The truth is that we are made to worship. If we don’t worship the true God, we will worship something else. We never end up neutral. We might worship ourselves and become arrogant and self-centred. We might worship money and success and lust after the beautiful houses on the renovation shows. We might worship sex and chase happiness with Tinder or pornography. Everyone worships something, but worshipping something other than the true God leads to disaster.
In 1 Kings 12, King Jeroboam decided to set up a new religion. He set up golden calves to worship as well as installing his own priesthood and festival system. We are told that he did this for political reasons, but it appealed to the people for a range of reasons:
- It was more convenient. They could now go to worship at a location closer to where they lived; there was a golden calf at Bethel in the south and Dan in the north.
- It was more tangible. They could see these gods rather than the God who had prohibited images being made to represent him.
- It was less demanding. Rejecting the law could quickly turn worship into an event you attended rather than a lifestyle. Like most religions in the ancient world, as long as you made the right sacrifices, how you lived at home was up to you.
This system of golden calf worship continued for many generations, leading the people further and further from the true God.
Interestingly, archaeologists have identified the ruins of the shrine Jeroboam built at Dan, which you can see below. That area surrounding by railings is thought to be the location of the altar, while the golden calf itself was off to the side. Dan is a naturally beautiful place with abundant water, and the worship here would be in a picturesque setting.
When we think about the worship of golden calves, we can feel that we have moved beyond that. After all, we are enlightened modern people, and we don’t worship things like golden calves anymore.
Not so fast. We’re not as different as you think