Psalm 106:19, 20
They made a calf in Horeb, and worshipped the molten image.…
They changed their glory for the likeness of an ox that eateth grass (Revised Version). "Into the similitude of a calf that eateth hay" (Prayer book Version). The idea is that the revelation of God as an unseen spiritual Being, requiring the service of righteousness, was the distinguishing glory of Israel. But this revelation they did not rightly value, but, at the first opportunity, bartered it away for a material god, of sensual character, who was served by the licence of self-indulgence. In this they were not merely disobedient; they showed their incapacity for high things, their unfitness to become the agents of God's most gracious designs for the human race. The sin was a fourfold one.
I. IT WAS THE SIN OF DISOBEDIENCE TO COMMAND. It should be clearly shown that Israel was bound to obedience to Jehovah before the Decalogue was given. The scene of Sinai is improperly called the giving of the Law; it is properly the formulating of the Law. The people owned allegiance to the God of their fathers, to the God who had delivered them from Egypt; and their willingness to obey was actually pledged afresh before Moses ascended the mount (see Exodus 19:7, 8). They were bidden wait to receive a communication from God; they disobeyed, and acted without direction. Disobedience is often due to the restlessness that cannot wait.
II. IT WAS THE SIN OF UNFAITHFULNESS TO TRUST. The spirituality of God was the supreme national trust. Neither Abraham, Isaac, nor Jacob ever saw God, but he was a real Power in their lives. In Egypt God was never seen, but he did mighty deeds. Put fully, the unity, spirituality, and holiness of Jehovah were committed to the care of the Abrahamic race, and that race was to preserve these truths while the rest of the world freely experimented on constructing religions and deities for itself. To make idolatrous images of God, the spiritual Being, was unfaithful to trust.
III. IT WAS THE SIN OF "FOLLOWING THE DEVICES OF THEIR OWN HEARTS." Or self-willedness. They asked what they liked, as if they were independent; not what God liked, as if they were dependent on him. The essence of sin for a creature is self-will. Triumph over self-will is the supreme aim of religion. That golden calf was a self-willed thing; as such there could be no religion in it. Through, and by means of, that golden calf the people did but worship themselves; what they personified was their own will, not God. Men deceive themselves when they fashion their own gods; they can only rightly take God as revealed to them.
IV. IT WAS THE SIN OF DISHONOURING GOD. The symbol they chose was an insult. True, their associations in Egypt suggested no other; and perhaps the ox was in some sense their national symbol. So their god was the personified nation. The spiritual Jehovah is degraded in men's minds when associated with a mere beast. - R.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: They made a calf in Horeb, and worshipped the molten image.