After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves and said to the people, "Going up to Jerusalem is too much for you. Here, O Israel, are your gods, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt."
I. THEY WERE INTENDED TO BE IMAGES OF THE GOD OF ISRAEL.
1. So he describes them in the text.
(1) "These are thy Elohim, O Israel." Our English Bibles give the word "God" without the capital G, as though the purpose of Jeroboam were to lead the people away from the true God. This, indeed, was the effect, but that it was the design may well be doubted.
(2) He farther identifies the Elohim represented in them as having brought them up out of the land of Egypt. This expression is equivalent to saying that the Elohim he would remind them of in these figures was the same who wrought all the miracles of the Exodus.
(3) We must not be misled by the words, "Behold thy Elohim," or "These airs thy Elohim," as though he wished to impose these calves upon them as the very Elohim who wrought all the wonders of their miraculous history. For this is a Hebraism for similitudes (see Genesis 41:27; Daniel 2:38; 1 Corinthians 10:4). Note: Romanists impose their monstrous transubstantiation upon those who have not discerned this.
2. His error was a reproduction of Aaron's.
(1) This will be clear from a comparison of the text with Exodus 32:4.
(2) Aaron could not, under the very shadow of the Shekinah, and within hearing of the voice of thunder from Sinai, have intended to substitute his calf for the very Elohim.
(3) But that he only intended it as an emblem of the true God is placed very clearly before us in the words following (Exodus 32:5, 6), in which the feast celebrated before his calf is called a "feast of Jehovah"
3. Yet this was idolatry.
(1) Idolatry may consist of worshipping the creature instead of the Creator. This the Romanist does when he worships the wafer.
(2) Or it may be substituting some imagination of his heart for the God who has miraculously revealed Himself, and whose revelations concerning Himself are written in Holy Scripture. Such were the idealizations of the ancient (and also modern) heathen.
(3) Or it may consist in attempting to worship the true God through unauthorised images (see Exodus 20:4). This was the case with Aaron, also with Jeroboam. It is likewise the case with the Romanist, who uses crucifixes, and images and pictures of the Persons of the Trinity.
II. BUT WHY DID HE MAKE CALVES?
1. He had the cherubim in his mind.
(1) These had the visage of a calf. They had, indeed, also the visages of a lion, of a man, and of an eagle. But the whole figure terminated in the foot of a calf (Ezekiel 1:7).
(2) Jeroboam's calf probably had also associated with it the other visages of the cherubim; so probably had Aaron's, for they respectively call their image by the plural name Elohim (אלהים). The single image at Bethel is also called calves (עלגים) in the plural, which suggests a plurality of visages, though not necessarily visages of calves, for the whole emblem appears to have been designated by this name.
2. But the cherubim were emblems of the Holy Trinity.
(1) The calf or young bull, which by the ancients was taken for an emblem of fire, stood here for the first Person of the Godhead. (See Bato's "Critica Hebraea," under עגל and כרוב; also his learned "Inquiry into the Occasional and Standing Similitudes of the Lord God in the Old and New Testaments.")
(2) The lion was the symbol of light, and stood for the second Person. With the face of the lion that of the man was constantly associated, foreshadowing the assumption of the manhood into the Godhead by that blessed Person.
(3) And the eagle, the emblem of air, stood for the Holy Spirit.
(4) These, therefore, are called the cherubim, or similitudes of the Great Ones, from רבים Great Ones, and כ like.
3. Micah's teraphim were like Jeroboam's calves.
(1) They were a compound or plural image like the cherubim, and used like them (see Judges 17:5, 18:5).
(2) Michael was a worshipper of the true God, and so was Laban, who also used teraphim (see Genesis 31:19, 30, 37, 49),
(4) The cerberus of the pagans, with its plurality of heads, was a corruption, and the name of that monster keeps up the sound, of the original Hebrew cherubim. How subtle is the spirit of idolatry! We cannot keep too close to God's Word. - M.
And Jeroboam said in his heart.
I. OPPORTUNITY. Seated at last firmly on his throne, Jeroboam was face to face with the opportunity of his life. It was a decisive hour in the young ruler's career. His future and the fate of a kingdom hung in the balance. Should he determine to serve God, work righteousness, lighten oppression, promote religion — should he prove strong to do all that Jehovah his God commanded — he might easily make himself the mightiest monarch, and his people the foremost nation of the age. God would then be with him. But if he disregarded these high ends, his kingdom would come to nought, and his name be a hissing and a by-word. God would be against him. Strange that Jeroboam did not comprehend this. No lesson was more clearly taught in the history of his country. Jeroboam is not alone in this fault. For nations and rulers to meet and lose such crucial chances is not at all uncommon. Not "once," as Lowell hath it, but often-
To every man and nation comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side.
Some great cause, God's new Messiah, offering each the bloom or blight,
Parts the goats upon the left hand, and the sheep upon the right,
And the choice goes by forever, 'twixt that darkness and that light.One immortal precept Jeroboam's case vividly illustrates — the only safe path is the right path. Our salvation from failure and shame lies in being absolutely true to our deepest convictions of right, unswervingly loyal to what we know of God's will.
II. EXPEDIENCY VERSUS RIGHTEOUSNESS. Before his great opportunity Jeroboam failed. The causes of his downfall were all the more seductive because they seemed to be justified by the soundest maxims of governmental policy. It would never do, he reasoned, to have the centre of the national religion in a foreign city, and especially in the chief city of the country from which his subjects had just seceded. They might as safely have the seat of government in the capital of a rival nation as to have the seat of religion there. If the people continued to go up to the prominent feasts at Jerusalem, there was danger of a revolution backward. The old ties might prove too strong. Religious scruples knight overcome political considerations. It was necessary to isolate the nation religiously as well as governmentally. The secession must be complete. To this end Jeroboam now devoted his energies. Having fortified some of the chief cities of his realm, he set to work to create a public sentiment favourable to his scheme. "It is too much," he said to the people, "for you to go up to Jerusalem." There was plausibility in this plea. Devices to lighten the stress of duty, or give a liberal interpretation to moral obligations, are apt to be popular. The new arrangement seems to have sprung into general favour at once. Following up the advantage thus gained, the king established two centres of worship — one at Bethel, a place already sanctified by many sacred events; the other at Dan, on the northern frontier. So, for mere political ends, the national connection with the religion which God had ordained was broken off. Jeroboam had made a fatal mistake. He had set politics before religion, chosen convenience instead of duty, made expediency take the place of righteousness. Disastrous consequences always follow a choice like that. Keen-sighted men are often short-sighted. They see vividly, but only at close range, like those party leaders whose foresight does not extend beyond the next election. But the immutable laws move relentlessly on to exact in due season their last ounce of penalty. "They enslave their children's children who make compromise with sin," saith the Delphic Oracle. Thousands of Esaus are all the time peddling their birthrights for messes of pottage. For the sake of temporary gain, or the gratification of a present desire, or to tide over an immediate crisis, they put in pawn their manhood, purity, and honour, and mortgage their future to the Devil. This evil tendency is greatly increased by current sentiments about success. Success is a cardinal virtue with most of us. We worship the goddess of victory. Having exalted to a superlative rank the matter of gaining our end, the severity with which we criticise the means is inversely as the degree of success hoped for. The great thing nowadays is to get ahead — by honourable courses if one can; but to get ahead. Herein he is a warning to us. Whoever puts policy before religion, chooses convenience before duty, or makes expediency a greater thing than righteousness, has foredoomed his career to ultimate failure, and his name to certain shame.
III. IDOLATRY. One false step necessitates a second. Having adopted his policy, the new king must needs devise suitable means for carrying it out. An evil aim and end calls for evil devices. The results of Aaron's experiment, however, would seem sufficient to have deterred any one from imitating it. Common sense should have perceived the advisability of making as few changes as need be, and of introducing gradually such as were imperative. The religious sense of the worthiest classes was sure to be shocked at any radical alterations in the established order. But the king, having entered upon a wrong road, went rashly on. It is argued by some commentators that this was not idolatry in the strict sense, but only the worship of Jehovah under the form of a calf. And indeed the phrase may read, "This is thy God, O Israel, that brought thee up out of the land of Egypt." Be that as it may, Jehovah had expressly forbidden men to worship him in that fashion, for the wise reason that worship by the aid of sensuous forms invariably degenerates among the masses into actual idolatry. The making of images results in the worship of false gods. Fifty years later, in the days of Elijah the reformer, we find the nation wholly given over to idols. The worship of Jehovah had almost entirely ceased. Baal, Astarte, and Moloch were the reigning deities. 'Tis ever thus. Idolatry involves also the sin of disobedience. God had said, "Thou shalt not." This Jeroboam well knew. He ought to have remembered the hot displeasure with which in the history of his nation infractions of God's will had been punished. What a strange infatuation possesses men who suppose that they can please God while doing the very things which He has sternly forbidden! Yet men are guilty of this folly all the time. But the crowning iniquity of Jeroboam, for which more than for all else he was condemned, was that he used the public power, the Divinely bestowed authority of the state, for the furtherance of ungodliness. There is a warning here for legislators who legalise a nefarious traffic, give respectability to lotteries and gambling-dens, or load unjust taxes upon the poor and weak, and for rulers who wink at bribery, theft, and other wickedness in high places.
IV. DOOM. In his procedure Jeroboam overlooked a universal law. Consequences are inevitable. Effects follow their causes. Every road has its proper terminus, every seed its peculiar harvest. Choose your course, and you will come to the end of it. Sow your seed; you must reap the sort of grain which you have sown. Flesh and corruption, wind and whirlwind, spirit and life, obedience and blessing, transgression and ruin: these things go in these pairs. The two names in each pair are but two names for the selfsame thing. In natural matters, in physical science, this principle is everywhere respected; in spiritual it is almost universally ignored. Since the foundation of the world men have been doing evil that good might come, seeking blessedness by the way of the transgressor, sowing tares and watching for wheat.
(F. W. Ryder.)
II. THE PEOPLE — ISRAEL. The people followed their king. (There is a tradition that one family held out against calf-worship.) The national conscience was not sensitive, the national faith not vigorous, the sense of loyalty not strong, the spirit of obedience not quick. The people, though knowing better, were easily led into disobedience. They knew the law, and the history of Aaron's golden calves. Their eyes were open, but they lacked the moral fibre and high spirit that will refuse to follow a false leader in his wrong plans. Many of them must have surrendered conscience in following this apostate king. Let us not be too severe in our judgment of them. Hosts of informed people are being led in evil ways by modern Jeroboams. Men like him still frequently decide public policy, even in matters of morals and religion, and the multitudes follow even into the ditch. Conscience goes to the wall. The king, the government, or the party chooses the policy, offering plausible excuse for violating God's law, and the people follow. The result is certain. A nation surrendering conscience loses conscience. A people disobedient to God suffers His wrath. Israel did.
III. THE SIN — IDOLATRY. This evil surrounded the Jews. They knew the nature and results. God was training them for pure worship. The spiritual God was trying to get a spiritual people. He had always to resist a tendency to idolatry. His word is full of warnings against it and woes upon it. He knew its nature and deadly result. Evermore He tries to prevent it, not in petty jealousy, but for the love of His children. Worship is love. God does not so jealously guard mere forms and ceremonies. He does guard the love of His people. Worshipping Him is loving Him. And that is the deepest relation between God and man. His supreme expression toward man is the utterance of His love. Man's supreme response is love. Love brooks no divided heart. Love needs no images. "God is a spirit." Love is spiritual. Worship, in its essence, is love. He "seeketh such to worship Him as worship Him in spirit and in truth." "For two hundred and fifty-seven years this terrible indictment, 'he made Israel to sin,' follows Jeroboam and his kingdom through all the pages of this sacred record, until the kingdom was utterly destroyed and the Ten Tribes blotted from the map of human history, even as Moses and the prophets had predicted." Why does this result follow idolatry? Because right relation to God is the root of character. If that relation be wrong life itself is wrong. This is fundamental. Error or fault here is fatal. There are not two centres to this circle. Men cannot keep the first commandment and break the second. In idolatry men satisfy their religious feeling by a false worship which pretends to be true. The essence of it is disobedience; self-choice instead of self-surrender. It denies God by choosing other ways than His. It looks religious; it is the essence of sin. It begins with materialism and ends in polytheism or atheism. A close student has said: "Idolatry does not begin as idolatry. There is evolution down as well as up. The argument for image-worship is specious, and it is always in essential spirit the same. Every tendency toward materialisation is a backward tendency in religion. The golden calves which Jeroboam sets up as a representation of God lead naturally and speedily to the horrible pagan rites which come in with Ahab and Jezebel." "Idolatry in the ancient Church," says the Britannica, "was naturally reckoned among those magna crimina or great crimes against the first and second commandments which involved the highest ecclesiastical censures." The danger of idolatry has not ceased. St. John's message is still to men: "Little children, keep yourselves from idols." The golden calf still exists in "covetousnesst the which is idolatry." It exists to destroy.
(W. F. McDowell.)
1. The wise Solomon saw the many abilities of Jeroboam, and made him, when a young man, ruler over all the charge of the house of Joseph; he was a man of decision, discretion, industry and valour. But he was destitute of faith and devoid of that fear of the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom.
2. Jeroboam in thus establishing idolatry in order to strengthen the throne and consolidate his kingdom ignored the living God as a potent factor in the problem. The Divine element, which was the all-controlling one, found no place in his plans, his calculations or his conduct.
3. In the establishment of idolatry he did not openly reject the Jehovah of Israel, but corrupted His worship — with what far-reaching evil let Israel's shameful history. and ignominious end proclaim.
4. The corruption of the people proceeded, pars passu, with the corruption of the worship of God. The life of the nation began with flagrant violations of the Divine law and with an idolatrous worship, and the effects of these sins are seen in all the subsequent history of Israel. The national life was polluted at its very fountain, for the religion and worship of any people are the very innermost springs of being, development and civilisation; and so Israel passed from bad to worse with frightful rapidity and momentum, and her history is red with blood and dark with defilement.
5. Israel's idolatry led not only to her decay, but to her death. The wages of sin is death, no less for the nation than for the individual. The soul that sinneth and the nation that sinneth shall die.
(A. W. Pitzer, D. D.)I. JEROBOAM'S DIFFICULTY. The difficulty was a religious one. In the northern kingdom which he had founded there was no temple — no place consecrated for offerings and sacrifices. The temple was the crowning glory of Jerusalem, the capital of the southern kingdom, "Whither the tribes went up, the tribes of the Lord, unto the testimony of Israel." The only place of sacrifice, the only place in which the highest religious duties could be discharged, was in the rival kingdom over which Rehoboam reigned. The hour had not yet come when "neither in this mountain nor yet at Jerusalem should men worship the Father." It was the hour in which every devout Jew felt compelled to offer the appointed sacrifices in the appointed place. No provision could be found in Jeroboam's kingdom for the religious wants of the people. He had to rule a nation (which was nothing if it was not religious — a nation which, in former times, had been ruled by Jehovah without the aid of kings) without any of the signs of His presenced no ark, no shekinah glory, no tables of stone, no altar, no priest, no temple. Jeroboam knew full well that these were essential to the nation — that unless these religious needs were met within his own borders the people would go up to Jerusalem, they would be found within the temple of Solomon. He feared that they would be fascinated by the glory both of the city and temple; that their hearts would be drawn thither; that the rival kingdom of Judah would acquire new glory in their eyes; and that, sooner or later, they would forsake their allegiance to him and his throne, and return to the dynasty which they had so recently forsaken.
II. JEROBOAM'S REMEDY. The difficulty was very evident. The remedy was not easily to be found. It probably gave the king much anxious thought, and, when it was found, was of the kind to be expected both from his character and antecedents. Altars were reared, objects of worship were devised after the model afforded by the sacred calf of Heliopolis. The cry heard long before beneath the granite crags of Sinai was repeated: "These are thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt." The feast times were altered to suit the later harvest of the more northern climate. To borrow the felicitous historical illustrations of Dean Stanley, just as Abder-rahman, Caliph of Spain, arrested the movements of his subjects to Mecca by the erection of the holy place of the Zeca at Cordova, or as Abdelmalik, because of his quarrel with the authorities at Mecca, built the dome of the rock at Jerusalem, so Jeroboam sought to rear rival seats of sacrifice in his kingdom to keep the heart, of the people from Jerusalem, and bind them more closely to his person and his throne.
III. LESSONS SUGGESTED BY THIS POLICY OF JEROBOAM.
1. The inconvenience of the State busying itself with religious matters. The true policy of Jeroboam would have been to have left religion alone. He had been called to the throne for political purposes. After all, the root of the whole mischief is to be found in want of faith. Assuredly it was thus with Jeroboam. On two distinct occasions, by symbolic but most expressive methods, he had received the assurance that over the ten tribes he would be called to be king. He knew that "the thing was from the Lord." This religious difficulty met him, it is true, at the very opening of his reign. Why could he not leave it in Jehovah's hands? Why could he not fill the throne assured that God would provide for the Church? Why could he not believe that called to the throne he would be preserved therein, although the people did go year by year to sacrifice in the rival kingdom? It is thus in our day. Men are filled with all manner of fear if this union be not preserved. Why cannot we believe that God will provide for His Church, and that the more she trusts in Him and the less in men, the stronger she will be for her work?
2. The evil of preferring policy to principle. Policy lay at the root of Jeroboam's mischief Although he hid lived in Egypt, he belonged to the chosen race, and was ignorant neither of its history nor laws. Policy is a word too often on men's lips. The very commonness of its use is significant of the prevalence of the thought. To many minds it is quite sufficient to dissuade from a course of action to say it is not good policy. If right go with policy, all is well; if right part company with policy, right pleads in vain. The men who range themselves fearlessly under the banner of truth, who adopt the motto of our great English orator and statesman, "Be just, and fear not," are regarded as dangerous men. The cry needs to be heard, "Let integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait on Thee." The conviction needs to take strong hold of our spirit, "Thou desirest truth in the inward parts." We need to .listen to the words of our great Poet, words which sound like an echo of the voice of prophet and apostle, words filled with the spirit of Him who came to bear witness to the Truth —
To thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
(W. G. Horder.)
Monday Club Sermons.I. THE KING MADE USE OF THE CHURCH TO SERVE HIS POLITICAL AMBITIONS. Historical illustrations of success in a similar line to that entered upon by Jeroboam are abundant. The Roman Church has this sad record to face, of its having been a support or cover to all the personal ambitions that throb in a human breast. The important thing, however, is that, under all forms of church establishment or order, these influences are liable to manifest themselves. The dangers to the church arise not merely from the desires of prominent individuals to exercise undue control in ecclesiastical affairs; the false sentiments of men within and without the church are the sources of peril. Pressure is brought to bear upon the Christian community to declare itself positively on difficult or doubtful questions. Political motives often mingle with those that are personal in leading men thus to antagonise the church into a position favourable to their views.
II. THE PEOPLE SACRIFICED THEIR RELIGIOUS PRINCIPLES TO THEIR LOVE OF EASE. If a young man who has been taught secret prayer neglects that duty and privilege till bedtime, and delays still further till he retires, that prayer will not be a vital, faithful prayer. Frederick W. Robertson used to say, "Begin the day with a sacrifice." He rose quickly. He engaged his mind, instead of allowing it to wander in the precious morning hours. It was his habit to learn a verse of Scripture while dressing. Some vigorous mental and moral effort is necessary to bring one into a proper state for worship.
III. THE INTRODUCTION OF OLD ERRORS MADE IDOLATRY MORE ACCEPTABLE. Jeroboam took advantage of an incident in the early history of the people of Israel in setting up the golden calves. The old sin of the tribes, in worshipping the calf made by Aaron in the absence of Moses, was yet to bear fruit. The new ritual is made more acceptable by being linked with an old sin. The people fell again into the pit from which they were digged. The results, however, were those that universally followed disobedience to God's commands. Moab and Damascus were soon as near as Bethel and Dan, and their worship as acceptable to deceived Israel.
IV. A SERVILE PRIESTHOOD AIDED IN ACCOMPLISHING THE ENSLAVEMENT OF THE PEOPLE. We need not understand, by the lowest orders of the people, the worst of the population of the ten tribes. The king chose his priests where it pleased him, outside of the tribe of Levi. This would undoubtedly be a popular measure. Probably the king did not choose all bad men. It does not appear a matter of great importance to many in this day that a man be called of God to the ministry; it is, however, a most vital matter. If he does not recognise God's call upon him, he will not feel responsibility to God. He is only, or chiefly, responsible to men. We obey the master that elevates us. The priests, out of the lowest, orders of tim people, served the king. Men will treat lightly the word of God unless an inward voice has declared to them its sacredness and their commission in regard to it. The servility begotten of a feeling of responsibility to men expresses itself in formalism. It recognises custom and tradition as the law by which men are to guide their lives. A ministry that the world calls will obey its master. Let us have a consecrated and called ministry.
(Monday Club Sermons.)
Homiletic Review.Jeroboam sought to satisfy the people's longings.
I. MUCH OF OUR RELIGION TO-DAY IS MAN-MADE. This is seen,
1. In work done in the churches from wrong motives.
2. In accepting doctrines which are merely pleasing to us.
3. In modifying God's Word to suit the times.
4. In making our standard the standard for testing salvation.
II. BUT TRUE RELIGION HAS GOD FOR ITS AUTHOR. Only the God-made religion
(1) (2) (3) (Homiletic Review.). Political Religion "This Thing is from Me" The Hebrews and the Philistines --Damascus How God Works in the Hearts of Men. Use to be Made of the Doctrine of Providence. The Upbringing of Jewish Children The Instrumentality of the Wicked Employed by God, While He Continues Free from Every Taint. The Twelve Minor Prophets. Of Civil Government. Travelling in Palestine --Roads, Inns, Hospitality, Custom-House Officers, Taxation, Publicans The Figurative Language of Scripture. Kings
(2) (3) (Homiletic Review.). Political Religion "This Thing is from Me" The Hebrews and the Philistines --Damascus How God Works in the Hearts of Men. Use to be Made of the Doctrine of Providence. The Upbringing of Jewish Children The Instrumentality of the Wicked Employed by God, While He Continues Free from Every Taint. The Twelve Minor Prophets. Of Civil Government. Travelling in Palestine --Roads, Inns, Hospitality, Custom-House Officers, Taxation, Publicans The Figurative Language of Scripture. Kings
(3) (Homiletic Review.). Political Religion "This Thing is from Me" The Hebrews and the Philistines --Damascus How God Works in the Hearts of Men. Use to be Made of the Doctrine of Providence. The Upbringing of Jewish Children The Instrumentality of the Wicked Employed by God, While He Continues Free from Every Taint. The Twelve Minor Prophets. Of Civil Government. Travelling in Palestine --Roads, Inns, Hospitality, Custom-House Officers, Taxation, Publicans The Figurative Language of Scripture. Kings