Placed on the throne by the ten tribes of Israel who had rebelled
against the house of David, Jeroboam, the former servant of Solomon, was
in a position to bring about wise reforms in both civil and religious
affairs. Under the rulership of Solomon he had shown aptitude and sound
judgment; and the knowledge he had gained during years of faithful
service fitted him to rule with discretion. But Jeroboam failed to make
God his trust.
Jeroboam's greatest fear was that at some future time the hearts of
his subjects might be won over by the ruler occupying the throne of
David. He reasoned that if the ten tribes should be permitted to visit
often the ancient seat of the Jewish monarchy, where the services of the
temple were still conducted as in the years of Solomon's reign, many
might feel inclined to renew their allegiance to the government
centering at Jerusalem. Taking counsel with His advisers, Jeroboam
determined by one bold stroke to lessen, so far as possible, the
probability of a revolt from his rule. He would bring this about by
creating within the borders of his newly formed kingdom two centers of
worship, one at Bethel and the other at Dan. In these places the ten
tribes should be invited to assemble, instead of at Jerusalem, to
In arranging this transfer, Jeroboam thought to appeal to the
imagination of the Israelites by setting before them some visible
representation to symbolize the presence of the invisible God.
Accordingly he caused to be made two calves of gold, and these were
placed within shrines at the appointed centers of worship. In this
effort to represent the Deity, Jeroboam violated the plain command of
Jehovah: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image. . . .
Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them." Exodus
So strong was Jeroboam's desire to keep the ten tribes away from
Jerusalem that he lost sight of the fundamental weakness of his plan. He
failed to take into consideration the great peril to which he was
exposing the Israelites by setting before them the idolatrous symbol of
the deity with which their ancestors had been so familiar during the
centuries of Egyptian bondage. Jeroboam's recent residence in Egypt
should have taught him the folly of placing before the people such
heathen representations. But his set purpose of inducing the northern
tribes to discontinue their annual visits to the Holy City led him to
adopt the most imprudent of measures. "It is too much for you to go
up to Jerusalem," he urged; "behold thy gods, O Israel, which
brought thee up out of the land of Egypt." 1 Kings 12:28. Thus they
were invited to bow down before the golden images and adopt strange
forms of worship.
The king tried to persuade the Levites, some of whom were living
within his realm, to serve as priests in the newly erected shrines at
Bethel and Dan; but in this effort he met with failure. He was therefore
compelled to elevate to the priesthood men from "the lowest of the
people." Verse 31. Alarmed over the prospect, many of the faithful,
including a great number of the Levites, fled to Jerusalem, where they
might worship in harmony with the divine requirements.
"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. 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." Verse 32.
The king's bold defiance of God in thus setting aside divinely
appointed institutions was not allowed to pass unrebuked. Even while he
was officiating and burning incense during the dedication of the strange
altar he had set up at Bethel, there appeared before him a man of God
from the kingdom of Judah, sent to denounce him for presuming to
introduce new forms of worship. The prophet "cried against the
altar, . . . 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." Immediately the altar
"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." 1
Kings 13:2, 3, 5.
On seeing this, Jeroboam was filled with a spirit of defiance against
God and attempted to restrain the one who had delivered the message. In
wrath "he put forth his hand from the altar" and cried out,
"Lay hold on him." His impetuous act met with swift rebuke.
The hand outstretched against the messenger of Jehovah suddenly became
powerless and withered, and could not be withdrawn.
Terror-stricken, the king appealed to the prophet to intercede with
God in his behalf. "Entreat now the face of the Lord thy God,"
he pleaded, "and pray for me, that my hand may be restored me
again, And the man of God besought the Lord, and the king's hand was
restored him again, and become as it was before." Verses 4, 6.
Vain had been Jeroboam's effort to invest with solemnity the
dedication of a strange altar, respect for which would have led to
disrespect for the worship of Jehovah in the temple at Jerusalem. By the
message of the prophet, the king of Israel should have been led to
repent and to renounce his wicked purposes, which were turning the
people away from the true worship of God. But he hardened his heart and
determined to follow a way of his own choosing.
At the time of the feast at Bethel the hearts of the Israelites were
not fully hardened. Many were susceptible to the influence of the Holy
Spirit. The Lord designed that those who were taking rapid steps in
apostasy should be checked in their course before it should be too late.
He sent His messenger to interrupt the idolatrous proceedings and to
reveal to king and people what the outworking of this apostasy would be.
The rending of the altar was a sign of God's displeasure at the
abomination that was being wrought in Israel.
The Lord seeks to save, not to destroy. He delights in the rescue of
sinners. "As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the
death of the wicked." Ezekiel 33:11. By warnings and entreaties He
calls the wayward to cease from their evil-doing and to turn to Him and
live. He gives His chosen messengers a holy boldness, that those who
hear may fear and be brought to repentance. How firmly the man of God
rebuked the king! And this firmness was essential; in no other way could
the existing evils have been rebuked. The Lord gave His servant
boldness, that an abiding impression might be made on those who heard.
The messengers of the Lord are never to fear the face of man, but are to
stand unflinchingly for the right. So long as they put their trust in
God, they need not fear; for He who gives them their commission gives
them also the assurance of His protecting care.
Having delivered his message, the prophet was about to return, when
Jeroboam said to him, "Come home with me, and refresh thyself, and
I will give thee a reward." "If thou wilt give me half thine
house," the prophet replied, "I will not go in with thee,
neither will I eat bread nor drink water in this place: for so was it
charged me by the word of the Lord, saying, Eat no bread, nor drink
water, nor turn again by the same way that thou camest." 1 Kings
Well would it have been for the prophet had he adhered to his purpose
to return to Judea without delay. While traveling homeward by another
route, he was overtaken by an aged man who claimed to be a prophet and
who made false representations to the man of God, declaring, "I am
a prophet also as thou art; and an angel spake unto me by the word of
the Lord, saying, Bring him back with thee into thine house, that he may
eat bread and drink water." Again and again the lie was repeated
and the invitation urged until the man of God was persuaded to return.
Because the true prophet allowed himself to take a course contrary to
the line of duty, God permitted him to suffer the penalty of
transgression. While he and the one who had invited him to return to
Bethel were sitting together at the table, the inspiration of the
Almighty came upon the false prophet, "and he cried unto the man of
God that came from Judah, saying, Thus saith the Lord, Forasmuch as thou
hast disobeyed the mouth of the Lord, and hast not kept the commandment
which the Lord thy God commanded thee, . . . thy carcass shall not come
unto the sepulcher of thy fathers." Verses 18-22.
This prophecy of doom was soon literally fulfilled. "It came to
pass, after he had eaten bread, and after he had drunk, that he saddled
for him the ass. . . . And when he was gone, a lion met him by the way,
and slew him: and his carcass was cast in the way, and the ass stood by
it, the lion also stood by the carcass. And, behold, men passed by, and
saw the carcass cast in the way, . . . and they came and told it in the
city where the old prophet dwelt. And when the prophet that brought him
back from the way heard thereof, he said, It is the man of God, who was
disobedient unto the word of the Lord." Verses 23-26.
The penalty that overtook the unfaithful messenger was a still
further evidence of the truth of the prophecy uttered over the altar.
If, after disobeying the word of the Lord, the prophet had been
permitted to go on in safety, the king would have used this fact in an
attempt to vindicate his own disobedience. In the rent altar, in the
palsied arm, and in the terrible fate of the one who dared disobey an
express command of Jehovah, Jeroboam should have discerned the swift
displeasure of an offended God, and these judgments should have warned
him not to persist in wrongdoing. But, far from repenting, Jeroboam
"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." Thus he not only sinned greatly himself, but
"made Israel to sin;" 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." Verses 33, 34; 14:16.
Toward the close of a troubled reign of twenty-two years, Jeroboam
met with a disastrous defeat in a war with Abijah, the successor of
Rehoboam. "Neither did Jeroboam recover strength again in the days
of Abijah: and the Lord struck him, and he died." 2 Chronicles
The apostasy introduced during Jeroboam's reign became more and more
marked, until finally it resulted in the utter ruin of the kingdom of
Israel. Even before the death of Jeroboam, Ahijah, the aged prophet at
Shiloh who many years before had predicted the elevation of Jeroboam to
the throne, declared: "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." 1 Kings 14:15, 16.
Yet the Lord did not give Israel up without first doing all that
could be done to lead them back to their allegiance to Him. Through
long, dark years when ruler after ruler stood up in bold defiance of
Heaven and led Israel deeper and still deeper into idolatry, God sent
message after message to His backslidden people. Through His prophets He
gave them every opportunity to stay the tide of apostasy and to return
to Him. During the years that were to follow the rending of the kingdom,
Elijah and Elisha were to live and labor, and the tender appeals of
Hosea and Amos and Obadiah were to be heard in the land. Never was the
kingdom of Israel to be left without noble witnesses to the mighty power
of God to save from sin. Even in the darkest hours some would remain
true to their divine Ruler and in the midst of idolatry would live
blameless in the sight of a holy God. These faithful ones were numbered
among the goodly remnant through whom the eternal purpose of Jehovah was
finally to be fulfilled.
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