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The Golden Calf

"When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain [i.e. Mount Sinai], the people gathered themselves together to Aaron, and said to him, "Up, make us gods, who shall go before us; 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."

"And Aaron said to them, "Take off the rings of gold which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me." So all the people took off the rings of gold which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, and made a molten calf; and they said, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!"

"When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, "Tomorrow shall be a feast to The Lord." And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play."

"And The Lord [see Rock Of Ages] said to Moses, "Go down; for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves; they have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them; they have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, 'These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!'" (Exodus 32:1-8 RSV)

The Golden Calf The Bull Calf

The pagan religions of ancient Egypt, as well as throughout Mesopotamia, often included the worship of living bulls, or calves, and images of them. The one that Aaron made may have been based on Apis, the bull idol of the Egyptians. The only thing more seemingly incredible than Aaron's making of it, after all that they had just seen The Lord do for them, was his referring to that lifeless chunk of metal as "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt."

Israelite calf worship did not end there. After the division of the tribes of Israel into two kingdoms, Israel and Judah (see Jews At War With Israel), King Jeroboam of Israel (see Kings of Israel and Judah) set up two calf idols, one at Dan, and the other at Bethel, in an attempt to keep the people of the northern kingdom of Israel from going to Jerusalem, in the southern kingdom of Judah, to worship. Very strangely, Jeroboam referred to his calf idols in the same words that Aaron used centuries before, as "your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt":

"And Jeroboam said in his heart, "Now the kingdom will turn back to the house of David; if this people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of The Lord at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn again to their lord, to Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah."

"So the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, "You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt." And he set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. And this thing became a sin, for the people went to the one at Bethel and to the other as far as Dan." (1 Kings 12:26-30 RSV)

The calf idols of Israel lasted as long as the northern kingdom did. As the Assyrians (see Ancient Empires - Assyria) gradually conquered the ten tribes, the idols were looted for their gold. The calf at Dan was carried away in the reign of Pekah by Tiglath-pileser, and the one at Bethel about ten years later, in the reign of Hoshea, by Shalmaneser (2 Kings 15:29, 17:3-6).

Fact Finder: What is the Second Commandment?
Exodus 20:4-6
See also The Ten Commandments and Images and Idols

This Week's Bible Quiz

Which of the Biblical Holy Days does this describe?

1. The slaying of a lamb.

2. The removal of yeast.

3. First fruits.

4. The first day of the seventh month (on the Hebrew calendar).

5. A day of fasting.

6. Living in temporary shelters.

7. The coming of the Holy Spirit on the church after Christ's resurrection.

8. The Fourth Commandment.

9. The day Jesus Christ was crucified.

10. The day God made holy during creation week.

For the answers to this August 28 2001 quiz, see the Bible Quiz Answers Page

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