“So the king took counsel and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, ‘You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.’” (12:28)
The idolatry Jeroboam prescribed, to sway his people from traveling to Jerusalem to worship the LORD, was different from the idolatry Solomon ended his life practicing.
Solomon was adding gods to his pantheon. He knew they were separate deities with separate demands. They wanted different sacrifices, human sacrifices. They demanded sexual acts of worship. These were foreign gods.
What Jeroboam did was very much like what Aaron did in Exodus 32:4. The presence of the LORD was in Jerusalem and he didn’t want them going up there. The presence of the LORD was on Mount Sinai and the people didn’t want to go up there.
In both cases, these men made a more accessible, familiar “version” of the God who brought them up out of the land of Egypt. They weren’t changing His name or His track record, they were changing His nature to be made in their image, so as to not be so intimidated by Him.
Both are wrong!
Sometimes we let ourselves get away with this second type of idolatry because we don’t practice the first. We may not outrightly worship a god besides the LORD, but we do water Him down to be a more convenient version (which is no real version at all).
Convenience! There are even, now, two locations accepting “God of Israel” worship! This must have been excellent news for the people of Dan, who previously would have had to travel 150 miles to offer the annual sacrifices in Jerusalem.
This one is so easy to slip into. If something about God makes me uneasy, I have to decide if I will submit to that aspect of His character, or if I will reject it in order to form a more comfortable theology. Will I fashion a more comfortable god who isn’t so scary? (Side note: I get a little bothered when people want to translate “fear of the LORD” to “respect”. He is a hurricane on a mountain top! Be a healthy amount of afraid!)
Since it is so easy to slide into a cozy view of God, my best defense is to continue reading His word and getting to know who He says He is! Otherwise, it’s easy to go off what other people say He’s like, or what my faulty memory recalls Him to be. He’s always more than that. Always more loving, more awesome, more holy, more patient, more kind, more just.
Ask the LORD, today, if there’s an image of Him you’ve wrongly directed your worship.
Remember this conversation with a woman who lived in the north?
“Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.’” (John 4:20-24)