1 Kings 12:28
Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said to them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold your gods, O Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(28) Calves of gold.—The choice of this symbol of the Divine Nature—turning, as the Psalmist says with indignant scorn, “the glory of God into the similitude of a calf that eateth hay” (Psalm 106:20)—was probably due to a combination of causes. First, the very repetition of Aaron’s words (Exodus 32:8) indicates that it was a revival of that ancient idolatry in the wilderness. Probably, like it, it was suggested by the animal worship of Egypt, with which Jeroboam had been recently familiar, and which (as is well known) varied from mere symbolism to gross creature worship. Next, the bull, as the emblem of Ephraim, would naturally become a religious cognisance of the new kingdom. Lastly, there is some reason to believe that the figure of the cherubim was that of winged bulls, and the form of the ox was undoubtedly used in the Temple, as for example, under the brazen sea. It has been thought that the “calves” were reproductions of the sacred cherubim,—made, however, symbols, not of the natural powers obeying the Divine word, but of the Deity itself.

It is, of course, to be understood that this idolatry, against which the prohibition of many sanctuaries was meant to guard, was a breach, not of the First Commandment, but of the Second—that making of “a similitude” of the true God, so emphatically forbidden again and again in the Law. (See, for example, Deuteronomy 4:15-18.) Like all such veneration of images, it probably degenerated. From looking on the image as a mere symbol it would come to attach to it a local presence of the Deity and an intrinsic sacredness; and so would lead on, perhaps to a veiled polytheism, certainly to a superstitious and carnal conception of the Godhead.

1 Kings 12:28. The king took counsel, and made two calves — In imitation of Aaron’s golden calf, and of the worship of the Egyptians, from whose country he had lately come. These calves were of the same matter with Aaron’s, and made for the same reason: his because Moses, the minister of God and medium of divine communication, was absent, and these because the holy city, where the temple, altar, and priests of God were, was distant, and could not be visited with safety. It is not improbable but, as some learned men have conjectured, it was in imitation of the Egyptians that he made two calves, and was not content with forming one. For they had a couple of oxen which they worshipped, namely, Apis at Memphis, the metropolis of the upper Egypt, and Mnevis at Hierapolis, which was the chief city of the lower. Jeroboam probably the rather presumed to make these images, because he knew the people of Israel were generally prone to idolatry; and that Solomon’s example had exceedingly strengthened those inclinations; and therefore that they were prepared for such an attempt, especially when his proposition tended to their own ease, and safety, and profit, which he knew was much dearer to them, as well as to himself, than their religion. It is too much for you to go to Jerusalem — Too great a trouble and charge, and neither necessary nor safe as things now stand. Behold thy gods, O Israel! — Not as if he thought to persuade the people that these calves were that very God of Israel who brought them out of Egypt: which was so monstrously absurd and ridiculous, that no Israelite in his right senses could have believed it, and to have intimated it would have been so far from satisfying the people, that it would have made him both hateful and contemptible to them; but his meaning was, that these images were visible representations, by which he designed to worship the true God of Israel. This appears, partly from that parallel place, Exodus 32:4; partly, because the priests and worshippers of the calves are said to worship Jehovah, and upon that account are distinguished from those belonging to Baal, 1 Kings 18:21; 1 Kings 22:6-7; and partly, from Jeroboam’s design in this work, which was, to quiet the people’s minds, and remove their scruples about going to Jerusalem to worship their God in that place, as they were commanded. This he endeavoured to do by signifying to them that he did not intend any alteration in the substance of their religion, nor to draw them from the worship of the true God, to the worship of any of those Baals which were set up by Solomon; but to worship that self-same God whom they worshipped in Jerusalem, even the true God who brought them out of Egypt: only to vary a circumstance; and that, as they worshipped God at Jerusalem, before one visible sign, even the ark and the sacred cherubim there, so his subjects should worship God by another visible sign, even that of the calves, in other places. And as for the change of the place, he might suggest to them that God was present in all places, where men with honest minds called upon him; that before the temple was built, the best of kings, and prophets, and people, did pray and sacrifice to God, in divers high places, without any scruple: and that God would dispense with them also in that matter: because going to Jerusalem was dangerous to them at this time, and God would have mercy rather than sacrifice. 12:25-33 Jeroboam distrusted the providence of God; he would contrive ways and means, and sinful ones too, for his own safety. A practical disbelief of God's all-sufficiency is at the bottom of all our departures from him. Though it is probable he meant his worship for Jehovah the God of Israel, it was contrary to the Divine law, and dishonourable to the Divine majesty to be thus represented. The people might be less shocked at worshipping the God of Israel under an image, than if they had at once been asked to worship Baal; but it made way for that idolatry. Blessed Lord, give us grace to reverence thy temple, thine ordinances, thine house of prayer, thy sabbaths, and never more, like Jeroboam, to set up in our hearts any idol of abomination. Be thou to us every thing precious; do thou reign and rule in our hearts, the hope of glory.The "calves of gold" were probably representations of the cherubic form, imitations of the two cherubim which guarded the ark of the covenant in the holy of holies. But being unauthorized copies, set up in places which God had not chosen, and without any divine sanction, the sacred writers call them "calves." They were not mere human figures with wings, but had at any rate the head of a calf or ox. (Hence, some attribute this calf-worship entirely to Assyrian and Phoenician influence.) Jeroboam, in setting them up, was probably not so much influenced by the Apis-worship of Egypt, as:

(1) by a conviction that the Israelites could not be brought to attach themselves to any worship which did not present them with sensible objects to venerate;

(2) by the circumstance that he did not possess any of the old objects of reverence, which had been concentrated at Jerusalem; and

(3) by the fact that he could plead for his "calves" the authority of so great a name as Aaron (marginal reference).

26-32. Jeroboam said in his heart, Now shall the kingdom return to the house of David—Having received the kingdom from God, he should have relied on the divine protection. But he did not. With a view to withdraw the people from the temple and destroy the sacred associations connected with Jerusalem, he made serious and unwarranted innovations on the religious observances of the country, on pretext of saving the people the trouble and expense of a distant journey. First, he erected two golden calves—the young bulls, Apis and Mnevis, as symbols (in the Egyptian fashion) of the true God, and the nearest, according to his fancy, to the figures of the cherubim. The one was placed at Dan, in the northern part of his kingdom; the other at Beth-el, the southern extremity, in sight of Jerusalem, and in which place he probably thought God was as likely to manifest Himself as at Jerusalem (Ge 32:1-32; 2Ki 2:2). The latter place was the most frequented—for the words (1Ki 12:30) should be rendered, "the people even to Dan went to worship before the one" (Jer 48:13; Am 4:4, 5; 5:5; Ho 5:8; 10:8). The innovation was a sin because it was setting up the worship of God by symbols and images and departing from the place where He had chosen to put His name. Secondly, he changed the feast of tabernacles from the fifteenth of the seventh to the fifteenth of the eighth month. The ostensible reason might be, that the ingathering or harvest was later in the northern parts of the kingdom; but the real reason was to eradicate the old association with this, the most welcome and joyous festival of the year. Made two calves of gold, in imitation of Aaron’s golden calf, and of the Egyptians, from whom he was lately come. And this he the rather presumed to do, because he knew the people of Israel were generally very prone to superstition and idolatry, as their whole history showeth; and that Solomon’s example and countenance given to false worships had exceedingly strengthened those inclinations; and therefore they were in a great measure prepared for such an attempt; especially when his proposition tended to their own case, and safety, and profit, which he knew was much dearer to them, as well as to himself, than their religion.

It is too much for you; too great a trouble and charge, and neither necessary nor safe for them, as things now stood.

Behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt; not as if he did himself believe, or thought to persuade the people to believe, that these calves were properly and truly that very God of Israel who brought them out of Egypt; (which was so monstrously absurd and ridiculous, that no Israelite in his right wits could believe it;) and had been so far from attaining his end, and satisfying his people, that this would have made him both hateful and contemptible to them: but his meaning was, that these images were visible representations, in and by which he designed to worship the true God of Israel; as appears, partly, from that parallel place, Exodus 32:4, See Poole "Exodus 32:4"; partly, because the priests and worshippers of the calves are said to worship Jehovah, and, upon that account, are distinguished from those belonging to Baal, 1 Kings 18:21 22:6,7; and partly, from Jeroboam’s design in this work, which was to quiet the people’s minds, and remove their scruples about going to Jerusalem to worship their God in that place, as they were commanded; which he doth, by signifying to them that he did not intend any alteration in the substance of their religion, nor to draw them from the worship of the true God to the worship of Ashtoreth, or Milcom, or any of those Baals which were set up by Solomon; but to worship that selfsame God whom they worshipped in Jerusalem, even the true God, and the God of their fathers, who brought them out of Egypt, but only to vary a circumstance; and that as they worshipped God at Jerusalem by and before one visible sign, even the ark, and the sacred cherubims there; so his subjects should worship God by another visible sign, even that of the calves, in other places: and as for the change of the place, he might suggest to them that God was present in all places where men with honest minds did call upon him; that before the temple was built, the best of kings, and prophets, and people did pray and sacrifice to God in divers high places, without any scruple, notwithstanding that restraint of God to one place, Deu 12:5, &c.; that God would dispense with them also in that matter, because going to Jerusalem was very dangerous to them at this time, and God would have mercy rather than sacrifice; and God had been pleased to dispense with his own ordinances in cases of necessity or great inconvenience, as he did with circumcision for forty years in the wilderness. Whereupon the king took counsel,.... Of some of his principal men, that had as little religion as himself, and were only concerned for the civil state; and the result of their consultation was as follows:

and made two calves of gold; in imitation of that which was made by Aaron, and encouraged by his example and success; and having been in Egypt some time, he might have learned the calf or ox worship there, and might take his pattern from thence, and have two as they had; the one they called Apis, which was worshipped at Memphis, and another called Mnevis, worshipped at Hierapolis, as many learned men have observed; these were she calves, according to the Septuagint and Josephus (q):

and said unto them; not his counsellors, but the people of the land:

it is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; pretending he sought their ease, by contriving a method to prevent their long fatiguing journeys, to go up with their sacrifices, firstfruits, &c. and the Jews (r) say the firstfruits ceased from going up to Jerusalem on the twenty third of Sivan, which answers to part of May and part of June, on which day they kept a fast on that account:

behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt; using the same words Aaron did on a like occasion; not that he thought these were really gods, and had divinity in them; nor could he hope or expect that the people would believe they had; but that these were representations of the true God, who had brought them out of Egypt; and that it might as well be supposed that God would cause his Shechinah to dwell in them as between the cherubim over the ark.

(q) Ut supra, (Antiqu. l. 8. c. 8.) sect. 4. (r) Schulchan Aruch, par. 1. c. 580. sect. 2.

Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto them, {m} 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.

(m) So crafty are carnal persuasions of princes, when they will make a religion serve their appetite.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
28. two calves of gold] The Israelites in Egypt had been familiarized with the ox as an object of worship, and it would therefore not be unknown among their descendants. Hence their readiness to recognize such an image as a symbol of the divinity when they were in the wilderness (Exodus 32:4; Exodus 32:8). The sin was the same on this occasion as on that. God had commanded that no image should be made as a symbol of Him. The calves were therefore an abomination, (directly contrary to Exodus 20:4), even though when bowing before them the people professed to worship Him who led their fathers out of Egypt.

The LXX says ‘he went and made’ ἐπορεύθν καὶ ἐποίησε, and instead of ‘and said unto them,’ in the next clause, which reads a little awkwardly, gives ‘and said unto the people.’

It is too much for you to go up] The sense intended is probably given in the margin of R.V. ‘Ye have gone up long enough.’ To the mind of the Jew there might be a reason for ceasing altogether to go to Jerusalem, now that the kingdoms were divided, but no excuse from the fatigue of the journey. Jeroboam’s argument was ‘You have chosen a new king, choose also new places for worship.’ Cf. Ezekiel 44:6, where the sense is ‘Have done with your abominations.’

behold thy gods] Words very like those of the people in the wilderness (Exodus 32:4) over their golden calf. But the sense is rather: ‘Behold thy God.’ Under this symbol of the young bull, see and recognise thy God, Jehovah. The young bull was the symbol of creative power.Verse 28. - Whereupon the king took counsel ["With his counsellors, or the heads of the nation who had helped him to the throne" (Keil). Bahr understands, "he reflected about it alone" (et excogitato consilio, Vulgate), alleging that so important a circumstance as the concurrence of the heads of the people in changing the system of worship would not have been passed over in silence. But while the text does not perhaps imply any formal deliberation with the elders, it is reasonable to suppose that Jeroboam, who owed his position to popular election, and who was far too sagacious not to follow the example of Rehoboam (vers. 6, 9), would summon others to advise him as to this critical and momentous step. Wordsworth refers to Isaiah 30:1, and says that "Jeroboam is the image and pattern of Machiavellian politicians." "Next to Ahithophel, I do not find that Israel yielded a craftier head than Jeroboam's" (Hall)], and made two calves [It is generally held that these were in imitation of, or were suggested by, the "golden calf" of Aaron (Exodus 32:2), and the close resemblance of Jeroboam's words (below), in inaugurating this new cultus, to Aaron's have been thought to prove it. But surely it has been overlooked that Jeroboam could hardly be so shortsighted and unwise as deliberately to reintroduce a worship which had provoked the "fierce wrath" (ver. 12) of God, and had nearly resulted in the extermination of the Jewish race. For of course neither Jeroboam nor his people could have forgotten the stern condemnation which Aaron's calf worship had received. The molten image ground to powder, the ashes mixed in the drink of the people, the slaughter of three thousand worshippers, etc., would assuredly have lived in the memories of the nation. A more impolitic step, consequently - one more certain to precipitate his ruin, by driving the whole nation into the arms of Judah - Jeroboam could not have taken, than to attempt any revival or imitation of the forbidden cultus of the desert. And it is as little likely that the worship of the calves was derived from the worship of Apis, as practised at Memphis, or of "Mnevis, the sacred calf of Heliopolis" (Stanley), though with both of these Jeroboam had recently been in contact. It would have been but a sorry recommendation in the eyes of Israel that the first act of the new king should be to introduce the hateful idolatry of Egypt into the land; and every consideration tends to show that the calf worship was not, and was not intended to be, idolatry, such as the worship of Egypt undoubtedly was. It is always carefully distinguished from idol worship by the historians and prophets. And the idea which Jeroboam wished to give his subjects was clearly this that, so far from introducing new gods or new sanctuaries, he was merely accommodating the old worship to the new state of things. He evidently felt that what he and his house had most to fear was, not the armies of Rehoboam but the ritual and religious associations of Jerusalem. His object, if he were wise, must therefore be to provide a substitute, a counterfeit worship. "I will give you," he virtually says, "at Bethel and Dan, old sanctuaries of our race long before Jerusalem usurped their place, those visible emblems of the heavenly powers such as are now found only in the temple. You too shall possess those mysterious forms which symbolize the Invisible, but you shall have them nearer home and easier of access." There can be little doubt, consequently, that the "calves" were imitations of the colossal cherubim of Solomon's temple, in which the ox or calf was probably the forma praecipua (1 Kings 6:23).] of gold [Hardly of solid gold. Possibly cf. wood covered with gold plates, i.e., similar to the cherubim (1 Kings 6:23-28); probably of molten brass (see 1 Kings 14:9, and cf. Psalm 106:19), overlaid with gold; such images, in fact, as are described in Isaiah 40:19], and said unto them, It is too much for you [This translation, pace Keil, cannot be maintained. Nor can it be said that "the exact meaning of the original is doubtful" (Rawlinson), for a study of the passages where this phrase, רַב־לָכֶם occurs (see, e.g., Deuteronomy 1:6; Deuteronomy 2:3; Deuteronomy 3:26; and cf. Genesis 45:28; Exodus 9:28; 2 Samuel 24:16; 1 Kings 19:4) will convince the reader that it must be rendered here, "It is enough" - i.e., "you have gone long enough to a city which only owes its present position to the ambition of the tribe of Judah, and which is a standing testimony to your own inferiority; henceforth, desist." We have an exact parallel in Ezekiel 44:6; where the Authorized Version renders, "Let it suffice you." The LXX. supports this view by rendering ἱκανόυσθω ὑμῖν throughout. Vulgate, nolite ultra ascendere, etc.] to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods [rather "god," for Jeroboam had no idea of introducing polytheism. It is true he made two calves because of his two sanctuaries, but each was designed to represent the same object - the one God of Israel. The word is translated, gods" in Exodus 32:1, 4, 8, 23, 31; but as the reference is in every case to the one calf, it should be translated "god" there also. In Nehemiah's citation of the words (Nehemiah 9:18), the word is unmistakably singular. "This is thy god," etc. The words are not "exactly the same as the people used when setting up the golden calf" (Bahr). Jeroboam says, "Behold," etc.], O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. [It is at first sight somewhat difficult to resist the view, which is generally entertained, that Jeroboam, of set purpose, cited the ipsissima verba of the Israelites in the desert (Exodus 32:4). But a little reflection will show that it is much more difficult to believe that a monarch, circumstanced as Jeroboam was, could at the very outset of his career have acted in the teeth of history, and have committed the gross blunder, not to say wanton outrage, of deliberately connecting his new cult with the calf worship of the desert. He can hardly have dared, that is, to say, "This is no new religion, for this very form of worship our fathers used formerly in the desert, under the guidance of Aaron himself" (Seb. Schmidt, followed by Keil, al.) unless both he and his people alike - which is inconceivable - were ignorant of their nation's history recorded in Exodus 32:19-35. It has been argued by some that this action of Jeroboam and the ready compliance of the ten tribes, prove that the Pentateuch cannot then have been written. But, as Hengstenberg (cited by Wordsworth) rejoins, the same argument would lead to the conclusion that the Bible could not have been written in the dark ages, or, we might add, even at the present day. He can hardly have claimed, that is to say, to be reintroducing the calf worship, which God had so emphatically reprobated, unless he designed an open defiance of the Most High, and wished to shock all the religious instincts and convictions of his people. It is much more natural, consequently, to suppose, considering the very frequent recurrence, though sometimes in slightly different shapes, of the formula "the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt" (Exodus 20:2; Exodus 29:45, 46; Leviticus 19:36; Leviticus 23:43; Leviticus 25:38; Leviticus 26:13, 45; Numbers 15:41; Numbers 16:13; Numbers 20:16; Deuteronomy 5:6, 15; Deuteronomy 6:12; Deuteronomy 8:14; Deuteronomy 9:26; Joshua 24:6, 17; Judges 6:8; 1 Samuel 8:8; 1 Samuel 10:18; 1 Kings 8:21, etc.) that the correspondence is accidental, the more so as Jeroboam does not quote the exact words, and that he has used a phrase which was constantly in their ears, insisting thereby that his calves were emblems of the God of their race, the God whose great glory it was that He had taken their nation out of the midst of another nation, etc. (Deuteronomy 4:34), and delivered them from a thraldom with which, perhaps, the tyranny of Rehoboam is indirectly compared. Or it there was any reference to the golden calf, it must have been depreciatory, as if to say," That was rank idolatry, and as such it was punished. That calf was an image of Apis. My calves are cherubic symbols, symbols such as He has Himself appointed, of the Great Deliverer of our race. Behold thy God, which really brought thee up," etc.] But after the return of Rehoboam to Jerusalem he was still desirous of bringing back the seceders by force of arms, and raised for that purpose an army of 180,000 men out of all Judah, the tribe of Benjamin, and the rest of the people, i.e., the Israelites dwelling in the cities of Judah, - a number which does not appear too large according to 2 Samuel 24:9. But the prophet Shemaiah, a prophet who is not mentioned again, received instructions from God to forbid the king to go to war with their brethren the Israelites, "for this thing was from the Lord." הזּה הדּבר, "this thing, i.e., his being deprived of the sovereignty over ten tribes, but not their rebellion" (Seb. Schmidt). For the fact itself, see the remark on 1 Kings 12:15. The king and the people hearkened to this word. ללכת ישׁוּבוּ, "they turned to go," i.e., they gave up the intended expedition and returned home. In 2 Chronicles 11:4 we have the explanatory phrase מלּכת ישׁוּבוּ.
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