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King Jeroboam I of Israel (931-910 BC) and the Division of the Kingdom (1 Kg 11:26 - 14:20)

Julian Spriggs M.A.

How the kingdom was divided (1 Kg 12)

Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, was from the tribe of Ephraim, which became the main tribe of the northern kingdom. He started his career as a servant of King Solomon, as predicted (11:11). Solomon saw that he was very able and industrious, so he put him in charge of the forced labour of the house of Joseph to build The Millo (11:26-28).

Following Solomon's unfaithfulness to God (ch 11), God raised up three adversaries: Hadad of Edom (11:14-22), Rezon of Syria (11:23-25) and Jeroboam (11:26-40).

Jeroboam began to rebel against King Solomon (12:26). God appointed Jeroboam as king through the prophet Ahijah (11:29-39), who gave Jeroboam an enacted message, of a garment torn into twelve pieces, ten of which were given to Jeroboam. Because of Solomon's unfaithfulness and idolatry, Jeroboam will be king over ten tribes, and Solomon's son (Rehoboam) will only rule over one tribe (Judah, plus Benjamin), so the dynasty of David would continue in Jerusalem. A covenant was made: if Jeroboam obeyed the Lord, his house (dynasty) would endure. The continuation of Jeroboam's dynasty would be dependent on his obedience and faithfulness to God (11:38). Solomon heard of this and sought to kill Jeroboam, so Jeroboam fled to Pharaoh Shishak of Egypt (11:40). This is Sheshonk (945-924), the powerful founder of the 22nd dynasty, who later attacked Rehoboam of Judah and took gold and treasures from the temple (14:25). Earlier during Solomon's reign, Egypt had been weak, under Sheshonk it was becoming stronger.

The people had been suffering under the forced labour that Solomon had put on them (5:13-14, 4:6, 12:4). After Solomon's death, Jeroboam came back from Egypt and gathered an assembly at Shechem (12:1-3) to meet Rehoboam, the son of Solomon. With a new king (Rehoboam) they hoped for changes. Rehoboam ignored the council of the old men, who suggested he should lighten the yoke. Instead he only listened to the counsel of the young men, who said he should increase the yoke, and chastise them with scorpions (12:8).

This negative response from Rehoboam caused the separation which God had predicted (12:15), when Jeroboam and the north broke away (12:16). Rehoboam sent Adoram, the taskmaster, to put Israel to work, but he was stoned by the people (12:18). Rehoboam fled to Jerusalem and Jeroboam was made king over Israel, the northern ten tribes, at Shechem (12:20). In retaliation Rehoboam assembled 180,000 soldiers to go to war against Jeroboam, but God, through the prophet Shemaiah, told them not to. The amazing thing is that they obeyed (12:21-24).

There were continual wars between Judah and Israel for many years (14:30, 15:6-7,16,32), probably border skirmishes, until a marriage alliance was made between Israel and Judah, when Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel of Israel married King Jehoram of Judah (2 Kg 8:16,27). This introduced more idolatry to Judah (the way of Ahab) and almost caused the Davidic line to be wiped out, when Athaliah seized the throne of Judah (2 Kg 11).

What was the sin of Jeroboam

In Deuteronomy, God gave instructions concerning the correct place to worship him, “The place which the Lord shall choose” (Deut 12:5,11,14,18,26). The purpose of this was to prevent idolatry. There was to be a single central sanctuary, where offerings and tithes were to be brought.

For Jeroboam, the challenge was to let the people still worship at 'the place God chose', which was Jerusalem (12:25), now in the opposing kingdom. He was afraid that the people would return to Rehoboam, and kill Jeroboam, if they went up to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices (12:26-27).

Jeroboam declared religious independence from Jerusalem (12:25-33), as a way of keeping his kingdom intact. He set up a new way of worshipping Yahweh that was not the one laid down in the law and therefore developed a new religion. He thought it was Yahweh worship, however God hated it (14:9).

Jeroboam set up two golden calves, who he said represented “The gods who brought you up out of the land of Egypt” (12:28). They would be the same or similar to the golden calf made on Mt. Sinai (Ex 32:4).

He set up two high places at Dan and Bethel (12:29), the northern and southern limits of the northern kingdom. Temples were built on these high places (12:31).

Priests were appointed from the people, but not from the tribe of Levi (12:31). The main feast day for Israel was set on the 15th day of the 8th month (12:32-33).

This calf worship became the thing that led finally to the destruction of the northern kingdom (2 Kg 17:21-23, 1 Kg 13:33-34, 14:15-16), being continually described as ‘the sin of Jeroboam’.

In Ch 13-14, God in His love and compassion, sent two prophets to Jeroboam. The first was the man of God from Judah at Bethel (ch 13), who, like Amos, came from the south, and prophesied to the north. The second was Ahijah (ch 14).

First prophecy

Jeroboam was at the altar at Bethel, when the man of God from Judah prophesied against the altar, prophesying that the priests and the altar would be destroyed by someone called Josiah (13:2). This was fulfilled three hundred years later (2 Kg 23:15-18). He also predicted the immediate destruction of the altar (13:2), as a sign to show that the distant prediction was true. Jeroboam stretched out his hand to lay hold of the prophet, but his hand dried up so he could not move it and the altar was torn down (v5). Jeroboam begged that his hand would be restored and it was (v6). The distant prediction was confirmed by an immediate one. However, even after this sign, Jeroboam refused to listen and still did not turn from evil, but made many priests from the people to serve at the high places (v33).

Second prophecy

Jeroboam's son, Abijah, became sick, so Jeroboam sent his wife in disguise to get Ahijah, the same prophet who had earlier prophesied about Jeroboam rising to become king (14:3). God identified Jeroboam's wife to Ahijah, who sent her away with a message of judgement from God (v6). Because of Jeroboam's disobedience and evil idolatry, his son will die (fulfilled v17), his dynasty will be cut off (fulfilled by Baasha 15:27-30), and Israel will finally be scattered beyond the Euphrates (v15), (fulfilled 2 Kg 17).

Jeroboam was ordained by God and had the opportunity to prosper, but through his rebellious insecurity, he set a pattern of idolatry, particularly calf worship, which was never to leave the Northern Kingdom: God knew it and announced the Assyrian deportation 200 years before its fulfilment.

Jeroboam's other son Nadab, succeeded him, but only ruled for two years before he was murdered and replaced by Baasha, beginning a new dynasty, which only lasted two generations (15:27-30).

Most of the rest of the books of 1 and 2 Kings are about the effects of Jeroboam’s sin and how God sought to get his people back. Each succeeding king and dynasty was assessed according to the sin of Jeroboam, "For he walked in all the way of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, and in the sins which he made Israel to sin". (15:34, 16:26, 16:31, 22:52 etc.). The sin opened the way for idolatrous worship of the Canaanite Baal, introduced by Jezebel (16:31). God in His mercy and love for His people longed for them to return. He sent many prophets (2 Kg 17:23), including Elijah and Elisha, but none of the northern kings returned to worship Yahweh.

Amos and Hosea called the people back to the Lord. In these books we see the heart of God, the God who loves His people, calling them back to the covenant. After many warnings and opportunities to repent were refused, and after the progressive discipline of the curses (Deut 28), God finally rejected them from out of the land, using Assyria as his means of discipline, all because Jeroboam did not trust God and hold the kingdom lightly, with an open hand.

Commentary and summary of the Northern Kingdom

2 Kings 17:7-23 gives a theological explanation of what happened to Israel and the reasons for the exile, all traced back to Jeroboam.

"When he had torn Israel from the house of David, they made Jeroboam the son of Nebat king. Jeroboam drove Israel from following the Lord and made them commit great sin. The people of Israel walked in all the sins which Jeroboam committed, they did not depart from them, until the Lord removed Israel out of his sight, as he had foretold through all his servants the prophets. So Israel was exiled from their own land to Assyria until this day" (17:21-23).

Origin of the division of the kingdom

The division of the kingdom finally happened as a result of the rebellion by Jeroboam I. However for most of the history of Israel there had been potential division between the two parts of the nation. It is interesting to trace these two identities back through the history of Israel in the Promised Land.

David

David was first anointed king over Judah (2 Sam 2:4), and ruled in Hebron for 7½ years (2 Sam 2:11). During this time Ishbaal, the son of Saul, ruled over Israel for two years (2 Sam 2:9-10). There was even war between house of Saul and house of David (2 Sam 3:1).

Finally David was anointed as king over all Israel (2 Sam 5:3). He ruled over Judah from Hebron for 7½ years, and over all of Israel and Judah from Jerusalem for thirty-three years (2 Sam 5:5).

The two parts of the nation are often mentioned separately. When David was fighting Goliath, there were troops of Israel and of Judah (1 Sam 17:52). All of Israel and Judah loved David (1 Sam 18:16). Nathan stated that the house of Israel and Judah had been given to David (2 Sam 12:8). In David's census, Israel had 800,000 soldiers, Judah had 500,000 soldiers (2 Sam 24:9).

During Absalom's rebellion, there was division between Israel and Judah (2 Kg 19:41-43), Absalom was supported by Israel. During Sheba's rebellion, Israel supported Sheba, Judah supported David.

During the time of David, Judah and Israel clearly had separate identities. It was a dual kingdom, rather like Austria-Hungary in 19th century Europe. David's main support came from Judah. He had weaker support from Israel.

Saul

When Saul was fighting the Ammonites (1 Sam 11:8), he had 300,000 soldiers from Israel, and 70,000 from Judah. Against the Amalekites he had 200,000 foot-soldiers from Israel and 10,000 from Judah (1 Sam 15:4).

Time of Judges

During the period of the judges, there was a gap in the land conquered under Joshua, the valley of Jezreel. To the north was Galilee, and to the south was Judah and Samaria. The first judge, Othniel, the brother of Caleb was from Judah in the south (Judges 3:7-11). Judah was not involved in the battle against Sisera (Judges 5). And later, Judah was ruled by the Philistines (Judges 15:11).

This shows that there was even a split between Israel and Judah during the time of Judges.

Joshua

Joshua made a treaty with the Gibeonites, who had deceived Joshua by saying they came from far away (Josh 9). In the treaty, they were allowed to live in four cities to the north of Judah (Josh 9:17), effectively separating Judah from the rest of the nation.

The consequences of Joshua's mistake lasted hundreds of years. Saul tried to wipe out the Gibeonites in his zeal for the people of Israel and Judah (2 Sam 21:2), perhaps in an attempt to remove this division.