King Jeroboam had been promised by God that if he obeyed and followed the Lord, he and his descendants would reign on Israel’s throne forever. By this time, it was only a portion of Israel, the Northern Kingdom. God had preserved Jerusalem and the Southern Kingdom of Judah to host His temple and to honor and preserve the regal line of His faithful servant, King David.
Jeroboam immediately followed up God’s offer by taking bad advice. He set up two golden calf idols for his people to worship, one in the north and one in the southern part of his territory. His thinking was that this would prevent people from returning to Judah to worship in God’s temple and thus possibly defecting to them.
To further prevent defections, Jeroboam also went to war against Judah, with 800,000 troops put up against Judah’s 400,000. In the physical realm, this was no contest – it would be an easy victory. But more than just the physical was involved – this was the core of a nation selected and settled in their land by the Lord. Further, Judah had recently turned back to worship God after chasing idols of their own. This allowed God to now defend Judah and His name. It became a battle between a nation led by two golden calf idols vs. a nation led by the Lord, the Creator of the universe. Who would win in this match-up?
The kingdom of Judah, under King Abijah, stood before King Jeroboam and his armies of Israel, and claimed God’s protection against their invasion. But even as Abijah was making a proclamation to Jeroboam about the dangers of going up against the Lord, Jeroboam snuck a portion of his army behind their back and initiated a deadly pincer assault.
13 But Jeroboam caused an ambush to go around behind them; so they were in front of Judah, and the ambush was behind them. 14 And when Judah looked around, to their surprise the battle line was at both front and rear; and they cried out to the Lord, and the priests sounded the trumpets. 15 Then the men of Judah gave a shout; and as the men of Judah shouted, it happened that God struck Jeroboam and all Israel before Abijah and Judah. 16 And the children of Israel fled before Judah, and God delivered them into their hand. 17 Then Abijah and his people struck them with a great slaughter; so five hundred thousand choice men of Israel fell slain. 2 Chronicles 13:13-17 (NKJV)
In what turned out to be the bloodiest loss Israel ever experienced in the Bible, the Northern Kingdom and their golden calf idols were crushed under the Lord’s hand. Five hundred thousand troops died that day. This is almost as many deaths as happened in the US Civil War, which was fought over a four-year period in the 1860’s.
Although God hates all sin, the sin of worshiping other gods seems to rank up there with the worst of them. It is probably not a coincidence that the very first of the Ten Commandments is to have no other gods before Him.
How does this battle impact us today? Why does God record it in the scriptures, and what can we learn from it?
A couple things come to mind. First, the victorious King Abijah, who led Judah to victory over Jeroboam, was not a shining example of a king who followed closely after the Lord. In fact, we are told of King Abijah that:
3 … he walked in all the sins of his father, which he had done before him; his heart was not loyal to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David. 4 Nevertheless for David’s sake the Lord his God gave him a lamp in Jerusalem, by setting up his son after him and by establishing Jerusalem; 5 because David did what was right in the eyes of the Lord… 1 Kings 15:3-5 (NKJV)
Abijah was not what one would call a godly man, yet the Lord led him to victory because he did repent of his idol worship and call on the Lord as the battle approached. God also acted to uphold the honor of Abijah’s great-grandfather, David, as well as the name of the Lord.
Like Abijah, if we in our imperfections will humble ourselves and turn back to the Lord, He will indeed hear us and defend us from the enemies around us and within us.
Second, we hear a clear warning to Israel and to us to not put our faith in idols, but to lean on and rely upon God. The punishment which God meted out to the Northern Kingdom was quite harsh. His choice to do this was likely a consequence of them abandoning Him and choosing to worship idols of gold as well as attacking their brothers to the south, who held His temple.
Which brings us to today. What idols are we following after instead of seeking God? In what power are we placing our faith and hope for protection and security? To what do we devote our available time, attention, and energies?
There is no true hope for people aside from the powerful and loving presence of God. He in His purity is available to one each of us through the cleansing death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus bore all the sins and shortcomings of those who would turn to Him in repentance.
None of us is a pillar of goodness in our own strength – we are all sinners. When we approach God in meekness and humility to repent of our sins and for. our “worship” of idols, He will forgive us, bestow His righteousness upon us, and grant us an eternal joy, peace, and security in His presence. May He bless us all today as we seek Him.
What types of idols are out there that tempt us to withdraw our time and attention from the Lord? Here are a few modern “golden calves” which are at work in many of our lives today:
Pride – a feeling of superiority. Always being right, with no need to listen to others.
Greed – the love of money, always wanting more wealth of various types. Chasing the “fast” lifestyle for excitement. Always buying more and more things. Never being satisfied or content with what we have.
Lust – hedonism, adultery, fornication, “love” affairs, pornography.
Drunkenness and drug abuse – losing self-control, risking everything of value in our lives for the next high or drunk.
Obsession – misdirected praise and worship of other “gods”. Could be other people or self, or a leisure activity taken to extremes.
Self – self-centeredness and self-seeking at the expense of others. Never-ending pursuit of more fame, beauty, approval or praise.
Demon worship – dark rituals, astrology, curses, familiar spirits.
Career idol – workaholism, no time for family or God. Give up almost everything for career advancement or achievement.
Gambling addiction – lose funds that could be used for family and to support the needy, a waste of God-given resources.
The list of potential idols around us goes on and on. Which of these are a temptation for you? I have my own. If it is not seen on this list, which one could you add?
Lord, we all sin, please forgive us. Help us to turn away from the worthless and wasteful idols that tempt us, and to seek Your face instead. Free us from the things that have an unhealthy grip on us. We want to walk with You in complete freedom, joy and peace. Help us to be satisfied and content with what You provide, and to enjoy a fulfilling relationship with You. We ask this in the powerful name of Jesus, Amen.