We are beginning our series on Elijah and how to have the faith to stand as we continue in the book of 1 & 2 Kings. But we are unable to appreciate the culture and environment that Elijah is called to work in if we simply start studying Elijah in chapter 17 of 1 Kings. It is important to see Israel before his name comes on to the pages of scripture so that we can understand where Israel is at and why God must send him to his people. Remember that the kingdom of Israel has divided due to Solomon’s sins. The division of the kingdom was not by accident. The scriptures repeatedly tell us that the events leading up to the division of the kingdom and the division itself were God’s doing (cf. 1 Kings 11:38-39; 12:15, 24). Previously in 1 Kings 11-12 we looked at Solomon’s failure which was the trigger for Rehoboam’s failure. But God determined to give Jeroboam, a servant of Solomon, an opportunity to serve the Lord and have a dynasty built through him (cf. 1 Kings 11:38). Ten tribes of Israel are given to Jeroboam because of Solomon’s faithlessness and Jeroboam is told to walk in the ways of the Lord. If Jeroboam will be faithful to the Lord, the Lord promised to be with him, build a dynasty through him, and give Israel to him. What will Jeroboam do with these promises and with this opportunity to lead Israel where Solomon and Rehoboam failed?
The account of Jeroboam’s reign begins with fear. In verses 26-27 Jeroboam is fearful that if the people in his ten tribes of Israel go to the temple of the Lord to offer sacrifices (which is in Rehoboam’s rule of Judah), then the heart of the people will return to Rehoboam as their king and the people will kill him. Jeroboam has absolutely no trust in the promises of God. He does not believe that God will make a dynasty through him or that the Lord will be with him. He believes that he will lose his power and his rule if he allows the people to go to Jerusalem to worship. Remember that going to Jerusalem, to the temple of the Lord, was commanded by the Lord. This is what the people were supposed to do. But he does not trust the Lord and immediately is afraid of what the people will do if he does not do something to keep them from going to Jerusalem.
So what is the best way to get the people to not go to Jerusalem to worship the Lord? Look at verse 28. “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough” (ESV, NRSV). Other translations read, “It is too difficult to go to Jerusalem” (CSB). “It is too much trouble for you to worship in Jerusalem” (NET, NLT). “It is too much for you” (NASB, NIV). Jeroboam argues for the convenience of the worshipers. You have had to deal with going to Jerusalem for far too long. It is too much trouble. It is too much work.
Jeroboam sets up calves for worshiping God in the cities of Dan and Bethel, which are at the top and the bottom of the nation. This way everyone will have a much easier time worshiping God because they do not have to travel so far. They do not have to go all the way to Judah. They can stay where they are, travel a much shorter distance, and worship God in this way. Notice that Jeroboam does not declare that they are casting away the Lord or the worship of him. Rather, this will be the new and better way to worship the Lord.
In fact, notice that Jeroboam borrows the words that Aaron the high priest gave when he fashioned the golden calf at Mount Sinai. He says in verse 28, “Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” Aaron said this in Exodus 32:4. In both cases, they are not saying that we are leaving the Lord and turning to other gods. Rather, this will be the way we will worship the Lord. Now here is the stunning thing. The nation does not rise up against Jeroboam and rejected what Jeroboam is trying to do. They do not rise up and say that they do not care about convenience. We want to worship the Lord! Rather, in verse 30 we see the people of Israel go ahead and worship at the more convenient locations.
We need to spend some time talking about this because I fear that we stand on the edge of the cliff when it comes to worshiping the Lord today. Too often the question we ask about worship is convenience. Let us do things that are convenient for us. Let’s make it easier for us. Let’s make changes so that worship is not so hard. The door has been opened to digital, video, streaming worship. But I will plant my flag here and you can send me your hate mail. Online streaming of worship services is not worshiping God. I will not detour the lesson away to explaining all the reasons why. I did address this in my lessons from Acts 2 that we did at the end of last year. We saw that the Christians were coming together physically, devoting themselves to praying together, fellowship together, to learning the word of God, and to partaking the Lord’s Supper together. Worship is never pictured in the New Testament as being done in isolation.
But this is not my point. My point is this: if we make decisions based on convenience, then we are going to drift away from what God wants for worship. We are standing at the edge of cliff where our only concern seems to be figuring out how we can worship God with as little inconvenience, as little commitment, as little sacrifice, or as little impact to our daily schedules as possible. You see the problem is that the people of Israel did not rise up and say, “We want to worship the Lord! Worship is not an inconvenience! Worship is not an obligation! Worship is not wearisome! Worship is not a pain! We want to worship as much as we can!” But we see that their hearts were not in the right place. Convenience appealed to them. Worship was about putting your time in. Worship was about getting it over with. Worship was about making things easy. Worship must never be defined by how easy it is for us to perform. Fear and convenience has driven us to the edge of the cliff right now. We need to rise up and declare that worshiping the Lord is not about convenience. We are endanger of drifting away from the Lord when we ask questions about personal convenience and comfort.
By the way, it is important to note that your convenience is someone else’s difficulty. It is selfish thinking to evaluate worship based on how convenient it is for me without thinking about how this impacts other people. Let me illustrate this. About 15 years ago or so, there were some people who asked if we could move up our services to an earlier time. So we floated the idea to the congregation. But there were some people who said that they would not be able to come if we made that change. So do we say that we have a 90% majority and make the change? No, because we need to serve everyone. Who should we choose to exclude? How are we loving each other and caring for the flock if we tell some of the sheep, “Too bad!” Yet I have seen this happen. We must remember that worship is first God directed but also directed toward each other. Our worship is to serve and encourage each other until Christ returns. Who should we exclude from worship for our own personal convenience? Deciding what we will do for our worship based on convenience will bring disastrous results. This what happens in Israel.
Jeroboam becomes emboldened to make even more changes, which is recorded in verses 31-33. Jeroboam made temples on the high places. He made people priests who were not even Levites. He made feast days on days when God did not appoint for feasts to be made to him. Verse 33 summarizes the problem well.
He went up to the altar that he had made in Bethel on the fifteenth day in the eighth month, in the month that he had devised from his own heart. (1 Kings 12:33 ESV)
Jeroboam devised all of these things from his own heart. He made up the things that were going to be worship. In fact, the text wants this to be underscored to us but our English translations obscure this a little. The Hebrew word “asah” is repeated seven times in these three verses. The word has a range of meanings as we will see as we read through this. But one of the meanings is the word “made.” Listen to Jeroboam did as we look at verses 31-33 again. Jeroboam also made temples on high places and made priests from among the people who were not Levites. He made a feast on the 15th day of the eighth month. He did this in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves he had made. He placed in Bethel the priest of the high places that he had made. He went up to the altar that he had made in Bethel, in the month he devised from his own heart. He made a feast for the people of Israel and went up to the altar to make offerings. The point is that Jeroboam ignored what God had said to do and made his own worship as he had devised from his own heart. Worship is also not defined by what we can innovate or devise from our own hearts. God does not want us making our own worship. God wants us to follow his worship.
Jeroboam’s failure began because he was afraid and was unwilling to trust in the Lord. We drift when we do not put our trust in the Lord to bless us. Unfortunately, the decisions that Jeroboam made forever shaped and impacted the future generations. Worship was never righteous and holy in Israel again. What Jeroboam did forever defiled it.
It is so easy to make worship all about ourselves. We can never forget why we are here and what our purpose is. Our goal is not to check off a box to God showing him that we were here for three hours, two hours, or one hour. Our purpose is not making sure certain acts of worship are accomplished on a Sunday. We must remember that our worship is not merely for ourselves but for the praise of God, the encouraging each other, and a critical means of reaching the world. We should never ask the question when it comes to worship, “Can we do it?” The question must be, “Should we do it?” There was a lot of things Jeroboam could do. But he should not have done any of it. Our worship to the Lord must never pass through the filter of comfort and convenience. Worship is not about getting it over with or making it easier for ourselves.
Worship is to be our hearts’ desire. If we do not desire worship now, why do we think we would be in heaven where all that heaven is, from what we read in scriptures, is the worship of the Lord? Worship is about what God wants. Worship is about serving each other and encouraging each other as much as we can. Worship is about proclaiming the gospel to the lost world around us. The point of this lesson is not that we must always do things the way we have always done them. Rather, the point is that convenience cannot be the basis of our worship nor the basis for any changes we make. If it is, then we are not worshiping God, but worshiping our personal god of comfort and convenience.