By Kyle Pope
After the Israelites came out of Egypt
the Bible tells us about a very dis appointing choice that the people made on
one occasion when Moses was on Mount Sinai. Exodus 32:1 relates – “Now
when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the
people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, "Come, make us gods
that shall go before us; for [as for] this Moses, the man who brought us up out
of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” (NKJV).
Rather than obeying the words which God had given only a short time before this
forbidding such idolatry, Aaron – “…received [the gold]
from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded
calf. Then they said, ‘This [is] your god, O Israel, that brought you out
of the land of Egypt!’” When Moses returned to find the people
engaged riotous worship of the calf threw down the stone tablets which God
himself had inscribed (Exodus 3:16,19), ground the calf into powder which was
put in the people’s water and they were forced to drink it (Exodus 3:20).
Then the camp was purged of those who still refused to follow God by a bloody
battle in which 3000 men died in one day (Exodus 3:27,28). If Moses had not
pled to God for mercy the entire nation would have been destroyed and God would
have raised up another people through Moses (Exodus 3:10-14).
500 years later after the Israelites had become a nation with Soloman as their
3rd king and Jerusalem as their capital, a servant of Soloman’s named
Jeroboam rebelled against him (I King 11:26). When Solomon died, and his son
Rehoboam oppressed the people, the Israelites chose to set Jeroboam over them
as king. In order to keep the people from turning back to Rehoboam since they
had to go to Jerusalem to sacrifice Jereoboam – “…took
counsel made two calves of gold, and said to the people, ‘It is too much
for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you
up from the land of Egypt!’” (1 Kings 12:28). Jeroboam
set up the two calves in Dan and Bethel (I Kings 12:29). To support his
idolatrous worship he built shrines on the high places and established his own
priesthood (I Kings 12:31). He set up altars, made sacrifices and established
feast days – “which he devised in his own heart” (I Kings
12:32-33). In these two situations, separated from each other by centuries, we
see some powerful lessons, which speak to us today.
Worship of God. In both instances when the people turned to
idolatry it was cloaked in the appearance of worship to God. Neither Aaron nor
Jeroboam tried to turn the people to another God, both claimed that the calves
were the “God who brought them out of the land of Egypt.” Even so,
in leading the people to worship God in a way which He had forbidden they were
turning them away from God.
Imagination of the Heart. In both instances the motivation behind
the action of the people was not God’s instructions but the desires and
imagination of their own heart. While it is true that God expects us to use the
mind and abilities which He has given to us in His service, that does not mean
that we are free to shape religion in accordance with our own desires.
Committed a Great Sin. After Moses had purged the camp, he
returned to God and said – “…Oh, these people have
committed a great sin, and have made for themselves a god of gold!” (Exodus
32:31). In summarizing the life of Jeroboam, when the Bible refers to his
establishment of the false worship associated with the gold calves it declares –
“… this thing was the sin of the house of Jeroboam, so as to
exterminate and destroy [it] from the face of the earth.” (1 Kings
13:34). In spite of the fact that it was a religious observance and in spite of
the fact that the people had used their creativity and resourcefulness it was a
sin that separated the people from God.
Application. In our world today there are many things
that are done which are cloaked in the worship of God which, were never
authorized by God. Men have “devised in their own heart” thousands
of human denominations who call themselves by thousands of different names.
They have taught unscriptural ideas like salvation by “faith only,”
the “sinner’s prayer,” the worship of Mary, “once saved
always saved,” purgatory, councils, conventions, popes, and indulgences.
As acts of worship men have from their own imagination fashioned their own
“gold calves” through the use of incense, choirs, mechanical
instruments of music, dance, plays, priests, priestly garments, altars, ritual prayers,
hand-clapping, and women preachers, things never taught in the New Testament.
If God was displeased with this kind of behavior in the past why would it be
any different now?