Archive for the ‘Jeroboam’ Category

Distinguishing Baal-Worship from Jeroboamic Idolatry

June 14, 2011

There are at least two additional passages (beyond those we last discussed) that provide us with further evidence of the distinction between Baal-worship and the institution of the golden calves of Jeroboam, which were intended in service to the God who brought Israel up out of Egypt.

1 Kings 22:51-53

Ahaziah the son of Ahab began to reign over Israel in Samaria the seventeenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, and reigned two years over Israel. And he did evil in the sight of the LORD, and walked in the way of his father, and in the way of his mother, and in the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin: for he served Baal, and worshipped him, and provoked to anger the LORD God of Israel, according to all that his father had done.

2 Kings 3:1-3

Now Jehoram the son of Ahab began to reign over Israel in Samaria the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, and reigned twelve years. And he wrought evil in the sight of the LORD; but not like his father, and like his mother: for he put away the image of Baal that his father had made. Nevertheless he cleaved unto the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which made Israel to sin; he departed not therefrom.

Notice that in the first one of these two, one might think that “For he served Baal,” might refer back to “the way of Jeroboam.” However, when you see the ending of the sentence in the first passage, you see it is connecting back to what Ahab did. That becomes even more clear in the second passage.

In the second passage, Jehoram is (to a degree) commended because he did not go to the extent of sin that Ahab and Jezebel went. Nevertheless, he still did what Jeroboam did, and worshiped God in violation of the second commandment.

-TurretinFan

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Ahab vs. Jeroboam | 1st Command vs. 2nd Commandment

June 6, 2011

Not all sins are equally heinous in God’s eyes. The sin of Jeroboam was to set up a rival worship of God according to his own imagination, with his own priests, and images, namely golden calves. He set up one of those in Dan and the other in Bethel.

1 Kings 12:28 Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.

God condemned this evil.

1 Kings 14:9 But hast done evil above all that were before thee: for thou hast gone and made thee other gods, and molten images, to provoke me to anger, and hast cast me behind thy back:

You will notice in our English translation that it says “gods” in both of the verses above. The Hebrew word is “elohim,” which can either mean “gods” or “God.” In this context, there are two images, so the plural translation seems to make sense. Nevertheless, the reference to “which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt” seems to be a reference to a very specific divinity, namely Jehovah.

This was a horrible sin in God’s eyes and God wiped out Jeroboam’s family for it.

But the following kings of Israel not only copied and continued Jeroboam’s bad practices, they did something worse. Read what is said of Ahab:

1 Kings 16:25-33

But Omri wrought evil in the eyes of the LORD, and did worse than all that were before him. For he walked in all the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and in his sin wherewith he made Israel to sin, to provoke the LORD God of Israel to anger with their vanities. Now the rest of the acts of Omri which he did, and his might that he shewed, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel? So Omri slept with his fathers, and was buried in Samaria: and Ahab his son reigned in his stead.

And in the thirty and eighth year of Asa king of Judah began Ahab the son of Omri to reign over Israel: and Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty and two years. And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD above all that were before him. And it came to pass, as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took to wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Zidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshipped him. And he reared up an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he had built in Samaria. And Ahab made a grove; and Ahab did more to provoke the LORD God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him.

Notice that it is Ahab (via his wife Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal) that brings Baal-worship to Israel.

It wasn’t the first time Baal-worship had come to Israel. Jerubbaal (aka Gideon) had wiped out Baal-worship in Israel during his time as judge. But then, later, Samuel had found it necessary to purge the land of Baal-worship again, because as soon as Gideon was dead, the people went right back to Baal-worship (Judges 8:33). And you may recall that Baal-worship goes back to the time of the exodus, where Moab seduced many of the Israelites into Baal-worship apparently through the use of prostitutes (see Numbers 25).

Although God was very angry with Jeroboam for his sin, God was even more angry with Ahab for his sin. Why is that? Part of the explanation may lay in the fact that Ahab had seen the destruction of Jeroboam and Baasha (and their families) for the sins of Jeroboam related to the golden calves. Ahab could look back at the warning of Ahijah the Shilonite and Jehu the son of Hanani (among others) given respectively to those kings.

Another part of it, though, is that Jeroboam and Baasha only engaged in second commandment idolatry: worshiping God by illicit and unauthorized means, especially by means of an unauthorized priesthood and golden calves.

In contrast, Ahab worshiped a false god – first commandment idolatry. Elijah made it plain on Mt. Carmel that Baal was a false deity and that the LORD was the True and Living God – the God who answers with fire.

These things are negative examples for us.

1 Corinthians 10:5-11

But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted.

  1. Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.
  2. Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand.
  3. Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents.
  4. Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer.

Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.

As to (1), see Exodus 32:6, regarding the golden calf. This is an example of the “second commandment idolatry” I mentioned above, though with the original golden calf, not with Jeroboam’s golden calves.

As to (2), see Numbers 25:1 (and 9), regarding fornication in connection with Baal-worship, which we also discussed above under the topic of “first commandment idolatry.” It was a combination of spiritual and physical fornication. The women were not their wives, and Baal was not their spiritual husband (though “Baal” can have that meaning).

As to (3), see Numbers 21:5, regarding Israel complaining against God’s provision for them. It is interesting to note that this is one of many testimonies to the divinity of Christ. It is plain from the text of Numbers 21 that the people complained against God, and here Paul is warning us not to tempt Christ as they did. That means, unmistakably, that Christ is God.

As to (4), see Numbers 14 or 16, with the destruction either being the general destruction of the people of Israel in the wilderness or the special quick destruction of Korah.

Likewise, when it comes to Jeroboam and Ahab, learn from these evil examples. Do not worship like Jeroboam did, according to the worship that “he had devised of his own heart” (1 Kings 12:33) but instead imitate David the Psalmist who worshiped God as God commanded (cf. 1 Kings 14:8).

– TurretinFan

Response to Buracker on Israeli Idols

September 2, 2009

BJ Buracker aka StupidScholar has posted a response (link to response) to an earlier post of mine on the Israeli idols of Elohim (link to my post).

BJB writes:

1. The use of Elohim (God or “gods”) is inconclusive. It may refer to Yahweh, but does not have to. Something else would have to suggest that before we make that conclusion. TF seems to recognize this in the post, but he holds that the use of Elohim suggests that the reference is YHWH.

I answer:

Agreed.

BJB writes:

2. The link between the calves and the Exodus event is, likewise, inconclusive. It certainly fits a Yahwistic interpretation, but it fits others, as well. If the Israelites did not intend for the calf in Exod/Deut to be YHWH, surely they would claim that this new god had been the real deliverer. This is (or could be) an instance of attributing to a false god the attributes of YHWH. For instance, if they had said, “This is the elohim that created us from nothing,” then they would simply be attributing YHWH’s creative ability/acts to the idol, not necessarily claiming that the idol was (or represented) YHWH.

I answer:

This argument is problematic because another god with the name “Elohim” is not one of the options at (1). This argument is also problematic because it is unclear why anyone would think that other gods than Jehovah were deliverers. Saying “surely they would” isn’t very persuasive for me. If the Israelites are going to embrace polytheism, why attribute the acts of one god to another?

BJB writes:

Hence, I don’t find the Israelites’ reference to the Exodus to be convincing proof that they intended the calf to be YHWH. Given that the Exodus was so significant and recent and that the calf would be used as their national god, it only makes sense that the new national god would be “given” credit for that deliverance.

I answer:

I’m not sure what would be “convincing proof,” but perhaps that’s irrelevant. The temporal proximity of the Exodus is a double-edged sword: while it would be significant, it was also still fresh in their memory as to who did it. To transfer the credit would seem odd, to say the least.

BJB writes:

3. There is ample evidence that calves were symbols/idols of other national gods at the time, particularly of Canaan and Phoenecia. In fact, other Jewish literature (e.g. Tobit 1:5) links the calf with the idol Baal explicitly. It seems possible, if not probable, that the Israelites were adopting the gods of other nations.

I answer:

a) No, Tobit does not link the calf with Baal. It links a calf with Baal.

Tobit 1:5 Now all the tribes which together revolted, and the house of my father Nephthali, sacrificed unto the heifer Baal.

b) Baal seems to have been a generic name for false gods, not a specific god. Thus, Scripture sometimes speaks of Baalim (the plural form of Baal). But since Scripture frequently uses the appellation Baal for Baal and Baal worship, it is unclear why Scripture would not use that description if a false god was being worshiped here.

c) It also does not fit well with the Nehemiah account.

BJB writes:

Matthew Henry (see his note on Exod 32:3, 4) actually believes that the calf was an Egyptian god rather than a Canaanite or Phoenecian god, although calves were important religious symbols there too. He supports this with reference to Ezek. 20:8; 23:8, where the prophet says that they had not forsaken their Egyptian ways. This also makes sense of Stephen’s statement in Acts 7:39, 40 that the Israelites had turned back to Egypt in heart (though not in location).

I answer:

As far as the weight of Matthew Henry’s opinion, I agree that it is mighty. Nevertheless I think the counter-arguments are significant. As far as the calf being taken from the surrounding nations, I agree. I would tend to think the best guess is Egypt, as Poole suggests. Yet, while that is the ante-type, they don’t name an Egyptian deity here (nor any other deity), and the deliverer is the one who delivered from Egypt.

BJB writes:

4. The fact that one idol was taken to Dan and another to Bethel does not prove that they signified YHWH. It at most indicates that the calves were to signify the same god. As with point #1, further evidence would have to be used to show that this one god was, in fact, YHWH.

I answer:

The point of the argument regarding Dan and Bethel was to note that “Elohim” in that instance should not be thought to be referring to more than one deity, since the two calves were not supposed to be two different gods. That’s an underminer for the argument that the use of the plural form “elohim” is indicative of a god other than Jehovah.

We find additional confirmation of the matter from 1 Kings 14:7-10

1 Kings 14:7-10
Go, tell Jeroboam, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Forasmuch as I exalted thee from among the people, and made thee prince over my people Israel, and rent the kingdom away from the house of David, and gave it thee: and yet thou hast not been as my servant David, who kept my commandments, and who followed me with all his heart, to do that only which was right in mine eyes; but hast done evil above all that were before thee: for thou hast gone and made thee other gods, and molten images, to provoke me to anger, and hast cast me behind thy back: therefore, behold, I will bring evil upon the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam him that pisseth against the wall, and him that is shut up and left in Israel, and will take away the remnant of the house of Jeroboam, as a man taketh away dung, till it be all gone.

As Poole explains:

Other gods, and molten images, or other gods, to wit, (for so and oft signifies among the Hebrews, as hath been formerly noted,) molten images, namely, the golden calves; which he calls others gods, not as if the Israelites esteemed the calves made of their own gold to be gods indeed, which it is incredible should find belief with any man in his wits, especially with the whole body of the Israelites, who knew that the ark and cherubims, though made by God’s special direction, were not gods, but only pledges of God’s presence, &c.; nor as if they thought them to be other gods in a strict and proper sense; for it is apparent that they still pretended to worship the God of their fathers, as the Jews at Jerusalem did, though in a differing manner: but only because God rejected their whole worship; and howsoever they called or accounted it, he reckoned it a manifest defection from him, and a betaking of themselves to other gods, or devils, as they are called, 2 Chronicles 11:15, by whose instigation they were led to such idolatrous practices, and whom alone they served and worshipped therein, whatsoever pretences they had to the contrary.

Likewise, Matthew Henry (whom you found to be persuasive with regard to the Exodus account):

3. He charges him with his impiety and apostasy, and his idolatry particularly: Thou hast done evil above all that were before thee, 1 Kings 14:9. Saul, that was rejected, never worshipped idols; Solomon did it but occasionally, in his dotage, and never made Israel to sin. Jeroboam’s calves, though pretended to be set up in honour of the God of Israel, that brought them up out of Egypt, yet are here called other gods, or strange gods, because in them he worshipped God as the heathen worshipped their strange gods, because by them he changed the truth of God into a lie and represented him as altogether different from what he is, and because many of the ignorant worshippers terminated their devotion in the image, and did not at all regard the God of Israel. Though they were calves of gold, the richness of the metal was so far from making them acceptable to God that they provoked him to anger, designedly affronted him, under colour of pleasing him. In doing this, (1.) He had not set David before him (1 Kings 14:8): Thou hast not been as my servant David, who, though he had his faults and some bad ones, yet never forsook the worship of God nor grew loose nor cold to that; his faithful adherence to that gained him this honourable character, that he followed God with all his heart, and herein he was proposed for an example to all his successors. Those did not do well that did not do like David. (2.) He had not set God before him, but (1 Kings 14:9), “Thou hast cast me behind thy back, my law, my fear; thou hast neglected me, forgotten me, and preferred thy policies before my precepts.

Likewise Gill:

for thou hast gone and made thee other gods, and molten images, to provoke me to anger; the two calves of gold; for however he might colour things over, and pretend he did not look upon these as gods, but as representations of God, and that he did not worship them, but God by them, yet the Lord considered it as idolatry, than which nothing is more provoking to him:

We see the same implicit understanding in the so-called “Apostolic Constitutions” (which are plainly forgeries):

For you know undoubtedly that those that are by us named bishops, and presbyters, and deacons, were made by prayer, and by the laying on of hands; and that by the difference of their names is showed the difference of their employments. For not every one that will is ordained, as the case was in that spurious and counterfeit priesthood of the calves under Jeroboam; [1 Kings 13:33] but he only who is called of God.

– [Pseudo-]Apostolic Constitutions, Book 8, Section 5, Paragraph 46

The same implicit commentary is in Athanasius:

For when the lawful Bishops, men of advanced age, had some of them been banished, and others forced to fly, heathens and catechumens, those who hold the first places in the senate and men who are notorious for their wealth, were straightway commissioned by the Arians to preach the holy faith instead of Christians. And enquiry was no longer made, as the Apostle enjoined, ‘if any be blameless [Titus 1:8]:’ but according to the practice of the impious Jeroboam, he who could give most money was named Bishop; and it made no difference to them, even if the man happened to be a heathen, so long as he furnished them with money.

– Athanasius, Apology to Constantius, Section 28

Sulpitius Severus (lived about A.D. 363 – 420) is somewhat more ambiguous, though he seems to have the same implicit commentary:

But, since Roboam held Jerusalem, where the people had been accustomed to offer sacrifice to God in the temple built by Solomon, Jeroboam, fearing lest their religious feelings might alienate the people from him, resolved to fill their minds with superstition. Accordingly, he set up one golden calf at Bethel, and another at Dan, to which the people might offer sacrifice; and, passing by the tribe of Levi, he appointed priests from among the people. But censure followed this guilt so hateful to God.

– Sacred History, Book 1, Chapter 41

Tertullian’s comments are a bit ambiguous – he could reasonably be seen as either agreeing or disagreeing with the thesis above:

For, withal, according to the memorial records of the divine Scriptures, the people of the Jews— that is, the more ancient— quite forsook God, and did degrading service to idols, and, abandoning the Divinity, was surrendered to images; while “the people” said to Aaron, “Make us gods to go before us.” And when the gold out of the necklaces of the women and the rings of the men had been wholly smelted by fire, and there had come forth a calf-like head, to this figment Israel with one consent (abandoning God) gave honour, saying, “These are the gods who brought us from the land of Egypt.” For thus, in the later times in which kings were governing them, did they again, in conjunction with Jeroboam, worship golden cattle, and groves, and enslave themselves to Baal. Whence is proved that they have ever been depicted, out of the volume of the divine Scriptures, as guilty of the crime of idolatry; whereas our “less”— that is, posterior— people, quitting the idols which formerly it used slavishly to serve, has been converted to the same God from whom Israel, as we have above related, had departed. [1 Thessalonians 1:9-10]

– Tertullian, An Answer to the Jews, Chapter 1

Ambrose’s comments are quite interesting. It’s unclear whether he simply remembers the story wrong or whether he considers the altar at Bethel to be a temple of God (despite being unauthorized). I’d be hesitant to draw overly strong conclusions from Ambrose’s comments, particularly when he refers to Jeroboam’s “father” which would be no one of any particular significance. It’s quite possible that he has conflated Rehoboam and Jeroboam:

But when in the temple of our God, that wicked king Jeroboam took away the gifts which his father had laid up, and offered to idols upon the holy altar, did not his right hand, which he stretched out, wither, and his idols, which he called upon, were not able to help him? Then, turning to the Lord, he asked for pardon, and at once his hand which had withered by sacrilege was healed by true religion. So complete an example was there set forth in one person, both of divine mercy and wrath when he who was sacrificing suddenly lost his right hand, but when penitent received forgiveness.

– Ambrose, Concerning Virginity, Book 2, Chapter 5, Section 38

What’s more, Scripture makes it clear that the golden calves of Jeroboam were not Baal (or baalim), since Jehu eliminated Baal-worship but sinned with Jeroboam:

2 Kings 10:25-29
And it came to pass, as soon as he had made an end of offering the burnt offering, that Jehu said to the guard and to the captains, Go in, and slay them; let none come forth. And they smote them with the edge of the sword; and the guard and the captains cast them out, and went to the city of the house of Baal. And they brought forth the images out of the house of Baal, and burned them. And they brake down the image of Baal, and brake down the house of Baal, and made it a draught house unto this day. Thus Jehu destroyed Baal out of Israel. Howbeit from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, Jehu departed not from after them, to wit, the golden calves that were in Bethel, and that were in Dan.

BJB writes:

5. Not one of those passages clearly identifies the idol with YHWH. The closest is the reference to the feast for YHWH, but notice that YHWH is still not associated directly with the calf, only with the feast.

I answer:

Now this is a truly curious counter-hypothesis. Israel ascribes the great deliverance to some other god or gods and then goes on to celebrate a feast for Jehovah? This seems improbable, to say the least.

BJB writes:

Now, I must admit that these passages also do not identify the calves with any other deity either. However, there does not seem to be enough in the passages to demand that the calves were representations of YHWH, as I hope I have shown.

I answer:

There seem to be a lot of evidences in favor of the calf-worship being Israel violating the second commandment as reiterated in the prologue of the Decalogue:

Exodus 20:22-26
And the LORD said unto Moses, Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven. Ye shall not make with me gods (elohim) of silver, neither shall ye make unto you gods (elohim) of gold. An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee. And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it. Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon.

God is talking about the way in which He is to be worshiped, and excluding human artifice beyond a simple dirt or uncut stone altar (setting aside, for the moment, the tabernacle worship).

There’s a much more expanded version in Deuteronomy 4, where Moses explains (I’ve included only a portion of the relevant discussion):

Deuteronomy 4:15-19
Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the LORD spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire: lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air, the likeness of any thing that creepeth on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the waters beneath the earth: and lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the LORD thy God hath divided unto all nations under the whole heaven.

We also see in that same context this practice of referring to the idols themselves as “gods”:

Deuteronomy 4:28 And there ye shall serve gods (elohim), the work of men’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell.

BJB writes:

In fact, those Israelites that turn to these calves do not seem to have any desire to worship YHWH at all. Rather, the people turn away from Moses and (presumably) what he represented, that is YHWH (Exodus 32); Jeroboam makes the 2 calves to rival YHWH worship in Jerusalem (1 Kings 12); and Hosea 8:1-4 indicates that the people were in direct rebellion against YHWH by setting up their own kings, princes, and (probably) calves.

I answer:

a) Wait a second. A minute ago they were celebrating a feast to Jehovah, now they have no desire to worship Him?

b) The more natural explanation is that calf substituted for Moses, and the calves for the temple of Solomon.

c) There is no question that calf-worship was rebellion, just as making any image of God would be rebellion.

BJB writes:

In other words, in each of these cases, the (self-avowed) motivation appears to be rebellion against YHWH and/or fear of some other circumstance (e.g. Moses’ absence; rivalry between the northern and southern kingdoms), rather than a desire to worship and serve YHWH. I would suggest that, in fact, they weren’t trying to worship YHWH at all but rather establishing a substitute deity.

I answer:

Again, this contradicts the “feast to Jehovah” and the seeming reverence that Jeroboam has for Jehovah despite his idolatry. We agree that this sin, like every violation of the first table, is one that is ultimately of rebellion against God.

BJB writes:

Since this whole discussion arose in response to Catholic apologetics, I feel it is important to note that the Israelites motivation is shown to be radically different than those posed by modern Catholics (and Orthodox) in their use of statues and icons.

I answer:

I would not agree, but that is neither here nor there as far as this particular discussion is concerned.

BJB writes:

Therefore (finally!), I don’t find these texts showing YHWH worship through the use of symbols/idols or even YHWH worship at all. YHWH worship is possible but not explicit, and I would argue that it is also not probable. Indeed, I believe that it looks more like the Israelites are worshiping something/someone other than YHWH when they use these golden calves.

I answer:

For the reasons given above and in the original post, I’d respectfully disagree.

-TurretinFan


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