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In 1 Kings, King Jeroboam makes not one but two Golden Calves, even repeating the words of Aaron verbatim.

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.

1 Kings 12:28

Why did he do this, considering that he presumably knew the consequences that building the Golden Calf had in Exodus?

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  • Perhaps that is the ironic point of the story?
    – Dottard
    Jan 18, 2023 at 1:36
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    Perhaps for the same reason that people smoke cigarettes or drive after drinking alcohol. Jan 18, 2023 at 3:03
  • @RayButterworth . . . . or perhaps because a demonic spirit motivated him to do so.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 18, 2023 at 14:27

2 Answers 2

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The major reason is simple: control.

Reading 1 Kings 12 from the beginning will have the fuller story, upon which the following explanation is based.

Jeroboam may be considered an usurper. God had established David's line as the rightful heirs to the throne. However, Solomon's son Rehoboam, upon ascending to the throne, unwisely accepted the advice of his young counselors, and ignored that of the older ones. The young counselors rashly advised that he be strict, and impose heavier taxes, etc. in order to show and establish his authority.

Ten of the tribes, afterward called the northern kingdom, defected, and selected Jeroboam as their king.

Under the circumstances, Jeroboam could not also be strict, as Rehoboam had been. But he would take no nonsense from the people in terms of their loyalties again vacillating back to Rehoboam. In order to ensure that they would remain his subjects, he imposed restrictions against their return to Jerusalem, where Rehoboam reigned. Jerusalem was both the seat of David's government and the center of worship, having the temple of God, Solomon's beautiful temple, as its centerpiece.

So Jeroboam instituted a number of changes to keep the people from returning to Jerusalem.

  1. He built the two golden calves, one in Bethel, and one in Dan. Providing two places for worship was a matter of convenience.

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. (1 Kings 12:28, KJV)

He could not force the people to stay out of Jerusalem, but it would be much less distance to travel to one of these than to Jerusalem--making Jerusalem less convenient. The choice of the golden calves was inspired by Aaron's precedent-setting apostasy. Somehow, even error, after steeping with time, appears more attractive, and it is human nature to regard highly something that has been handed down through tradition or history. Thus, the new apostasy met with little resistance, and was quickly adopted by the people.

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. (2 Kings 10:29, KJV)

  1. Jeroboam also elevated as priests of the high places many among the lowest of the people--the rabble crowd--turning away from the rightful spiritual leaders of the tribe of Levi. It might be on par with turning away from ministers, pastors, or priests today to having churches led by rappers, rock stars, and uneducated high-school dropouts. The change was dramatic.

And he made an house of high places, and made priests of the lowest of the people, which were not of the sons of Levi. (1 Kings 12:31, KJV)

  1. He changed the date of Passover celebration, making it a month later. This would, of course, mean that no occasion of consequence would coincide with these new dates in Jerusalem at that same time, reducing any motivation to travel there.

And Jeroboam ordained a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth day of the month, like unto the feast that is in Judah, and he offered upon the altar. So did he in Bethel, sacrificing unto the calves that he had made: and he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places which he had made. (1 Kings 12:32, KJV)

Which God?

If Jeroboam had been motivated by a desire to serve God, he would have encouraged the people to give their allegiance to "the Lord's anointed" (Rehoboam, grandson of David) instead of making him king. Faithfulness to God was not his chief concern. Those who are already departing the path of righteousness often do not consider the consequences for their wrong actions. Such seems to be Jeroboam's case. Consider the prophet who rebuked him as he worshiped at one of those altars he had built.

1 And, behold, there came a man of God out of Judah by the word of the LORD unto Bethel: and Jeroboam stood by the altar to burn incense. 2 And he cried against the altar in the word of the LORD, and said, O altar, altar, thus saith the LORD; Behold, a child shall be born unto the house of David, Josiah by name; and upon thee shall he offer the priests of the high places that burn incense upon thee, and men's bones shall be burnt upon thee. 3 And he gave a sign the same day, saying, This is the sign which the LORD hath spoken; Behold, the altar shall be rent, and the ashes that are upon it shall be poured out. 4 And it came to pass, when king Jeroboam heard the saying of the man of God, which had cried against the altar in Bethel, that he put forth his hand from the altar, saying, Lay hold on him. And his hand, which he put forth against him, dried up, so that he could not pull it in again to him. 5 The altar also was rent, and the ashes poured out from the altar, according to the sign which the man of God had given by the word of the LORD. 6 And the king answered and said unto the man of God, Entreat now the face of the LORD thy God, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored me again. And the man of God besought the LORD, and the king's hand was restored him again, and became as it was before. (1 Kings 13:1-6, KJV)

Notice the "thy God" in the king's statement. He does not say "our God" or "my God." It is almost as if Jeroboam admits to not having the same God.

Conclusion

Jeroboam's making of the golden calves was part of a bigger picture of establishing his throne and maintaining his authority over the tribes who had already shown their willingness to rebel against their rightful king. He was not prompted by a desire to serve the true God, but for self-aggrandizement.

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  • But I don't get why he would choose Golden Calves specifically, considering that he must have known that worshipping it got 3000 Israelites killed. Jan 18, 2023 at 5:40
  • I have added a clarification regarding Jeroboam's relationship to God that would show he was unconcerned about the consequences, so long as nothing happened to him personally.
    – Biblasia
    Jan 18, 2023 at 6:30
  • I mean, worshipping the Golden Calf did have consequences for the people who did so (getting killed). Jan 18, 2023 at 14:41
  • The golden calves were actually Jeroboam's perception of Yahweh Dec 23, 2023 at 5:40
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It was simply the disobedience of the Israelite, led to their woe.

1 Kings 11:7-8 read

7 On a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and for Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites.

8 He did the same for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods.

In Solomon time, the Israelites had lived with the Canaanites together for about 500 years and they were deeply seduced partially taken the Canaanite practice into the Lord's worship. They think the golden calf was the seat of the Lord.

Hence Jeroboam might think, the Lord just punished Solomon lightly for worshipping idols. In Jerusalem, they had the Ark as the seat for the Lord, they need another seat for the Lord to come over. Even if the Lord was not happy, at least no worst than Solomon.

Though there was no clue whether Jeroboam had considered the lesson back in time of the Exodus, but man, particularly man in power, tend to believe their power can overcome any lesson.

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