Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary
עגל . The young of the ox kind. There is frequent mention in Scripture of calves, because they were made use of commonly in sacrifices. The "fatted calf," mentioned in several places, as in 1 Samuel 28:24 , and Luke 15:23 , was stall fed, with special reference to a particular festival or extraordinary sacrifice. The "calves of the lips," mentioned by Hosea 14:2 , signify the sacrifices of praise which the captives of Babylon addressed to God, being no longer in a condition to offer sacrifices in his temple. The Septuagint render it the "fruit of the lips;" and their reading is followed by the Syriac, and by the Apostle to the Hebrews 13:15 . The "golden calf" was an idol set up and worshipped by the Israelites at the foot of mount Sinai in their passage through the wilderness to the land of Canaan. Having been conducted through the wilderness by a pillar of cloud and fire, which preceded them in their marches, while Moses was receiving the divine commands that cloud covered the mountain, and they probably imagined that it would no longer be their guide; and, therefore, applied to Aaron to make for them a sacred sign or symbol, as other nations had, which might visibly represent God. With this request, preferred tumultuously, and in a menacing manner, Aaron in a moment of weakness complied. The image thus formed is supposed to have been like the Egyptian deity, Apis, which was an ox, an animal used in agriculture, and so a symbol of the God who presided over their fields, or of the productive power of the Deity. The means by which Moses reduced the golden calf to powder, so that when mixed with water he made the people drink it, in contempt, has puzzled commentators. Some understand that he did this by a chemical process, then well known, but now a secret; others, that he beat it into gold leaf, and then separated this into parts so fine, as to be easily potable; others, that he reduced it by filing. The account says, that he took the calf, burned it to powder, and mixed the powder with water; from which it is probable, as several Jewish writers have thought, that the calf was not wholly made of gold, but of wood, covered with a profusion of gold ornaments cast and fashioned for the occasion. For this reason it obtained the epithet golden, as afterward some ornaments of the temple were called, which we know were only overlaid with gold. It would in that case be enough to reduce the wood to powder in the fire, which would also blacken and deface the golden ornaments; but there is no need to suppose they were also reduced to powder. It is plain from Aaron's proclaiming a fast to Jehovah,
Exodus 32:4 , and from the worship of Jeroboam's calves being so expressly distinguished from that of Baal, 2 Kings 10:28-31 , that both Aaron and Jeroboam meant the calves they formed and set up for worship to be emblems of Jehovah. Nevertheless, the inspired Psalmist speaks of Aaron's calf with the utmost abhorrence, and declares that, by worshipping it, they forgat God their Saviour, (see 1 Corinthians 10:9 ,) who had wrought so many miracles for them, and that for this crime God threatened to destroy them, Psalms 106:19-24; Exodus 32:10; and St. Stephen calls it plainly ειδωλον , an idol, Acts 7:41 . As for Jeroboam, after he had, for political reasons, 1 Kings 12:27 , &c, made a schism in the Jewish church, and set up two calves in Dan and Bethel, as objects of worship, he is scarcely ever mentioned in Scripture but with a particular stigma set upon him: "Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin."
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Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Calf'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/wtd/c/calf.html. 1831-2.