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The Golden Calf


The golden calf (עֵגֶּל הַזָהָב ‘ēggel hazāhāv) was a molded idol made by the Israelites during the absence of Moses when he went up Mount Sinai to meet God.

Cows are considered sacred in world religions such as Hinduism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, and other ancient religions in Egypt, Greece, Israel, Rome and Germany.

The worship of a bull is still common in many cultures today. In some regions, especially Nepal and most states of India, the slaughter of cows is prohibited and eating their meat is taboo.

The cow has been a symbol of wealth since ancient days. In stock markets today, if a person is optimistic and believes that stocks will go up in a bull market, he or she is called a bull and is said to have a bullish outlook.

In Egypt, where the Exodus story began, the Apis Bull was a sacred bull worshipped in the Memphis region. He was identified as the son of Hathor, a primary deity in the pantheon of ancient Egypt. Initially, assigned a significant role in her worship, he was sacrificed and reborn, and later served as an intermediary between humans and other powerful deities.

When Moses went up Mount Sinai to receive the tablets of stone, he was on the holy mountain for forty days and forty nights.

Exodus 24:12-18
12 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain and be there; and I will give you tablets of stone, and the law and commandments which I have written, that you may teach them.”
13 So Moses arose with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up to the mountain of God.
14 And he said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we come back to you. Indeed, Aaron and Hur are with you. If any man has a difficulty, let him go to them.”
15 Then Moses went up into the mountain, and a cloud covered the mountain.
16 Now the glory of the Lord rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day He called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud.
17 The sight of the glory of the Lord was like a consuming fire on the top of the mountain in the eyes of the children of Israel.
18 So Moses went into the midst of the cloud and went up into the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.

As the Israelites were left on their own for 40 days and 40 nights, they feared that Moses would not return. They then demanded that Aaron make them gods to go before them. Aaron gathered up golden earrings and ornaments from the erring Israelites, and constructed a molten calf. And they declared: “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!”

Exodus 32:1-6
1 Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”
2 And Aaron said to them, “Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.”
3 So all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron.
4 And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf. Then they said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!”
5 So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord.”
6 Then they rose early on the next day, offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.

Aaron built an altar before the calf, and proclaimed the next day to be a feast to the LORD. So they rose up early the next day and offered burnt-offerings, and brought peace-offerings. They sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.

Elohim (Hebrew: אֱלֹהִים‎ ’ĕlōhîm) is a grammatically plural noun for gods, deities, mighty ones or judges. In Hebrew, the ending "im" indicates a masculine plural. However, when it is grammatically singular or governed by a singular verb or adjective, it means God.

In some scriptural passages, the children of God are called gods or mighty ones.

Psalm 82:6-7
6 I said, “You are gods,
And all of you are children of the Most High.
7 But you shall die like men,
And fall like one of the princes.”

Israel was described as having the strength of a unicorn (KJV) or wild ox (NKJV & TLB).

Numbers 24:8 (KJV)
God brought him forth out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn: he shall eat up the nations his enemies, and shall break their bones, and pierce them through with his arrows.

Numbers 24:8 (NKJV)
“God brings him out of Egypt;
He has strength like a wild ox;
He shall consume the nations, his enemies;
He shall break their bones
And pierce them with his arrows.

Numbers 24:8 (TLB)
God has brought them from Egypt.
Israel has the strength of a wild ox,
And shall eat up the nations that oppose him;
He shall break their bones in pieces,
And shall shoot them with many arrows.

The main problem is this. The people didn't know their God. They were afraid of God’s presence, and asked Moses to become their representative or mediator.

Exodus 20:18-21
18 Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off.
19 Then they said to Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.”
20 And Moses said to the people, “Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin.”
21 So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was.

Moses was like a god to them.

Exodus 7:1 (KJV)
And the Lord said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet.

Exodus 7:1 (NKJV)
So the Lord said to Moses: “See, I have made you as God to Pharaoh, and Aaron your brother shall be your prophet.

The Israelites were not looking to God to lead them to the Promised Land, they were looking for Moses, their god, to lead them. But when Moses was not with them for 40 days and 40 nights, they devised a plan to erect a new god to lead them!

After making the molded calf, they declared, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!”

God told Moses that the Israelites were sinning, and had turned away from the way which He had commanded them. God was going to destroy them and start a new people from Moses. But Moses besought and pleaded that they should be spared. So the Lord relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people.

Exodus 32:7-14
7 And the Lord said to Moses, “Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves.
8 They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them. They have made themselves a molded calf, and worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!’”
9 And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people!
10 Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation.”
11 Then Moses pleaded with the Lord his God, and said: “Lord, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?
12 Why should the Egyptians speak, and say, ‘He brought them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your fierce wrath, and relent from this harm to Your people.
13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’”
14 So the Lord relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people.

Moses went down from the mountain. But upon seeing the calf, he became angry and threw down the two tablets of stone, breaking them. Moses burnt the golden calf in a fire, ground it to powder, scattered it on water, and forced the Israelites to drink it.

Exodus 32:19-24
19 So it was, as soon as he came near the camp, that he saw the calf and the dancing. So Moses’ anger became hot, and he cast the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain.
20 Then he took the calf which they had made, burned it in the fire, and ground it to powder; and he scattered it on the water and made the children of Israel drink it.
21 And Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you have brought so great a sin upon them?”
22 So Aaron said, “Do not let the anger of my lord become hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil.
23 For they said to me, ‘Make us gods that shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’
24 And I said to them, ‘Whoever has any gold, let them break it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I cast it into the fire, and this calf came out.

When questioned by Moses, Aaron admitted collecting the gold and throwing it into the fire, and said that it came out as a calf. How ridiculous and unbelievable the excuse was! How could the calf appear from nowhere? It must be crafted and devised by the wicked schemes of man.

Jeremiah 17:9-10
9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?
10 I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings.

The Bible recorded that the tribe of Levi did not worship the golden calf.

Exodus 32:25-28
25 Now when Moses saw that the people were unrestrained (for Aaron had not restrained them, to their shame among their enemies),
26 then Moses stood in the entrance of the camp, and said, “Whoever is on the Lord’s side—come to me!” And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together to him.
27 And he said to them, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘Let every man put his sword on his side, and go in and out from entrance to entrance throughout the camp, and let every man kill his brother, every man his companion, and every man his neighbor.’”
28 So the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And about three thousand men of the people fell that day.

This sin of worshipping the golden calf was described in the Book of Nehemiah:

Nehemiah 9:16-21
16 “But they and our fathers acted proudly,
Hardened their necks,
And did not heed Your commandments.
17 They refused to obey,
And they were not mindful of Your wonders
That You did among them.
But they hardened their necks,
And in their rebellion
They appointed a leader

To return to their bondage.
But You are God,
Ready to pardon,
Gracious and merciful,
Slow to anger,
Abundant in kindness,
And did not forsake them.
18 “Even when they made a molded calf for themselves,
And said, ‘This is your god
That brought you up out of Egypt,’
And worked great provocations,
19 Yet in Your manifold mercies
You did not forsake them in the wilderness.
The pillar of the cloud did not depart from them by day,
To lead them on the road;
Nor the pillar of fire by night,
To show them light,
And the way they should go.
20 You also gave Your good Spirit to instruct them,
And did not withhold Your manna from their mouth,
And gave them water for their thirst.
21 Forty years You sustained them in the wilderness;
They lacked nothing;
Their clothes did not wear out
And their feet did not swell.

The Israelites had become arrogant and stiff-necked. They did not obey God's commands. They refused to listen to God. They failed to remember the miracles God had performed among them. They were stiff-necked and rebellious. In their rebellion, they appointed a god or a leader in order to return to their slavery.

But God is a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore God did not desert them, even though they made for themselves an image of a calf and said, "'This is your god, who brought you up out of Egypt." Even when they had committed awful blasphemies.

Because of God's great compassion, He did not abandon them in the wilderness. By day the pillar of cloud did not fail to guide them on their path, nor the pillar of fire by night to shine on the way they were to take. God even gave His Spirit to instruct them. God did not withhold giving manna to feed their hunger. God gave them water to quench their thirst. For forty years, God sustained them in the wilderness. They lacked nothing, their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not become swollen.

We might think that the Israelites had learnt their lessons well. But this sin of the golden calf was again replayed at the beginning of the Northern Kingdom:

1 Kings 12:26-30
26 And Jeroboam said in his heart, “Now the kingdom may return to the house of David:
27 If these people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn back to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and go back to Rehoboam king of Judah.”
28 Therefore the king asked advice, made two calves of gold, and said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!
29 And he set up one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan.
30 Now this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one as far as Dan.

After Jeroboam became king and established the Northern Kingdom of Israel, he contemplated the sacrificial practices of the Israelites.

Jeroboam thought to himself, "The kingdom will now likely revert to the House of David. If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem in the Southern Kingdom, they will again give their allegiance to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah. They will kill me and return to King Rehoboam."

After seeking human advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, "It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt." He set up one in Bethel, and the other in Dan. And this thing became a sin. The people came to worship the one at Bethel and went as far as Dan to worship the other.

His concern was not about worshipping the True God. His concern was self-centred and egoistic. If the people in the Northern Kingdom were to offer sacrifices in Jerusalem, which was in the Southern Kingdom of Judah, it might lead to a return to King Rehoboam.

The declarations of Aaron and Jeroboam are almost identical:

Exodus 32:4
And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf. Then they said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!

1 Kings 12:28
Therefore the king asked advice, made two calves of gold, and said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!

After making the golden calf or golden calves, both Aaron and Jeroboam celebrated festivals. Aaron built an altar, but Jeroboam went further to install the priests of the high places which he had made.

Exodus 32:5-6
5 So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord.”
6 Then they rose early on the next day, offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.

1 Kings 12:32-33
32 Jeroboam ordained a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, like the feast that was in Judah, and offered sacrifices on the altar. So he did at Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he had made. And at Bethel he installed the priests of the high places which he had made.
33 So he made offerings on the altar which he had made at Bethel on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, in the month which he had devised in his own heart. And he ordained a feast for the children of Israel, and offered sacrifices on the altar and burned incense.

Both of Aaron and Jeroboam changed the dates of the Feasts of the Lord to new dates - dates which they had devised in their own hearts! Conveniently altering the dates God had specifically stated in Leviticus 23 to suit their own political and religious agendas.

Similarly, about 363–364 AD, thirty clerics from Asia Minor assembled at the Council of Laodicea. Their major concerns involved regulating the conduct of church members. The Council expressed its decrees in the form of written rules or canons.

There in Laodicea, they wrote and legalized the 29th Canon, and outlawed the keeping of the Sabbath on Saturdays, and encouraging rest on Sundays. They devised a wicked scheme and changed the Biblical Sabbath from the seventh day to the first day of the week! They also passed laws forbidding church members to observe the Biblical Feasts of the Lord. Since then, the Church divorced herself completely from the Hebraic roots of her faith.

The Church had since become an institution for political struggles to obtain prestige, powers and monetary gains!

People are still seeking gods or leaders to lead them. They are still arrogant and stiff-necked. They still do not obey God's commandments. They still refuse to listen to God. They still do what is right in their own eyes.

What will Jesus do when He returns? I believe He will do the same, going into His House, and cleansing it!

Matthew 21:12-13
12 Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves.
13 And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’”

Ezekiel 36:22-29
22 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name’s sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went.
23 And I will sanctify My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; and the nations shall know that I am the Lord,” says the Lord God, “when I am hallowed in you before their eyes.
24 For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land.
25 Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.
26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
27 I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.
28 Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God.
29 I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. I will call for the grain and multiply it, and bring no famine upon you.

The time has come for judgment, and it must begin first among God’s own children.

1 Peter 4:17-19
17 For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?
18 Now “If the righteous one is scarcely saved,
Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?”
19 Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.

Are we following Christ or man? Are we obeying the commandments of God or men? Are we becoming more like Christ or our leaders? Are we reading our Bibles faithfully or are we just feeding on the books of this prophet or that apostle? Have we made our leaders to become our gods or idols?

Mark 7:6-7
6 He answered and said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.
7 And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

Matthew 6:24
No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

Are we serving God or mammon? Are we still worshipping the golden calf?

Finally, let us hear what God said in the first two of the Ten Commandments:

Exodus 20:1-6
1 And God spoke all these words, saying:
2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
3 “You shall have no other gods before Me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth;
5 you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me,
6 but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

Written on: 15 March 2017