After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” (I Kings 12:28)
Of all the stupid things to do! This must be near the top of the list. We remember clearly what happened the last time the Israelites decided to worship a golden calf. They had barely left Egypt. Moses was away, receiving God’s law on Mount Sinai. And 3,000 Israelites died because of this idol. Worse yet, the Lord told Moses, “Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them…” (Exodus 32:9) Good thing God relented!
Many years later King Jeroboam decided that setting up some new golden calves was now a great idea. It was not. He should have known better. He listened to bad advice. The lesson from Sinai was not learned.
With the death of King Solomon, the Nation of Israel broke in two. Only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin remained with the line of David under his grandson, Rehoboam. The 10 Northern Tribes instead followed Jeroboam, a former treacherous official under Solomon. The new king in the north decided to revise his religion to gain a political advantage. He was more afraid of losing his kingship than he was of defying the holy God. We understand his fear. Jerusalem was in the southern kingdom. The temple was in Jerusalem. Israelites would want to go to Jerusalem to worship regularly. He might lose control of his people.
We have watched others act this way. Right now, we are watching the ruler of North Korea trying to keep his hold on power by keeping his subjects from contact with the South. Kim Jong Un has much to lose.
So, do we. At times, like Jeroboam, we are tempted to set aside God’s will in order to not lose something we treasure. We know what he expects of us. But we sometimes don’t want to pay the price that faithfulness demands. Instead, we look for ways to get around his expectations.
We offer alternative answers. We listen to humans instead of to the Lord of angels. Often, we are inclined to set up our own golden calves. We may be tempted to make friends, or money, or career, or simply having fun, as substitutes for God. We won’t stop being religious. We will just modify our religion to fit our wishes better. And if God does not like what we do? Well, he won’t strike us dead, will he? Later on, maybe we can get back into his good graces.
That didn’t work for Jeroboam, and it won’t work for us. The only ones who will give a nod of approval to disobedience are the dishonorably discharged angels assigned to the pits of hell.
The lesson of faithfulness needs to be learned. Only the Creator is the source of life. Only the Redeemer makes things right. Only the Holy Spirit can bring us real joy. There is no substitute for the Triune God.
The entire history of ancient Israel is a lesson in the justice and mercy of God. Judgment came when mercy was spurned. Listen to his words: “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11)
The same message comes to us:
Turn from evil to the Savior God. Forgiveness is full and free. Jesus saw to that. Hope lies alone in the true God of Israel. No substitute can take his place.
Let it be for us a lesson learned.
We pray: God of grace and glory, too often we stray from your will and way. Too easily we set up rival gods in our lives. Cleanse our minds and desires. Crush our false gods. Forgive our sin. Renew our faith. Teach us, again and again, the lesson of your holy love. Amen.
Written by Pastor Paul Ziemer, WELS National Civilian Chaplain and Liaison to the Military, Cape Coral, Florida