In Genesis, the Bible tells us of how Aaron exclaims at the golden calf. One begins to wonder how possible it is for a nation that saw God’s miracles stoop so low as to worship a calf. These are people who knew God’s commandments about idolatry and how God hates it. However, there must be something about calves and bulls that the Israelites knew that we didn’t. The best way would be to look at the Bible and see if there are any symbolisms of the bull.
What You'll Learn Today
Symbols of Strength
The Bible stresses many times about the strength of bulls. In Proverbs 14:4, the Bible records:
“Where there are no oxen, the manger is empty, but from the strength of an ox come abundant harvests.”
The oxen is an interchange of the bull.
Strong individuals in the Bible such as Levi and Simon were associated with bulls. In Genesis 49:6, we see Jacob cursing Levi and Simon because in their anger, they slew men and lamed oxen.
Another show of the strength of bulls is in Deuteronomy where Moses gives Joseph the blessing of virility and power. In Deuteronomy 33:17, the Bible says:
“In majesty he is like a firstborn bull; his horns are the horns of a wild ox. With them he will gore the nations, even those at the ends of the earth. Such are the ten thousands of Ephraim; such are the thousands of Manasseh.”
Symbols of Enemies
In the Book of Psalms, we see David using the imagery of bulls to paint a powerful picture of his enemies who had descended on him. In Psalm 22:12, he says:
“My enemies surround me like a herd of bulls; fierce bulls of Bashan have hemmed me in!”
David is crying out to God so that he can save him from the torments of his enemies. In other interpretations, the Psalm is said to refer to the Jewish people in their plight while in exile.
Symbol of God’s Exaltation
The Jews have a tradition that every sabbath they recite Psalm 92. They also recite this Psalm on festival days in the morning services. In Psalm 92:10, the Bible says,
“You have exalted my horn like that of a wild ox; fine oils have been poured on me.”
The Psalmist in this line of scripture talks of how God has exalted and anointed him. It is in reference to his enemies and how they are defeated while his strength is renewed.
It is only through the favor of the Lord do we get such spiritual lifting. Reading from verse 9, the context is that of enemies perishing and workers of iniquity being defeated.
The Manifestation of God
In the Book of Numbers, Balaam compares God to an ox. In Numbers 23:22, the Bible says,
“God brought them out of Egypt; they have the strength of a wild ox.”
Bringing the children of Israel out of Egypt was a very difficult task and no one else would do it in the way that God did it. To describe the mightiness of God, Balaam could find no other semblance than that of a bull.
In the chapter that followed, Balaam again revisits the symbolism of the bull in reference to God. This is a convincing imagery that portrays the strength of God in the midst of his enemies and opposing nations. In Numbers 24:8, the Bible records:
“God brought them out of Egypt; they have the strength of a wild ox. They devour hostile nations and break their bones in pieces; with their arrows they pierce them.”
Symbolism of Heavenly Beings
Ezekiel had an encounter with the living creatures by the Kebar River in Babylon. In his own account, he described the atmosphere as there being the hand of God on him. When Ezekiel looked to the North, he saw a windstorm flashing with lightning the center of which there was something like a glowing metal.
At the center of the cloud, Ezekiel saw 4 living creatures that were in the form of humans. They had 4 wings and 4 faces with their feet like those of a calf. This is what the Bible says in Ezekiel 1:7
“Their legs were straight, and they had hoofs like those of a bull. They shone like polished bronze.”
The description extends to the tenth verse where it says:
“Each living creature had four different faces: a human face in front, a lion’s face at the right, a bull’s face at the left, and an eagle’s face at the back.”
Symbol of Sacrifice and Offerings
Israelites used to sacrifice goats, lambs, and bulls during their festivals or during specific times as ordered by the Lord. Ordinarily, God would be appeased by the sacrifice of his people, but occasionally such sacrifices would be rejected because God needed the attention of his people more than their sacrifices.
In Isaiah 1:11, God makes this clear:
““The multitude of your sacrifices— what are they to me?” says the LORD. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.”
In Hebrews 10:4, the author also repeats this message as follows:
“It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”
These two passages of scripture and others along the same line are pointing towards a Messiah whose blood would be sufficient for the atonement of signs once and for all.
The symbolism of a bull in the Bible reflected the views of many ancient religions and practices.
For instance, in the Rabbinic mystical traditions, the bull was often used to explain the relationship between the finite universe that God created and the eternal God who is infinite. These were called the cabalistic concepts of Yesod and Geburah.
Even in Rome and ancient Greece, the bull was still a powerful symbol. For instance, Zeus, the chief deity of ancient Greeks was depicted in the form of a bull. According to mythological tales, Zeus would trans-mutate into a bull, abduct young human females to sleep with them.