From the beginning of the book of Exodus to the end, the Hebrews witnessed time and time again, the power of Yahweh. They watched Him place ten plagues on Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea,and awoke to manna on the ground every morning. Yet, when Moses had been gone for 40 days and 40 nights speaking to God; the Isrealites turned to Aaron and asked for a new god. Then Aaron had the brilliant idea of fashioning a new god out of gold.
Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.”
~ Exodus 32:2-5
Why is it the Hebrews could easily turn and go against something that God had specifically asked them not to do?
There are several different theories that explain why the Israelites were easy to turn against Yahweh. The explanation that the book of Exodus gives us is short and simple. Exodus 32:22 simply states that people are prone to evil.
That’s it? This idol cost 3,000 people their lives and the explanation that the story is offering me is that people are evil?
After doing research into the culture of the Hebrews I found more information that further explains their actions. One explanation could be that it was a misunderstanding. Of course, the people knew they were not to create a false idol but once the calf was built Aaron proclaims it as the same god who brought them out of Egypt. Aaron wasn’t saying that the golden calf was a replacement for the true God, he was claiming that this calf represented the true God who had brought them out of Egypt. (lavistachurchofchrist.org).
The people of this time were accustomed to seeing their gods and idol worship. For them it was part of their culture to be able to see what they were worshiping. When Moses had remained absent for 40 days they no longer had a clear direction and thought it be easier to return to their cultured ways of worship. (gotquestions.org)
I also found in my research that the Israelites had for a long time worshiped the moon god. The golden calf in Exodus was made while Joshua and Moses were on the mountain. There is strong biblical evidence that Joshua was worshiped as a sun god before his story evolved in Hebrew legend to that of a mortal hero. If so, the symbolism of the story is that when the sun god is away (night time) then the people worship the moon god. (gotanswers.com)