Context: When Jacob's migration settled in Egypt, that land was ruled by the Hyksos Kings; being of Asiatic origin themselves they were not unfriendly to the Israelites. At the end of about four centuries, however, a new dynasty of native Egyptians arose who feared the rapidly multiplying group; the Israelites were accordingly enslaved and set to hard labor in the building of cities, and it was decreed that all their male children be destroyed at birth. One who escaped the edict was Moses; his mother caused him to be found by Pharaoh's daughter, who reared him as an Egyptian. His sympathies lay with his own people, however, and in interceding for one of them he killed an Egyptian taskmaster. For this act of temper he was forced to exile himself to Midian, where he married and lived for some time. When an angel of the Lord appeared before him and bade him deliver his people from bondage, Moses returned to Egypt and endeavored to gain concessions from Pharaoh. He was unsuccessful until a series of plagues convinced the monarch that it was unwise to hold the Israelites any longer. Moses accordingly led his people from Egypt into the Sinai peninsula; Pharaoh, pursuing this multitude with the intention of wiping it out, was overtaken by the sea. Arrived at Sinai, Moses ascends the mountain and converses with God, receiving and carrying out instructions for proper worship of the Lord; returning from an unusually long absence he finds that many of his people have turned away from him and are worshiping a golden calf and indulging in an orgy, in the Egyptian manner. In a fit of temper he destroys the sacred tablets God has given him and orders those still faithful to him to kill the dissenters. Then he returns to the mountain, to beg that the Lord forgive his people. But the Lord is angered by their stubbornness and is not easily appeased:
And Moses returned unto the LORD, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold.
Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin–; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.
And the LORD said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book.
Therefore now go, lead the people unto the place of which I have spoken unto thee: behold, mine Angel shall go before thee: nevertheless in the day when I visit I will visit their sin upon them.
And the LORD plagued the people, because they made the calf, which Aaron made.
And the LORD said unto Moses, Depart, and go up hence, thou and the people which thou hast brought up out of the land of Egypt, unto the land which I sware unto Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, Unto thy seed will I give it:
And I will send an angel before thee; and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite:
Unto a land flowing with milk and honey: for I will not go up in the midst of thee; for thou art a stiffnecked people: lest I consume thee in the way.
And when the people heard these evil tidings, they mourned: and no man did put on him his ornaments.