The Golden Calf Syndrome

Golden calf idolIn revisiting unholy habits yesterday, I didn’t deal with the root issue—the idols we worship.

For some of us, we need to face the fact that we have accepted false gods into our lives, just as Israel accepted the gods of Egypt or as they adopted Baal or the Asherah of the Canaanites and the other neighboring peoples. We put in the highest place things like our desire for pleasure or for power, our desire for position or for prestige, even our possessions or the people we care about. These things are gifts from God, but when we let them rule in our lives they become idols.

But there’s a more insidious idol—of the kind that Jeroboam built. He set up a golden calf—two, in fact—and told the people that here were the gods who brought them up from Egypt. In other words, he decided to create god in the image he wanted him, with priests and festivals and worship ceremonies to his liking.

He didn’t want his people traveling to Jerusalem for Passover or any of the other feasts God had instituted through Moses. His reason for re-imaging God and redirecting the worship of his people was personal:

Jeroboam said in his heart, “Now the kingdom will return to the house of David. If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will return to their lord, even to Rehoboam king of Judah; and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah.” So the king consulted, and made two golden calves, and he said to them, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt.” (1 Kings 12:26-28)

Jeroboam was afraid he’d lose his position as king, that his people would turn against him, so he decided he’d make god the way he wanted him. He ignored the commandment against making an image to represent God. He ignored the Law that required worship in the one place where God would establish it—Jerusalem, as it turned out. He ignored the feast days God established. He ignored God’s choice of the Levites and particularly of the descendants of Aaron as the priests who were to stand before Him.

In other words, Jeroboam wanted God to be who he said he was and he wanted to worship him how he chose to worship him. He simply wanted to be in charge of god.

Sadly we see the same thing today with people who pick and choose from the Bible what they decide they want to believe. God is loving but he’d never judge a nation to be so sinful its people needed to die. And the very idea that god would flood the earth to judge the wicked—horrible. Can’t believe that notion because MY GOD WOULDN’T DO SUCH A THING.

People following that train of thought are simply fashioning their golden calf. They don’t want God to be a just judge who declares that the wages of sin is death, so they fashion a god who looks away from sin because he’s tolerant and loves too much to declare anyone guilty and deserving of hell.

The grain of truth in such a false image is, of course, that God is loving, but His love provided the motive for Him to send Jesus to the cross to die for our sins, once for all. That great act of sacrifice is such a far cry from the false notion of tolerance, it’s hard to conceive of the idea that they’re talking about the same God I know.

And in fact they’re not. They’ve fashioned their own god. They’ve decided who god is, and it’s not the God who says He is jealous or who says vengeance is His or who reproves and disciplines. Some fashion a god who doesn’t call Jesus his son, others a god who added later revelation that contradicts the Bible.

Each of these methods of altering what God has disclosed about Himself are simply golden calves—the results of people making god into what they want him to be, not who He actually is. Jeroboam didn’t want Yahweh to be God because his people would make pilgrimages to Jerusalem, the Pharisees didn’t want Jesus to be the Messiah because they didn’t want to lose the power they had over the people.

I can suggest reasons why other people groups decide to re-image God, though I don’t know why for sure, but the bottom line is, whoever does so is replacing the One True God with a golden calf. In this day and age a host of religious people seem infected with golden calf syndrome, whether they as individuals decide that God didn’t really mean this or that which He said in the Bible or whether as a group they believe something more radically other than what the Bible teaches.

The result is the same: an idol, as displeasing to God as any Israel created.

Published in: on October 30, 2015 at 6:09 pm  Comments (4)  
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The Countdown Continues — Ten

Ten tribes, not twelve.

Civil war chopped up the nation God had designated as His own, the nation that had experienced a golden age under the reins (or reigns) of King David and King Solomon. But the surprising waywardness of the world’s wisest man brought God’s condemnation. For David’s sake, there would be a descendant of his on the throne, but the nation would fracture. Ten tribes would break away from Judah and the Davidic kings. Ten tribes said no to Solomon’s son and his plans to increase their taxes and servitude. Ten tribes had enough, and they had a leader, trained in Egypt, to take them out from under the oppressive rule.

All well and good, since God ordained this split. He sent a prophet to anoint the new king of the new country that would become known as Israel.

It came about at that time, when Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem, that the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him on the road. Now Ahijah had clothed himself with a new cloak; and both of them were alone in the field. Then Ahijah took hold of the new cloak which was on him and tore it into twelve pieces. He said to Jeroboam, “Take for yourself ten pieces; for thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Behold, I will tear the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon and give you ten tribes … because they have forsaken Me, and have worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of Moab, and Milcom the god of the sons of Ammon; and they have not walked in My ways, doing what is right in My sight and observing My statutes and My ordinances, as his father David did. (1 Kings 11:29-33)

God put on Jeroboam a stipulation, however — the same one He’d put on King Saul, King David, and King Solomon:

it will be, that if you listen to all that I command you and walk in My ways, and do what is right in My sight by observing My statutes and My commandments, as My servant David did, then I will be with you and build you an enduring house as I built for David, and I will give Israel to you.(1 Kings 11:38)

Not too complicated, really. God wanted the leader of His people to listen to Him and obey Him. Jeroboam failed.

God had laid out instructions for worship which included all the people making a pilgrimage to the temple — the only place they were to offer sacrifices — during certain feast days. Jeroboam reasoned that the people of his new nation would get to Jerusalem and regret splintering from Judah. They’d abandon him. His solution? He’d abandon God.

He decided to make a shadow religion. He designated not one, but two locations inside Israel’s borders as holy places. To prove it, he erected a golden calf on each site, and told the people that this image was the god who had brought them out of Egypt. To service the worship, he appointed priests from whatever tribe rather than from the tribe of Levi as God had ordained. All of this became a stumbling block for Israel. Not a single king after Jeroboam undid the wrong he created. For the next hundred and fifty years, Israel suffered political coups, assassinations, and war, but instead of turning to God, they ran after the very gods that brought the LORD God’s wrath down on Solomon in the first place.

It’s so tempting to shake my head and think, What stiff-necked people; they never learned. But sadly, human nature is the same today as it was in Solomon’s day.

God does not hide what He wants. Just the opposite. Not only did He send a multitude of prophets, but He miraculously brought His word into written form. And still He didn’t rest. He sent His Son, that baby we talk about in passing every Christmas, and said, here’s what I want you to do: believe in my Son. That’s it. Believe in Jesus — in who He is and what He’s done.

Who is He? He is the Messiah, the Christ. What’s He done? He’s died in order to cancel out the sin debt against us, and He’s risen again, taking His rightful place at the right hand of the Father.

What God asks isn’t hard. No pilgrimage or yearly sacrifice. No dietary laws to keep. In fact, it is because we cannot keep the laws of God that we need to accept Jesus. There is no other way. None of us is good enough or rich enough or talented enough or hard-working enough to dig ourselves out of the debt we owe because of our sin. Jesus Christ alone is the pure Lamb of God. When I put my faith in Jesus, the Father qualifies me to share in the inheritance with the rest of the saints.

Good news, worth a bit of celebrating, don’t you think? 😉

Published in: on December 15, 2011 at 6:10 pm  Comments (3)  
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