Although to all outward appearance, Israel was still a great nation, inwardly she was already dead. Her ‘terminal illness’ had begun right at the very beginning of her independence, when Jeroboam I set up his two golden calves and thus gave idolatry official sanction. Ever since, the love and devotion that should have been Yahweh’s was directed instead at images of false gods. And a whole industry had grown up, both serving and driving their idolatry! But in truth, Israel was no more than a shadow of her former self – and, like a shadow, would soon vanish from the scene.
The calf-cult of Jeroboam had originally been linked to the Exodus – a crass act of blasphemy (I Kings 12:28). It broke the very first commandment, which states that because of what God has done for us, He demands our exclusive loyalty.
“I have been the LORD your God
ever since you came out of Egypt.
You shall acknowledge no God but Me,
no Saviour except Me.” (verse 4)
All through forty long years in the wilderness, Israel had experienced God’s care and provision. But what we come to believe and live by in adversity, we all too easily forget in prosperity (Deuteronomy 8:11-14). Israel had now got to the point where she thought she had no need of God (Deuteronomy 32:15,16). But when God is forgotten, He does not cease to exist, nor do His judgements cease to take effect; they just take us by surprise (verses 7,8).