Golden Calf in Psalm 106

I found an interesting perspective on the golden calf incident while studying today.

At Horeb they made a calf and worshiped the cast metal image.

They exchanged their glory for the image of a grass-eating ox.

Psalm 106:19-20

Derek Kidner comments:

In Romans 1:23 Paul quotes from the LXX of verse 20, They (ex)changed the glory..., in his great indictment of heathen man. Neither he nor this psalm, nor again the recorded wrath of God and Moses (Exod. 32:10,19), leaves any room for the view that the idol was a mere focus for worship of the true God. It was an exchange. There is withering contempt in the aside, that eats grass' and there is irony in the fact that in this choice they parted with their glory (lit.; cf. RV, NEV; and see Jer. 2:11), for they had no other, only the God they served.

 

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RajeshG's picture

Comparing what happened in the Golden Calf incident with what happened with the calves that Jeroboam made later to pervert the worship of Israel argues against the view that Kidner sets forth.

Thomas L. Constable in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: OT (p. 512) writes concerning the calves that Jeroboam made:

To prevent the Israelites from returning to their magnificent temple and the ark in Jerusalem (cf. v. 27) Jeroboam offered substitute objects: two golden calves or bulls. Perhaps he actually intended the people to turn from worshiping Yahweh to worshiping his golden idols. His words, Here are your gods . . . who delivered you from Egypt, suggest this.

It is probable, however, that the king may have set up these calves as aids to the worship of Yahweh (W. F. Albright, From the Stone Age to Christianity. Rev. ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1957, p. 299).

It is also worth noting that neither in any of the six passages in the Bible that speak of the Golden Calf incident  nor in any of the passages concerning the golden calves that Jeroboam made are any false gods named as the objects of the worship of the people in either setting. 

Moreover, Jeroboam's appeal to worship using his calves was based on the assertion that it was too much for the people to go up to Jerusalem.

 

1 Kings 12:28 Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.

There was no worship of false gods going on in the temple in Jerusalem at the time of Jeroboam. Had he been appealing to the people to turn totally from worshiping Yahweh to worshiping false gods, his assertion that it was too much for them to go to Jerusalem would not be an applicable consideration.

The parallel between the Golden Calf passages and the passages about Jeroboam's calves supports holding that in both cases the calf/calves were used as physical objects to distort the worship of Yahweh and not as physical objects to worship false gods.

 

 

 

Kevin Miller's picture

RajeshG wrote:

The parallel between the Golden Calf passages and the passages about Jeroboam's calves supports holding that in both cases the calf/calves were used as physical objects to distort the worship of Yahweh and not as physical objects to worship false gods.

If a physical object is being worshipped, isn't that SUCH a profound distortion of worship, that you can't really say any more that the worship is to Yahweh? After all, it's an image of a calf that is being worshipped, not Yahweh. Exodus 20:4-5 says "You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God." It seems from this verse that God considers the worship of an image to be the worship of something other than Him. Otherwise, why would he say he is a jealous God?

RajeshG's picture

Kevin Miller wrote:

If a physical object is being worshipped, isn't that SUCH a profound distortion of worship, that you can't really say any more that the worship is to Yahweh? After all, it's an image of a calf that is being worshipped, not Yahweh. Exodus 20:4-5 says "You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God." It seems from this verse that God considers the worship of an image to be the worship of something other than Him. Otherwise, why would he say he is a jealous God?

Yes, the use of a physical object that supposedly represents the living and true God perverts His worship so that that supposed worship of Him is no longer true worship of Him or acceptable to Him. That, however, is different, from when the Israelites and others made physical objects and overtly said that those objects were some other deity besides Yahweh that they were worshiping.

pvawter's picture

Psalm 106:21 goes on to say that they forgot God who saved them from Egypt. It's pretty clear that they were not in any way worshiping Yahweh with the golden calf. That doesn't have anything to do with the calves that Jeroboam made centuries later and his rationale for worshiping them.

RajeshG's picture

pvawter wrote:

Psalm 106:21 goes on to say that they forgot God who saved them from Egypt. It's pretty clear that they were not in any way worshiping Yahweh with the golden calf. That doesn't have anything to do with the calves that Jeroboam made centuries later and his rationale for worshiping them.

The text of Exodus 32 does not support your interpretation that "it's pretty clear that they were not in any [emphasis added] way worshiping Yahweh with the golden calf." The flow of thought in these verses shows that Aaron declared after the calf had been made that they were going to worship Yahweh:

 

Exodus 32:4 And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. 5 And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, To morrow is a feast to the LORD.

These verses show that after the calf had been made, Aaron built an altar before it. He then proclaimed that tomorrow would be a feast to the Lord. It is undeniable that Aaron declared that what would take place on the next day after the calf had already been made was a feast to the Lord, which was worship of Yahweh.

Even if it could be proven unequivocally that the calf was a representation of a false god or multiple false gods, you would have to explain how Aaron in that case still thought/intended that Yahweh was going to be worshiped in the feast that would have taken place on the next day.

 

 

Ron Bean's picture

Why didn't Aaron say that "This is a feast day to the Lord."?

Is it possible that the golden calf is seen an additional God, especially to a mixed multitude coming from a polytheistic culture? Perhaps something like, "We'll go to Mass today and to the Baptist church tomorrow.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

RajeshG's picture

Ron Bean wrote:

Why didn't Aaron say that "This is a feast day to the Lord."?

Is it possible that the golden calf is seen an additional God, especially to a mixed multitude coming from a polytheistic culture? Perhaps something like, "We'll go to Mass today and to the Baptist church tomorrow.

Neither Exodus 32 nor any of the other five passages about the GCI say anything about their worshiping the calf or engaging in any kind of feast to the calf on the same day that the calf was made. Everything in the passage after verse 5 except for verses 30-35 recounts what happened on the day after the calf was made.

There is no Bible evidence to support the suggestion that they engaged in some kind of worship of the calf on the day that it was made and then worshiped Yahweh in a feast to the Lord on the next day.

 

josh p's picture

This is an interesting discussion and one I need to learn more about apparently. Personally I don’t know if the Jeroboam account adds any information about Aaron’s calf. However, I have always understood the Exodus passages teaching that the people were worshipping the real God in a false way. I have never heard it taught otherwise. That does make me wonder about the use of “gods” plural though. Elohim perhaps? I know nothing about Hebrew.

RajeshG's picture

josh p wrote:

This is an interesting discussion and one I need to learn more about apparently. Personally I don’t know if the Jeroboam account adds any information about Aaron’s calf. However, I have always understood the Exodus passages teaching that the people were worshipping the real God in a false way. I have never heard it taught otherwise. That does make me wonder about the use of “gods” plural though. Elohim perhaps? I know nothing about Hebrew.

We have already had a very long and highly contentious discussion about this passage in a previous thread. If you are interested in doing so, you can catch up on what has already been said at length about the passage here. The issue with Elohim was talked about in that thread at some length.

RajeshG's picture

josh p wrote:

This is an interesting discussion and one I need to learn more about apparently. Personally I don’t know if the Jeroboam account adds any information about Aaron’s calf. 

I am not asserting that the Jeroboam account adds any information directly about Aaron's calf. My point was that it is a parallel passage that concerns the Israelites' making of calves in a setting that does not support their being used to represent false gods.

pvawter's picture

RajeshG wrote:

 

pvawter wrote:

 

Psalm 106:21 goes on to say that they forgot God who saved them from Egypt. It's pretty clear that they were not in any way worshiping Yahweh with the golden calf. That doesn't have anything to do with the calves that Jeroboam made centuries later and his rationale for worshiping them.

 

 

The text of Exodus 32 does not support your interpretation that "it's pretty clear that they were not in any [emphasis added] way worshiping Yahweh with the golden calf." The flow of thought in these verses shows that Aaron declared after the calf had been made that they were going to worship Yahweh:

 

If you read my posts again you'll see that I'm commenting on Psalm 106, in which it is made quite clear that the golden calf was not merely a stand-in for Yahweh but a false god which the people exchanged for the true God. The flow of thought from Ps 106:19-21 says nothing about which day they worshipped the calf, but it emphasizes that the issue was their stubborn idolatry that they brought with them from the days of their fathers.

pvawter's picture

Rajesh,

In the earlier thread on the GCI, you seemed to put a lot of weight on Paul's commentary on Ex. 32 in the book of 1 Corinthians. I'm simply pointing out here that Psalm 106 also offers commentary on it that should be taken into account, and it seems to suggest that the issue was the worship of a false god rather than improper worship of Yahweh.

RajeshG's picture

pvawter wrote:

Rajesh,

In the earlier thread on the GCI, you seemed to put a lot of weight on Paul's commentary on Ex. 32 in the book of 1 Corinthians. I'm simply pointing out here that Psalm 106 also offers commentary on it that should be taken into account, and it seems to suggest that the issue was the worship of a false god rather than improper worship of Yahweh.

Yes, I believe that Paul's commentary on Exodus 32 is the key to rightly interpreting the incident. I understand what you are doing in this post.

My initial response was based on what I think is a significant parallel between the GCI and the Jeroboam accounts.

In addition, comparing all six of the passages about the GCI is crucial to understanding it fully. If you have not already done so, I would recommend that you study all of them together and see if you still believe that Psalm 106 is teaching what you at this point think that it is.

josh p's picture

RajeshG wrote:

 

josh p wrote:

 

This is an interesting discussion and one I need to learn more about apparently. Personally I don’t know if the Jeroboam account adds any information about Aaron’s calf. However, I have always understood the Exodus passages teaching that the people were worshipping the real God in a false way. I have never heard it taught otherwise. That does make me wonder about the use of “gods” plural though. Elohim perhaps? I know nothing about Hebrew.

 

 

We have already had a very long and highly contentious discussion about this passage in a previous thread. If you are interested in doing so, you can catch up on what has already been said at length about the passage here. The issue with Elohim was talked about in that thread at some length.

ill have to check that thread again. I don’t remember the Elohim discussion.