My son-in-law from Australia led the Bible Study at church. He is studying for his doctorate at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, and he wants to write a dissertation on kingship in the Old Testament and how that speaks of Christ. He is doing some work on 1&2 Chronicles, so our pastor asked him to teach us about those profound but little-known books of history.
One detail he mentioned struck me in particular. He said that when Jeroboam split the kingdom into Judah and Israel, in his rule of the latter he set up two temples or shrines at Bethel and Dan so that his people would not have to sacrifice in Jerusalem. These were built on the same three-part model as that of Solomon, but instead of having the one-of-a-kind Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies, Jeroboam put GOLDEN CALVES.
Why did the apostate Hebrews have such a thing for golden calves? Well, my son-in-law explained, the closest similar deity, seemingly, to YHWH in the Canaanite pantheon, the king of the gods in that mythology, was EL. His image through which he was worshiped was a golden bull. The word “El” was his name, but it was also just the word for “god.” (As in our language: We can speak of “God” as a sort of name, but also as a generic noun.)
So apparently, some Hebrews conflated the God of Abraham with the “God” of their neighbors, assuming that all “El’s” were the same and setting up a version of the common idol associated with that term. After all, the Canaanite El was a mountain god, and an El gave the law on Mt. Sinai, etc. Of course, the Canaanite El had a consort, the fertility goddess Ashera, whose sexual rites would also be picked up by some of those pious Hebrews.
Those Hebrews, however, neglected the Word of God. And how the true God commanded that He be worshipped. And violated the commandment against idolatry. And forgot that “god” is not just a generic noun but that He has a name. That is, they broke every one of the laws of the first table, and so fell into sin and slavery, until YHWH sent them a redeemer.
See any parallels with today’s religious syncretism?