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Jeroboam, an effective administrator under King Solomon, pleaded Israel's cause before Solomon's son and successor Rehoboam, who was heavily taxing the people: "Your father made our yoke heavy; now therefore, lighten the burdensome service of your father, and his heavy yoke which he put on us, and we will serve you" (1 Kings 12:4).
Under Solomon's peaceful reign, Israel had lived in the lap of luxury, attributable at least in part to a heavy tax burden, allowing Israel to militarily and economically dominate the area and control its profitable trade routes.
But this tax burden, administered from Jerusalem, eventually generated resentment. When Rehoboam, Solomon’s son and successor, rejected the advice of the experienced advisors and listened to the younger men, who supported the heavy taxation (1 Kings 12:8-11), the northern ten tribes broke away from Jerusalem and formed a new nation, proclaiming Jeroboam their king. Rehoboam was left with only two tribes—Judah and Benjamin— and part of the tribe of Levi. Israel was split into two kingdoms: Israel in the north, ruled by Jeroboam, and Judah in the south, ruled by Rehoboam from Jerusalem.
The prophet Ahijah had revealed God's intention to make Jeroboam the ruler of the ten tribes to him beforehand: "... the prophet Ahijah… met him [Jeroboam]...and he had clothed himself with a new garment…Then Ahijah took hold of the new garment…and tore it into twelve pieces. 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 ... because they have forsaken Me, and worshiped Ashtoreth 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.." (1 Kings 11:29-33).
Here we see the reason for the kingdom of Israel splitting into two nations. Ahijah continued God's message: "However I will not take the whole kingdom out of his hand…for the sake of My servant David, whom I chose because he kept My commandments and My statutes. But I will take the kingdom out of his son's hand and give it to you—ten tribes ... and you shall be king over Israel" (1 Kings 11:34-37).
After Solomon's death and Rehoboam's ascension to the throne, Jeroboam's countrymen summoned him from Egypt where he had fled from Solomon who had tried to assassinate him when he had learned it was prophesied that Jeroboam would become ruler of the northern ten tribes (1 Kings 11:40). Rehoboam assembled an army from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin to fight Jeroboam, but God forbad it through Shemaiah, a man of God: "Thus says the Lord: 'You shall not go up nor fight against your brethren the children of Israel. Let every man return to his house, for this thing is from Me.'...' Therefore they obeyed…and turned back, according to the word of the Lord" (1 Kings 12:22-24).
Jeroboam then ruled over the northern ten tribes of Israel with Ahijah encouraging him to rule according to God’s law: "... if you…do what is right…to keep…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" (1 Kings 11:37-38). But Jeroboam instituted idolatrous worship as the official religion of the new kingdom, in order to separate his people from the religious life centered around the temple and priesthood in Jerusalem (1 Kings 12:26-27).
He created two golden calves to worship, and strategically placed them at the northern and southern ends of the country (1 Kings 12:28-29), promoting idolatrous worship and appointing his own priests who were not from the tribe of Levi (1 Kings 12:31). He also changed God's annual Holy Days. Instead of observing the Feast of Tabernacles in the seventh month as God commanded, he instituted an alternate feast in the eighth month (1 Kings 12:33).
Jeroboam's counterfeit religion, with its own priesthood, gods and religious festivals was destined to play a major role in Israel's downfall. "Then Jeroboam drove Israel from following the Lord… For the children of Israel walked in all the sins of Jeroboam… until the Lord removed Israel out of His sight…So Israel was carried away from their own land to Assyria, as it is to this day" (2 Kings 17:21-23).
Jeroboam's sins led to the removal of God's blessings on the 10-tribed nation because not one of Israel's kings who followed Jeroboam initiated the necessary reforms that would have led the nation back to God's way of worship. Instead all continued in their sins (2 Kings 3:3; 10:29; 13:2) and God eventually allowed them to be taken into captivity by the Assyrians.
Many in the mainstream Christian world have not learned this vital lesson from the life of King Jeroboam. The practices he set in motion—substituting his own days, methods and kinds of worship for those God commanded—have continued down to this day. God tells us in His Word when and on which days we are to worship. He does not want us to invent our own festivals or borrow them from the pagan practices.
The Good News Magazine (Jul-Aug 1998)