In Hebrews 3: 12 we read a solemn warning: "Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God." This might be a fitting description of Jeroboam, the first monarch of the separated Kingdom of Israel, one who came short of the promises of God through unbelief. Let us examine the background of Jeroboam's rise from obscurity to the throne of Israel. First we are confronted with
Solomon's Ungodly Ways
King Solomon, who had begun his reign in such a promising manner, was led astray by his many foreign wives. One wonders if he had obeyed the law of Moses when he became king, and copied out the conditions of kingship as set out in Deuteronomy 17: 14-20? It is remarkable that, with all His God-given wisdom, he yet departed from all these principles, by multiplying wives, horses and riches, and these very things seem to have turned his heart away from God, so that we read the solemn words in 1 Kings 11: 6: "Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord." What a warning for those that start well, but in their old age depart from the truth, and often lead younger believers astray! There was really no excuse for Solomon, because we read in verse 9: "The Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned from the Lord God of Israel, which had appeared unto him twice, and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods: but he kept not that which the Lord commanded." As a result of this, God stirred up adversaries against him, one of whom was Jeroboam, a brave and diligent servant, whom Solomon put in a responsible position. The old prophet Ahijah was entrusted with a message for this young man. Tearing his new garment into twelve pieces, he gave ten pieces to Jeroboam, as a token that he was to rule over ten tribes, but for David's sake the other two tribes should remain under Rehoboam's rule. Next we notice
The Unchanging Word of God
God had promised the kingdom to David, as we read in Psalm 132: 11: "The Lord hath sworn in truth unto David, He will not turn from it, Of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne." "Hath He said, and shall He not do it?" But now Solomon was confronted by another promise of God, made this time to Jeroboam, that part of the kingdom should be his. Instead of resting in the assurance of God, "Notwithstanding in thy days I will not do it, for David thy father's sake," Solomon, like Herod in a later day, took the law into his own hands, and sought to kill Jeroboam; but, of course, God's promises could not be frustrated, and Jeroboam fled into Egypt until Solomon's death.
God's promise to Jeroboam was plain. The kingdom was his unconditionally. "Thou shalt reign according to all that thy soul desireth, and shalt be king over Israel." The perpetuation of the kingdom, on the other hand, was conditional upon his obedience. "If thou wilt hearken...walk in My ways, and do that is right in My sight...I will be with thee, and build thee a sure house." The kingdom was his. He had only to believe the promise of God for that. Yet, like Jacob, he felt that he needed to work out his own schemes to obtain the fulfilment of the promise. Are we not ourselves sometimes guilty of the same mistake? So often we are not content with God's clear promise, but try by our own efforts to obtain our object, sometimes at the cost of obedience to God's Word.
When the time came for Jeroboam to ascend the throne, God was already working. At the same time that he heard of King Solomon's death, messengers reached him, begging him to return, so that when Rehoboam foolishly followed the advice of his young friends, and spoke roughly to the representatives of the people, they immediately turned to Jeroboam, and made him king over the northern kingdom. Rehoboam set out with the intention of restoring the rebellious kingdom by military force, but Shemaiah, the man of God, pointed out that God's hand was in this matter, and Rehoboam wisely refrained from fighting against God.
Now we see
The Unbelief of Jeroboam
It would have been well for Jeroboam if he, too, had listened to God's messengers. The God of Israel could have blessed him and his descendants (one of whom, his son Abijah seems to have shown great promise), and he would never have deserved that terrible epithet, the man "that made Israel to sin." But the promises of God were not enough for this man. He reasoned on a purely human level.
In 1 Kings 12: 26 we read: "Jeroboam said in his heart, Now shall the kingdom return to the house of David: if this people go up to do sacrifice in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem...they shall kill me, and go again to Rehoboam." The kingdom of Judah was privileged to have the temple of God in its midst. The northern kingdom had no temple. What should Jeroboam have done? It is easy for us to judge him, but let us remember that even David, the anointed of God, was once in such a low spiritual condition that he lost sight of God's promises, and said in his heart: "I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul," and went down to join the Philistines, his people's enemies, and barely escaped from the shameful position of fighting with them against Saul's army.
There is no doubt that if Jeroboam had truly sought the mind of God about his problem, he would have been reassured, since, whatever happened, the kingdom was his, and, if he had set an example to his people by regularly going to Jerusalem to worship, the two kingdoms could perhaps have lived together in peace and godliness for many years. There were prophets in the northern kingdom, as we see in the next chapter, but it appears as though the ungodly example set by the king caused even the faithful to shrink from a public acknowledgment of trust in the living God.
Instead, however, of asking God, we read that Jeroboam "took counsel," evidently of men, and the result was the setting up of the two golden calves, one at Dan, in the far north, and the other, as a challenge to the God of Jacob, at Beth-el, of which place Jacob had declared, centuries before: "This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." It is remarkable that he repeated the sin of Aaron and the people of Israel at the foot of Sinai, where God had already pronounced the solemn words: "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me." Jeroboam even repeated the words of Aaron: "Behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt." Had he already forgotten the words of Ahijah, when he promised him the kingdom? This very kingdom had been taken away from Solomon's descendants because the people had forsaken God, and had turned to the abominations of the surrounding nations. Now Jeroboam was committing the same sin. It has been argued that Jeroboam was really worshipping Jehovah, but with the aid of visible images. This is urged to-day to excuse blatant idolatry. The Bible does not support this. It says plainly: "This thing became a sin." God does not require an image to enable men to worship Him. In fact, the very idea is condemned throughout Scripture.
God had said Ye shall worship in the place that I shall choose. Dan and Beth-el were Jeroboam's choice. To-day many seek to serve God and "worship" Him in the manner and the place that suits them, but the New Testament teaches us that the place must be of God's choosing, the place where Christ is in the midst, and where the Holy Spirit is free to lead in true worship. Then again, God had chosen Aaron and his sons to serve him as priests. Jeroboam had no access to God's priests, so he "made priests of the lowest of the people, which were not of the sons of Levi." Christendom has its counterpart, setting up a "priestly class," often composed of unconverted men (or women!), setting aside the Divine principle of the priesthood of all believers.
Not content with these alterations, Jeroboam even found fault with the feasts of Jehovah, although he had made some brief reference to the deliverance out of Egypt, upon which, to some extent, these feasts were based. How could he hold a Passover, if he had turned away from the God Who redeemed His people by blood, and delivered them by His power? He made his own feast (perhaps on his birthday, or the anniversary of his accession). The Divine record assures that it was "in the month which he had devised of his own heart." We may see a parallel to this in the "Saints' Days" and "Church Festivals" recognised in Christendom, while the regular coming together for prayer, edification and remembrance of the Lord's death is often sadly missing.
We know the result of Jeroboam's sad beginning. Of the 19 kings that sat on the throne of the northern kingdom it does not seem that one sought after God. Many were murdered by usurpers, who, in turn, were overthrown by others, until finally "the Lord was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of his sight" (2 Kings 17: 18), delivering them into the hands of the Assyrians.
These things were written for our learning. Our God and Father seeks worshippers, but those that worship in spirit and in truth. May it be true of us, as Paul writes to the Philippians: "For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh" (Philippians 3: 3).