Humans tend to worship what is seen and often what appeals to emotion. The golden calf represented an Egyptian fertility cult. Recall that while the people were in the wilderness God alone provided all that they needed to eat and drink. Rejecting God's promises, they chose to bow down to an idol that falsely gave them a sense of control. Idol worshipers believed that a god had to be manipulated in order to respond.

The true God is very different! He is the only God, not one among many. He is a personal God, not a dead piece of wood or metal. He is the Creator of all, not merely a god of a river or a mountain. He acts in history and directs people; He is not manipulated by perverse rituals! And finally, He is a holy God who makes moral demands on His people.

 - Today in the Word, Dec. 2003, p.11