Old Testament Passages Good for Every Christian to Know, Part 15
O.T. Passages Good for Everyone to Know, #15
by Doug Jacoby
1 Kings is loaded with biblically significant and practical verses, and it was difficult for me to settle on just one. At first I leaned towards passages on Solomon—the breadth of his wisdom, his globally inclusive prayer of dedication for the Jerusalem temple, or his phenomenally destructive sins (1 Kings 4:29-32; 8:23-53; 11:1-9). But then I considered Elijah—his victory over the Ba'al worshippers, how he overcame spiritual depression, or maybe his mentoring of Elisha (1 Kings 17:1-2 Kings 2:12). In the end I landed on Jeroboam, the first monarch of the Divided Kingdom.
The sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat (not to be confused with another wicked king, Jeroboam II (reigned 782-741 BC) are constantly referred to when the Old Testament evaluates future kings. His failure to obey Yahweh becomes a benchmark. Click here to see how many times this man and his poor choices are referenced in the Bible.
For those new to the Bible or exploring Old Testament history, a word about the early kings. Saul (reigned c.1050-1010 BC) is the first anointed king, though he doesn't rule over all Israel, and he fails to establish a dynasty. David eventually becomes the first king over all Israel, succeeded by his son Solomon (reigned c.970-931 BC).
Solomon proves to be a harsh ruler, though he is outdone in abuse of authority by his son Rehoboam (1 Kings 12:1-24). Sadly, as often happens with young leaders, harshness is embraced as a more practical strategy than humility.
Rehoboam is so harsh that the northern tribes break away, effectively establishing a separate country. The southern kingdom of Judah is led by Rehoboam, and the northern kingdom of Israel is headed up by Jeroboam (r. 931-910 BC). In one sense, Jeroboam is the very opposite of Rehoboam—lowering the standards for God's people (1 Kings 12:25-33). Rehoboam is too hard, but Jeroboam is too soft. But both fall woefully short of God; neither models Yahweh's sovereignty to the world.
The year is 931 BC—nearly ten centuries before Jesus Christ will ascend to heaven and reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Jeroboam is not loyal to Yahweh. He opts to strengthen his personal power by diluting the high requirements of the Torah.
Jeroboam thought to himself, “The kingdom will now likely revert to the house of David. If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, they will again give their allegiance to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah. They will kill me and return to King Rehoboam.”
After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan. And this thing became a sin; the people came to worship the one at Bethel and went as far as Dan to worship the other.
Jeroboam built shrines on high places and appointed priests from all sorts of people, even though they were not Levites.
He instituted a festival on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, like the festival held in Judah, and offered sacrifices on the altar"... (1 Kings 12:26-32).
These are the sins of Jeroboam:
- Idols. Incredibly, Jeroboam sets up golden calves at the northern and southern ends of his realm. The calf or bull was sacred to the Canaanites, and this is the animal the Israelites were worshipping when Moses came down from Mount Sinai (Exodus 32). The ruins of the altar at Dan are still visible today. In effect, the Israelites had become Canaanites.
- Away from Jerusalem. Rather than centering worship in Jerusalem—Mount Zion (Deut 12:4-6; 2 Chron 6:1-7:10)—Jeroboam establishes two rival sanctuaries. Israel's leaders were taking their cues from the world.
- A lower standard of leadership. Anyone could serve as a priest, not just Levites, as the Torah stipulated (Num 3:5-7). The Levites served as teachers in Israel (Mal 2:7-9). Without their influence, the Israelites sunk to new lows of biblical ignorance (Hosea 4:6; 8:12; see also Ezra 7:1-10).
- Rival calendar. To ensure that his subjects' spiritual calendar interfered with that of the faithful Jews following Rehoboam, he establishes a new festival to rival Passover. This one annual event seems to have replaced the three visits to Jerusalem specified in the Torah (Deut 16:16; Exod 23:14, 17; 34:23-24; 1 Kings 9:25).
The tribes of (northern) Israel forever lost
Jeroboam's strategy works in the short term, but spiritually weakened Israel quickly succumbs to fear once the Assyrians become a threat to Israel (in the 700s). The result: Assyria captures the entire northern kingdom of Israel, its capital city of Samaria falling in 722 BC. The ten tribes were lost, disappearing primarily through intermarriage and assimilation to the cultures and religions of the Gentiles. This is Yahweh's ultimate punishment of exile (Deut 28:36-68). Judah too will be send into exile, though not until the early 500s.
Jeroboam's compromises and us
Let's take a moment to think about how Jeroboam's compromises have been adopted by religious leaders in our own day.
- Idolatry: No longer expected to live holy lives, Christians are left to worship the gods of our age (wealth, military might, drugs, sex, sports, fashion...). True openness and confession are rarities, and it is easy to blend in to the fellowship, whether or not we are walking in the light (1 John 1:7; 2:6).
- Convenience: Patterned on the thinking of the world (Rom 12:1-2), church attracts consumer Christians. Cheap grace is both preached and practiced. Members ask not how they can serve, but rather, "What's in it for me?" Eventually, the tail wags the dog, leadership waiting to see which way the wind is blowing, instead of boldly leading the charge (Mark 10:32).
- Low standards of leadership: People are put into leadership even if they lack character, knowledge of the Word, humility, or experience (1 Sam 16:7; Josh 1:8; Mark 10:42-45; 1 Tim 3:6). Now, there is no doubt that the Lord works through imperfect leaders, just as he works through all his imperfect people. Yet he is crystal clear that leaders are expected to be especially holy (James 3:1; 1 Tim 3:1-13; 1 Thess 5:12-13; Heb 13:7, 17).
- Low expectations for involvement in church: Jeroboam created two shrines in the place of the one legitimate location for sacrifice, Jerusalem. Further, he required only one annual pilgrimage, in place of three (Deut 16:16). Modern Jeroboams may have many programs in place in their churches, but there is no real expectation of time commitment (Heb 10:24-25)—at least not if remaining on the membership roll despite only occasional participation is any indication. How can the church move forward when attendance, for many members, is optional?
There are still abundant Jeroboams and Rehoboams in the world, especially in the church of Christ. The Jeroboams water down biblical preaching and Jesus' standard of discipleship. The Rehoboams rely on coercion to influence God's people to do what is right.
Christ our King
If we are leaders, have we followed the way of Rehoboam or Jeroboam? Or are we taking Jesus' humble but firm servant leadership as a model for our own (Matt 11:28-30; Mark 10:42-45)? Jesus Christ, the great shepherd of the sheep (Heb 13:20; John 10:11), refused to lower the standards for following him—even if most of his would-be followers grumbled (John 6:60-69). Let us soberly learn from 1 Kings 12.