An Old Testament account of the lessons learned by replacing the feasts of the Lord with counterfeits.
To begin the sermon today I’d like to go back to the time when Solomon was reigning in Israel. It was a time of unprecedented wealth and riches. But the time in Solomon’s rule that I want to begin with today is right at the very end of his reign. The time where Solomon had many wives and concubines <slide showing a picture of Solomon’s and all his wives> – apparently the wisest man in the world wasn’t wise enough to know that 700 wives and 300 concubines is 699 and 300 too many! And if that wasn’t challenging enough, these women introduced Solomon to their gods and women, well…he went out and built temples to these gods. All this, of course, had a corrupting influence on Solomon and of course displeased the Lord.
Let’s pick up the story in 1 Kings 11.
1 Kings 11:9 So the LORD became angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned from the LORD God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice,
I can’t help but be fascinated by the fact that the Lord appeared to Solomon twice. Did you know that? So we see that this great spiritual privilege didn’t keep Solomon from sinning. How would seeing God not once, but twice, impact on you or me?
Anyway, the Eternal was not happy with Solomon and so, it was determined that a change was going to be made…
1 Kings 11:11-12 Therefore the LORD said to Solomon, "Because you have done this, and have not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to your servant. "Nevertheless I will not do it in your days, for the sake of your father David; I will tear it out of the hand of your son.
So, who would be the recipient of this promise?
1 Kings 11:28 The man Jeroboam [was] a mighty man of valour; and Solomon, seeing that the young man was industrious, made him the officer over all the labor force of the house of Joseph.
So, read this verse and we see that Jeroboam was an excellent man! He was industrious, hardworking, diligent - so much so that Solomon, in his wisdom, appointed him chief over the whole labour force of the house of Joseph – that’s Ephraim and Manasseh. This was forced labour, what is referred to as corvée, which he was responsible for. Solomon built various fortress cities and these needed to be maintained and improved and so Jeroboam, a mighty man of valour – an excellent, powerful warrior maybe a Colonel in today’s army, if we were to use today’s terminology. A man responsible for 3-5 thousand men – was the man in charge of this. This was a very high endorsement from the King himself! This fellow is going places.
But, Jeroboam had a higher endorsement than that of Solomon. Believe it or not, God Himself also noticed Jeroboam’s attributes…
1 Kings 11:29 Now it happened, when Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem, that the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite <so called because he came from Shilo, a city in Samaria> met him on the way; and he had clothed himself with a new garment, and the two [were] alone in the field.
So Jeroboam is out walking and he runs into this prophet who’s wearing a new garment. Starts taking it off and ripping it up.
1 Kings 11:30 Then Ahijah took hold of the new garment that [was] on him, and tore it [into] twelve pieces.
So he removes this garment – some translations call it a ‘cloak’ – and proceeds to tear it into 12 pieces. Quite a dramatic thing to do!
1 Kings 11:31 And he said to Jeroboam, "Take for yourself ten pieces, for thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: 'Behold, I will tear the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon and will give ten tribes to you
The Northern Kingdom will be taken from the house of David and given to Jeroboam. This division, according to Ahijah the prophet, was God’s will. So this is quite an endorsement of this man. We have here a good guy in Jeroboam!
1 Kings 11:32-33 '(but he shall have one tribe for the sake of My servant David, and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel), 'because they have forsaken Me, and worshiped Ashtoreth <whom we believe to have been the originator of Easter> the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Milcom the god of the people of Ammon, and have not walked in My ways to do [what is] right in My eyes and [keep] My statutes and My judgments, as [did] his father David.
Did you notice how vs 33 says here that David ‘walked in the ways of the Eternal and did what was right in His eyes’?? Yes, David! The guy who committed adultery and had a man murdered. What are we to learn from this verse? Well, it reminds us of the very real fact that when we truly repent, God actually blots out our sin. He removes sin from His ‘data base’. It’s no wonder that David wrote in Psalms 103:12, ‘As far as east is from west so far has He removed our transgressions from us’. Because this is actually what God does! Notice the next verse which builds on this thought…
1 Kings 11:34 'However I will not take the whole kingdom out of his hand, because I have made him ruler all the days of his life for the sake of My servant David, whom I chose because he kept My commandments and My statutes.
Notice again God’s positive regard toward David! While David was a sinner, one thing that he never, ever did was turn aside to worship other gods. He repented and God forgave him. And it was his faithfulness to God that enabled David to find a way back. David never forgot who the true God was and so, the door was always open – there was no substitute for the true God in David’s life… and God always forgives a repentant sinner. Anyway, God, through Ahijah, His prophet, continues:
1 Kings 11:35-37 But I will take the kingdom out of his son's hand and give it to you--ten tribes. And to his son I will give one tribe, that My servant David may always have a lamp before Me in Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen for Myself, to put My name there. So I will take you, and you shall reign over all your heart desires, and you shall be king over Israel.
Can you believe the offer being extended to Jeroboam here?! What impact would that have on your life, if God said something like that? What a promotion for this mighty man of valour!
1 Kings 11:38 Then it shall be, if you heed all that I command you, walk in My ways, and do [what is] right in My sight, to keep My statutes and My commandments, as My servant David did, then I will be with you and build for you an enduring house, as I built for David, and will give Israel to you.
The Davidic covenant is a fantastic covenant because it has unique promises that were made to David, but we see here in these verses that God was offering the same thing to Jeroboam! An enduring house, a dynasty. Jeroboam’s descendants shall rule in Israel without interruption until the time the Messiah comes… if he kept God’s statues and God’s judgements. God was going to give Israel to Jeroboam. What a promise!
Well, even without the internet, word gets around. Solomon got word of what God had said and so…
1 Kings 11:40 Solomon therefore sought to kill Jeroboam. But Jeroboam arose and fled to Egypt, to Shishak king of Egypt, and was in Egypt until the death of Solomon.
And so, we enter into one of the most pivotal times in the history of the Bible. Jeroboam and Rehoboam are the two major players on the stage. Continuing in chapter 12…
1 Kings 12:1-3 And Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had gone to Shechem to make him king. So it happened, when Jeroboam the son of Nebat heard it (he was still in Egypt, for he had fled from the presence of King Solomon and had been dwelling in Egypt), that they sent and called him. Then Jeroboam and the whole assembly of Israel came and spoke to Rehoboam…
He became a spokesman for all the assembly to the king. They wanted a tax cut but, as we well know. An infamous story, isn’t it? Rehoboam did not make the burden lighter – in fact, he increased it, which was all, of course, according to God’s will – He had determined to divide the Kingdom anyway…
1 Kings 12:15-17 So the king did not listen to the people; for the turn of events was from the LORD, that He might fulfill His word, which the LORD had spoken by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat. 16 Now when all Israel saw that the king did not listen to them, the people answered the king, saying: "What share have we in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents, O Israel! Now, see to your own house, O David!" So Israel departed to their tents. 17 But Rehoboam reigned over the children of Israel who dwelt in the cities of Judah.
1 Kings 12:20 Now it came to pass when all Israel heard that Jeroboam had come back, they sent for him and called him to the congregation, and made him king over all Israel <God’s will fulfilled according to what we read back in chapter 11:31>. There was none who followed the house of David, but the tribe of Judah only.
Now, in verse 25, we come to a time where the two kingdoms are divided. Judah in the south and Israel in the north. <Refers to map on screen>. And we read of some of the first things Jeroboam did as king…
1 Kings 12:25 Then Jeroboam built Shechem in the mountains of Ephraim, and dwelt there. Also he went out from there and built Penuel.
So, having been given 10 of the 12 tribes, the far larger share, with the promises of God accompanying, Jeroboam was given ‘every reason to do well’. His future was guaranteed. The promises of God made it so, promises given to him on a silver platter! Well, Jeroboam led the 10 tribes with excellence and he will be one of the greats in the soon-coming Kingdom of God… well, unfortunately, not actually! Notice carefully the words in the next verse…
1 Kings 12:26-27 And Jeroboam said in his heart, "Now the kingdom may return to the house of David <I’m going to lose my power here>: 27 If these people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn back to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and go back to Rehoboam king of Judah."
What was now in the heart of this ‘mighty man of valour’? None other than fear! How ironic. Fear is what will lead Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, to ‘cast the dye’ for the next 250 years of the Kingdom of Israel. He concluded that the kingdom would eventually go back to the house of David and he would be disposed of his share… I guess he seemed who made the promise. What promises has God made to you and I?
You see, the strongest unifying force for the people in those days was the Temple and its rights in Jerusalem. Three times a year: during the Passover, the Day of Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles – otherwise known as the ‘pilgrimage festivals’ – the people came together. It was their connection back to God. Jeroboam considered these times and felt that the people would re-connect and old wounds would be healed and unity would prevail and, well, old Jeroboam’s services would no longer be required… they’d kill him!
So Jeroboam hatched a plan! He devised a solution, a way to allay his fears…
1 Kings 12:28 Therefore the king asked advice <so he asked around. He asked a lot of people…but he asked the wrong people!>, made two calves of gold, and said to the people, "It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!"
Now, these words are not new. These are old words! They’d been uttered before – by Moses’ brother, Aaron in Exodus 32. You may recall that Moses was delayed in coming down from Mr Sinai and so Aaron got some gold together from the people…
Exodus 32:4-10 And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a moulded calf. Then they said, "This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!" 5 So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, "Tomorrow is a feast to the LORD." 6 Then they rose early on the next day, offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. 7 And the LORD said to Moses, "Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. 8 They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them. They have made themselves a molded calf, and worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, 'This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!' " 9 And the LORD said to Moses, "I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people! 10 Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them…."
God’s reaction toward Aaron and the Children of Israel in devising their own approach toward worshipping Him was that the people had corrupted themselves and He wanted to wipe them out! The Lord, slow to anger, gracious and kind was so infuriated with the people for devising their own way of worshipping Him – in this case, what we have is a practice known as syncretism a blending of faiths – pagan and truths. And God wanted to wipe them out. Now, again, with almost the exact same words, we find Jeroboam using his human reasoning, setting up golden calves… Continuing in 1 Kings 12…
1 Kings 12:29 And he set up one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan.
So he substitutes a political religion for the real thing.
From Bethel to Jerusalem - that’s around 20kms – from Surfers to Coolangatta airport; I imagine part of the advice Jeroboam received would have been along the lines of: “Hey, the people won’t have to travel so far now – especially you people up in the north! Just go to Dan and worship there. It’s much more convenient. You don’t have to put yourselves out."
There were other reasons for the choice of the two towns. It was a matter of precedent that it was in Bethel which, in the original Hebrew, means ‘house of God’. It was in Bethel that Abraham built one of the first altars mentioned in the Bible, and there he ‘invoked the name of the Lord’ (Genesis 12:8). So there was a strong belief among the people at that time… and it continues even today in certain religions - that ground, the dirt, is considered holy. And that even if you have a different religious faith, it’s appropriate that you worship in the same religious place…because it’s already been established as an appropriate place of worship. For Dan, the people had set up graven images there in the past – Judges 18:29-30 points out that ‘The children of Dan set up a graven image in the city.’ So, ironically, the area was known as a place of worship – idol worship in this case.
1 Kings 12:30-31 Now this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one as far as Dan. 31 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.
Why would he make priests of the ‘lowest’ people, the poorest? Well, we can’t know for sure but, put yourself in the place of the lowest of the people and then imagine the king himself elevates you to this lofty position. How are you going to feel toward him? I imagine you’d feel very grateful and appreciative. I imagine you’d be prepared to do just about whatever he asked you, as priest, to do… So, his priests are no longer of the Levitical line as God had specified…
1 Kings 12:32 Jeroboam ordained a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, like the feast that was in Judah, and offered sacrifices on the altar. So he did at Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he had made. And at Bethel he installed the priests of the high places which he had made.
Now, in Leviticus 23:34, regarding the date of the observance of the Feast of Tabernacles we read: ‘Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the feast of tabernacles for seven days unto the LORD.’
1 Kings 12:33 So he made offerings on the altar which he had made at Bethel on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, in the month which he had devised in his own heart. And he ordained a feast for the children of Israel, and offered sacrifices on the altar and burned incense.
Without any authority to do so, he cut loose from the appointed times of God. God had given him a kingdom, not a new priestly authority. What a litany of bad decisions! Jeroboam:
I think you know how God felt about Jeroboam’s reforms! Instead of humbly obeying God’s words, Jeroboam’s fear of what might happen, drove him to making a mistake so grievous, so monumental, so far-reaching, that God saw fit to record his sin in the Bible, I counted, 20 times – in the Books of 1 & 2 Kings the infamous statement: “Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.”
The chief sin of Jeroboam was that he messed with the prescribed way of worshipping God, he messed with God’s Holy Days – and the people lost their way back to God. Subsequently, he led a long list of kings into disobedience: Not a good one.
In Leviticus 23 we find the Feasts of the Lord listed. The same days that Jesus kept when He was here on earth – I won’t take the time in this sermon, but you can read about Jesus keeping these days in Luke 2:41-43 & John 2:13.
One of the things that leaped out at me as I considered the story of Jeroboam, is the very high priority God places on His people observing His Holy Days. God doesn’t take too kindly to those who would mess around with His assigned order, the times and seasons as specifically laid out in His Word.
Hosea was one of the first writing prophets to the nation of Israel. He prophesied during the time of Jeroboam II, but his prophecies refer to the changes made by Jeroboam I in Hosea 2. God tells the nation what He’s going to do to them, what their disobedience to His laws will bring them…
Hosea 2:9-11 "Therefore I will return and take away My grain in its time And My new wine in its season, And will take back My wool and My linen, Given to cover her nakedness. 10 Now I will uncover her lewdness in the sight of her lovers <a lot of times, when a person is having an affair, they think that that’s the only person their fooling around with…but God declares that everyone’s going to know>, And no one shall deliver her from My hand. 11 I will also cause all her mirth to cease, Her feast days, Her New Moons, Her Sabbaths - All her appointed feasts.
Whose feasts? Whose Sabbaths? Whose new moons? Hers - Israel’s – as opposed to God’s. This verse has led some to conclude that as a result of Jeroboam’s reforms – impacting on the Feasts and, with the mention of new moons, he more than likely messed with the calendar as well! The nation of Israel had drifted away from God and His system of worship – completely! The end result, of which was a 250 year decline and final destruction of the house of Israel. And what a dangerous and bloody decline it was at the end.
So I ask us: why is God so keen for us to faithfully observe His Holy Days? Because, in the context of the sermon for today, when we depart from keeping them, we find ourselves sliding down a slippery slope – just like the Nation of Israel. The Holy Days, beginning with the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread lead us to God and Jesus Christ, His Son! They are more than just ‘nice days’ we observe, they carry with them the weight of God Himself. They are reflective of God’s mind and purpose for man.
Jeroboam just made a few ‘tweaks’, and anyway remember? He had the backing of others – he’d asked for input - we read how he ‘asked advice’ in 1 Kings 12:28. But this little bit of leaven, boy! Did it leaven the whole kingdom! 250 years of it and it had its ultimate expression in the murder of Kings, the worship of idols, the passing of children through the fire and a total breakdown of society.
The blessings that flow from obedience are astounding. When it comes to God’s Holy Days, there is simply no substitute!