Jeroboam: The Pragmatist

A sermon on 1 Kings 11 and 12 by Coty Pinckney, Community Bible Church, Williamstown, MA 11/5/00

Who will you vote for on Tuesday? Does the leadership of a country matter? Does the character of a country’s leader matter?

Let me ask another question which may not seem related to these: Which five kings of Israel and Judah are mentioned most often in the Bible? The top three are easy; all of you will probably guess correctly. David, Saul, and Solomon. Fourth is Hezekiah; we will discuss the fifth today. Who is he?

Jeroboam. Does that surprise you? Jeroboam, this first leader of the northern kingdom of Israel – the first king of Israel after Israel and Judah split apart. Jeroboam was a man of many talents. He was a capable administrator; he was a valiant warrior; he was willing to stand up for the downtrodden, to challenge an overbearing authority. Furthermore, God specifically chose Jeroboam for a great work, and gave a promise to him very much like the one he gave to the Davidic kings.

Yet we remember Jeroboam not for the legacy of his talents or accomplishments, but for the legacy of his sin. After Jeroboam, there are nineteen more kings of Israel – and every one of them is evil. As you read through 1 and 2 Kings, time and again you come to the phrase, “He walked in all the ways of Jeroboam son of Nebat and in his sin, which he had caused Israel to commit.” Jeroboam set this horrible precedent for kings of his country. He is the key figure in his country’s history; indeed, Martyn Lloyd-Jones says “one simply cannot understand the books of Kings and Chronicles at all and realize their teaching without first grasping the meaning and the significance of this man’s story.”

So does the character of a country’s leader matter? Who can doubt that after reading the books of Kings and Chronicles?

So I believe the story of Jeroboam has important lessons for us as we vote on Tuesday. But more than that, this story has lessons for each one of us personally. For God promises to use each one of us in mighty ways to accomplish His purposes. He promises each one of us a legacy. What will your legacy be? Will you lead those who come after you into sin? Or will you lead them into becoming like Christ?

We’ll consider Jeroboam for the next two weeks. Today we look at chapters 11 and 12 of 1 Kings under three headings:

The Sin of Solomon

Recall the history of the kingdom of Israel. Saul, the first king, and his eldest son Jonathan die in the same battle. The kingdom of Israel initially splits, with the tribe of Judah following David and at least some of the northern tribes following Saul’s son Ish-bosheth. But Ish-bosheth is assassinated, after which the kingdom is united. Look at 2 Samuel 5:3:

So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and King David made a covenant with them before the LORD at Hebron; then they anointed David king over Israel.

So in the eyes of the elders of the northern tribes, David became king over them by covenant..Nothing is stated about this being a covenant with all his descendants – just with David himself. Upon David’s death, the country is prosperous and there is no objection to Solomon becoming king, but during the time of Jeroboam, they may very well have felt that the covenant was over – they were free to choose their own king.

Jump ahead now more than 30 years. David is dying, and says to Solomon:

And keep the charge of the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His ordinances, and His testimonies, according to what is written in the law of Moses, that you may succeed in all that you do and wherever you turn, so that the LORD may carry out His promise which He spoke concerning me, saying, ‘If your sons are careful of their way, to walk before Me in truth with all their heart and with all their soul, you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’ (1 Kings 2:3,4 NASB)

Solomon takes these words to heart as he begins his reign. God grants Him wisdom, peace, and wealth. But over the course of time Solomon forgets this promise. He begins to think that He must take steps to secure his kingdom. But where did Solomon’s security come from? Did it come as a result of his own wisdom? Did it come about as a result of his own policies? No! Solomon’s security came from God! So when Solomon began to pursue policies like those of other kings around him – specifically political alliances sealed by marriage – he was forsaking God and thus making his country LESS, not more, secure.

We read about this in today’s text:

¶ Now King Solomon loved many foreign women along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, 2from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the sons of Israel, "You shall not associate with them, neither shall they associate with you, for they will surely turn your heart away after their gods." Solomon held fast to these in love. 3 And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines, and his wives turned his heart away. 4 For it came about when Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. 5 For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians and after Milcom the detestable idol of the Ammonites. 6 And Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and did not follow the LORD fully, as David his father had done. 7 Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable idol of Moab, on the mountain which is east of Jerusalem, and for Molech the detestable idol of the sons of Ammon. 8 Thus also he did for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods. (1 Kings 11:1-8 NASB)

Solomon probably justified his marrying foreign wives pragmatically: “This is just a minor infringement of God’s laws; surely He didn’t intend for His kings to abide to abide by that restriction – only the common people! After all, I’m doing this for Him, for the security of His kingdom. All the other kings do this – surely it’s ok for me too!”

But the approval and pleasures of his wives begin to mean more to Solomon than the approval and pleasures of the Lord God. As we are told in verse 4, this violation of God’s command became a matter of the heart. Solomon no longer treasured God above all else. And as we know, where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

If this can happen to Solomon, how much more easily can it happen to us! How careful we must be to guard our hearts!

God declares His judgment on these actions: He will take most of kingdom away from Solomon’s descendants, but for David’s sake, this will happen after Solomon’s death. But God does raise up enemies during his lifetime; one of those is Jeroboam:

The Promise of God

26 ¶ Then Jeroboam the son of Nebat, an Ephraimite of Zeredah, Solomon’s servant, whose mother’s name was Zeruah, a widow, also rebelled against the king. 27  Now this was the reason why he rebelled against the king: Solomon built the Millo, and closed up the breach of the city of his father David. 28  Now the man Jeroboam was a valiant warrior, and when Solomon saw that the young man was industrious, he appointed him over all the forced labor of the house of Joseph. (1 Kings 11:26-28 NASB)

Solomon recognizes Jeroboam’s abilities and valor, so places him over the forced labor. “The house of Joseph” may mean the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, or it may be shorthand for all of the northern kingdoms. Solomon built many public works during his reign. God commanded him to build the temple, but then he continued to build. With no power machinery, this required mobilizing vast numbers of laborers (realize that some of the stones used in building the temple were 40 feet long). Many Israelites therefore were forced into indentured servitude. The people hate this. Jeroboam runs a major part of this operation – but given his later popularity with the northern tribes, he must have run it in a humane way.

29  And it came about at that time, when Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem, that the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him on the road. Now Ahijah had clothed himself with a new cloak; and both of them were alone in the field. 30  Then Ahijah took hold of the new cloak which was on him, and tore it into twelve pieces. 31  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 give you ten tribes 32  (but he will have one tribe, for the sake of My servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen from all the tribes of Israel), 33  because they have forsaken Me, and have worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of Moab, and Milcom the god of the sons of Ammon; and they have not walked in My ways, doing what is right in My sight and observing My statutes and My ordinances, as his father David did. 34  ‘Nevertheless I will not take the whole kingdom out of his hand, but I will make him ruler all the days of his life, for the sake of My servant David whom I chose, who observed My commandments and My statutes; 35  but I will take the kingdom from his son’s hand and give it to you, even ten tribes. 36  ‘But to his son I will give one tribe, that My servant David may have a lamp always before Me in Jerusalem, the city where I have chosen for Myself to put My name. 37  ‘And I will take you, and you shall reign over whatever you desire, and you shall be king over Israel. 38  ‘Then it will be, that if you listen to all that I command you and walk in My ways, and do what is right in My sight by observing My statutes and My commandments, as My servant David did, then I will be with you and build you an enduring house as I built for David, and I will give Israel to you. 39  ‘Thus I will afflict the descendants of David for this, but not always.’"

Imagine the scene: Jeroboam is just going about his business, perhaps traveling on a lonely road to a construction site. Ahijah the prophet approaches him, removes his cloak, tears it into twelve pieces. Giving Jeroboam ten of them, Ahijah says Jeroboam will be the next king of Israel!

Compare verse 38, God’s promise to Jeroboam, with verse 33 and chapter 2 verse 3 (quoted above). In each case, God says, “Walk in my ways,” “observe my statues and commands,” “as my servant David did.” Jeroboam receives a promise with the same conditions as Solomon!

And what a promise – really, the greatest promise imaginable: “I will be with you!” “I will build you an enduring house as I built for David.” “I will give Israel to you.”

Think about this promise: Who is acting? And what is Jeroboam’s source of security?

·        Did God say, “If you are smart and pursue good public policy, you will have an enduring house”?

·        Did God say, “If you use your talents wisely, and make smart alliances with surrounding nations, you will have an enduring house”?

·        Did God say, “If you choose advisors carefully, I will give Israel to you”?

No! For none of these is primary. God says, “Follow Me! Walk in My ways! Treasure Me above all else – and I will give. God is the actor. God is the source of Jeroboam’s security, not himself.

Question: Was God’s promise conditioned on Jeroboam’s perfect obedience? Was God saying, “If you follow me in all ways every minute of every day, I will be with you. But if you mess up even once, forget it!”

The key to answering this question is in the phrase “as my servant David did” – “walk in my ways . . . as my servant David did.” How did David follow God? Did David ever fail to follow God? Did David sin? Yes, terribly. But when God confronted David with his sin, David repented before God, acknowledging his sinfulness and seeking forgiveness. So that’s how Jeroboam is to walk in God’s ways: Follow Him with all his heart, and when he does sin, to repent. For a broken and contrite heart, God will never despise.

See verse 40:

Solomon sought therefore to put Jeroboam to death; but Jeroboam arose and fled to Egypt to Shishak king of Egypt, and he was in Egypt until the death of Solomon.

The text does not make clear why Solomon wants to put Jeroboam to death. Perhaps verse 26 implies that Jeroboam did not listen to Ahijah’s prophecy closely, and tried to overthrow Solomon during his lifetime. Or (more likely in my opinion), perhaps he told others about what Ahijah said, and Solomon interpreted this as sedition. In any event, Jeroboam flees to Egypt.

Solomon dies shortly thereafter, and his son Rehoboam is next in line to be king. Turn to chapter 12:

Then Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had come to Shechem to make him king.

Shechem is in the northern part of kingdom. Perhaps all parties agree that it is time to renew the covenant made between David and the elders of the northern tribes described in 2 Samuel 5:3. Note that the people come to Shechem not with the intention of rebelling against Rehoboam, but with the intention of making him king. They assume that he will be agreeable to their requests.

The next few verses tell us that after Jeroboam joins the people, they ask Rehoboam to lighten the load of their forced labor. They don’t ask that he end it entirely, just that he lessen the requirements. If he does, they will be happy to renew the covenant with him

Solomon’s advisors suggest that Rehoboam agree to this, but his personal advisors tell him this is his chance to assert his authority, and that he should be strict. Skip down to verse 14. Rehoboam replies to the people, saying:

“My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions."

He clearly had never read How to Win Friends and Influence People. oHowMore importantly, Rehoboam paid no attention to God’s law. His leadership should have been based on his relationship to God, on his character, and on love for the people; instead he tried to impress the people with his power and brutality.

So the king did not listen to the people; for it was a turn of events from the LORD, that He might establish His word, which the LORD spoke through Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat. (1 Kings 11:15 NASB)

Note that God was behind this action of Rehoboam, “that he might establish His word.” Think about this:

·        Did Rehoboam choose to answer this way? Yes!

·        Was Rehoboam responsible for the way he answered? Yes!

·        Was God behind the scenes ensuring that His word came about as planned? Yes!

God ordained the outcome. And Rehoboam was responsible for the outcome. Throughout the Bible, we see God’s sovereignty and man’s accountability. There is mystery here – but we must always recognize both truths. God is in control. We are accountable before Him.

Turn to verse 20:

When all Israel heard that Jeroboam had returned . . . they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel.

The promise of God is fulfilled. Jeroboam is king. The question now is: Will he walk in God’s ways, and observe His statutes and commands, and thus establish a dynasty as enduring as that of David?

The Sin of Jeroboam

25 ¶ Then Jeroboam built Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and lived there. And he went out from there and built Penuel. 26  And Jeroboam said in his heart, "Now the kingdom will return to the house of David. 27  "If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will return to their lord, even to Rehoboam king of Judah; and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah."

Jeroboam has a problem. According to law, the Israelites are only allowed to offer sacrifices at the temple, in Jerusalem. Furthermore, all men are required to go to Jerusalem several times each year to attend religious feasts, such as Passover, Tabernacles, and Trumpets. But Jerusalem is now the capital of a foreign country. Jeroboam reasons that he is in political danger. Worshiping at the temple, his subjects will see that they are really one with their fellow Israelites in the southern kingdom – and Jerusalem will hold a special place of honor in their hearts.

Is this a logical deduction? Is this reasonable in terms of public policy? Yes!

But how did Jeroboam become king? Not by his own wits, but by the grace of God. How will he continue to hold the kingdom? Only by the grace of God. Indeed, he has evidence that this is the case. Verses 21-24 tell us that Rehoboam gathered a large army to force the northern tribes to submit to him. ho stopped him? GOD! Not Jeroboam!

So Jeroboam, thinking he is establishing his kingdom, does the one thing that is certain to destroy his kingdom: he turns from following God. Just as Solomon thought he would establish his kingdom by marrying foreign wives, Jeroboam thinks he will establish his through disobeying God – and both kings bring sorrow and pain to their people and their own descendants by their disobedience.

28  So the king consulted, and made two golden calves, and he said to them, "It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt." 29  And he set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. 30  Now this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one as far as Dan. 31  And he made houses on high places, and made priests from among all the people who were not of the sons of Levi. 32  And Jeroboam instituted a feast in the eighth month on the fifteenth day of the month, like the feast which is in Judah, and he went up to the altar; thus he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves which he had made. And he stationed in Bethel the priests of the high places which he had made. 33  Then he went up to the altar which he had made in Bethel on the fifteenth day in the eighth month, even in the month which he had devised in his own heart; and he instituted a feast for the sons of Israel, and went up to the altar to burn incense.

Jeroboam sets up two golden calves, one at Dan in the northern part of his kingdom, and one at Bethel, in the south. While God had designated that only Levites were to serve as priests, Jeroboam chooses priests himself from men of every tribe. Perhaps the Levites as a whole remained loyal to God and refused to follow him, or perhaps Jeroboam was trying to ingratiate himself with all the other tribes, telling them “You’re just as good as the Levites – why shouldn’t you be able to serve as priests?” (Thus, Jeroboam may be echoing Korah in his rebellion, who had said to Moses and Aaron: “All the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is in their midst; so why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?” Numbers 16:3).

Furthermore, Jeroboam himself acts as high priest, and establishes festivals according to his own plan. But God combined the roles of priest and king only in Jesus, not in any man in ancient Israel, and all the festivals were ordained by God to serve His purposes. Reminding the people of Aaron at Mt Sinai, Jeroboam then proclaims, “Behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt.”

Why did Jeroboam do this? Pragmatism! Pragmatism says, “Whatever works is right.”

He may have thought, “God raised me up and established me. Certainly God doesn’t want all my fighting men to leave the kingdom several times a year and go to the capital of an enemy nation! I’ll be helpless! Indeed, I’ll have to go myself! That can’t be what God has in mind! Surely he won’t mind if we tweak this religion just a little bit. We’ll still have priests, but I’ll make sure they are loyal to me – and I myself will play the role of high priest. God set me up as king; surely he doesn’t want me to have any priestly rivals for the loyalty of the people. And God will be pleased, since we’ll have higher attendance; I’ll make it easier for people to worship him – the places of worship will be closer!”

So the sin of Jeroboam is not so much rejecting God outright – as we will see in chapter 14, he still believes that God is the source of truth – as twisting the worship of God, letting pragmatic considerations govern his religious observances.

And note that he then appeals to people’s sense of pragmatism to get them to comply! See verse 28: “It’s too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; here, you can worship close by.”

This is the sin of Jeroboam: Failing to trust God to work out His good purposes and, consequently, letting pragmatic considerations govern His worship. And the whole history of his country suffered because of this sin.


So despite God’s gracious promises, Solomon and Jeroboam after him turn from God. They think that by disobeying God they are making their kingdoms more secure; they probably even rationalize their actions, saying what is good for God’s chosen king and kingdom is good for God.

What are the lessons for us from Jeroboam’s sin?

Like Jeroboam, God calls us to walk before Him in ways that seem to make no sense. In our daily lives, he tells us:

·        Seek His kingdom and righteousness FIRST – and then GOD will provide what we need;.

·        Give of our time, our energy, and our money for Jesus’ sake, and we will receive 100 times as much joy and satisfaction as if we hoard them;

·        Love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

We could keep making this list, but the point is clear: the Christian life is not a pragmatic life. Walking by faith is not the same as walking by sight. We are to trust God, to know that He is sovereign, and to obey him regardless of the supposed impracticality of following Him.

But in addition to lessons for our daily lives, Jeroboam’s sin provides lessons for our conduct of worship. For we face similar temptations. Paul writes:

For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and be turned aside to myths. (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

How we see that today! We are told: “Find out what people want, and then change your worship to suit the desires of the people! Be pragmatic! Find out what leads to a large congregation, and then do the same! Best to stay away from topics like sin and damnation and judgment; help people with their self-esteem, give them practical help in areas where they think they need it. Focus your whole service on meeting people’s needs!”

Friends, we do not gather on Sunday morning to meet people’s needs. Praise God, He provides for our needs when we first seek His kingdom and His righteousness. But the purpose of our gathering together is to honor and glorify the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords! And we do that not by focusing our attention on people, but by focusing on Him, and worshiping as He directs. And he directs:

·        that we praise him with all of our hearts;

·        that we humble ourselves in prayer before him;

·        and that we preach His word, the whole counsel of His word, “in season and out of season,” whether people want to hear it or not. We are not to twist it, or sanitize it, or soften its the rough edges. We are simply to proclaim the truth.

And what is the promise to us if we do so – our equivalent of the promise to Jeroboam?

I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels.

So, my friends, leadership makes a difference – in our nations, in our homes, in our churches. Do vote this Tuesday – taking the character of the candidates into account. Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s – and in a democracy, that includes your participation in the selection of our country’s leaders.

But even more importantly, look at your own heart. Do you believe God and His promises – even when they seem impractical? Are you willing to trust God to supply all your needs? Are we as a church willing to do the same?

God’s promise is sure: Do you believe it?

This sermon was preached at Community Bible Church in Williamstown, MA on 11/5/00. The quote from Martyn Lloyd-Jones is from his excellent sermon on Jeroboam, found in Old Testament Evangelistic Sermons (Banner of Truth, 1995). I also profited from reading Dave Roper’s sermon.

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