2 Kings 17:7 - 23
ESV - 7 And this occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods 8 And walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel, and in the customs that the kings of Israel had practiced.
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After the death of Solomon, Solomon's son Rehoboam announced his intention to continue the oppressive practices that had characterized the later years of Solomon's reign (in addition to the idolatry into which Solomon had fallen due to his many foreign wives). Jeroboam (son of Nebat) therefore led the ten northern tribes of Israel (all the tribes except Judah and Benjamin) in revolt against Rehoboam, and established a separate kingdom with its capital at Samaria. Although this initial revolt had been sanctioned by God (as recounted in 1 Kings 11) in order to punish Solomon's dynasty, Jeroboam feared that if the center of worship for Israel remained at Jerusalem (where Solomon had built his magnificent temple), the people of the northern kingdom of Israel would eventually switch their allegiance to the southern kingdom of Judah. To prevent this, Jeroboam constructed two golden calf idols in Samaria (one at Bethel and the other at Dan), and told the Israelites that these idols were now to be the objects of their worship. This was the great sin referred to in the verse cited in the question.
The Benson Commentary says this: 2 Kings 17:21. Jeroboam made them sin a great sin — So the worship of the calves is called, in opposition to that idle conceit of the Israelites, who esteemed it a small sin, especially when they were forced to it by severe penalties; which yet he shows did not excuse it from being a sin, and a great sin too. Matthew Poole's Commentary has this: Jeroboam made the people sin "a great sin"; so the worship of the calves is called, to meet with that idle conceit of the Israelites, who esteemed it a small sin, especially when they were forced to it by severe penalties; which yet he shows did not excuse it from being a sin, and a great sin too. Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible adds this: "made them to err:" and made them sin a great sin; obliging them to worship the calves he set up.
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