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Holman Bible Dictionary

Golden Calf

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An image of a young bull, probably constructed of wood and overlaid with gold, which the Hebrews worshiped in the wilderness and in the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

Ancient Near Eastern Background and Biblical References Living bulls were important in the religion of some regions of ancient Egypt, and bull images appear in the art and religious texts of Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, Phoenicia, and Syria. The primary references to “golden calf” in the Bible are Exodus 32:1-8 and 1 Kings 12:25-33 . The former passage records that the people summoned Aaron to make an image to go before them. The image was apparently intended to represent Yahweh, the Lord of Israel. The latter reference states that Jeroboam I constructed at Bethel and Dan two golden bulls, which were probably meant to represent the pedestals of God's throne. Interestingly, these passages are closely related to each other because they use the same terminology in the dedication of these images (Exodus 32:4 ; 1 Kings 12:28 ), and they both explore the sin of idolatry at crucial junctures in Israel's history. All other references to this subject in the Bible (Deuteronomy 9:16 ,Deuteronomy 9:16,9:21 ; 2 Kings 10:29 ; 2 Kings 17:16 ; 2 Chronicles 11:15 ; 2 Chronicles 13:8 ; Nehemiah 9:18 ; Psalm 106:19 ; Acts 7:41 ) have in view either the incident involving Aaron or the one involving Jeroboam I.

Theological Significance These accounts demonstrate Israel's strong conviction that God cannot be lowered to the level of pictorial representation. God, as sovereign Lord, allows no physical image of Himself, and any human effort to create such an image invites His judgment. See Aaron ; Bethel ; Bull ; Dan ; Exodus ; Jeroboam I; Moses ; Yahweh.

Robert William Prince, III

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Golden Calf'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

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