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The Sin of Jeroboam
1 Kings 12:0
Kings must build. The enlargement and decorations of cities is pleasant to subjects. They sometimes mistake building for security, as for example in the case of Jericho.
Jeroboam built Shechem. (See Judges 9:45 .) The meaning is that Jeroboam enlarged and fortified the old capital of Ephraim, which was now to become the royal city of Israel. Antiquity has always been an element of value. No new city could have had the charm of Shechem. How to attach the new to the old has always been a critical problem for all leaders.
Jeroboam also built (restored, completed, fortified) Penuel. The ancient name was Peniel. (See Genesis 32:30 .) Penuel was on tolerably high ground, higher at all events than Succoth. It lay on an important route and commanded the fords of Jabbok. (See Judges 8:17 .) Gideon destroyed the fort or tower, and probably Jeroboam rebuilt it. The exact site of Penuel is now unknown.
"And Jeroboam said in his heart, Now shall the kingdom return to the house of David: 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" ( 1Ki 12:26-27 ).
It was easier to do the outward work of building, than to do the inward work of establishing the loyalty of excited men. This reflection gives an insight into the character Jeroboam. (1) He was far-sighted; (2) he was highly imaginative; (3) he was appalled by the very grandeur of his own success. It began to overweight him. It threw a shadow on the future. Now all these characteristics are only good so far as they are turned to good purposes. They are amongst the highest qualities or powers, but they may be turned to the ruin of their possessor. Edged instruments sometimes tempt men to commit suicide.
This reflection also throws light upon the new position of Jeroboam; (1) the old might re-assert its supremacy; (2) through the religious emotions political ascendency might be re-established; (3) the people were part of a great whole, and Rehoboam was their lawful king. It will therefore be intensely interesting to find out how a shrewd and powerful man will conduct himself in such a crisis. Here is the answer: "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 Egypt. And he set the one in Bethel, and the other put he in Dan" ( 1Ki 12:28-29 ).
There are many lessons arising out of this arrangement, lessons of universal application; let us try to seize some of them.
(1) Here is a distinct oversight of Jeroboam's divine call to the throne.
(2) Here is an attempt to meet earthly difficulties by earthly stratagems. The help of heaven is not invoked. The king took the case wholly into his own hand.
(3) Here is an attempt to pass off the counterfeit for the real, the two golden calves were set up as God. The religious element in human nature must be provided for. Kings have to consider it. Scientists must not ignore it Even atheists have to cope with it. These be thy gods, Money, Nature, Self, Continuity, Development. It is for the Christian teacher to set up the true God and Saviour of the world.
(4) Here is the distinct abuse of divine providence. Jeroboam was called to the kingdom by the Lord, yet the very first thing he does is to ignore the Lord who called him, and put up two calves of gold in his place. Success ill-used is the ruin of any man. The prosperity which forgets the God who gave it is the greatest calamity of human life. Jeshurun waxed fat and kicked.
(5) Here is an instance of the ease with which discipline is relaxed, and a proof that relaxed discipline leads to the loosening and deterioration of character. "It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem," said the king. An appeal to the weak side of human character. It is an appeal made today; ( a ) you are not fit to go to church; ( b ) it is too far to go; ( c ) the weather is unfavourable. It is easy to set man in downward motion. When discipline is relaxed, the whole character will easily fall to pieces. (6) Here is the exact value which Jeroboam put upon the intelligence and dignity of his subjects. He gave them a calf for a god! Refined people will have refined gods. Refined gods will help to make a refined people. In this respect the Christian religion pays the highest tribute to human intelligence. It calls men to a God infinite in every perfection. An argument in support of the Christian religion may be founded on this fact. Judge a religion by its god. Judge a people by the kind of god that will satisfy them. If a calf will do, what must be their intelligence? If nature will do, what must be their emotion? If science will do, what must be their moral sense? If nothing will do, what must be their whole organisation?
On the side of the people there was (1) Utter forgetfulness of the solemn and holy history of Israel; (2) a moral lethargy that exposed itself to every temptation; (3) a spiritual debasement that preferred personal ease to religious discipline. People who can be content with a calf for a god may well be content with a rebel for a king. The perversion of religious feeling carries with it the perversion of all other feeling. As worship is debased, patriotism is enfeebled.
"And he set, the one in Bethel, and the other put he in Dan. And this thing became a sin: for the people went to worship before the one even unto Dan. And he made an house of high places, and made Levites of the lowest of the people, which were not of the sons of Levi" ( 1Ki 12:29-31 ).
Jereboam's power of management comes out here; he excelled in organisation. The calves were set up at opposite ends of the kingdom. Note the lessons: (1) Clever management of religious affairs is no proof of personal piety or godliness. (2) There is a temptation when religion is taken under imperial patronage or direction to subordinate the religious to the political Jeroboam said in effect, "I must take care of the kingdom whatever comes of the Church: the king first, and God afterwards." (3) How possible it is to make people believe that holy places make holy deeds. Herein see the cunning of Jeroboam. Bethel and Dan were both sacred places; the one, Bethel, would touch the sentiment of the southerns; the other, Dan, would touch the sentiment of the dwellers in northern Palestine. (About Bethel see Genesis 28:11-19 , Gen 35:9-15 , 1 Samuel 7:16 . About Dan see Judges 18:30 , Judges 18:31 .) (4) Observe that when impious kings venture to make priests they make convenient tools for themselves. They are afraid of high intelligence, noble character, divine inspiration, and daring power. They want their own servants, not God's. The true ministry is called of heaven. If Jeroboam first offered the office to the Levites and they refused it, their refusal was a proof of their divine election. The expression "made priests of the lowest of the people" means literally "from the ends of the people," equal to "from all ranks of the people."
"So he offered upon the altar which he had made in Bethel the fifteenth day of the eighth 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" ( 1Ki 12:33 ).
Thus the king himself became a priest: his power of management and scheming is once more brought to bear. He who had managed great imperial works of a material kind was tempted to measure his intellectual sagacity against religious problems. So Jeroboam set up a system of his own. He changed the festival month. Where everything has been appointed and determined by God no change is permissible. Under such circumstances he who would change a date would change a doctrine. God specified for the candlesticks and the snuffers as well as for the mercy seat and the cherubim. Having brought the office of a priest into contempt, the king sought to make it respectable by assuming it himself, so we patch our own poor work, and cover our decrepitude with a mantle of gold.
The leading object of Jeroboam's policy was to widen the breach between the two kingdoms, and to rend asunder those common interests among all the descendants of Jacob, which it was one great object of the law to combine and interlace. To this end he scrupled not to sacrifice the most sacred and inviolable interests and obligations of the covenant people, by forbidding his subjects to resort to the one temple and altar of Jehovah at Jerusalem, and by establishing shrines at Dan and Bethel the extremities of his kingdom where "golden calves" were set up as the symbols of Jehovah, to which the people were enjoined to resort and bring their offerings. The pontificate of the new establishment he united to his crown, in imitation of the Egyptian kings. He was officiating in that capacity at Bethel, offering incense, when a prophet appeared, and in the name of the Lord, announced a coming time, as yet far off, in which a king of the house of David, Josiah by name, should burn upon the unholy altar the bones of its ministers. He was then preparing to verify, by a commissioned prodigy, the truth of the oracle he had delivered, when the king attempted to arrest him, but was smitten with palsy in the arm he stretched forth. At the same moment the threatened prodigy took place, the altar was rent asunder, and the ashes strewed far around. This measure had, however, no abiding effect. The policy on which Jeroboam acted lay too deep in what he deemed the vital interests of his separate kingdom, to be even thus abandoned; and the force of the considerations which determined his conduct may in part be appreciated from the fact that no subsequent king of Israel, however well disposed in other respects, ever ventured to lay a finger on this schismatical establishment. Hence "the sin of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, wherewith he sinned and made Israel to sin," became a standing phrase in describing that iniquity from which no king of Israel departed (1 Kings 12:25-33 ; 1 Kings 13:0 ).
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Kings 12". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
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