  • According to verse 8, what had the Israelites done to corrupt themselves?

  • What do you think it means that the Israelites had “turned aside quickly out of the way which [the Lord] commanded them”? (verse 8).

  • What principle can we learn from these verses? (Students may identify a variety of principles, but be sure to emphasize that by turning aside from the Lord and His commandments, we corrupt ourselves.)

To help students better understand this principle, invite a student to read aloud the following statement by President Spencer W. Kimball. Ask students to listen for things that some people choose to worship instead of God:

Kimball, Spencer W.

“Modern idols or false gods can take such forms as clothes, homes, businesses, machines, automobiles, pleasure boats, and numerous other material deflectors from the path to godhood. What difference does it make that the item concerned is not shaped like an idol?” (The Miracle of Forgiveness [1969], 40).

  • What do people today turn their attention and devotion toward instead of the Savior? (List students’ answers on the board.)

  • Why do you think we may sometimes choose to worship these things instead of the Savior?

Invite students to think about where they may be directing their attention and devotion. Give students a few minutes to ponder and identify anything that may be causing them to turn aside from the Lord and His commandments. Encourage students to make any necessary changes to return their attention and devotion to Jesus Christ.

Exodus 32:9–14

The Lord speaks with Moses about the rebellious Israelites

Invite students to refer to the handout “Moses’s and Israel’s Experiences with Jehovah at Mount Sinai” (see lesson 48). (A completed version of the handout is located in the appendix of this manual.) Ask them to write Israel breaks the covenant in the space next to number 9 on the handout.

Explain that Exodus 32:9–14 contains the record of a conversation between the Lord and Moses about the rebellious Israelites. These verses can be confusing because of what they say about the Lord. Invite a student to read Exodus 32:14 aloud. Ask students to follow along, looking for words or phrases that may cause confusion about the Lord. Invite students to report what they find.

Explain that the Prophet Joseph Smith changed this verse in his translation of the Bible. Invite students to turn to the Joseph Smith Translation of Exodus 32:14 in the appendix of the Latter-day Saint edition of the King James Version of the Bible. If this passage is not in the edition of the Bible available in your country, you can provide the following text as a handout:

“And the Lord said unto Moses, If they will repent of the evil which they have done, I will spare them, and turn away my fierce wrath; but, behold, thou shalt execute judgment upon all that will not repent of this evil this day. Therefore, see thou do this thing that I have commanded thee, or I will execute all that which I had thought to do unto my people” (Joseph Smith Translation, Exodus 32:14 [in the Bible appendix]).

  • According to the Joseph Smith Translation of this verse, who actually needed to repent?

  • What did Moses need to do?

  • What was the consequence for the Israelites if they chose to repent? What was the consequence if they did not choose to repent?

Exodus 32:15–29

Moses destroys the stone tables and the golden calf, and the Levites kill 3,000 of the rebellious Israelites

Divide students into pairs. Invite each partnership to read Exodus 32:15–25 aloud, alternating verses. Ask students to look for what Moses did because the Israelites had turned aside from the Lord so quickly and worshipped the golden calf. After sufficient time, ask the following questions:

  • What happened to the stone tables that Moses had brought down from Mount Sinai?

  • What did Moses do with the golden calf?

Invite students to look at Exodus 32:25, footnote a, to discover the meaning of the word naked in this verse. (In this verse, naked means “riotous, let loose.”)

Invite a student to read Exodus 32:26 aloud. Ask students to follow along, looking for what Moses said to the people.

  • What were those who wanted to be on the Lord’s side supposed to do?

  • Who was the first group of people to gather to the side of the prophet Moses? What might standing next to the prophet indicate?

Write the following incomplete sentence on the board: As we stand with the Lord’s prophet …

  • According to verse 26, what do we demonstrate when we stand with the prophet? (Students may use different words, but make sure they identify the following principle: As we stand with the Lord’s prophet, we show that we are on the Lord’s side. Using students’ words, complete the principle on the board.)

Invite students to share examples of times when they or someone they know chose to stand with the prophet. As students share their experiences, consider asking the following question:

  • How does this experience show that you were choosing the Lord’s side?

Invite students to write a goal in their class notebooks or scripture study journals concerning how they will stand with the Lord by standing with the Lord’s prophet.

Invite students to read Exodus 32:27–29 silently, looking for what happened to those who continued to rebel against the Lord and not stand with Moses. Invite students to report what they find. (You may want to clarify that Moses instructed the Levites to kill everyone who would not repent of worshipping the golden calf.)

Exodus 32:30–35

Moses acts as a mediator between the Lord and the rebellious Israelites

Christ in Gethsemane

Moses and the Tablets

Display the pictures Jesus Praying in Gethsemane (Gospel Art Book [2009], no. 56; see also and The Ten Commandments (Gospel Art Book [2009], no. 14; see also side by side on the board. Explain that because Moses was a “prophetic symbol of the Christ who was to come” (Jeffrey R. Holland, Christ and the New Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Mormon [1997], 137), he would do things that would resemble things the Savior would do. (You may want to write the phrase “prophetic symbol of Christ” above the picture of Moses.)

Invite a student to read Exodus 32:30–32 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for words, phrases, or ideas that show similarities between Moses and Jesus Christ. Ask students to report their findings and list them on the board beneath the two pictures. (Students’ responses may include the fact that both Moses and Jesus Christ offered to make an atonement for others’ sin and were innocent of the sin for which they offered to make an atonement.)

  • According to verse 32, what did Moses plead with the Lord to do?

  • Why do you think Moses would offer to suffer the same fate as the Israelites, even though he was innocent?

  • What doctrine can Moses’s words and actions teach us about Jesus Christ? (Students may identify a variety of principles, but make sure it is clear that Jesus Christ is our Mediator with the Father and Jesus Christ took our sins upon Him.)

Invite a student to read Exodus 32:33 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for the Lord’s response to Moses’s offer in behalf of the people.

  • What did the Lord tell Moses about those who sinned against Him?

Testify that when we repent, the Savior’s Atonement blots out, or erases, our sins. When we choose not to repent, we remain unworthy to dwell with God.

Invite students to write Moses pleads for the people in the space next to number 10 on the handout.

Ask a student to read Exodus 32:34–35 aloud. Point out that while many of the people chose to repent and turn back to the Lord after worshipping the golden calf, they still had to endure many of the consequences of their sinful actions.

Invite students to ponder the Savior’s willingness to take the punishment for our sins upon Himself. Invite a few students who are willing to do so to share their feelings about what Jesus Christ has done for us.

Commentary and Background Information

Exodus 32:1–8. Why did the Israelites desire to worship a golden calf?

“Growing impatient and hopeless concerning Moses’ return, the Israelites demanded an image of a god that they could see—a golden calf. They knew about the holy Hathor cow or the sacred bulls involved in Egyptian religious observances. From the bull cult of the eighteenth and nineteenth dynasties, we have the remains in Egypt of the Serapeum, long corridors under the sand with rooms containing huge granite coffins for embalmed apis bulls.

“Aaron, whom Moses left in charge (Exodus 24:14–18), tried to rationalize that it was a ‘feast to the Lord’ (Jehovah) whom they would celebrate by their offerings, their eating and drinking, and their ‘play’ before the calf (vv. 5 and 6). It may have been Aaron’s original intent to provide a visual image to try to turn the people’s faith back to the true and living God, but we really do not know why Aaron acted as he did. It was certainly not wholly out of righteousness. Apparently it was a far greater challenge to get Egypt out of Israel than to get Israel out of Egypt” (D. Kelly Ogden and Andrew C. Skinner, Verse by Verse: The Old Testament, 2 vols. [2013], 1:233–34).

Exodus 32:4. “These be thy gods, O Israel”

President Spencer W. Kimball taught about idols of comfort and enjoyment:

“There are unfortunately millions today who prostrate themselves before images of gold and silver and wood and stone and clay. But the idolatry we are most concerned with here is the conscious worshipping of still other gods. Some are of metal and plush and chrome, of wood and stone and fabrics. They are not in the image of God or of man, but are developed to give man comfort and enjoyment, to satisfy his wants, ambitions, passions and desires. Some are in no physical form at all, but are intangible” (The Miracle of Forgiveness [1969], 40).