Without doubt, COVID 19 has wrecked havoc on many churches. It has forced many churches to resort to online or streaming church. While this kind of technology has given thousands an opportunity to remain somewhat connected at least virtually, it has also been damaging and dangerous to the life of believers and the requirement to gather and assemble.
One of the most dangerous effects of virtual church is the obvious stripping of the joy of congregational worship. The need to “assemble ourselves together” secretly and silently diminishes with the extended attendance of virtual church and is replaced with the convenience of “jumping online” instead of “jumping in the car” to attend a live service. Perpetuating this pattern of “convenient” church does not come without penalty. This tendency to make worship something of ease removes its sacrificial benefit and severely damaged its value.
This devaluation of God’s worship is not new and is recorded in scripture in the time of King Jeroboam. Known as one of the most influential men in the history of Israel, king Jeroboam, the son of Nebat was a supporter of unauthorized worship and convenient gatherings. Jeroboam became king after the death of Solomon in about B.C. 931. After Solomon's death, the nation of Israel divided into two kingdoms. In the Southern Kingdom, also called Judah, there were only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, plus a faithful remnant that came from other tribes. The Northern Kingdom or Israel was made up of ten tribes, and Jeroboam served as its first king, ruling for twenty-two years. His reign brought immediate moral and religious corruption into Israel. Sadly, Jeroboam's wickedness influenced the nation for generations to come as we often read this appraisal of later kings who followed in the steps of Jeroboam: "And he did evil in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the way of Jeroboam, and in his sin wherewith he made Israel to sin" (1 Kings 15:34).
As soon as Jeroboam became king, he introduced a new worship into Israel. While there are many valuable lessons to be learned from Jeroboam's life and reign in general, we want to focus our attention on the false worship that Jeroboam established. This worship is described in 1 Kings 12:25-33 and 1 Kings 13:33-34. In part these verses say, "And Jeroboam said in his heart, Now shall the kingdom return to the house of David; If this people go up to do sacrifice in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, then shall the heart of this people turn again unto their lord, even unto Rehoboam king of Judah, and they shall kill me, and go again to Rehoboam king of Judah. 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. And he set the one in Bethel, and the other put he in Dan. And this thing became a sin; for the people went to worship before the one, even unto Dan. 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 12:26-31). Just what was there about Jeroboam's worship that was so wrong?
First, we should note that Jeroboam did worship. He was a man who was involved in religious activity, and in the eyes of many people, that is all that matters. Yet, Jeroboam's example shows that it is possible to be religious and even be a leader in religious activity, but still not please God. Jehovah told Jeroboam, "But hast done evil above all that were before thee; for thou hast gone and made thee other gods, and molten images, to provoke me to anger, and hast cast me behind thy back" (1 Kings 14:9).
Not all religious activities are "good" in the Lord's sight. Remember, Jesus declared, "Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men" (Mark 7:7).
Jeroboam's worship was appealing to a lot of people. Just think about it. The worship he established was new! You know, many people are interested in things that are new. It does not matter what it is, it does not matter if it is right or wrong, just as long as it is new, that is what is important to many. Many consider anything new to be better. But let us never forget this clear instruction that God gave His people: "Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you" (Deuteronomy 4:2). Yes, Jeroboam's worship was new, but it was a violation of God's will because it was unauthorized. Also, the worshipping of idols was clearly against the first two of the ten commandments (Exodus 20:3-4).
In our worship today, we must not seek after that which is new, but only that which is according to the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:20; 2 John 9). Jeroboam's worship was convenient. God chose Jerusalem as the place where He wanted His people to assemble to worship Him (1 Kings 11:32). However, Jeroboam had his own plan. He set up centers of worship in Dan and Bethel (1 Kings 11:28-29). Dan was located in the very northern section of the Northern Kingdom, and Bethel was located in the southern section of it. By going to either Dan or Bethel instead of traveling all the way to Jerusalem (which was in the Southern Kingdom), the people could save both time and energy. That was convenient! Also, God gave the Jews only one choice, Jerusalem. Jeroboam gave the people two choices, either Dan or Bethel. That was convenient!
Today some people make their decision about which religious services they will attend based solely on which group meets closest to where they live or which group does what they like. Dear reader, true worshippers worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24). We must be willing to travel whatever distance is necessary in order to assemble with faithful saints. In our service to Jehovah, let us never be so selfish as to think about what is most convenient for us. What will please the Lord? That is the question!
Without doubt, Jeroboam's worship was popular. The people liked it. Satan's ways are popular. As soon as Jeroboam established his new worship, people began to go to Dan and Bethel (1 Kings 12:30). Let us never forget that a teaching or religious practice may be popular, but that does not make it right.
Jeroboam's worship allowed more people to be involved as priests. According to Jeroboam's new arrangements, anyone could become a priest who wanted to (1 Kings 13:33; 1 Kings 12:31). God told the Israelites that only men from the tribe of Levi, and specifically those who were the descendants of Aaron, could serve as priests (Deuteronomy 18:1). Can't you just imagine what Jeroboam said to convince the people to accept his perverted worship? "We are more open-minded. We have more love. We are not ultra-conservatives who want to go exactly by the letter of the law. If you are sincere in your heart and want to be a priest, then God bless you." We know what many say about us today. They say we are too strict because we do not have women serving as elders or preachers, or at least leading singing and prayers. People can think what they want, but we will continue to accept the teaching of 1 Timothy 2:8-3:7 about leadership in the church. They say we are too narrow-minded because we preach against drunkenness, but we will continue to show to the world and the church the evil fruits of drinking alcohol (1 Peter 4:3; Matthew 7:20). They say we are too strict because we will not fellowship those who have divorced their mate (not due to the mate's fornication) and are now committing adultery by living with a different person in a so-called second marriage. Friends, Jesus' words of Matthew 19:9 still read like they did nearly two thousand years ago, so we will not compromise one centimeter on that topic!
Brethren, let us be content with what God has told us in His word and not try to change His message so it will be easier for people to accept.
Perhaps the most dangerous aspect about Jeroboam's worship was that, in a number of ways, it was similar to the true worship Jehovah had commanded in the law of Moses. Satan, the father of lies, is such a great deceiver. He can make a lie look like the truth, and false worship look like the genuine worship of the Lord. According to the law of Moses, God commanded Israel to have priests, an altar for sacrifices, a set place of worship, special religious days, and special feasts. And, guess what Jeroboam included in his worship? He also established a priesthood, an altar for sacrifices, set places of worship, special days, and special feasts (1 Kings 12:31-33). Jeroboam could tell the people, "Look, it is not exactly like what your fathers had, but it is close enough. Remember, we are a new generation, so we need to do things just a little differently."
God commanded the Israelites to observe the feast of Tabernacles on the fifteenth day of the seventh month (Numbers 29:10). Jeroboam commanded them to observe a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month (1 Kings 12:32). What difference does just one month make? It is not exact, but no one is perfect, it is close enough! No, it is not close enough, not when we are talking about worshipping the Lord of heaven! We must worship and serve Him according to His Word, not according to our desires. I do not know about you, but as for me and my house, we do not want a church or worship that is close to the truth. We want only that which comes from Jehovah! Close is not good enough when we are talking about the salvation of our souls.
In summary, why was Jeroboam's worship wrong? It was wrong because:
1. It was unauthorized by God (Deuteronomy 4:2). Jeroboam substituted his own worship for the true worship of Jehovah.
2. He had the wrong motive. Do not be deceived. Jeroboam did not care about pleasing the Lord. He set up his worship simply so the Jews would not go to worship at Jerusalem, for he feared that if they went there they would begin to follow the king of the Southern Kingdom (Rehoboam), who would kill him (1 Kings 12:26-27). Thus, in reality, Jeroboam established this worship for his own benefit.
3. They worshipped the wrong object, golden calves (1 Kings 12:28).
4. They used the wrong methods, wrong priesthood, wrong feasts, wrong altar (1 Kings 12:31-33).
5. It had the wrong source of authority. Where did Jeroboam get the idea for his new worship? It was that "which he had devised of his own heart" (1 Kings 12:33). That is the bottom line: Jeroboam did what HE wanted to do, and what God commanded did not matter one bit to him! Jeroboam did evil and caused Israel to do the same. "...He made Israel to sin" (1 Kings 15:34). Jeroboam corrupted Israel's worship, and as a result God forsook His people.
Do not think this could not happen to us today. All it takes is for a few people who are not satisfied with the simple teaching of the New Testament to begin to cry out for change in the church: change in the worship, change in the church's organization, just any kind of change. Such an attitude can destroy the church, for a little leaven can leaven the whole lump (Galatians 5:9). Would it be worth it to pervert the worship of the church like Jeroboam perverted the worship in Israel? Of course not! Let us determine in our hearts that, regardless of what others do or say, we will work together and follow what the Bible says. May God bless us as we strive to do that.
Nona McKenzie Parker