Bible Commentary: 1 Kings 12:25-33 and Related

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1 Kings 12:25-33 and Related

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Jeroboam's Idolatry

Jeroboam set about securing his kingdom and decided to pursue a diabolical and disastrous strategy. Thinking that the people of Israel might change their minds and be persuaded to return to Rehoboam if they continued assembling for worship at Jerusalem during the feasts, Jeroboam decided the most practical and expedient course of action would be to change the religion in northern Israel and thereby keep the people away from Solomon's temple.

Accordingly, he created two golden calves and placed one in Dan and one in Bethel, meaning House of God. These locations were strategic. Dan was Israel's northernmost city, and thus would attract worshipers from those in the far north. Bethel was in Ephraim, near the southern border of Jeroboam's kingdom and not far from Jerusalem. Being along the main route to Jerusalem, Jeroboam's new worship center would attract those formerly accustomed to going to Jerusalem to worship. Why did Jeroboam choose calves as the primary symbols of his new religion? No doubt this was influenced by the time he had spent in Egypt—where bull worship had long been a prominent feature of Egyptian religion. Variations of this worship, which also incorporated bulls and calves, were also popular in the nations around Israel and Judah.

Jeroboam was a practitioner of syncretism—blending of traditions, beliefs and elements from different religions with God's true religion, which God strictly forbids (Deuteronomy 12:29-31 Deuteronomy 12:29-31 [29] When the LORD your God shall cut off the nations from before you, where you go to possess them, and you succeed them, and dwell in their land; [30] Take heed to yourself that you be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before you; and that you inquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise. [31] You shall not do so to the LORD your God: for every abomination to the LORD, which he hates, have they done to their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods.
American King James Version×
). Some elements, such as priests, worship centers and religious festivals, to some degree imitated the worship system God had established. Yet Jeroboam added his own twists for his own ends and purposes. He palmed off his plans under the guise of making worship easier for Israel. Why have all Israel go to Jerusalem in the far south? Why not make the worship of God easier and establish two worship sites in Israel, making the trip far less cumbersome?

The New King James Version records Jeroboam's proclamation as, "Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!" (1 Kings 12:28 1 Kings 12:28Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said to them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold your gods, O Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
American King James Version×
). But it could also be translated, "Here is your God, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt," as the Hebrew Elohim can be translated as either "God" or "gods" and the verb in this case fits both plural and singular usage. Notice that in the account where Aaron was prodded into making the golden calf at Mount Sinai, the older King James translates Exodus 32:4 Exodus 32:4And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a engraving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be your gods, O Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
American King James Version×
as "These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt." Yet the New King James renders this as "This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!" The NKJV translated it this way because there was only one calf at Sinai. So does the existence of two calves in 1 Kings 12 denote two gods? Not necessarily—for in paganism multiple images can represent the same deity. And that is most likely what Jeroboam meant. Just as the golden calf at Mount Sinai was made to represent "the LORD" (Exodus 32:4-5 Exodus 32:4-5 [4] And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a engraving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be your gods, O Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt. [5] And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, To morrow is a feast to the LORD.
American King James Version×
), so the two golden calves of Jeroboam were both made to represent the same God—again, the true God. Yet God saw the worship introduced by Jeroboam as worshiping demons (2 Chronicles 11:15 2 Chronicles 11:15And he ordained him priests for the high places, and for the devils, and for the calves which he had made.
American King James Version×
; compare 1 Corinthians 10:20 1 Corinthians 10:20But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that you should have fellowship with devils.
American King James Version×
).

Notice some of Jeroboam's other changes. He rejected the Levitical priesthood, replacing it with non-Levites who would attend to and administer the new religion (1 Kings 12:31 1 Kings 12:31And he made an house of high places, and made priests of the lowest of the people, which were not of the sons of Levi.
American King James Version×
). He "made priests of the lowest of people" (Green's Literal Translation), those who were willing to make any religious compromise necessary. As a result, we find the added detail in 2 Chronicles 11 of the migration of faithful Levites from Israel to Judah. The stated reason given is their loss of position (verse 14). Nevertheless, the fact that they were thoroughly taught, trained and practiced in the law of God was surely a contributing factor to their devotion to remain true to God's worship system and support the Davidic ruler, Rehoboam.

Jeroboam's new religion, it should be pointed out, was not really all that new. He still worshiped God in name, but with his own changes. Idolatry was sanctioned, acceptable places for worship were changed and a new priesthood—one personally loyal to Jeroboam—was inaugurated. Jeroboam did not rush wholesale into apostasy, the worship of a foreign god. Instead he merely "made things a little easier" for Israel to "worship the God of Abraham." Such gradual change is typically the pattern of apostasy—and we must always be on guard against it. This is not to say that we should never change or grow in understanding as God makes biblical truth clearer to us. We absolutely must. But we must be extremely careful to "prove all things" according to God's Word and "hold fast" what we recognize to be His clearly revealed truth and will (1 Thessalonians 5:21 1 Thessalonians 5:21Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
American King James Version×
, KJV).

The Bible makes it clear that Jeroboam bears heavy accountability for deliberately initiating a counterfeit religion and setting such an evil precedent for succeeding kings of Israel. Jeroboam remains infamous long after his death, Scripture repeatedly branding him as one who "made Israel sin" (2 Kings 10:31 2 Kings 10:31But Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of the LORD God of Israel with all his heart: for he departed not from the sins of Jeroboam, which made Israel to sin.
American King James Version×
; 2 Kings 13:6 2 Kings 13:6Nevertheless they departed not from the sins of the house of Jeroboam, who made Israel sin, but walked therein: and there remained the grove also in Samaria.)
American King James Version×
; 2 Kings 14:24 2 Kings 14:24And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD: he departed not from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.
American King James Version×
; 2 Kings 15:9 2 Kings 15:9And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, as his fathers had done: he departed not from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.
American King James Version×
, 2 Kings 15:18 2 Kings 15:18And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD: he departed not all his days from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.
American King James Version×
, 2 Kings 15:24 2 Kings 15:24And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD: he departed not from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.
American King James Version×
). The Israelite kings Baasha, Zimri, Omri, Ahab and Ahaziah are all said to have "walked in the way of Jeroboam" (1 Kings 15:33-34 1 Kings 15:33-34 [33] In the third year of Asa king of Judah began Baasha the son of Ahijah to reign over all Israel in Tirzah, twenty and four years. [34] And he did evil in the sight of the LORD, and walked in the way of Jeroboam, and in his sin with which he made Israel to sin.
American King James Version×
; 1 Kings 16:19 1 Kings 16:19For his sins which he sinned in doing evil in the sight of the LORD, in walking in the way of Jeroboam, and in his sin which he did, to make Israel to sin.
American King James Version×
, 1 Kings 16:26 1 Kings 16:26For he walked in all the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and in his sin with which he made Israel to sin, to provoke the LORD God of Israel to anger with their vanities.
American King James Version×
, 1 Kings 16:31 1 Kings 16:31And it came to pass, as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took to wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Zidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshipped him.
American King James Version×
; 1 Kings 22:52 1 Kings 22:52And he did evil in the sight of the LORD, and walked in the way of his father, and in the way of his mother, and in the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin:
American King James Version×
). Jehoram "persisted in the sins of Jeroboam" (2 Kings 3:3 2 Kings 3:3Nevertheless he joined to the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which made Israel to sin; he departed not therefrom.
American King James Version×
). Jehu, Jehoash, Jeroboam II and Zechariah "did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam" (2 Kings 10:29 2 Kings 10:29However, from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, Jehu departed not from after them, to wit, the golden calves that were in Bethel, and that were in Dan.
American King James Version×
; 2 Kings 13:11 2 Kings 13:11And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD; he departed not from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel sin: but he walked therein.
American King James Version×
; 2 Kings 14:23-24 2 Kings 14:23-24 [23] In the fifteenth year of Amaziah the son of Joash king of Judah Jeroboam the son of Joash king of Israel began to reign in Samaria, and reigned forty and one years. [24] And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD: he departed not from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.
American King James Version×
; 15;8-9, 18). Jehoahaz "followed the sins of Jeroboam" (2 Kings 13:2 2 Kings 13:2And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, and followed the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which made Israel to sin; he departed not therefrom.
American King James Version×
). And note this stinging indictment: "Jeroboam drove Israel from following the Lord, and made them commit a great sin" (2 Kings 17:21 2 Kings 17:21For he rent Israel from the house of David; and they made Jeroboam the son of Nebat king: and Jeroboam drove Israel from following the LORD, and made them sin a great sin.
American King James Version×
).


Supplementary Material: "Jeroboam--King of the Northern Ten Tribes”, Good News Magazine, July--August 1998, pp. 23-27.

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