UNEASY LIES THE HEAD THAT WEARS THE CROWN

1 Kings 12:26—33

One of the things we notice as we study the historical books of Kings and Chronicles is the obvious connection between immorality and idolatry; where you find one you will eventually find the other for they go hand-in-hand.  Thanks to Solomon’s idolatry, caused by his immorality, the united kingdom of Israel was on the brink of splitting up.  Solomon’s sin would be repeated over and over in successive monarchies for generations in the remnants of his kingdom, both north and south.  While the southern kingdom of Judah had a series of very godly and strong kings, the evil and wicked ones led to its downfall.  The northern kingdom of Israel, on the other hand, had not one godly king and the kingdom suffered greatly until it was assimilated into the great Assyrian Empire in 722 B.C.  The ten tribes that made up the northern kingdom of Israel literally vanished from the face of the earth.

God’s people, the Hebrews, struggled with both of these sins through most of their existence as a nation(s) because their kings, with few exceptions, were just like themselves.  Fortunately, some time in our future, the last Son of David will come and He will restore Israel to its former grandeur.

While Rehoboam, Solomon’s son had become king of the two tribes to the south, sitting on his father’s throne in Jerusalem, God’s choice to rule the ten tribes to the north was Jeroboam.  Jeroboam, the son of Nebat was a real piece of work; he had it all, including a stunning and surprising promise from God found in 1 Kings 11:27—39.  Essentially, Jehovah would rip ten tribes from Solomon’s son and give them—literally give them!—to Jeroboam in a covenant that sounded a lot like the Davidic Covenant—

If you (Jeroboam) do whatever I command you and walk in my ways and do what is right in my eyes by keeping my statutes and commands, as David my servant did, I will be with you. I will build you a dynasty as enduring as the one I built for David and will give Israel to you.  (verse 38)

Jeroboam’s kingdom—the ten tribes north of Judah—would endure forever, as would Jeroboam’s dynasty, if he would simply live in obedience to the Word of the Lord.  That is quite a promise!  However, despite the fact that Jeroboam had all this going for him, and despite the fact that Jeroboam was a descendant of Joshua, Jeroboam would fail because of religion.

1.  His problems began in his mind, verses 26, 27

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.”

As Jeroboam set up his kingdom and his throne at city named Schecem, he soon took steps to provide for the religious needs of his people.  To his credit, he felt it vitally important to have a strong religious society. But, he had a problem:  the Temple where the people were to worship was in Jerusalem and Jerusalem was in the southern kingdom and Jeroboam concluded that if he let his people go south to worship, they may never come back.

So, in an effort to keep his people at home, the king overstepped his authority and went way beyond God’s plan for him.  It has been correctly observed that there are only two religions in the world:  one that has its origin in the “I will” of God, and the other has its source in the “I think” of a man’s mind.  Jeroboam saw what he thought would become a problem, and thought of a solution that was outside of God’s will.  Isaiah 55:8 makes it plain—

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.

Jeroboam seemed to forget that he had a promise from God!  There was no way he could fail if he remained faithful.  He had the promise of an everlasting kingdom and dynasty that depended on nothing he would plan and scheme; only on obedience to the Word of the Lord.

Sadly, because the heart of a man is deceitful and evil at its core, he is incapable of devising a religion on his own that meets the demands of God and the needs of man.  Only God can establish a religion that can do that.  Jeroboam is about ruin the future of his ten tribes almost before it begins, all in the name of religion.

2.  His religion was basically selfish, verses 28—30

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, O 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 went even as far as Dan to worship the one there.

Jeroboam established what amounted to an alternate religion and a far more convenient religion for his people.  Jeroboam sought advice, though we are not told from whom, and the best he could come up with was the establishing of temples in Samaria and Bethel.  The despicable thing about this was that these temples housed golden calves!  Why golden calves?  Was he really wanting the people to worship them?  It seems almost inconceivable, but we have a small glimpse into this man’s heart.  Notice what the king told the people:  “Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”  What kind of man can hear from God, be given a promise from God, then turn around and betray that God?  He was a selfish man, and he was the king of selfish people.  He established a religion for his people that he created in his own mind, ostensibly for his people’s good, but really it was for his own good.

A religion that comes from a carnal heart and that appeals only to the flesh will produce only soulless hypocrites.  Jeroboam produced a religion of selfish expediency, not of sacrifice.

3.  His religion was godless

This is obvious, is it not?  Worshiping a golden calf cannot be a good thing and certainly God had no part in it.  God’s command was clear—

You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  (Exodus 20:4)

Yet here is a king and whole nation of people on the cusp of establishing a religion exactly contrary to the Word of God!  How can that be possible?  One thing we learn, not only from Scripture, but from our own experience, is that the carnal mind wants to walk by sight, not by faith.   The carnal mind cannot come up with a system of worship acceptable to God because it will always be based on sight, not faith.  If you don’t like the word “sight,” we may substitute “feeling.”  A worldly worship will always be based on our senses, not on faith.  The Bible is replete with examples of men who “thought” they should do certain things but their minds were carnal and their plans godless.

There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. (Proverbs 16:25)

Jeroboam didn’t know it, but his plan for an alternate, convenient religion would lead to the northern kingdom’s fall.  Verse 30 is so sad—“this thing became a sin.”  It started out as a thought, but it became a sin.  The golden calves, not evil in themselves, became a sin.  Have you noticed that human beings are always very likely to esteem the things they themselves create?   The products of man’s imagination always seem to be more interesting to people than Godly things.  The song, the praise band, the prayer book, the liturgy, all of these things come from the creative mind of man and sadly, far too many Christians feel that they need these things to worship.  But whenever anything takes the place of God, it “becomes a sin.”

4.  His religious leaders were lowlifes, verse 31

Jeroboam built shrines on high places and appointed priests from all sorts of people, even though they were not Levites.

Really, the people Jeroboam made priests came from the “lowest of the people.”  This is characteristic of all “man-made” religions; there is no premium placed on those who lead it.  In fact, some religions and even churches seem proud to be led by men or women “just like themselves.”  Jeroboam had no interest in choosing his priests as prescribed by God’s law, he picked the men he wanted, regardless of their qualifications or lack thereof.

To their credit, the Levites would have nothing to do with Jeroboam’s sham religion, and instead, they chose to leave their homes and journey south to Rehoboam’s southern kingdom where the true Jewish faith was retained and practiced.  In fact, many true believers from the north did exactly the same thing when it became apparent that the northern kingdom was going downhill fast, led by a godless and clueless king.

5.  His religion was deceptive, verses 32, 33

He instituted a festival on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, like the festival held in Judah, and offered sacrifices on the altar. This he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves he had made. And at Bethel he also installed priests at the high places he had made.  On the fifteenth day of the eighth month, a month of his own choosing, he offered sacrifices on the altar he had built at Bethel. So he instituted the festival for the Israelites and went up to the altar to make offerings.

Notice the phrase, “like the festival held in Judah.”  Jeroboam instituted many celebrations and feasts of his own invention, but he patterned his religion after the true religion; it had the appearances of being right, but it was a pale imitation; it was a mockery and lifeless image of the real thing.

What was really going on in the northern kingdom?

Jeroboam was nothing if not clever.  His golden calves (literally they were bulls), as well as many other features of his “religion” were all carefully crafted and instituted to remind his people of their past.  And this was very appealing to the Israelites who were now facing an uncertain future.  In reality, the golden bulls—an idea he probably imported from his time in exile in Egypt—were probably meant to be a representation of Jehovah, and not meant to be worshiped as gods themselves.

Jeroboam, in fact, took on the appearance of a religious reformer; basically using religion to further his political agenda.  In troubled times, people seem to crave two things:  they want more religion, true or false, and they want change.  Jeroboam delivered both.  He gave his people their religious fix and he turned his ten tribes upside down.  He completely gutted the nation as it was established by David and Solomon.

It was this idolatry or near-idolatry that gave rise to the severe condemnation of him in the repeated vindictive expression “the sins of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat.”

May the Lord help Christians walk by faith, and not by sight.  May our “religion” be based on the objective Word of God, and not our feelings and certainly not on flowery words and promises made by religious charlatans and/or political leaders.

(c)  2010 WitzEnd

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