From Sacred Worship to Sacrilegious Whims

Under King David the tribes of Israel were united like no other time before.  Solomon, his son, expanded the territory of Israel in ways that were once unimaginable.  Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, tore the kingdom apart in just a few days.  The people felt over-taxed and over-worked.  They asked Rehoboam for a little relief.  After speaking with both his father’s advisors and his friends, he sided with his friends, and taxed the people more and worked them harder.  Ten tribes broke away from Rehoboam and set up Jeroboam as the king of Israel, while Rehoboam ruled Judah (only the tribe of Benjamin stayed).

God had promised Jeroboam (the 10 tribes’ king) blessings if he would follow God and do as he said.  Sadly, Jeroboam did anything but follow God.  What we see in 1 Kings 12:25-33 is a shift that Jeroboam led Israel through: from sacred worship to sacrilegious whims.  What we see in 25-27 is the doubting of God’s promises.  God promised blessings, but Jeroboam couldn’t understand how those blessings could come if the people were tied to Jerusalem.  “Jeroboam said to himself, ‘The way things are going now, the kingdom might return to the house of David.  If these people go to offer sacrifices in the LORD’s temple in Jerusalem, the heart of these people will return to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah.  They will murder me and go back to the king of Judah’,” (1 Kings 12:26-27, HCSB).  Jeroboam focused on the circumstances he was facing at one moment in time rather than the promise of God.  He was focused on his own following rather than following after God.  So often we tend to do this very same thing within church.  We focus on a following rather than following.  We focus on the immediate and urgent, rather than on God’s faithful promises.  When that happens bad choices follow.  Jeroboam’s solution was to fuse sacred worship with pagan practices.

Jeroboam, having sought counsel (though not godly counsel), had two golden calves built.  “‘Going to Jerusalem is too difficult for you.  Israel, here is your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt.’ He set one in Bethel, and put the other in Dan,” (1 Kings 2:28-29, HCSB).  This would remind any Bible student of Aaron’s great sin, as high priest leading the people to worship an idol.  Here the king does the same.  However, many believe that Jeroboam was not making a graven image, but more of a seat.  He was simply replacing the Ark of the Covenant with these pedestals.  God was invisibly seated or standing upon them.  He set one in Bethel near the border of Israel and Judah and one in Dan one of the most northern cities in the kingdom.  This made worship easy.  No one had to travel far to sacrifice, and even then they only needed to go on special occasions, seeing that Jeroboam also set up high places for regular days.  Everything seemed harmless enough, but a little leaven leavens the whole lump.

So often we tend to do this very same thing within church.  We focus on a following rather than following.  We focus on the immediate and urgent, rather than on God’s faithful promises.

God had stated exactly how He was to be worshiped.  It was to be in Jerusalem at the temple with sacrifice and incense and such.  It was not to be on high places and not to be in Bethel or Dan.  It was not to be on any pedestal but the blood was to be sprinkled on the mercy-seat of the Ark of the Covenant.  A little change here, a little change there.  Yet the change was sin because it was opposing God’s direction and law.

It was also confusing.  Baal was depicted as a bull.  The Canaanites worshiped Baal, not Israelites.  To have the bulls as pedestals (or idols if they were), would be too much for either Israelites or Canaanites.  The worship of God was looking way too secular for both peoples.  There was nothing holy–sacred or different–about the worship of God.  The sacred worship was being taken over by the sacrilegious whims of Jeroboam.  Everyone would be suffering and sinning because of it.  “This led to sin; the people walked in procession before one of the calves all the way to Dan,” (1 Kings 12:30, HCSB).

A little change here, a little change there.  Yet the change was sin because it was opposing God’s direction and law.

The syncretistic nature of Jeroboam quickly turned into false worship.

Jeroboam also built shrines on the high places and set up priests from every class of people who were not Levites.  Jeroboam made a festival in the eighth month on the fifteenth day of the month, like the festival in Judah.  He offered sacrifices on the altar; he made this offering in Bethel to sacrifice to the calves he had set up.  He also stationed priests in Bethel for the high places he had set up.  He offered sacrifices on the altar he had set up in Bethel on the fifteenth day of the eighth month.  He chose this month on his own.  He made a festival for the Israelites, offered sacrifices on the altar, and burned incense, (1 Kings 12:31-33, HCSB).

There were no true priests, no true festivals, and no true sacrifices and so there was no true worship.  It began with a doubt.  He doubted that God would do as He promised to do if Jeroboam would obey Him.  Jeroboam felt the need to make worship easier, closer to home, more interesting, more palatable.  In the end, worship wasn’t worship and the sacred became sacrilegious.

It would seem many churches are taking their lead from this king rather than God’s Word.  It is easiest to point fingers toward those churches that seem to have more of a rock concert than a worship service or those churches that forego having Communion.  But it is also in churches that are “traditional” in nature.  Many of the tradions are not biblical traditions, but secular traditions.  Their traditions may date back to the 500s, the 1500s, or to 1950s, but not to the text of Scripture.  What is often decried by “traditional” churches as the secularization of the church is true, but as the old 90s Just Say No commercial pointed out they “learned it from watching you.”  It is difficult to remember how syncretistic the churches were in the 50s and 60s because at that time, the young members and new churches were simply trying to reach the lost.  The problem for everybody–Christian and non (or churched and unchurched?)–is the confusion of what is sacred and what is not.  What belongs in worship and what does not.

Jeroboam felt the need to make worship easier, closer to home, more interesting, more palatable.  In the end, worship wasn’t worship and the sacred became sacrilegious.

For the record, I am not against “contemporary services” or “traditional services.”  I am simply saying that we use extreme caution in our pursuit to express our worship.  It is not so much about our likes as it is God’s likes.  If we were to cook a meal in honor of our spouses, we would hopefully choose foods that they enjoy eating, not what we enjoy eating.  Whether or not we like the way the meal is prepared or food that is placed in front of us, we can at least enjoy the company we have.  If we were to throw a party for one of our kids, we would not seek to decorate with our delights, but with the delights of our children.  We wouldn’t decorate with “over the hill” balloons for our 4 year old, but rather Jake and the Neverland Pirates or My Little Pony balloons.  We go to worship–not our selves, but our God.  Let us give and do what delights His heart.

The problem for everybody–Christian and non (or churched and unchurched?)–is the confusion of what is sacred and what is not.  What belongs in worship and what does not.