Profiles of Faith: Jeroboam - King of the Northern Ten Tribes

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Jeroboam - King of the Northern Ten Tribes

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Jeroboam, an effective administrator under King Solomon, pleaded Israel’s cause before Solomon’s son and successor, Rehoboam: “Your father made our yoke heavy; now therefore, lighten the burdensome service of your father, and his heavy yoke which he put on us, and we will serve you” (1 Kings 12:4 1 Kings 12:4Your father made our yoke grievous: now therefore make you the grievous service of your father, and his heavy yoke which he put on us, lighter, and we will serve you.
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Jeroboam, chosen spokesman for most of the tribes of Israel, addressed Rehoboam at Shechem, not Jerusalem. That their meeting was in this northern city added to Rehoboam’s troubles, for he knew the northern tribes were chafing at the heavy-handed tax and labor policies administered from Jerusalem.

Jeroboam was talented, ambitious, brave and industrious in his responsibilities. Though he showed himself diligent in his early duties, his weaknesses eventually grew apparent.

Under Solomon’s long and peaceful rule, Israel had lived in the lap of luxury, attributable at least in part to a heavy tax burden that allowed Israel to militarily and economically dominate the area and control its profitable trade routes. But this tax burden eventually generated considerable resentment among the people.

Rehoboam wanted to keep his father’s affluent kingdom intact. But Jeroboam had different ideas: He planned to rule over a new kingdom to be formed from 10 of the 12 tribes of Israel, and Rehoboam unwittingly played right into his hands.

King Rehoboam needed a little time to consider his position and determine his response: “Depart for three days, then come back to me” (1 Kings 12:5 1 Kings 12:5And he said to them, Depart yet for three days, then come again to me. And the people departed.
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In the privacy of his court, Rehoboam turned to the elders who had counseled his father and asked: “How do you advise me to answer these people?”

The elders answered wisely: “If you will be a servant to these people today, and serve them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants forever” (1 Kings 12:6-7 1 Kings 12:6-7 6 And king Rehoboam consulted with the old men, that stood before Solomon his father while he yet lived, and said, How do you advise that I may answer this people? 7 And they spoke to him, saying, If you will be a servant to this people this day, and will serve them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants for ever.
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This is wise advice in any age, particularly so at such a critical time.

Although Rehoboam was the son of the wisest of men, he didn’t inherit his father’s wisdom: “But he rejected the advice which the elders had given him, and consulted the young men who had grown up with him, who stood before him. And he said to them, ‘What advice do you give? …’ Then the young men who had grown up with him spoke to him, saying, ‘Thus you should speak to this people who have spoken to you, saying, “Your father made our yoke heavy, but you make it lighter on us” … “[But, he replied] whereas my father laid a heavy yoke on you, I will add to your yoke; my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scourges!’ ” (1 Kings 12:8-11 1 Kings 12:8-11 8 But he forsook the counsel of the old men, which they had given him, and consulted with the young men that were grown up with him, and which stood before him: 9 And he said to them, What counsel give you that we may answer this people, who have spoken to me, saying, Make the yoke which your father did put on us lighter? 10 And the young men that were grown up with him spoke to him, saying, Thus shall you speak to this people that spoke to you, saying, Your father made our yoke heavy, but make you it lighter to us; thus shall you say to them, My little finger shall be thicker than my father’s loins. 11 And now whereas my father did lade you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke: my father has chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.
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The third day Jeroboam and other representatives returned to Rehoboam. “Then the king answered the people roughly, and rejected the advice which the elders had given him; and he spoke to them according to the advice of the young men …” (1 Kings 12:13-14 1 Kings 12:13-14 13 And the king answered the people roughly, and forsook the old men’s counsel that they gave him; 14 And spoke to them after the counsel of the young men, saying, My father made your yoke heavy, and I will add to your yoke: my father also chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.
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Rehoboam’s abrasive words quickly drove a wedge among the 12 tribes: “Now when all Israel saw that the king did not listen to them, the people answered the king, saying: ‘What share have we in David [Rehoboam’s grandfather]? … To your tents, O Israel! Now, see to your own house, O David!’ So Israel departed to their tents” (1 Kings 12:16 1 Kings 12:16So when all Israel saw that the king listened not to them, the people answered the king, saying, What portion have we in David? neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: to your tents, O Israel: now see to your own house, David. So Israel departed to their tents.
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The northern 10 tribes proclaimed Jeroboam king over their newly formed kingdom. Rehoboam was left with only two tribes—Judah and Benjamin—along with a good portion of the tribe of Levi, which was interspersed among all the other tribes of Israel. Thus Israel was split into two kingdoms: Israel in the north, ruled by Jeroboam, and Judah in the south, ruled by Rehoboam from Jerusalem.

Jeroboam’s Background

Jeroboam had significantly gained prominence during King Solomon’s reign. “The man Jeroboam was a mighty man of valor; and Solomon, seeing that the young man was industrious, made him the officer over all the labor force of the house of Joseph” (1 Kings 11:28 1 Kings 11:28And the man Jeroboam was a mighty man of valor: and Solomon seeing the young man that he was industrious, he made him ruler over all the charge of the house of Joseph.
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First-century Jewish historian Josephus adds further details: “… When Solomon saw that he was of an active and bold disposition, he made him the curator of the walls which he built round about Jerusalem; and he took such care of those works, and the king approved of his behaviour, and gave him, as a reward for the same, the charge of the tribe of Joseph” ( Antiquities of the Jews, book VIII, chapter vii, section 7).

However, relations between Solomon and Jeroboam would not remain so respectful and peaceable.

As Solomon grew older he fell increasingly into idolatrous worship. He so disgraced himself through his worship of idols that God rebuked him: “I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to your servant [Jeroboam]” (1 Kings 11:11 1 Kings 11:11Why the LORD said to Solomon, For as much as this is done of you, and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely rend the kingdom from you, and will give it to your servant.
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Jeroboam’s ascendancy wasn’t the product of his own righteousness but came about, rather ironically, by Solomon’s idolatry.

A Message from God

Privately the prophet Ahijah revealed to Jeroboam God’s intention to make him the ruler of a new kingdom: “… When Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem … the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite met him on the way; and he had clothed himself with a new garment, and the two were alone in the field. Then Ahijah took hold of the new garment that was on him, and tore it into twelve pieces.

“And he said to Jeroboam, ‘Take for yourself ten pieces, for thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: “Behold, I will tear the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon and will give ten tribes to you … because they have forsaken Me, and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Milcom the god of the people of Ammon, and have not walked in My ways to do what is right in My eyes and keep My statutes and My judgments, as did his father David.” ’ ” (1 Kings 11:29-33 1 Kings 11:29-33 29 And it came to pass at that time when Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem, that the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him in the way; and he had clad himself with a new garment; and they two were alone in the field: 30 And Ahijah caught the new garment that was on him, and rent it in twelve pieces: 31 And he said to Jeroboam, Take you ten pieces: for thus said the LORD, the God of Israel, Behold, I will rend the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon, and will give ten tribes to you: 32 (But he shall have one tribe for my servant David’s sake, and for Jerusalem’s sake, the city which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel:) 33 Because that they have forsaken me, and have worshipped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Milcom the god of the children of Ammon, and have not walked in my ways, to do that which is right in my eyes, and to keep my statutes and my judgments, as did David his father.
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Here we see the reason for the kingdom of Israel splitting into two nations: idolatrous worship, or the rejection of the manner of worship God had prescribed in His Word.

Ahijah continued God’s message: “However I will not take the whole kingdom out of his hand, because I have made him ruler all the days of his life for the sake of My servant David, whom I chose because he kept My commandments and My statutes. But I will take the kingdom out of his son’s hand and give it to you—ten tribes … So I will take you, and you shall reign over all your heart desires, and you shall be king over Israel” ’ ” (1 Kings 11:34-37 1 Kings 11:34-37 34 However, I will not take the whole kingdom out of his hand: but I will make him prince all the days of his life for David my servant’s sake, whom I chose, because he kept my commandments and my statutes: 35 But I will take the kingdom out of his son’s hand, and will give it to you, even ten tribes. 36 And to his son will I give one tribe, that David my servant may have a light always before me in Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen me to put my name there. 37 And I will take you, and you shall reign according to all that your soul desires, and shall be king over Israel.
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Josephus complements the biblical account: “Being a young man of warm temper, and ambitious of greatness, he could not be quiet.” Jeroboam decided to seek control of the northern tribes immediately, and “he endeavored to persuade the people to forsake Solomon, to make a disturbance, and to bring the government over to himself” ( Antiquities of the Jews, book VIII, chapter vii, section 8). Solomon, who learned of Jeroboam’s subversive design, responded by trying to kill him. But Jeroboam fled to Egypt, where he remained until the king died (1 Kings 11:40 1 Kings 11:40Solomon sought therefore to kill Jeroboam. And Jeroboam arose, and fled into Egypt, to Shishak king of Egypt, and was in Egypt until the death of Solomon.
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Confrontation with Rehoboam

After Solomon’s death and Rehoboam’s ascension of the throne, Jeroboam’s countrymen summoned him from Egypt. Shortly thereafter he and Rehoboam had the confrontation.

After the northern 10 tribes announced their intention to reject the House of David, Rehoboam became desperate: “… He assembled all the house of Judah with the tribe of Benjamin, one hundred and eighty thousand chosen men who were warriors, to fight against the house of Israel, that he might restore the kingdom to Rehoboam the son of Solomon.

“But the word of God came to Shemaiah the man of God, saying, ‘Speak to Rehoboam the son of Solomon, king of Judah, to all the house of Judah and Benjamin, and to the rest of the people, saying, “Thus says the Lord: ‘You shall not go up nor fight against your brethren the children of Israel. Let every man return to his house, for this thing is from Me.’…’ Therefore they obeyed the word of the Lord, and turned back, according to the word of the Lord” (1 Kings 12:22-24 1 Kings 12:22-24 22 But the word of God came to Shemaiah the man of God, saying, 23 Speak to Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, king of Judah, and to all the house of Judah and Benjamin, and to the remnant of the people, saying, 24 Thus said the LORD, You shall not go up, nor fight against your brothers the children of Israel: return every man to his house; for this thing is from me. They listened therefore to the word of the LORD, and returned to depart, according to the word of the LORD.
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Jeroboam: The Good and the Bad

Jeroboam had a golden opportunity to succeed, even during a time of great division. The Bible says little of his early life, although his parents are named. His father, Nebat was deceased, for Scripture identifies his mother, Zeruah, as a widow (1 Kings 11:26 1 Kings 11:26And Jeroboam the son of Nebat, an Ephrathite of Zereda, Solomon’s servant, whose mother’s name was Zeruah, a widow woman, even he lifted up his hand against the king.
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Jeroboam was from the tribe of Ephraim (1 Kings 11:26 1 Kings 11:26And Jeroboam the son of Nebat, an Ephrathite of Zereda, Solomon’s servant, whose mother’s name was Zeruah, a widow woman, even he lifted up his hand against the king.
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), one of the most powerful tribes among the 12. He was talented, ambitious, brave and industrious in his responsibilities. Though Jeroboam showed himself diligent in his early duties, his weaknesses eventually grew apparent.

In one of his first acts, Jeroboam chose Shechem—between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim in northern Israel—as his new capital and set about rebuilding and fortifying it (1 Kings 12:25 1 Kings 12:25Then Jeroboam built Shechem in mount Ephraim, and dwelled therein; and went out from there, and built Penuel.
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Jeroboam was also apprehensive about his people’s religious life, which centered around the temple and priesthood in Jerusalem. He devised a cunning plan, creating two golden calves for the people to worship, and strategically placed them at the northern and southern ends of the country (1 Kings 12:28-29 1 Kings 12:28-29 28 Whereupon 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. 29 And he set the one in Bethel, and the other put he in Dan.
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). The one in the south he placed at Bethel, on the main road to Jerusalem. Those among the northern tribes who intended to travel to Jerusalem for God’s feasts (Leviticus 23) then could be easily diverted to worship at Bethel instead.

Jeroboam also established idolatrous worship on high places and appointed his own priests from other than the tribe of Levi (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.
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). Perhaps his greatest single change was to tamper with God’s annual Holy Days. Instead of observing the Feast of Tabernacles in the seventh month as God had commanded, Jeroboam instituted an alternate feast in the eighth month, “in the month which he had devised in his own heart” (1 Kings 12:33 1 Kings 12:33So he offered on the altar which he had made in Bethel the fifteenth day of the eighth month, even in the month which he had devised of his own heart; and ordained a feast to the children of Israel: and he offered on the altar, and burnt incense.
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The king’s terrible spiritual blunders were to bring untold suffering on the House of Israel and Israel’s descendants. Under Jeroboam’s leadership the northern tribes soon drifted away from the pattern of religious worship God had commanded. It was bad enough before the national schism (1 Kings 11:30-33 1 Kings 11:30-33 30 And Ahijah caught the new garment that was on him, and rent it in twelve pieces: 31 And he said to Jeroboam, Take you ten pieces: for thus said the LORD, the God of Israel, Behold, I will rend the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon, and will give ten tribes to you: 32 (But he shall have one tribe for my servant David’s sake, and for Jerusalem’s sake, the city which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel:) 33 Because that they have forsaken me, and have worshipped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Milcom the god of the children of Ammon, and have not walked in my ways, to do that which is right in my eyes, and to keep my statutes and my judgments, as did David his father.
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), but the degeneration only worsened after the nation separated. In the south religious worship and morality similarly suffered a sharp decline (1 Kings 14:22-24 1 Kings 14:22-24 22 And Judah did evil in the sight of the LORD, and they provoked him to jealousy with their sins which they had committed, above all that their fathers had done. 23 For they also built them high places, and images, and groves, on every high hill, and under every green tree. 24 And there were also sodomites in the land: and they did according to all the abominations of the nations which the LORD cast out before the children of Israel.
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Degeneracy and Destruction

Jeroboam’s counterfeit religion, with its own priesthood, gods and religious festivals and observances, was destined to play a major role in Israel’s downfall.

Through Ahijah God had encouraged Jeroboam to rule properly: “… You shall reign over all your heart desires, and you shall be king over Israel. Then it shall be, if you heed all that I command you, walk in My ways, and do what is right in My sight, to keep My statutes and My commandments, as My servant David did, then I will be with you and build for you an enduring house, as I built for David, and will give Israel to you” (1 Kings 11:37-38 1 Kings 11:37-38 37 And I will take you, and you shall reign according to all that your soul desires, and shall be king over Israel. 38 And it shall be, if you will listen to all that I command you, and will walk in my ways, and do that is right in my sight, to keep my statutes and my commandments, as David my servant did; that I will be with you, and build you a sure house, as I built for David, and will give Israel to you.
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But Jeroboam failed to exploit his remarkable opportunity. Rather, he instituted an idolatrous form of worship as the official religion of the new kingdom. In spite of God’s warnings, Jeroboam refused to turn from his idolatrous ways.

God pronounced a sobering final edict against Jeroboam: “Because I exalted you from among the people, and made you ruler over My people Israel, and tore the kingdom away from the house of David, and gave it to you; and yet you have not been as My servant David, who kept My commandments and who followed Me with all his heart, to do only what was right in My eyes; but you have done more evil than all who were before you, for you have gone and made for yourself other gods and molded images to provoke Me to anger, and have cast Me behind your back—therefore behold! I will bring disaster on the house of Jeroboam …” (1 Kings 14:7-10 1 Kings 14:7-10 7 Go, tell Jeroboam, Thus said the LORD God of Israel, For as much as I exalted you from among the people, and made you prince over my people Israel, 8 And rent the kingdom away from the house of David, and gave it you: and yet you have not been as my servant David, who kept my commandments, and who followed me with all his heart, to do that only which was right in my eyes; 9 But have done evil above all that were before you: for you have gone and made you other gods, and molten images, to provoke me to anger, and have cast me behind your back: 10 Therefore, behold, I will bring evil on the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam him that urinates against the wall, and him that is shut up and left in Israel, and will take away the remnant of the house of Jeroboam, as a man takes away dung, till it be all gone.
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A Legacy of Tragedy

Summarizing Jeroboam’s and his successors’ rule, the Bible says: “Then Jeroboam drove Israel from following the Lord, and made them commit a great sin. For the children of Israel walked in all the sins of Jeroboam which he did; they did not depart from them, until the Lord removed Israel out of His sight, as He had said by all His servants the prophets. So Israel was carried away from their own land to Assyria, as it is to this day” (2 Kings 17:21-23 2 Kings 17:21-23 21 For 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. 22 For the children of Israel walked in all the sins of Jeroboam which he did; they departed not from them; 23 Until the LORD removed Israel out of his sight, as he had said by all his servants the prophets. So was Israel carried away out of their own land to Assyria to this day.
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So Jeroboam’s sins had far-reaching consequences. They led to the removal of God’s blessings on the 10-tribed nation because not one of Israel’s kings who followed Jeroboam initiated the necessary reforms that would have led the nation back to God’s way of worship. Instead, all continued in his sins (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.
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; 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.
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; 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.
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; etc.). God does not give us a choice on how we are to worship Him (Deuteronomy 12:32 Deuteronomy 12:32What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: you shall not add thereto, nor diminish from it.
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Israel was instructed to worship the Eternal God, not two golden calves. God’s people were told that the Feast of Tabernacles was to be observed in the seventh month of the year, not the eighth month. Not one of Israel’s kings restored the true worship of God. The result was a horrific national captivity for all 10 tribes.

Many in the mainstream Christian world have not learned this vital lesson from the life of King Jeroboam. The practices he set in motion—substituting his own days, methods and kinds of worship for those God commanded—have continued down to this day.

God tells us in His Word when and on which days we are to worship. He does not want us to invent our own special festivals or borrow them from the pagan practices of yesteryear.

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