Meditation October 2020 – Jeroboam
Jeroboam proved himself to be an industrious young man and a mighty man of valor in the courts of Solomon; therefore, the king elevated him to a position of authority in the nation – not knowing that he would eventually rise up against the royal family. However, this threat was dramatically foretold when the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite approached Jeroboam outside Jerusalem and – grabbing his brand new tunic – began to rip it into shreds. Handing Jeroboam ten of the twelve pieces of his former vestment, the prophet proclaimed that God intended to rip the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon and take ten of the twelve tribes to make a separate nation under Jeroboam’s leadership. The prophet went on to say that, for the sake of His covenant with David and His prophetic determination concerning Jerusalem, God would preserve the city and two tribes under the leadership of the Davidic house. Once Solomon got wind that a subversion might be in the works, Jeroboam was forced to flee into Egypt until the monarch’s death. At that point, he returned to Jerusalem to confront the heir to the throne. The scripture does not make it clear as to what Jeroboam’s motives were, but his tactic was to approach Rehoboam with a tax-relief proposal. It is possible that Jeroboam could have had totally altruistic motives in suggesting a way for the new king to gain favor with the people and, therefore, preserve unity in the kingdom. However, in that he already had a prophetic word concerning the demise of the national unity, it is likely that Jeroboam had the ulterior motive of forcing the new sovereign’s hand so that he could make his own move toward taking the part of the kingdom that had been promised to him. Regardless of the motive, the end result was exactly what we could have anticipated – Rehoboam refused to lessen taxes and actually increased them, forcing the tribes that were away from Jerusalem to rebel while the people in the vicinity of the capital (where all the tax money was going) reaffirmed their loyalty to the Davidic house. The whole scenario flung the door fully open for Jeroboam to walk in and take the reins of the ten northern tribes – fulfilling the words of the prophet!
Knowing that he would never have the full loyalty of his subjects as long as they continued to travel to Jerusalem to worship in Solomon’s temple, Jeroboam knew that he had to come up with an alternative to temple worship. His plan was to build smaller shrines in the northern kingdom and encourage the people to sacrifice and worship at them rather than to feel obligated to journey all the way to Jerusalem to worship in Solomon’s temple. No matter how logical the approach might have seemed humanly, God considered it an immediate abandonment of true worship and an adopting of paganism and idolatry. He, therefore, sent one of His prophets to confront the new king. This unnamed prophet, known only as “a man of God,” was commissioned to go from Judah to the city of Bethel where Jeroboam had set up an altar and to confront the king as he participated in burning incense. His prophecy was to go on and specifically name a child to be born in the family of David generations later who was to destroy the altar and burn human bones upon it. To confirm the validity of his prophecy, the man of God was to call for an immediate sign – that the altar would split apart and that the ashes upon it would pour out upon the ground. When the man of God executed his divine mandate, King Jeroboam pointed toward the prophet, directing his men to arrest him. Miraculously, the king’s arm became paralyzed in place so that he could not move it until he begged the man of God to intercede to the Lord for the restoration of the use of his hand.
Chapter fourteen of I Kings tells an intriguing story of the interaction between King Jeroboam and the prophet Ahijah. When the prince fell ill, Jeroboam sent the queen to inquire of the prophet about the boy’s destiny. Even though Jeroboam had refused the word of the man of God who had dramatically confirmed his prophetic utterance with miraculous signs and even though Jeroboam was actively promoting idolatry in the nation, he chose a true prophet of God as his source when he needed a supernatural intervention. Assumedly because of his public promotion of paganism, the king asked his wife to disguise herself and go on a secret mission to Shiloh to speak to the prophet. Since Ahijah was blind, there was no real need for the masquerade in trying to fool him; therefore, the ruse was apparently to keep anyone who might discover the purpose of the mission from exposing the king’s hypocrisy. Even though the prophet could not see physically, he had perfect spiritual sight – an attribute that resulted in the custom of calling prophets “seers” at this point in history. (I Samuel 9:9) Because of this keen ability of discernment, the prophet knew who was at his doorstep and the purpose of her visit even before he answered the knock on his door. After shocking her by revealing her identity that was doubly hidden – by her disguise and by his blindness – the prophet sent her on her way with more of a message than she had bargained for:
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 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: Therefore, behold, I will bring evil upon the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam him that pisseth against the wall, 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. Moreover the LORD shall raise him up a king over Israel, who shall cut off the house of Jeroboam that day: but what? even now. For the LORD shall smite Israel, as a reed is shaken in the water, and he shall root up Israel out of this good land, which he gave to their fathers, and shall scatter them beyond the river, because they have made their groves, provoking the LORD to anger. And he shall give Israel up because of the sins of Jeroboam, who did sin, and who made Israel to sin. (I Kings 14:7-16)
With the agonizing reminder that he had been placed in the position of the king over ten of Israel’s twelve tribes by the express prophetic word of the Lord and that he had made a one-hundred-eighty-degree turn away from God and had led the entire nation down this perverted path with him, the prophet then declared doom upon Jeroboam, his family, and the nation as a whole. Punctuating the whole message was the death of the boy as soon as the mother crossed the threshold of their home.
In Jeroboam, we see an example of a man who knew in his heart that the Lord is the true God but fought against that awareness “tooth and toenail.” He knew that he was placed in power through the prophetic word of the Lord and he knew that he would have to go to a prophet of God when he needed an accurate prophecy concerning his son’s life; however, all the while he was hell-bent on eradicating worship of that true God out of his regime and actually set a benchmark that was constantly referred to when measuring the idolatry that would permeate the rest of his nation’s history. In much the same way that David became the standard for godliness, Jeroboam became the yardstick for measuring ungodliness and paganism. Generations followed either totally in the devastating clutches of his legacy – Baasha (I Kings 15:34, 16:2), Omri (I Kings 16:19, 16:26), Ahab (I Kings 16:31), Ahaziah (I Kings 22:52), Jeroboam II (II Kings 3:3), Jehu (II Kings 10:29, 10:31), Jehoahaz (II Kings 13:2, 14:24), Jehoash (II Kings 13:11), Zachariah (II Kings 15:9), Menahem (II Kings 15:18, 15:24), Pekah (II Kings 15:28) – or at least partially ensnared in its grasp – Hoshea (II Kings 17:2).
Jeroboam’s negative legacy is summed up in three different references in scripture.
And he shall give Israel up because of the sins of Jeroboam, who did sin, and who made Israel to sin. (I Kings 14:16)
Because of the sins of Jeroboam which he sinned, and which he made Israel sin, by his provocation wherewith he provoked the Lord God of Israel to anger. (I Kings 15:30)
For he rent Israel from the house of David; and they made Jeroboam the son of Nebat king: and Jeroboam drave Israel from following the Lord, and made them sin a great sin. For the children of Israel walked in all the sins of Jeroboam which he did; they departed not from them. (I Kings 17:21-22)