Jeroboam I Breaks the Covenant
“Jeroboam said in his heart, ‘Now the kingdom will turn back to the house of David. If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the temple of the LORD at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn again to their lord, to Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah’” (vv. 26–27).- 1 Kings 12:25–33
Having looked at the reign of Rehoboam as described in 2 Chronicles 11–12, we turn to the reign of Jeroboam I, the first king of the northern kingdom of Israel. He was the prototypical wicked king in the north, for the author of Kings tells us that the exile of the northern kingdom came about because “the people of Israel walked in all the sins that Jeroboam did” (2 Kings 17:22). Today’s passage helps us see why Jeroboam I was such a bad king.
After fortifying the city of Shechem and settling it as the first capital of northern Israel (v. 25), Jeroboam addressed some political concerns by making a wrong turn in religious matters. Jeroboam feared that if the Israelites continued to make the pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem—as they were supposed to because that was the place God appointed for sacrifice—they would be tempted to put themselves back under the reign of Rehoboam, king of Judah (vv. 26–27; see Deut. 12:8–14; 2 Chron. 3:1). This concern might be foreign to us, since many of us live in countries where the church and the state occupy different spheres. However, this was not true in the ancient world, and especially not in ancient Israel. Church and state were essentially one and the same, for ancient Near Eastern kings depended on the religion of their nation for legitimacy and the religion of the nation relied on the support of the king. There was a natural association of church and state in the minds of the people, and they would indeed be tempted to return to the Judahite king if they were to worship at Jerusalem.
Jeroboam had a legitimate concern, but he went about addressing it in the wrong way. His solution was to create spaces for worship in the north so that the people would not have to go to Jerusalem to worship. He built “two calves of gold” and put them at Dan and Bethel, exhorting his people to worship them using language similar to that which Aaron used when the Israelites who left Egypt worshiped the golden calf in the wilderness (1 Kings 12:28–33; see Ex. 32). That did not end well for those Israelites, so we have a hint that things would not go well in the north from here on.
In all this, however, Jeroboam should not have feared the loss of his throne, for God had promised to establish his kingdom if he obeyed the Lord (1 Kings 11:26–40). Instead of trusting God’s promise, however, Jeroboam sought to maintain control his way, leading to the eventual loss of the northern kingdom (2 Kings 17:21–23).
Augustine of Hippo comments that “for all that, King Jeroboam of Israel, who had proof that God was true, when he got the kingdom God had promised, was so warped in mind as not to believe in him.” When we fail to believe the promises of God through His prophets as Jeroboam did, disaster will ensue. Today, we hear from God’s prophets in the Scriptures, and we must believe the promises therein in order to remain faithful to God.
Passages for Further Study
2 Kings 10:28–35
1 Corinthians 10:1–22