By Joel Ryan, Crosswalk.com
Jeroboam was the first king of Northern Israel after the nation split into two kingdoms following the death of Solomon. Though God promised to give Jeroboam the ten northern tribes of Israel as a result of Solomon’s disobedience and Israel’s idolatry, Jeroboam failed to honor God and keep false worship out of Israel, setting a precent future kings in the north would follow.
Human beings are fascinated by stories of kings and conquest, royalty, elections, and political turmoil. History is full of unpleasant tales involving those in power, those who crave power, and those who will do anything to keep power. The history of Israel’s kings is no exception.
Foreign wars, national turmoil, political coups, backstabbing, betrayal … 1&2 Kings chronicles this unsettling and often violent three hundred and fifty years of Israel’s history.
And yet, long before God’s people were led into exile at the hands of Babylon in 586 B.C., Israel as a nation had already begun to fracture and deteriorate from within, beginning with the nation being divided into two kingdoms in 931 B.C.
Though Solomon’s son Rehoboam would succeed his father on the throne, Solomon’s own disobedience and Rehoboam’s imprudence would prove calamitous for the nation as a whole. As a result, God would split Israel into two kingdoms, raising up a new king to lead the northern tribes as prophesied. His name was Jeroboam.
Who Was Jeroboam in the Bible?
Jeroboam, of the tribe of Ephraim, was the first king of Northern Israel following the ten northern tribes’ revolt against Rehoboam, the son of Solomon. Disillusioned by Rehoboam’s ineptitude and insensitivity, the northern tribes broke from the house of David and declared Jeroboam their king, effectively splitting Israel into two nations, Israel (the Northern Kingdom) and Judah (the Southern Kingdom).
Prior to becoming the king of the north, Jeroboam was a servant of King Solomon, a skilled worker, and a “valiant warrior.” As a labor secretary of sorts, Jeroboam would have had an ear to the ground and been well-acquainted with and even sympathetic to the growing discontent amongst Israel’s workforce.
Make no mistake, the glory of Solomon’s kingdom was unprecedented in its splendor. His reign was an era unmatched in peace and prosperity, highlighted by the completion of the Temple in Jerusalem. However, Solomon had achieved prosperity through forced labor and high taxes. Toward the end of his life, discontent was already beginning to brew amongst the people. Israel was a powder keg ready to explode… or be exploited.
Solomon “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did not follow the Lord fully, as David his father had done,” introducing false worship into the heart of Israel (1 Kings 11:6). For this reason, God declared that He would “tear the kingdom from Solomon and give it to his servants” (1 Kings 11:11). The servant prophesied would be Jeroboam.
As Jeroboam rebelled against Solomon, the prophet Ahijah appeared to Jeroboam with a unique prophecy. The Bible tells us that Ahijah took his cloak and tore it into twelve pieces. “Take for yourself ten pieces,” he told Jeroboam, “for thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Behold, I will tear the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon and give you ten tribes.” (1 Kings 11:31) The house of David would retain a portion of the kingdom, including Jerusalem, as God had promised to David (1 Kings 11:32).
Hearing that God had anointed Jeroboam, Solomon moved to kill the would-be usurper. Jeroboam, however, escaped and fled to Egypt, where he was given political asylum by Shisak I, king of Egypt. It wasn’t until Solomon’s death that Jeroboam dared to return to Israel (1 Kings 11:40).
After Solomon’s death, his son Rehoboam became king. At this time, Jeroboam returned to Israel and appeared before Rehoboam on behalf of the people, asking the new king to alleviate some of the high taxes and heavy labor placed upon them during his father’s reign (1 Kings 12:1-5). Rather than listen to the cries of his people and heed the wisdom of his father’s advisors, Rehoboam instead turned to the council of his inexperienced companions. He decided to flex his political muscles, declaring, “whereas my father loaded you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.” (1 Kings 12:14)
Here, the word of the Lord concerning Jeroboam came to fruition. For when the people of Israel saw that King Rehoboam had no intention of listening to their concerns and wasn’t going to lead with the wisdom of his father, they rejected the house of David and made Jeroboam their king instead (1 Kings 12:20). The nation was split into two kingdoms under Jeroboam and Rehoboam’s leadership.
With Jeroboam over the north, God promised that Jeroboam’s line would continue to rule under one condition: “if you listen to all that I command you and walk in My ways, and do what is right in My sight by observing My commandments, as My servant David did, then I will be with you and build you an enduring house as I built for David, and I will give Israel to you.” (1 Kings 11:38)
Regrettably, obedience to the King of Kings and trust in God’s promises would prove too difficult for Jeroboam.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Tomertu
What Did King Jeroboam Do in the Bible?
Once king, Jeroboam feared that the northern tribes might grow nostalgic and eventually seek to return to the house of David. Knowing that the Temple of Solomon was located in Jerusalem in the south, Jeroboam worried that frequent trips to Jerusalem might foster this desire even further (1 Kings 12:26-27).
Therefore, the Bible tells us that Jeroboam, “made two golden calves, and he said to them, ‘it is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the lands of Egypt.’” (1 Kings 12:28)
Jeroboam placed one calf in Bethel, the other in Dan, destroying any sense of unified worship, as was God’s intention when He established the Temple in Jerusalem as the center of worship for the nation.
From then on, Jeroboam’s alternate sites of worship would be referred to as the “high places”, which no subsequent king had the spiritual sense to eliminate, to their peril.
According to Albert Baylis in From Creation to the Cross, “Jeroboam believed in good politics more than God’s promise.” Furthermore, his attempt to save his kingdom became the very thing that lost it (210).
Because of Jeroboam’s blatant rejection of the Lord, the prophet Ahijah delivered God’s judgment, “I am bringing calamity on the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam every male person, both bond and free in Israel, and I will make a clean sweep of the house of Jeroboam, as one sweeps away dung until it is all gone.” (1 Kings 14:10)
Jeroboam would rule over Israel for twenty-two years and be succeeded by his son Nadab. Nadab, however, would do evil in the eyes of the Lord, leading Israel in the sins of his father. In just his second year as king, Baasha of the tribe of Issachar assassinated King Nadab and took the throne for himself (1 Kings 15:27). He then proceeded to kill anyone left of the house of Jeroboam, fulfilling what the prophet had spoken over Jeroboam through the prophet Ahijah (1 Kings 15:29-30).
5 Important Things We Can Learn from Him
Though Jeroboam doesn’t gain the seal of divine approval as Northern Israel’s first king, a credential withheld from every northern king who followed, there are several things we can learn from his leadership and those like him.
1. Weak and Insecure Leaders Sow Division. It’s impossible to talk about Jeroboam’s rise without discussing Rehoboam’s imprudence and folly. In his early days as king, Rehoboam took council from foolish, inexperienced friends and failed to recognize the hurt and frustration of his own people, that, or he was simply too power-hungry to care. As a result, an opportunity to bring about national healing, instead sowed the seeds for a national divorce as Rehoboam chose to flex his political power and assert his will over the people rather than serve them. Likewise, Jeroboam furthered division by establishing the high places in Bethel and Dan, effectively segregating once unified worship into north and south.
Insecure leaders too focused on their power and influence often neglect the needs of the people they are called to lead, causing even more division.
2. Those Afraid to Lose Power Will Often Overreach to Try and Keep It. Both Rehoboam and Jeroboam showed signs of insecurity and weakness during their respective reigns. However, Jeroboam’s fear that he might lose power if the northern tribes returned to Jerusalem to worship led him to overstep and implement a bad policy to try and secure power that was never his to begin with. Those who believe that their crown and power are theirs, are more likely to overstep or fight tooth and nail to keep it. Those who recognize that all power and authority come from above, are more inclined to submit to God’s way of doing things, not their own agenda or desires.
3. Leaders Set the Example Others Will Follow. Perhaps Jeroboam’s greatest failure as king was his establishment of the high places of worship at Dan and Bethel. Idolatry in any form is sin and a violation of both the first and second commandments. Later kings would implement far worse forms of pagan worship than even Jeroboam. However, precedent had already been set. Jeroboam was not the spiritual leader Israel needed, and as the kings of Israel and Judah went, so went the nation.
4. Bad Leaders Reap What They Sow. Unfortunately, the cycle of the Bible’s own game of thrones saw various kings outdo each other on the wickedness scale. Those who seized power by the sword often died by the sword (Matthew 26:52); and those who use violence and treachery to gain power were often the victims of violence and treachery at the hands of those who crave power for themselves.
5. God is Sovereign Over ALL Kings and Earthly Rulers. Not every king, leader, or earthly ruler acts in accordance with God’s will. Most do not. However, as God is sovereign over all, He often moves in the hearts of kings and uses earthly rulers to do His work, fulfill His promises, and accomplish His plans. Sometimes those plans involve judgment; other times they include blessings (1 Peter 2:14). The apostle Paul would later write, “there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” (Romans 13:1)
Like all kings and rulers, Jeroboam was established by God, used by God, and removed by God just as quickly. Despite their efforts, all rulers are subject to the authority of the King of Kings and will answer to Him for their leadership.
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/webking
Joel Ryan is an LA-based children’s author, artist, professor, and speaker who is passionate about helping young writers unleash their creativity and discover the wonders of their Creator through storytelling and art. In his blog, Perspectives off the Page, he discusses all things story and the creative process.