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It’s important that we, as Christians, do not repeat the mistakes Jeroboam made when he ruled over the Ten Tribes of Northern Israel. For political reasons he substituted a different way of worshipping for the newly separated tribes, which did not meet with God’s approval.
Jeroboam is first mentioned in I Kings as a faithful and important servant to King Solomon. “The man Jeroboam was a mighty man of valor; and Solomon, seeing that the young man was industrious, made him the officer over all the labor force of the house of Joseph” (1 Kings 11:28).
Josephus adds further details: “… When Solomon saw that he was of an active and bold disposition, he made him the curator of the walls which he built round about Jerusalem; and he took such care of those works, and the king approved of his behaviour, and gave him, as a reward for the same, the charge of the tribe of Joseph” ( Antiquities of the Jews,book VIII, chapter vii, section 7).
We are told that as Solomon grew older he fell increasingly into idolatrous worship. Finally God rebuked him for this and prophesied his kingdom would be taken from him: “...I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to your servant [Jeroboam]” (1 Kings 11:11).
After King Solomon died and his son, Rehoboam succeeded to the throne some citizens of the twelve tribes of Israel approached him and requested relief from the heavy burden of taxation Solomon had imposed. Rehoboam sought advice from his counsellors and unfortunately listened to the younger men who counselled that he increase the taxes instead. The older, more experienced men had advised supporting the request for the relief of taxation, but Rehoboam ignored them.
As a result of this decision Rehoboam’s kingdom split in two, with the northern 10 tribes proclaiming Jeroboam king over their newly formed kingdom. Rehoboam was left with only two tribes—Judah and Benjamin— and part of the tribe of Levi (1 Kings 11:29-37) which he ruled over from Jerusalem.
Jeroboam showed himself diligent during his first few years as ruler of the ten tribes, but his weaknesses eventually became apparent. He was very apprehensive about his people’s religious life, which centered around the temple and priesthood in Jerusalem, controlled by his rival King Rehoboam. He did not wish his subjects to come under the sway of Rehoboam again during their visits to Jerusalem, so he devised a cunning plan. Against God’s specific instructions he created two golden calves for the people to worship, and strategically placed them at the northern and southern ends of the country (1 Kings 12:28-29). The one in the south he placed at Bethel, on the main road to Jerusalem, so that those intending to travel to Jerusalem for God’s feasts could be easily diverted to worship the golden calf at Bethel instead.
Jeroboam also established idolatrous worship on other high places and appointed his own priests from tribes other than Levi (1 Kings 12:31) against God’s instructions. Perhaps his greatest single change was to tamper with God’s annual Holy Days. Instead of observing the Feast of Tabernacles in the seventh month as God had commanded, Jeroboam instituted an alternate feast in the eighth month (1 Kings 12:33).
Jeroboam’s counterfeit religion, with its own priesthood, gods, religious festivals and observances, was destined to play a major role in Israel’s downfall and bring untold suffering on the ten tribes and their descendants.
Summarizing Jeroboam’s and his successors’ rule, the Bible says: “Then Jeroboam drove Israel from following the Lord, and made them commit a great sin. For the children of Israel walked in all the sins of Jeroboam which he did; they did not depart from them, until the Lord removed Israel out of His sight, as He had said by all His servants the prophets. So Israel was carried away from their own land to Assyria, as it is to this day” (2 Kings 17:21-23).
God does not give us a choice on how we are to worship Him (Deuteronomy 12:32). He only gives us a choice of whether we will worship Him according to the instructions He has given.
The Good News Magazine