Why did they worship a golden calf when they were waiting for Moses?

Why a calf? What is the significance of that particular animal? Also in one of the books of the bible it says that at a different point they worshiped a beetle; why a beetle of all things, where did that come from?

Worshipping pagan gods was common in those days. The Jews were impatient with Moses, lacked faith in the one God, or had accepted Him in a polytheistic environment .
The journey of the Jews and monotheistic worship of the one true God took quite some time. Look at what God said to the Jews going into exile in Babylon about the false gods being dead.

Different animals represented different pagan deities.
The golden calf was most likely the Egyptian bull god


Why a calf or a beetle? Why not a man or a lion?

They were worshipping the Egyptian bull god


I think the fact that the Hebrews had escaped slavery in Egypt which had a tradition of animal-headed gods had something to do with it.

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Well, for one thing, there was a calf god in Egypt where they came from. But the best explanation i ever heard was that they were not as dumb as modern men think. It’s not that they loved this image of a calf so much that they worshiped it. It’s most likely the ritual sex and orgies that came along with the cult. That is what most likely attracted them. A priest might tell them “okay, the calf says everyone get naked and have a big orgy” it would not matter what animal the image was, joining the cult would be tempting. Make sense?


With regard to the dung beetle, it seemed to just appear fully formed out of the sand, and the Egyptians thought that meant it was a deity. Little scarab statues are still a big souvenir item in the Cairo markets.



Wikipedia explains the importance of the scarab in Egypt:


The significance imho isn’t so much the kind of animal but more the fact that it was a god of their own making - i.e. a creature as opposed to a creator. This says much about humans desire to control things - to encounter the world (and god) own our own terms rather than as it actually is. Essentially, this is pride which lies at the heart of pretty much every sin. The Israelites didn’t trust God and wanted to do things their way instead.



God even used an imagery that would be understood when He commanded the brass serpants to be made and held up for all to look upon for healing.

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Not to go too far afield, recently I have been studying the theories about Akhenaten as the first monotheistic ruler in Egypt, there is some speculation that Moses had to flee because of persecution of the monotheistic priests after Akhenaten’s death. The Great Hymn that this ruler left behind and it’s parallel to Psalm 104 (I think that is the one) is very interesting!




Thank you for that interesting information. Something to research :slight_smile: I wonder which god Akhenaten worshipped?

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Because the calf and the beetle were considered representations of gods in Egypt, where the Israelites had just come from.

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The calf is only symbolic of the weaknesses of man…If read in the literary sense (as opposed to being read literally), that calf represents idolatry of that day, which has evolved over time to what modern man has come to idolize…money, power, possessions, sex, etc.).

They were no worse, nor no better, than we are today.

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There are some interesting interpretations about that calf. And not just the calf itself but the whole story surrounding the golden calf.

There’s another story involving a golden calves in 1 Kings 12. In that story the king of Northern Judea made two of them and put each one in two different cities. Apparently there are some biblical scholars who think the two golden calf stories may be related, i.e. the story in Kings may have happened first, and the story in Exodus is a rewrite in order to repudiate the king of Northern Judea, Jeroboam. Some of the language in the two accounts is nearly identical:

He received their offering, and fashioning it with a tool, made a molten calf. Then they cried out, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.

The king took counsel, made two calves of gold, and said to the people: “You have been going up to Jerusalem long enough. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” And he put one in Bethel, the other in Dan. This led to sin, because the people frequented these calves in Bethel and in Dan.

Some of the Jewish interpretations from the Midrash are also interesting.

They had just left Egypt, where many gods were worshiped, many in the forms of animals. The calf symbol was, for some reason, particularly hard to give up. Yes, Moses had quite a victory, but, well into the time of the kings, bovine symbols would show up. There was a calf’s head on Solomon’s throne, and, during the time of the split kingdom, Jeroboam, king of the rebel branch, built two calf images in the north, specifically for the purpose of keeping the people from returning to Jerusalem, which, as the seat of worship, all Men were supposed to go, if at all possible, to worship on the feast days.

Why the calf god was so hard to break from, I really don’t know. But it does show that it is hard for people to completely give up idolatry. Which we should always be careful of.

Also have a search for, “Hathor” (cow/human goddess combo)
Dominus vobiscum

And, yes, there were even insect ‘gods’. I remember when I was a Young teen, and the World’s Fair was in New York, I even had a blue reproduction of one. Some of my friends had ‘scarab bracelets’ about five scarabs (usually reproductions) chained together.

Oh, there was even a cat goddess. ‘Bast’ or ‘Bastet’ was a guardian of the home, and domestic life. As many cats today seem to want to run their households, concentrating much, of course, on when the family cat is fed, petted, cared for, etc…

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