Jeroboam

(Whose people is many)

1 Kings 11:26-40; 12-14:20; 2 Chron. 10; 13:1-20.

Contemporary Prophets: Ahijah; The Man Of God Out Of Judah; “The Old Prophet Of Bethel.

“The memory of the just is blessed: but the name of the wicked shall rot.”—Proverbs 10:7

Jeroboam is an example of what is not at all uncommon in the East—a man exalted from a comparatively low station in private or public life to the highest, or one of the highest, positions in the land. We have scripture instances of this; as Joseph, Moses, etc.; and secular history mentions not a few. Let us see how Jeroboam’s elevation came about: “And 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. And this was the cause that he lifted up his hand against the king:Solomon built Millo [LXX, ‘the citadel’], and repaired the breaches of the city of David his father. And 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 [or, levy] of the house of Joseph” (i.e., Ephraim and Manasseh).

This naturally gave him a place of importance in the eyes of his fellow-countrymen, and prepared the way for what was soon to follow. They evidently resented this enforcement of labor. “Thy father,” they afterwards said to Rehoboam, “made our yoke grievous.” They spoke of it, too, as a “heavy” yoke (1 Kings 12:4). There is no certain evidence that this was really so. What was being done by their labor was for the glory and security of the kingdom, whose prosperity all were supposed to profit by. See 1 Kings 4:25. It is possible, however, that they were set to work on what served only for self-gratification; for when men depart from the right way, as Solomon did, they soon become oppressive. This would furnish some justification for their discontent, which Jeroboam, it is quite certain, would take no pains to allay. He probably had discernment sufficient to see to what final event circumstances were gradually shaping themselves, and had his own personal ambitions in mind, as shall be presently seen.

“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. And Ahijah caught the new garment that was on him, and rent it in twelve pieces: and he said to Jeroboam, Take thee ten pieces: for thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel, Behold, I will rend the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon, and will give ten tribes to thee: (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 Is- rael:) because that they have forsaken Me, and have worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Milcom the god of the children of Amnion, and have not walked in My ways, to do that which is right in Mine eyes, and to keep My statutes and My judgments, as did David his father. Howbeit 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: but I will take the kingdom out of his son’s hand, and will give it unto thee, even ten tribes. And unto his son will I give one tribe, that David My servant may have a light alway before Me in Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen Me to put My name there. And I will take thee, and thou shalt reign according to all that thy soul desireth, and shalt be king over Israel. And it shall be, if thou wilt harken unto all that I command thee, and wilt 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 thee, and build thee a sure house, as I built for David, and will give Israel unto thee. And I will for this afflict the seed of David, but not forever.” It was a solemn word, to which Jeroboam ought to have given earnest heed. Had he done so, he would never have come to his own melancholy end, nor would his dynasty have been so suddenly and violently terminated—ere the second generation had barely begun.

Whether intelligence of Ahijah’s prophecy reached the ears of Solomon, or the elated Jeroboam betrayed the secret by some overt act of rashness or insubordination, we are not told; but we read, “Solomon sought therefore to kill Jeroboam. And Jeroboam arose, and fled into Egypt, unto Shishak king of Egypt, and was in Egypt until the death of Solomon.” “He lifted up his hand against the king,” it says. Some abortive attempt on his part to raise rebellion, it may have been, to hasten the fulfilment of the prophecy concerning him. Comp. 2 Sam. 20:21. How unlike David, the man after God’s own heart, who, though even anointed and chosen by the prophet Samuel to supercede Saul, would not injure a hair of the condemned king’s head, or raise a finger to bring the kingdom to himself! David was a man of faith; and faith—that precious “gift of God”!—ever waits on God—waits for His time and way to fulfil His promises.

But Jeroboam knew nothing of faith. He had aspired secretly after power over his brethren (as the expression, “ according to all that thy soul desireth” clearly shows), and probably sought the accomplishment of Ahijah’s prophecy with pride’s feverish haste, for which he was compelled to seek an asylum in Egypt, under the protection of Shishak, who had but recently overthrown the late dynasty with which Solomon had unlawfully allied himself by marriage. Ahijah had distinctly said that Solomon should be “prince all the days of his life,” and it was only out of his son’s hand that the kingdom should be taken and transferred to Jeroboam. But, like a wilful, impatient child, he could not wait, and must needs take the case out of God’s hand and undertake for himself.

How long Jeroboam remained in Egypt is not known; but we read that on the death of Solomon he returned, and was present at Rehoboam’s coronation, when the rebellion was consummated. “And Rehoboam went to Shechem: for all Israel were come to Shechem to make him king. And it came to pass, when Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who was yet in Egypt, heard of it,…that they sent and called him. And Jeroboam and all the congregation of Israel came, and spake unto Rehoboam, saying,” etc. The time was ripe. Solomon’s incompetent son and successor, instead of heeding his father’s wholesome proverb, “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger,” displayed his lack of wisdom and fitness to govern a liberty-loving people; and, as a consequence, he precipitated the separation of the already alienated northern tribes, to the weakening and almost ruin of a kingdom that had but recently extended from the Nile to the Euphrates, a distance of more than four hundred and fifty miles, and acknowledged by the surrounding nations as one of the most powerful empires of the earth.

The details of that memorable schism need not be entered into here, having been already gone over in the “Kings of Judah.” (See Rehoboam.) We have dwelt on the cause from the human, or circumstantial, side chiefly; the divine side is also given: “Wherefore the king (Rehoboam) harkened not unto the people; for the cause was from the Lord, that He might perform His saying, which the Lord spake by Ahijah the Shilonite unto Jeroboam the son of Nebat.”

Jeroboam now becomes the spokesman of the disaffected tribes in the presentation of their petition, whose rejection snapped the already overstrained link that bound the tribes together. Though only presenting the people’s petition, it is nevertheless probable that Jeroboam was not idle, but, like an artful politician, busy behind the scenes, till the coveted crown became his: “And it came to pass, when all Israel heard that Jeroboam was come again, that they sent and called him unto the congregation, and made him king over all Israel.” He made historic Shechem his capital, and fortified it. He also made Penuel ( the face of God—which should have reminded him of God’s past dealings with the scheming Jacob) an important strategic point. Of Shechem one writes: “The situation is lovely; the valley runs west, with a soil of rich, black vegetable mould, watered by fountains, sending forth numerous streams, flowing west: orchards of fruit, olive groves, gardens of vegetables, and verdure on all sides, delight the eye”—the very spot for a man bent on self-pleasing, and aspiring to a life of luxury.

But the newly-crowned king quickly manifested that he did not hold his kingdom in faith as a trust from God. “And Jeroboam said in his heart, Now shall the kingdom return to the house of David” (the all-seeing Eye tells us what was going on in his heart, mark, which had never been anything but “an evil heart of unbelief”): and, he continues, “if this people go up to do sacrifice in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, then shall the heart of this people turn again unto their lord, even unto Rehoboam king of Judah, and they shall kill me, and go again to Rehoboam king of Judah.” “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” This man has neither trust in God, nor confidence in his fellows. He was like a former king (Saul), who, departing from God, began to be suspicious of everybody about him. Jeroboam evidently felt that he had no real hold upon the people’s affections, and that his tenure of the crown was very precarious. He therefore wickedly devised a plan (which, alas, proved all too successful) to prevent a return of the tribes to their former allegiance to the house of David. “Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And he set the one in Bethel, and the other put he in Dan.” The old limits of the land were “from Dan to Beersheba.” Bethel lay near the southern border of Jeroboam’s kingdom, and about twelve miles north of Jerusalem; while Dan was in the far north, at the sources of the Jordan. Thus by placing the calves at these extreme limits of his dominion, with the pretext of giving to all an easy access to a place of worship, the uneasy king hoped to prevent their return to Judah’s God and kingdom. His kingdom, unlike Judah, with its temple at Jerusalem, had no divine centre. It was, in fact, a circumference without a centre, and its worship a matter of convenience and expediency.

“And this thing became a sin: for the people went to worship before the one, even unto Dan” (Bethel was taken from Jeroboam by Abijah. See 2 Chron. 13:19). “And he made a house of high places, and made priests of the lowest of the people, which were not of the sons of Levi.” This was a direct violation of the law of God in reference to the priesthood. See Num. 18:1-7. And he did not stop there; regarding the legitimate priests and the Levites with special suspicion evidently, and rejected their services. “For Jeroboam and his sons,” we read, “had cast them off from executing the priest’s office unto the Lord: and he ordained him priests for the high places, and for the devils, and for the calves which he had made” (2 Chron. 11:14, 15). Abijah, in his speech before the battle with Jeroboam, says to him and his followers, “Have ye not cast out the priests of the Lord, the sons of Aaron, and the Levites, and have made you priests after the manner of the nations of other lands? so that whosoever cometh to consecrate himself with a young bullock and seven rams, the same may be a priest of them that are no gods.” Rome, since the Reformation, has been fond of comparing that glorious and undoubted work of God to Israel’s secession under Jeroboam, and likening this voluntary consecration of unauthorized persons to the ordination of Protestant ministers. While the utter falsity of the application of the former illustration is at once apparent, there is doubtless some truth in the latter. But the force of the figure recoils upon themselves, for the ranks of their own priesthood are recruited entirely by volunteer candidates from all classes and conditions of men. The mistake of Protestantism is the confounding of priesthood with ministry (two entirely different things in Scripture); Rome’s error is the assumption of all priestly functions by a humanly-consecrated few, to the exclusion of every member of the Church, every one of which is a priest, according to the testimony of Scripture. See 1 Peter 2:5, 9, etc. This is not a continuation, nor yet an amplification, of the Jewish priesthood, but one of an entirely different order—“a royal priesthood.” Christ is the “great High Priest,” of whom Aaron was the type; and every true believer a priest of the same spiritual family, typified by Aaron’s sons. Heb. 5:4 has its direct application to the high priesthood only, though the principle may be applied to ministry; but to Christian priesthood proper the verse has no application whatever, for a believer is a priest, not by special call, but solely in virtue of his link with Christ by faith.

Lessons from Jeroboam’s act as to the priesthood can surely be learned by both Romanism and Protestantism, but the right of a class among God’s people to the exclusive exercise of priestly functions is certainly not one of them. On the contrary, his action illustrates just what they themselves have done—shutting out the body of those who are truly the children of God, and therefore truly priests, and consecrating to the office men who have never been born of God, and have no right or qualification whatever therefore to the privilege.

Viewed even as a stroke of policy, this ejection of the Lord’s priests and the Levites was a blunder. They went over in a body, almost, to Jeroboam’s rival, and thereby “strengthened the kingdom of Judah.” By being over-anxious to preserve his power, he lost what was, no doubt, the choice part of his kingdom. Similar to this was the banishment of the Huguenots from France—the most intelligent, enterprising and God-fearing portion of its citizens—an act from which that country has never yet fully recovered, and, perhaps, never will. So, too, of the persecution of the Reformed in the Netherlands, and elsewhere on the Continent. And England, of all her “stalwart sons,” possessed none more stanch and true than those who, for conscience’ sake, forsook the land they loved, and sought an asylum among the desolate wildernesses of America.

Other unlawful innovations were introduced by Jeroboam. “And Jeroboam ordained a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth day of the month, like unto the feast that is in Judah, and he offered upon the altar [in imitation of Solomon]. So did he in Bethel, sacrificing unto the calves that he had made: and he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places which he had made. So he offered upon 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 unto the children of Israel: and he offered upon the altar, and burnt incense.” This “feast,” of Jeroboam’s, was in imitation of the feast of tabernacles, which God had commanded to be observed in the seventh month: the eighth was the month which Jeroboam “had devised of his own heart”—always “deceitful” and “desperately wicked.” And how many practices and customs in Christendom have been “devised” of men’s own hearts which have no foundation in Scripture! For many seem to imagine that it is quite permissible in spiritual things to do “every man that which is right in his own eyes,” instead of “Thus saith the Lord.” God condemned Israel for doing that which, He says, “I commanded them not, neither came it into My heart” (Jer. 7:31; also, 19:5; 32:35). It is the thoughts of God’s heart, not mine, that I am to heed and put into practice. These He has revealed in His Word, and it is our happiness and wisdom to heed that, and not “commandments” and “doctrines of men.”

“And, behold, there came a man of God out of Judah by the word of the Lord unto Bethel: and Jeroboam stood by the altar to burn incense.” If Jeroboam would not have Jehovah’s priests, God sends His prophet into his land. “And he cried against the altar in the word of the Lord, and said, O altar, altar, thus saith the Lord: Behold, a child shall be born unto the house of David, Josiah by name; and upon thee shall he offer the priests of the high places that burn incense upon thee, and men’s bones shall be burnt upon thee. And he gave a sign the same day, saying, This is the sign which the Lord hath spoken; Behold, the altar shall be rent, and the ashes that are upon it shall be poured out.” It was a bold message, but delivered in faithfulness. It was directed, not against the king, but the priests, though the king seemed to feel the force of its application to himself. “And it came to pass, when king Jeroboam heard the saying of the man of God, which had cried against the altar in Bethel, that he put forth his hand from the altar, saying, Lay hold on him. And his hand, which he put forth against him, dried up, so that he could not pull it in again to him. The altar also was rent, and the ashes poured out from the altar, according to the sign which the man of God had given by the word of the Lord.” Jeroboam had forgotten, or ignored, the reproof ad- ministered by God to kings almost a thousand years before; “Touch not Mine anointed, and do My prophets no harm”(Ps. 105:14, 15). He was quickly reminded of his error, and entreated pardon. “And the king answered and said unto the man of God, Entreat now the face of the Lord thy God, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored me again.” But it was his heart that had need of healing, rather than his hand. In this he was like the mass of men today, who look more to the hand and its deeds than the heart of sin that prompted the evil acts. The penitent publican smote upon his breast, as if to express that there, from within, came all the transgression, iniquity, and sin.

Jeroboam, however, is in a measure humbled, and his appeal for the prophet’s intercession is regarded: “And the man of God besought the Lord, and the king’s hand was restored him again, and became as it was before.” Then he who would have persecuted a while ago, now would entertain and give a reward for his healing. “And the king said unto the man of God, Come home with me, and refresh thyself, and I will give thee a reward.” But, like Daniel, who nobly answered king Belshazzar, “Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another” (Dan. 5:17), so also “the man of God” refuses here to be patronized (oh, mark it, all ye servants of the living God), saying, “If thou wilt give me half thy house, I will not go in with thee, neither will I eat bread nor drink water in this place: for so it was charged me by the word of the Lord, saying, Eat no bread, nor drink water, nor turn again by the same way that thou earnest. So he went another way, and returned not by the way that he came to Bethel.”

It is not our purpose to follow the history of “the man of God,” who was seduced to his death by the lie of the apostate old prophet of Bethel, but the narrative is full of wholesome instruction for us all, to adhere strictly to the word of God, and not be seduced from the simple path of obedience by the sophistries of men, professed “prophets” though they be; yea, be it an angel from heaven even, “let him be accursed” that perverts or contradicts the word of God. Reader, ponder well 1 Kings 13:11-32; for, like all things “written aforetime,” it was “written for our instruction,” “upon whom the ends of the ages are come,” with all their attendant difficulties and dangers.

Jeroboam derived no lasting profit from the prophet’s faithful testimony, or the mercy shown him in the restoration of his withered hand, for we read, “After this thing [the prophet’s death?] Jeroboam returned not from his evil way, but made again of the lowest of the people priests of the high places: whosoever would, he consecrated him, and he became one of the priests of the high places. And this thing became sin unto the house of Jeroboam, even to cut it off, and to destroy it from off the face of the earth” (1 Kings 13:33, 34).

The threatened destruction of Jeroboam’s house now begins. “At that time Abijah the son of Jeroboam fell sick. And Jeroboam said to his wife, Arise, I pray thee, and disguise thyself, that thou be not known to be the wife of Jeroboam; and get thee to Shiloh: behold, there is Ahijah the prophet, which told me that I should be king over this people. And take with thee ten loaves, and cracknels, and a cruse of honey, and go to him: he shall tell thee what shall become of the child.” Jeroboam’s troubled spirit does not turn to the old prophet of Bethel, or to others like him in Israel, but turns, in his distress, to Jehovah’s prophet—a not uncommon thing with sinners, and a striking witness of the power of conscience, as well as a testimony to the influence of a righteous man in the midst of abounding evil. Ashamed, probably, to have it known among his subjects that he preferred to consult a prophet of Jehovah before those of his own idolatrous system, he sends his wife in disguise; or, as Shiloh, with Bethel, and other neighboring towns, had been taken by Abijah king of Judah (see 2 Chron. 13:19), it would then be in the realm of his enemy. Or, could it be that, conscious of guilt, and afraid of bad news, he hoped to deceive the prophet?

“And Jeroboam’s wife did so, and went to Shiloh, and came to the house of Ahijah. But Ahijah could not see; for his eyes were set by reason of his age. And the Lord said unto Ahijah, Behold, the wife of Jeroboam cometh to ask a thing of thee for her son; for he is sick: thus and thus shalt thou say unto her: for it shall be, when she cometh in, that she shall feign herself to be another woman. And it was so, when Ahijah heard the sound of her feet, as she came in at the door, that he said, Come in, thou wife of Jeroboam; why feignest thou thyself to be another? for I am sent to thee with heavy tidings”—alas, poor mother!—“Go, tell Jeroboam, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Forasmuch as I exalted thee from among the people, and made thee prince over My people Israel, and rent the kingdom away from the house of David, and gave it thee: and yet thou hast 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 Mine eyes; but thou hast done evil above all that were before thee: for thou hast gone and made thee other gods, and molten images, to provoke Me to anger, and hast cast Me behind thy back”—fearful indictment!—“therefore, behold, I will bring evil upon the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam every male, and him that is shut up and left in Israel, and will take away the remnant of the house of Jeroboam, as a man taketh away dung, till it be all gone. Him that dieth of Jeroboam in the city shall the dogs eat; and him that dieth in the field shall the fowls of the air eat: for the Lord hath spoken it. Arise thou therefore, get thee to thine own house: and when thy feet enter into the city, the child shall die. And all Israel shall mourn for him, and bury him: for he only of Jeroboam shall come to the grave, because in him there is found some good thing toward the Lord God of Israel in the house of Jeroboam.”

“Heavy tidings” these were indeed to a mother’s heart! She was possibly a good woman, to have a son in whom God saw “some good thing toward the Lord.” Sad indeed must have been her journey back to the city, and her dwelling, on entering which her son would die! “And Jeroboam’s wife arose, and departed, and came to Tirzah: and when she came to the threshold of the door, the child died; and they buried him; and all Israel mourned for him, accord- ing to the word of the Lord, which He spake by the hand of His servant Ahijah the prophet.” Dear child, Abijah {Jehovah is my Father) was his name; and his heavenly Father called him home. It was an instance of “the righteous” being “taken away from the evil to come.” And, it is written, “He shall enter into peace: they shall rest in their beds, each one walking in his uprightness” (Isa. 57:1, 2). We shall expect to meet and greet thee, Jehovah’s little child, in that bright morning when for those who “have part in the first resurrection” there shall be rib more “evil to come.”

Jeroboam’s battle with king Abijah, and his crushing defeat, have been entered into elsewhere (see Abijah), so need not be repeated here. Both the battle and his child’s death must have occurred toward the close of his reign. See 2 Chron. 13:1. Thus disaster and sorrow would combine to help hasten his end; and we read, “Neither did Jeroboam recover strength again in the days of Abijah: and the Lord struck him, and he died.” God chastened him through two Abijahs; one, of his own house; and the other, of the house of David—terribly significant to him who had cast that same Jehovah “behind his back.”

“And the rest of the acts of Jeroboam, how he warred, and how he reigned, behold, they are written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel.” This is that Jeroboam who “drave Israel from following the Lord, and made them sin a great sin” (2 Kings 17:21). God has placed the stamp of eternal infamy on his name.