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February 28, 2010


Jeroboam’s Barren Battle

Jeroboam, a highly gifted young Ephraimite, comes to the notice of Solomon early in his reign (1 Kings 11:28;1 Kings 9:15,24). Solomon made him overseer of the fortifications and public work at Jerusalem, and placed him over the levy from the “house of Joseph.” The “house of Joseph” may stand for the whole of the ten tribes (Amos 5:6; 6:6; Obadiah 1:18). It was an important position; however, Jeroboam used it to plot against the king. No doubt he had the support of many of the people. Long standing animosity (2 Samuel 19:40 ff) was worsened when Israelite interests were made subservient to Judah and to the king, and enforced labor with burdensome taxation filled the people with bitterness and jealousy. Jeroboam gives voice to the suffering of the people (His name means, “pleads the people’s cause”).

In addition, he had the message of the prophet Ahijah, who, by tearing his new mantle into twelve pieces and giving ten of them to Jeroboam, informed him that he was to become king of the ten tribes. Josephus says (Ant., VIII, vii, 8) that Jeroboam was roused by the words of Ahijah, “and being a young man of warm temper, and ambitious of greatness, he could not be quiet.” For the time, his plans failed, and Jeroboam fled to Egypt where he was received by Shishak, the Pharaoh who was successor to the father-in-law of Solomon.

As soon as Jeroboam heard that Solomon was dead, he returned from Egypt and took up his residence in his native town, Zeredah, in the hill country of Ephraim. The northern tribes now turned to the leader, Jeroboam. He was sent for and raised to the throne by the choice and approval of the popular assembly, and of course by God, as foretold through Ahiajah.

Despite the success of the revolution politically, Jeroboam feared for the permanency of his kingdom. He dreaded a reaction in favor of the house of David if the people should make repeated religious journeys to Jerusalem and the Temple of God. Jeroboam now made “two calves of gold” as symbols of the strength and power of “the gods who brought you out of Egypt,” and set them up in sanctuaries at Beth-el and Dan, where altars and other sacred objects already existed.

Jeroboam had been given the chance to serve God. God had promised to bless him if he did, but Jeroboam chose the wrong path. God sent words through his prophets. The words for Jeroboam were not promising. At one point, because of his son’s illness, Jeroboam sent for the prophet Ahijah, but was told that the house of Jeroboam would be cut off and that the people who had followed him to idolatry would also be uprooted from the land and taken as captives. The worst part of the message was that the son would die.

Lessons for You and Me

Man’s way is not the right way. Jeroboam, from early in life, was zealous to do well for himself and his family. He was determined to “make it” and “do it his way.” There was one problem, in doing things his way, he left out God’s way. He decided to gain power through his own fortifications, through his own system of religion, and through his own popularity. His battle to be “on top” was a barren and fruitless battle because he ended up, in essence, fighting against God and His plan. His heart was certainly not like that of another we read of who fought against God — the apostle Paul; Acts 26:14,15. How is our heart? Do we want to do things “our way” or God’s way?

We can make bad matters worse. Jeroboam made bad matters worse. Many of the priests still in the land were opposed to his image-worship (2 Chronicles 11:13). Jeroboam realized he was losing some of his strength in this way, so, he found it necessary to institute a new, non-Levitical priesthood (1 Kings 13:33). A new and popular festival on the model of the feasts at Jerusalem was also established. Jeroboam sacrificed the higher interests of religion to politics. This was the “sin of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, wherewith he made Israel to sin” (1 Kings 12:30; 16:26). When we realize that we are in error, do we try to turn to the right path or do we compound the error by useless justifications?

Take the “good” opportunity. Jeroboam had been given the chance to serve God. God had promised to bless him if he did, but Jeroboam chose the wrong path. We all have the opportunity to serve God and obey His will. God doesn’t want anyone to perish, and he gives us fair warning of the consequences of disobedience. The plan for salvation is God’s plan. It is up to us to respond to it.

Remember God in all circumstances. Jeroboam only thought of God when times were hard, or he wanted something for himself. When Jeroboam’s eldest son had fallen sick, he thought of Ahijah, now old and blind, and sent the queen in disguise to learn the issue of the sickness. While it is true that God cares for us and wants us to think of Him when times are difficult, it is also true that God expects us to think of Him always. We can’t live life as we please and then think God approves even though our lives don’t reflect His ways.

— S. Scott Richardson Sr.

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