Every human organization’s end is very much like its beginnings.
As Jeroboam stood where he should not-over an altar, typically reserved to priests- a “man of God” from Judah foretold how the religious portion of Jeroboam’s rebellion would be resolved. Jeroboam had claimed for himself the right as king to decide authoritatively on religious matters with no association with Jerusalem, David’s son, the Levites, or the priesthood. He had not so much instituted a right of conscience so much as had decided that his conscience superseded that of the collection of very flawed (yet God breathed) historical institutions based in Judah. He had freed the local people to set many of their own rules for worship and practice and called them to “return to their origins,” in a false sense, and to the golden calves they certainly returned.
Jeroboam’s son would rule for all of two years before another man with a vision and a conscience rose up and deposed and killed his son, ending his dynasty very quickly. This “man of God” that Jeroboam met prophesied that the altar at Bethel, at which Jeroboam was offering a sacrifice, would be destroyed and desecrated and the priests who officiated there would be killed and burned upon it.
Jeroboam’s declaration of the death of legitimate authority in Jerusalem and the inability of Judah to curb this defiance created a void of authority and pronounced, until the resolution of Israel as a nation, that authority is up for grabs. Power over men was the end, and the individual with the most brutal hand and the most velvet glove must now command that authority over the civilization.
Power politics and a search for a purely natural means of ordering society was now on a course of evolution that would not cease until it consumed the civilization that bore it and eventually, itself. In Luther’s day, the Peasants’ revolt and the fevered apocalyptic declarations of the assembled rebels at Munster in 1534 showed that they had already worked out the end result of Luther’s rebellion against the dominant authority. They called for nothing short of absolute equality of man in all matters, including the redistribution of wealth.
A theocracy must be forcibly established, hierarchy of all kinds must be destroyed, and every man and woman’s needs and desires must be provided for by the Christian community. The mass of men and women must rise against anyone with special dispensation or unique gifts or talents, lest they be slowly crushed underneath the boot of their oppressors. The tragic irony of such a position demands that a leader with an iron will, wielding the supreme authority of the group arise to implement such a radical diversion from hierarchy. One may draw a direct line across the few hundred years from Luther to Marx.
This sentiment was expressed by an individual many, many years before, now embodied by the people: non serviam; or, in sacred scripture, I will, I will, I will, I will, I will. God’s hierarchy, which had existed from the foundation of the world, was implored to justify itself and found wanting by its accuser.
After such a rebellion, the implications must now be worked out to their very end. The tares and the wheat must grow alongside one another, as a display to all beings under God: rebellion against hierarchy itself would end in disaster for all. Cries for equality agitate men of low estate, giving them a false source of pride and and manipulating them into battling that which they do not understand in defense of that pride.
So to speak, the people will rise up against the flawed order and create the “paradise of the common man” on earth after having been forced to be subservient to men whose life and circumstance had given a certain advantage. They will, they will, they will, they will, they will. And, naturally, atop this will be a leader, as there must always be a leader. Utopia on earth requires the greatest of men to administer. His hands will powderize granite yet possess black velvet deception to control even the most subtle of men. If authority is not inherent and given from above, it must be forged by competing power, by blood, and ultimately by deception, since man has engaged in war against himself.
The altar of personal conscience is still the same altar at which many Christians sacrifice. It is true that ultimately it is our own decisions – our acts of deliberate will – which determine our destiny. Often the correct decision is to cede one’s own preference for something of greater value.
Bethel, the place of Jeroboam’s sacrifice and the erection of the second golden calf, was a holy place, after all; it was where Jacob had seen the vision of the “ladder,” which likely looked something like a spiral staircase, upon which angels ascended and descended. It was a pathway to the divine. However, the difficulty of submission of will to God’s dominion and purposes is the vulnerability laid open when man decides to perceive good and evil for himself, to arrogate to himself the powers and authority already granted to another, and is that which the serpent seized upon through the woman.
Truly, things haven’t changed much since Adam. But we can, I think, sympathize with the impetus of those of the ten tribes who broke away from Judah, that the corruption they witnessed from Solomon and his son made any argument against it all the more compelling. Even if piety was strong among the people and many of the branches of the Church structure, was the center of Christendom not supposed to be more outwardly holy than the people? Why was it not at the present day? Perfection is a hard standard to live up to, and is vulnerable to accusation from all sides when the slightest deviations occur, must less substantial, observable deviations. Thus, the people must rise up and be holy instead of the center of authority, the echoes of Korah as he plummeted into a chasm underneath, which would close upon him as is the ultimate fate of all who defy God’s order.
The angels themselves were not faultless, and had seen “that the daughters of man were attractive, and they took as their wives any they chose,” and it was through this temptation that they fell. Nehemiah, reflecting on events many centuries before his own administration, excoriated those who had sinned in intermarrying with foreign wives:
[Neh 13:26] 26 Did not Solomon king of Israel sin on account of such women? Among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was beloved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel. Nevertheless, foreign women made even him to sin.
Nehemiah’s statement is perhaps an understatement of how far Solomon fell. Solomon fell from the absolute peaks to the dankest depths. Solomon achieved the pinnacle of his civilization in terms of riches, wealth, knowledge, and even holiness. Solomon’s prayer of consecration for the temple (2 Chronicles 6-7) ended with fire falling from heaven and the Temple being so holy that the priests could not enter it. Yet, a few decades hence, he would construct the idols that would destroy his own people, his own culture, and seal the diaspora of 10 of the tribes of Israel. Solomon’s 40 years simultaneously represent the apex of Israel’s civilization and its most corrupt state. The rest of Judah’s history was a rolling decline between the highs and lows of Solomon until its eventual destruction.
From the lows of Ahaz’s altar, patterned after the mighty Assyrians, to Hezekiah’s invitation to the Babylonians and finally Manasseh’s utter apostasy, the seeds sown by Solomon in the civilization of Israel bore flowers and fruit, and thus it was eventually liquidated from the political scene, having not retained its savor and having covered its light source with the cheap lampshade of rebellion. A remnant would survive, however, and from that remnant the olive tree would be regrown.
The world empires that succeeded Israel replayed the history of Abraham and his grandson Israel, complete with a return of a Jewish remnant out of Babylon as Abram, Sarai, and Terah his father had left Ur of the Chaldees and went to Haran. Once Terah had died, Abram ventured further into the land and fought valiantly to maintain his privileges there, as Judas Maccabeus had fought valiantly to maintain a pure priesthood and a pure people. But again, the people of Israel fell into hard bondage reminiscent of Egypt. Roman style occupation conferred a great deal of self-governance to the Jews, but ultimately the Romans sold the high priesthood to the highest bidder, and the Sadducees sought to maintain their place and prevent those of the Pharisees from having authority. This political strife caused the situation for the mass of people as Jesus our Lord described:
[Mat 23:4] 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.
Thus, Israel had come full circle. It is no wonder that Jesus uses the language of Moses and that Moses’ initial rejection from the people of Israel is referenced by Stephen and many others in Acts and the Epistles. Much of Jewry at this time “would not listen to Moses and the Prophets,” “so they would not listen even if one should rise from the dead.”