Did the recent Trump victory cause you (a) to cry, (b) to celebrate, or (c) to scratch your head and wonder how this is all going to turn out?
Evangelical Christians are divided these days about how much good will be accomplished by a Trump Presidency. This comes from the juxtaposition of its good and bad aspects. For instance, on the one hand, most Christians will rejoice at the possibility of new Supreme Court Justices who would uphold the morals of the Founding Fathers. On the other hand, most of those same Christians recoil at audio recordings of Trump as either a womanizer, a liar or both.
Clearly this election had divine aspects to it. God is in control. He raises up leaders and brings them down. More importantly, we may be at the verge of another Great Awakening in America, although that idea won’t be detailed here.
This is where I think so many Christians get confused. Yes, it is cartoonish to say that the Republican party is good, while the Democratic party is evil, (and nobody ever says it like that), but if you are a conservative Christian will you please fess up and admit to that picture in the back of your head of the Republican party being “God’s favorite political party” and the Democrat Party being lawless and evil?
This article proposes a different model of understanding: Not a good and evil model, not a God and not-God model, but the Golden Calf model.
WARNING! If you keep reading, and catch this very simple idea, you may never see political parties in the same way again.
When God decided to split off the Northern Kingdom of Israel from the Southern Kingdom of Judah—and yes, that was God’s decision—he promised Jeroboam an enduring kingdom as long as he would obey God’s principles. However, Jeroboam did not believe God could be fully trusted. The key issues in Jeroboam’s mind were the magnificent Temple in Jerusalem and the Feasts of the Lord that would cause all of his kingdom’s subjects to travel to the Southern Kingdom of Judah frequently. Jeroboam reasoned that if his people would periodically travel to the south, that they would be wooed by Judah, and Jeroboam would lose their allegiance.
So in one of the most fateful decisions in the Bible for a leader, he erected two golden calves, and told the people:
“It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt.” 1 Kings 12:28 (NASB)
One of these gods was placed in the city of Dan in the north, and the other was placed in Bethel in the south, as indicated by the two red dots in the diagram below.
The difference in these two locations was striking. Can you determine from the following description of each, which one best embodies liberalism and which one embodies conservatism?
The Choice is Yours
Let us begin with Dan in the north. First of all, the city of Dan was not even supposed to be a city of the tribe of the Danites (whose tribal allotment was close to what is now Tel Aviv). They felt constrained by their small territory and some of them went north to conquer the city called Laish, a city at the base of Mount Hermon described as: “a place where there is no lack of anything on earth.” (Judges 18:10)
The Danites named their newly conquered town Dan after their tribal leader, but brought their own idol worship quickly into the region that seemed to previously be a center of worship for the Canaanites and Sidonians, such as the goddess Ashtoreth.
The town was in the beautiful Hula valley, low in elevation, easy to reach, with multiple springs nearby pouring out of the base of Mount Hermon, and forming part of the headwaters of the Jordan river. Dan offered convenient living, and plenty of opportunities for idolatry and sexual gratification. The billboards of the day would have put it in nicer terms: Dan – the cosmopolitan city. Destroyed by the Assyrians in 732 BCE, Dan would eventually be rebuilt and named Caesarea Philippi by the Romans.
Dan was a perfect location for one of the golden calves. It was about as far north as you could go in the Northern Kingdom. They really pushed the envelope so-to-speak in Dan. And it was far, far away from God’s Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
The other golden calf was not in a city known for loose living, but up on a mountain top. Unlike Dan that was named after men, Bethel, literally Beit-El, means “house of God”. It had an impressive history, being the site of Jacob’s ladder. After Jacob awoke from his dream he called this place the house of God, and the gate of heaven. Bethel was not a place that you would readily pass through on your way somewhere else. Nor is it exceedingly large. Today on the top of its flat rocky hill you can see a smooth area where Jacob might have rested for the night. In the distance is a large mound of earth on which the stately Golden Calf probably rested, facing the very place where Jacob had his dream.
Bethel is only a few miles from Jerusalem. It is about as far south as you can get without entering the Kingdom of Judah, meaning that reaching Bethel was more convenient for everyone in the Northern Kingdom, as compared to Jerusalem.
So Jeroboam had his master plan: everybody got a choice that made sense for them. Want to go to the cosmopolitan north and press the boundaries of progressive cutting-edge worship? There is a place for you in Dan. Want to go to the stately, historical South, and relive the glory of your great Founding Father Jacob? There is a place for you in Bethel. Let the people freely make up their own mind, consult their own conscience, and determine the location and ideals that fit them best. Just let them not choose to worship in Jerusalem.
The Golden Corral
But while the sites were quite different, each held something in common: a golden calf, representing both material wealth and power, and more specifically, the pursuit of it. The Northern Kingdom even formed for these reasons, as a reaction to the heavy taxation, placed upon all of Israel by King Solomon, and the desire for freedom from an oppressive yoke. The North, under Jeroboam formed their own “more perfect union” of Ten Tribes offering the promise of more economic prosperity and freedom for everyone.
Has anything changed?
In America’s history, the number one issue that determines the outcome of elections over the last hundred years has been the economy, with the issues of freedom (including safety) never trailing far behind. Both parties work to convince voters that their approach will offer the country more economic prosperity and freedom than the other.
So which is better? Dan or Bethel? Democrat or Republican? Liberal or Conservative?
The vast majority of evangelical Christians vote Bethel. They will passionately argue that Bethel is better — not perfect mind you — but closer to the ways of God, closer to Jerusalem, if you will.
Trump has been elected. So the seat of government is now swinging back from Dan in the north to Bethel in the south. But make no mistake: neither location is Jerusalem. It seems that we are about to trade one golden calf for another. Bethel might not be as lawless and wildly progressive as Dan, but conservative Bethel has its own sin: the sin of pride of height and power. The Trump team tells us that America can now expect to start winning again, and that our past greatness is sure to return under the leadership of a rich and powerful man whose life is completely focused on winning.
King Jeroboam didn’t want to rule according to the statutes and ordinances put forth by God himself, so he created an attractive substitute, and offered the people the focal points of wealth and freedom. Then, knowing that the people would naturally divide into liberal and conservative approaches achieve that wealth and freedom, he gave them both Dan and Bethel. If one location was seen as not filling the needs of the people, they could always switch to the other.
I may live in the Northern Kingdom, metaphorically speaking, but I don’t personally pin my hopes on the future prospects of either Dan or Bethel. Yes, my house is located a bit closer to Bethel than it is to Dan, but what this election has caused me to long for more than ever, is a government based on God’s statutes, those represented by the city of Jerusalem. Perhaps that is why I sometimes find myself outside in the evenings, facing Jerusalem, hoping to hear voices singing over the distant hilltops.