Moses is taking too long
God notices all this and tells Moses to go back down and watch while he kills them all so Moses can make a great nation. Moses, knowing his power base relies on his being both god's messenger and pork provider, manages to talk him out of it, pointing out that the Egyptians will laugh at him for bringing his people all the way there only to kill them. He reminds him of his promise to Abraham, Isaac and Israel. And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people (v. 14) Of course Jerry is too busy pointing out all the nudity in this chapter to notice that his infallible, perfect, unchanging god changes his mind here and admits that his plan was pretty evil.
Moses then leaves with the tablets. He sees the party and like the straight-laced firstborn son that he is, he punishes the people for having fun. He breaks the tablets then the calf. He burns the calf and grinds it into a powder (somehow, I don't think the writers of this book were chemists), mixes it with water, and makes them drink it. He turns to Aaron, who says he was just doing what the people asked, because they didn't know where Moses was. So he told them to bring him their gold, which he cast into the fire, and presto! Out came a calf. Moses gives up on this line of questioning and asks all the people who is still on his side. The Levites raise their hands. Now we see why Moses convinced god not to kill the people: he prefers to do it himself. He tells them god wants them to gather their swords and slay all the others, whether their brothers, friends or neighbours. So of course they do, because history has proven that humans will do what tyrants tell them, and 3000 people die. So much for 'thou shalt not kill.' It's a wonder anyone managed to live longer than a few days.
The next day, Moses tells the survivors that they have sinned, but he'll go back up and try to atone for their sins. He goes up and confesses that the people have sinned and asks for forgiveness, offering to let himself be blotted out of the book. Jerry has a few theories on what the contents of this book might have been, including that it was a list of believers, or a register of the living, or a list of people who are going to heaven, never mind that there is no afterlife yet. The point is, he's too busy to talk about the 3000 people who just died at the hands of their friends and neighbours for the sake of ideology. God says he'll strike all the sinners' names out of the book and tells him to lead the people to a new place. As punishment, he sends a plague.
God tells Moses it's time to go to Canaan. He can't come though, because he's still pissed off about the golden calf, and will kill them if he gets too close. The people hear this and put on simple clothes rather than finery. Moses then moves the tabernacle outside the camp. The people watch from their tent doors. As they watch, god descends as a pillar and talks to Moses. They all pray in their tent doors. Moses pleads with god not to abandon them here. He asks to see god's face, and even though we're told in verse 11 that the LORD spake unto moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend, god says no, because no one can see his face and live. He does promise that Moses can go to a certain rock, and he'll pass by, and Moses can see his back parts (v. 23), which is possibly his family jewels.
God tells Moses to make two stone tablets to replace the ones he broke, and to bring them up the mountain again tomorrow so he can write the commandments again. God comes down on a cloud to meet him and proclaims himselfThe LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth / Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin (v. 6-7) indicating that self-insight is not among his many character traits. Moses sees his chance and bows down to ask god to go among the Israelites and forgive them. He promises to deliver Canaan to them, by driving out the pagans already living there, and warns him not to make any agreements with them, but to break their altars and destroy their crops. What was that he was just saying about being merciful?
He also warns about intermarriage, saying if their sons marry the heathen girls, the girls will make them worship the other gods. He has so much confidence in his people, doesn't he?
God goes on to remind him not to make any more golden calves, to keep the feast of leavened bread, and to kill the firstborn males of their flocks, but not firstborn asses, which are to be replaced by lambs or otherwise strangled. They also have to keep the sabbath and the other feasts, and not boil baby goats in their mothers' milk. He tells Moses to write all this down. Moses somehow goes without water or food for 40 days while writing all this down.
Moses then puts on a veil, supposedly because his face will now frighten the Israelites, but ya'll know he's just an early Michael Jackson. He keeps in on for the rest of his life except when talking to god.