From a blogpost I shared a year and a half ago…
Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 2 Aaron said to them, “Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me” (Ex 32:1-2 NASB).
Israel could not go very long without the strong spiritual leadership of Moses. Without Moses being present, the people would cry, “Make us gods!”
Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool and made it into a molten calf; and they said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt” (Ex 32:3-4 NASB).
The calf was the great god of the Egyptians. It was carried in the vanguard of their processions. Sacrifices were offered to it, and dances executed in its honor. It was worshipped as the generator of life. So, the Children of Israel were, in effect, returning to the pagan worship of the land from which Jehovah God had brought them forth.
Source: Exodus 24 & 32