Idolatry in Israel
1 Kings 12:26-33
And Jeroboam said in his heart, Now shall the kingdom return to the house of David:…

"History is God teaching by example." All history is that. But the annals of the Hebrew race possess a peculiar interest, because in them the divine tuition is divinely interpreted. In the historical books of the Old Testament we have the record of a revelation rather than the revelation itself. The real revelation lies in the national life, of which the books are partly an account, partly an interpretation. Jeroboam became king. Born in humble circumstances, he had risen by dint of his energy and genius to a place so prominent in public affairs that he was suspected of aspiring to royalty. In every age, in spite of custom, caste, or condition, the men who are determined to rise will rise.

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.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And Jeroboam said in his heart, Now shall the kingdom return to the house of David:

WEB: Jeroboam said in his heart, "Now the kingdom will return to the house of David.

Idolatry in Israel
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