Israel's Idol Worship
By Skip Heitzig
One of the most popular shows on television in recent years was American Idol. It often paid to be a contestant on American Idol—even for the runners up, many of whom went on to great success. But it certainly didn't pay to win the idol contest in Israel. The man who won that contest—and took down the rest of the nation with him—was King Jeroboam, the first leader of the ten northern tribes after Israel split in two.
Scripture refers to Jeroboam twenty times as the one who led Israel to sin, but what caused him to get involved in idolatry in the first place? First, he feared losing power: "Jeroboam said in his heart, 'Now the kingdom may return to the house of David: if these people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn back to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and go back to Rehoboam king of Judah'" (1 Kings 12:26-27). Jeroboam was an insecure leader with a lust for control.
Second, Jeroboam failed to trust God. His first move as the new king of the north was to fortify the cities that controlled the caravan routes (see v. 25). Sounds reasonable, right? But listen to what God had already promised him: "I will take the kingdom out of [Rehoboam's] hand and give it to you…. Then it shall be, if you heed all that I command you…then I will be with you and build for you an enduring house, as I built for David, and will give Israel to you" (1 Kings 11:35, 38). God promised him an enduring kingdom, but Jeroboam failed to trust that promise.
So what did he trust in? This leads to the third thing: Jeroboam followed his heart. "Jeroboam said in his heart…" (1 Kings 12:26); "So he made offerings on the altar which he had made at Bethel on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, in the month which he had devised in his own heart" (v. 33).How many times have you heard the advice "Just follow your heart"? Did you know that people following their heart is what's caused all the problems in this world (see Jeremiah 17:9)? The human heart needs to be steered by the divine will; otherwise, it leads to idolatry.
Jeroboam's fourth and final mistake was that he forsook God's Word. He essentially changed Israel's whole worship system, including the object of worship (see v. 28), the place of worship (see v. 29), the means of worship (see v. 31), and the time of worship (see v. 32). This was a big deal, because the only worship God accepts is the worship He directs. As Jesus said, God seeks those who worship "in spirit and truth" (John 4:23), and the way we know truth is through the Word of God. But Jeroboam forsook all that, instead leading Israel into a 200-year-long period of idol worship.
Idolatry is still around today, though usually not in the form of golden calves. Idolatry is simply letting anyone or anything take the place of God in your life. It starts inwardly but always grows into an outward action, as with Jeroboam. So examine your heart: Is there a rival there? If so, that's an idol; that's why you're restless.So choose this day whom you will serve, because no one can serve two masters. God must be allowed to be who He is in your life: the incomparable living God whose Word is the absolute authority over your heart. Nothing else in the world will satisfy.
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