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Psalm 106:20 & meaning...


exchanged their glory for an image of a bull that eats grass.

Psalm 106:20


They made a calf in Horeb,

   and worshiped a molten image.

Psalm 106 [20.] Thus they exchanged their glory

   for an image of a bull that eats grass.

They forgot God, their Savior,

   who had done great things in Egypt,

   Wondrous works in the land of Ham,

   and awesome things by the Red Sea.

Therefore he said that he would destroy them,

   had Moses, his chosen, not stood before him in the breach,

   to turn away his wrath, so that he wouldn’t destroy them.


Historical Reflection: Psalm 106 is a historical psalm, recounting Israel's repeated failures to remain faithful to God and His enduring mercy despite their rebellion. The psalmist reviews various episodes from Israel’s history, including their deliverance from Egypt, their wandering in the desert, and their eventual settlement in the Promised Land.

Golden Calf Incident: Verse 20 specifically refers to the incident recorded in Exodus 32, where the Israelites, in Moses' absence, demanded Aaron make them a god. Aaron created a golden calf, and the people worshipped it, saying, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 32:4).

  • Key Elements of the Verse:

Exchanged Their Glory: The “glory” refers to God’s presence and their relationship with Him. In worshipping the golden calf, the Israelites traded the glory of the living God for a lifeless idol.

Image of a Bull: The “image of a bull” represents the golden calf, an idol made from melted jewelry. It is described as something that “eats grass,” emphasizing the absurdity of worshipping a creature, a mere animal, rather than the Creator.

Theological Significance

  • Folly of Idolatry:

Exchange of Glory: The verse starkly depicts the foolishness of idolatry. Turning from the true, living God to worship a man-made object is portrayed as a tragic exchange, diminishing the people’s spiritual stature.

Degradation of Worship: By worshipping an idol, the Israelites lowered the object of their worship from the Creator of the universe to something as mundane as a grass-eating bull. This degradation underscores the irrationality and futility of idolatry.

  • God’s Faithfulness vs. Human Unfaithfulness:

God’s Unchanging Glory: Despite Israel’s unfaithfulness, God’s glory remains constant. Psalm 106 continues to recount God’s mercy and forgiveness, highlighting His steadfast love and patience.

Human Tendency to Wander: The Israelites’ actions reflect a broader human tendency to seek tangible, immediate sources of security and meaning, often at the expense of true spiritual fidelity.

Applications for Our Lives

  • Recognizing Modern Idols:

Identifying Idols: Modern idolatry might not involve golden calves, but it can include anything that takes God’s place in our hearts. This can be money, success, relationships, or even self. Identifying and addressing these idols is crucial for maintaining a proper relationship with God.

Prioritizing God: Ensure that God remains at the center of your life. Regular self-reflection and prayer can help keep your priorities aligned with His will.

  • Valuing God’s Glory:

Embracing Divine Glory: Value the relationship you have with God and recognize His glory in your life. Worship Him for who He is and for His mighty works. Psalm 29:2 encourages, "Ascribe to the Lord the glory due to his name; worship the Lord in holy array."

Avoiding Spiritual Compromises: Resist the temptation to compromise your faith for temporary or worldly gains. Colossians 3:2 advises, "Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are on the earth."

  • Learning from Israel’s History:

Heeding Warnings: Use the historical accounts of Israel’s failures and God’s responses as lessons for your own life. Romans 15:4 states, "For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that through patience and through encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope."

Seeking God’s Mercy: When you recognize unfaithfulness in your life, seek God’s mercy and forgiveness. He is always ready to restore and renew. Psalm 103:8-10 reminds us, "The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in loving kindness. He will not always accuse; neither will he stay angry forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor repaid us for our iniquities."


Romans 1:22-23: "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and traded the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds, four-footed animals, and creeping things." Paul echoes the sentiment of Psalm 106:20, highlighting the foolishness of idolatry and the tragic exchange of God’s glory for created things.

Jeremiah 2:11: "Has a nation changed its gods, which really are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit." Jeremiah laments Israel’s abandonment of God for worthless idols, reinforcing the message of Psalm 106:20.

Exodus 32:4-6: "He received what they handed him, fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made it a molded calf. Then they said, 'These are your gods, Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt!' When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation, and said, 'Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.' They rose up early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. The people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play." This passage provides the direct historical background to Psalm 106:20, detailing the incident of the golden calf.

Conclusion: Psalm 106:20 serves as a poignant reminder of the folly of idolatry and the importance of remaining faithful to God. By exchanging their glory for an image of a bull, the Israelites demonstrated the irrationality and degradation that come from turning away from the true God to worship man-made objects.

For us today, this verse encourages us to recognize and avoid modern forms of idolatry, to value our relationship with God above all else, and to learn from the historical lessons of Israel’s unfaithfulness. By keeping God at the center of our lives and resisting the temptations to substitute Him with worldly things, we can maintain a proper focus on His glory and experience the fullness of life that comes from worshipping Him alone.

PIB Scriptures are derived from the World English Bible


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