Jeroboam was crowned the leader of the Northern Kingdom, which would now be referred to as the new Israel. Ten of the twelve tribes of the original Israel had been torn away because of King Solomon’s apostasy and the unwise actions of Solomon’s son, King Rehoboam. After they had left to form their own nation, Rehoboam was left with only the Southern Kingdom, Judah, and the tribe of Benjamin, to lead and to preserve God’s temple and the genealogical line of King David.
God chose Jeroboam to lead the breakaway Northern Kingdom as He had chosen King David to lead Israel after their first king, Saul, had abandoned the Lord. Now it was David’s son, King Solomon, a man of many divine gifts, whose heart turned away from God to worship false gods and idols, which led to this new upheaval.
God had spoken through a prophet to Jeroboam to make him a generous offer:
37 So I will take you, and you shall reign over all your heart desires, and you shall be king over Israel. 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. 39 And I will afflict the descendants of David because of this, but not forever.’” 1 Kings 11:37-39 (NKJV)
God brought Jeroboam virtually the same offer He had given to King David: If you walk in My ways, I will build you an enduring house. The Northern Kingdom of Israel had the same opportunity to live in perpetual peace and security that God had offered to David. All they needed to do was to follow Him and avoid the worship of other gods and idols.
One of the first things that Jeroboam struggled with in this new situation was the concern that, if people went to Judah to worship God in the temple in Southern Kingdom, they might defect to Rehoboam and stay there. He sought counsel from advisors on what to do about this situation.
26 And Jeroboam said in his heart, “Now the kingdom may return to the house of David: 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.”
28 Therefore the king asked advice… 1 Kings 12:26-28 (NKJV)
Just as Rehoboam had followed bad advice that cost him the majority of his kingdom, Jeroboam began his reign by following even worse advice:
28 Therefore the king asked advice, 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!” 29 And he set up one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. 1 Kings 12:28-29 (NKJV)
Wow, what a foolish idea and decision! Golden calf idols had a history with God, and it was by no means a good one. The Israelites had worshiped one of these while Moses was up on Mount Sinai and it was a disastrous act. By choosing to set up these golden calves for worship, Jeroboam was making a mockery of God’s generous offer by setting up the worst possible precedent of idolatry for Israel to follow.
God had freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt using ten plagues, including the miracle of Passover, and then brought them safely through the Red Sea when Pharaoh’s army was in close pursuit. The Lord went to great lengths to save the Israelites from their misery and to bring them out as His special, chosen people. They were intended to worship Him and to serve as His shining light to the nations of the world, pointing to the one true God. Yet, after Moses had gone up on Mount Sinai to meet with the Lord for forty days to learn about the law and the design of the tabernacle, the people quickly turned away from God and began to worship a golden calf idol. Ironically, this calf had been fashioned from the gold they had been given by the Egyptians when Israel had come out from slavery, because the Egyptians were in awe of Israel’s powerful God.
4 And he (Aaron) received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf. Then they said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!” Exodus 32:4 (NKJV)
God was so furious with this outrageous apostasy that He was ready to destroy the people right there and start over again to make a new nation from Moses. But Moses interceded on their behalf, and God heard his prayer, and stayed with His original plan.
It is most unthinkable that Jeroboam, a man chosen by God to run the Northern Kingdom and offered such a generous eternal covenant, would so quickly stoop to follow such horrible advice to offend God and to endanger his new nation. Due to his insecurity over his throne, Jeroboam was willing to blatantly and defiantly disobey the Lord, who had just given it to him. Any spiritual advantage the Northern Kingdom had over Judah was quickly squandered when Jeroboam followed such foolish advice and made the extremely poor choice to lead the people away from, rather than towards, the Lord.
God made generous offers to several kings if only they would follow Him, but few were able to do so. The lure of idols and the pleasures and false “benefits” associated with them were just too great for them to stay faithful to God, who alone offered the true benefit of eternal life and peace.
Father God, faithfulness is a such a rare quality, but one that is so cherished by You. Help us to stay faithful to You and to be always grateful for all You have blessed us with. May we walk ever-closer with Jesus – today, tomorrow, and all the days You have ordained for us. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.