The Pursuit of God

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Treachery & Wrath: Lessons Learned from King Jeroboam

Treachery & Wrath: Lessons Learned from King Jeroboam

AUDIO VERSION: YouTube  Podbean

Whenever we come across a passage in the Bible where God is very angry, we must pause to really study it and make sure we understand what it is that has made Him so upset. We find a couple of these passages in the story of King Jeroboam, which we will look at in detail in this post. Like David, Jeroboam is selected by God to be a new king for Israel even while another king is still on the throne. Just like Solomon, Jeroboam turns his back on God and totally betrays the One who blessed him. We don’t want to be anything like Jeroboam, but if we are going to successfully avoid making his same mistakes, we need to first understand his story.

Once upon a time, King Jeroboam of Israel wasn’t a king at all, he was just a young man working on a project for King Solomon. It was a construction project—filling in the wall of the city of David, King Solomon’s dead father. David had been a great king. Solomon—well, he hadn’t turned out to be nearly as good. Many of the Israelites felt like Solomon was a harsh ruler who made them work much too hard. But Jeroboam wasn’t a man to complain, because he’d found favor with Solomon once the king noticed what a good worker he was. Suddenly Jeroboam went from being just an average guy to being in charge of a large labor force. Sweet.

Now one day, Jeroboam is leaving the city of Jerusalem when a prophet named Ahijah intercepts him in the middle of a country road. There is no one else around, and as Jeroboam watches in confusion, the prophet takes off the brand new cloak he is wearing and tears it up into twelve pieces. Then he holds the pieces out in front of Jeroboam and says:

“Take ten pieces of this coat for yourself. Yahweh, the God of Israel, says: ‘I will tear the kingdom away from Solomon and give you ten tribes.” (1 Kings 11:31)

What a shocking and treasonous thing to say! As Jeroboam listens with a stunned look on his face, Ahijah launches into a long explanation of how furious God is with King Solomon because of his constant idolatry. King Solomon is worshiping every god he comes across—even gods that require human sacrifices. God is disgusted with how far Solomon has fallen from his father’s excellent example. King David was totally faithful to God. He never once worshiped some idiotic idol. It is only for David’s sake that God will wait until Solomon is dead before tearing the kingdom away from him. It will be Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, who will lose most of his kingdom to Jeroboam. But how will this be, since Jeroboam is an Ephraimite and not at all related to the royal line from Judah? God doesn’t get into specifics. He just says:

“I will make you rule over everything you want. You will rule over all of Israel, and I will always be with you if you do what I say is right. You must obey all My commands. If you obey My laws and commands as David did, I will be with you. I will make your family a lasting family of kings, as I did for David, and give Israel to you.” (1 Kings 11:37-38)

Wow. This sounds awesome. Jeroboam’s ego is loving it. Solomon’s—not so much. When the news of Ahijah’s prophecy gets back to the throne, Solomon tries to kill Jeroboam, but Jeroboam escapes to Egypt. So much for becoming king. What is God doing?

Have you ever had God lay out some specific plan for your future and then something unexpected happens and it seems like everything is ruined? Labeled as a traitor and unable to reenter Israel for fear of being killed by the king’s men, Jeroboam would have naturally started to question the validity of Ahijah’s prophecy. Was the old man just hallucinating when he thought he heard from God? Jeroboam had no supporters, no army that could take the throne by force. How could God’s prophecy ever come true?

At last word reaches Egypt that Solomon has died and his son Rehoboam has taken the throne. Rehoboam has traveled to the city of Schechem where all the people have gathered to crown him as king. But before they do, they send word for Jeroboam to come and join them. After all, the people really weren’t thrilled with Solomon, and Rehoboam isn’t making a great first impression on them. They remember what God said through His prophet Ahijah about Jeroboam becoming king over Israel. With the threat of a competitor to the crown, maybe Rehoboam can be pressured into making a few reforms. Standing with Jeroboam, the people say:

“Your father forced us to work very hard. Now, make it easier for us, and don’t make us work as hard as he did. Then we will serve you.” (1 Kings 12:4)

Forty-one-year-old Rehoboam wants three days to think about it. Fine. Everyone leaves. Rehoboam turns to the older men who advised his father and asks them what he should do.

They said, “You should be like a servant to them today. If you serve them and give them a kind answer, they will serve you always.” (1 Kings 12:7)

Hm. Groveling doesn’t sound very appealing to Rehoboam’s ego. After all, he is the king. Scoffing at the elders, he turns to his childhood buddies and asks for their advice.

The young men who had grown up with him answered, “Those people said to you, ‘Your father forced us to work very hard. Now make our work easier.’ You should tell them, ‘My little finger is bigger than my father’s legs. He forced you to work hard, but I will make you work even harder. My father beat you with whips, but I will beat you with whips that have sharp points.’” (1 Kings 12:10-11)

We can see why the people were fed up with Solomon. The man was whipping them and treating them cruelly. Rehoboam should have taken the elders advice, but he’s an immature fool, so instead he speaks nastily to the people when they return three days later. And just to remind us Who is really orchestrating all of these events, we’re told:

Yahweh caused this to happen to keep the promise He had made to Jeroboam son of Nebat through Ahijah, a prophet from Shiloh. (1 Kings 12:15)

God is using the tools at hand to make His prophecy come true. One of those tools is Rehoboam’s greed and arrogance. He wants to continue to profit off of slave labor. He wants to be a feared ruler, not a nice one. Now God could discipline Rehoboam at this point and perhaps drive him to repent and change his ways. But instead God leaves Rehoboam’s pride unchecked because it’s working for His master plan. God is constantly using our willful rebellion to further His agenda on earth. We don’t get in His way by refusing to align with His Spirit—instead, God just uses our sin to accomplish the things He really wants. God ALWAYS gets His way in this world.

At this point, the people revolt. They aren’t going to submit to this tyrant and spend another forty years being abused. They all shout that they will have nothing to do with the line of David anymore. They tell Rehoboam he can rule his own tribe (the tribe of Judah) but that’s it. Then they all storm off to their own homes in the northern part of Israel.

Well, Rehoboam isn’t going to take this lying down. He sends for Adoniram, the head of the forced labor department, and the two of them go out to show the people who’s boss. But the Israelites are done with being pressed into service. When they see Adoniram, they throw rocks at him and kill him. Rehoboam barely escapes with his life and flees back to Jerusalem in his chariot. It’s time for Plan B.

Meanwhile, word spreads that Jeroboam is back in town, and all the tribes except for Judah rally around him, appointing him as their new king. Now the nation of Israel has two kings—this is a first. It’s like all the states in America breakaway from Maryland and declare themselves to be a separate country. Israel splits into two kingdoms: the ten northern tribes keep the name Israel while the southernmost tribe of Judah and it’s small northern neighbor of Benjamin become the kingdom Judah. Rehoboam’s kingdom has just been reduced by 83%. This calls for war.

Gathering up 180,000 of the best soldiers from his two loyal tribes, Rehoboam is getting ready to take back his kingdom by force when another prophet of God named Shemaiah comes onto the scene.

“Yahweh says: ‘You must not go to war against your brothers, the Israelites. Every one of you should go home, because I made all these things happen.’” (1 Kings 12:24)

Oh. With God declaring that He will not support Rehoboam in battle, the proud king finally gives up. He’s lost most of his kingdom to some nobody from Ephraim. How humiliating.

While Rehoboam slinks back to Jerusalem to tend to his bruised pride, Jeroboam rushes to secure his new kingdom. A capital city needs to be chosen—one that is well fortified. He picks the city of Schechem in his homeland of Ephraim and beefs up its defenses. He fortifies another city as well, but then he starts to think that this is all too good to be true.

Jeroboam said to himself, “The kingdom will probably go back to David’s family. If the people continue going to the Temple of Yahweh in Jerusalem to offer sacrifices, they will want to be ruled again by Rehoboam. Then they will kill me and follow Rehoboam king of Judah.” (1 Kings 12:26-27)

The fact that Rehoboam has control of the Temple creates a major problem. The people will want to keep going to the Temple to present sacrifices to Yahweh. When they do, they’ll no doubt start to rethink their revolt against the house of David and the royal bloodline that was anointed by God. Jeroboam asks his pals for advice. Then he does something totally shocking. He makes two large golden calves, and puts one in the city of Bethel and the other in the city of Dan. He then tells the people:

“It is too long a journey for you to go to Jerusalem to worship. Israel, here are your gods who brought you out of Egypt.” (1 Kings 12:28)

How can Jeroboam betray Yahweh like this after all that He has done? God exalted a nobody from Ephraim onto a throne over most of Israel and this is the thanks He gets: Jeroboam makes up two gods and credits them for everything that God has done. “Israel, here are your gods who brought you out of Egypt,” he says. WOW. So now all the glory for the ten plagues, the parting of the red sea, forty years of guidance through the wilderness and the conquering of the Promised Land is going to two ugly lumps of metal? Nobody protests. The people just go with it, and soon regular trips are being made to worship the golden calves. Jeroboam slaps up a couple of temples, and then he appoints some priests to assist the people in worshiping the golden idols. The priests are chosen not just from the sacred tribe of Levi, but from a bunch of other tribes as well. Jeroboam doesn’t have time to be particular—he’s in a hurry to throw together a new religion before the people have time to miss the Temple in Jerusalem. He makes up a new “official” time when everyone will have to go and pay homage to the calves—the fifteenth day of the eighth month. He picks the date at random and declares it to be a new annual festival. Let’s see now: idols, temples, priests, and an annual festival—yes, all the religious trappings are in place. All that’s needed now is for the king to lead the way, so Jeroboam heads on over to the calf shrine at Bethel to make his own formal offering to the god he just invented.

Jeroboam is standing by the altar at Bethel, going through his holy motions, when a stranger walks up, turns his face towards the altar and shouts:

“Altar, altar, Yahweh says to you: ‘David’s family will have a son named Josiah. The priests for the places of worship now make their sacrifices on you, but Josiah will sacrifice those priests on you. Human bones will be burned on you.’” (1 Kings 13:2)

So this fruitcake is talking to the altar as if it can hear him. Jeroboam is not impressed. Who in the world is Josiah? The king scoffs, but then the weirdo continues, saying:

“This is Yahweh’s sign that this will happen,” he said. “This altar will break apart, and the ashes on it will fall to the ground.” (1 Kings 13:3)

Now Jeroboam gets mad. This rude little punk is disrupting the ceremony. He thrusts out his arm and points at the prophet angrily.

“Take him!” he said. But when the king said this, his arm was paralyzed, and he could not move it. The altar also broke into pieces, and its ashes fell to the ground. This was the sign Yahweh had told the man of God to give. (1 Kings 13:4-5)

What the heck is going on? Is this guy really speaking for Yahweh? Jeroboam doesn’t care, he just wants his arm back.

Then the king said to the man of God, “Please pray to Yahweh your God for me, and ask Him to heal my arm.”

So the man of God prayed to Yahweh, and the king’s arm was healed, becoming as it was before. (1 Kings 13:6)

Notice how Jeroboam refers to Yahweh as “your God”. Jeroboam has moved on to golden calves. As soon as his arm is restored, his mind returns to politics. There should be some way to schmooze the hostility out of this young prophet.

Then the king said to the man of God, “Please come home and eat with me, and I will give you a gift.”

But the man of God answered the king, “Even if you gave me half of your kingdom, I would not go with you. I will not eat or drink anything in this place. Yahweh commanded me not to eat or drink anything nor to return on the same road by which I came.” (1 Kings 13:7-9)

Well, to each his own. Jeroboam lets the prophet go and returns to his calf worship. Later on he hears the prophet was killed by a lion shortly after he left Bethel. Good. One less annoying prophet around.

After this incident King Jeroboam did not stop doing evil. He continued to choose priests for the places of worship from among all the people. Anyone who wanted to be a priest for the places of worship was allowed to be one. In this way the family of Jeroboam sinned, and this sin caused its ruin and destruction from the earth. (1 Kings 13:33-34)

When a man like Jeroboam gets away with inventing calf gods and totally insulting Yahweh in public, yet nothing drastic happens to him, it’s easy to think that God is some kind of spineless wimp who has problems defending Himself. Yet while time passes for Jeroboam, God’s wrath is heating up like a volcano that’s about to erupt. Suddenly, Jeroboam’s son Abijah becomes very sick. The king is very upset. He wants to know if the boy will live. He knows his calf gods are a bunch of baloney, so this time he goes and seeks real advice from Yahweh. He remembers the old prophet Ahijah who tore up his cloak and prophesied about Jeroboam becoming king. Maybe Ahijah can look into the future again and see if Jeroboam’s son will recover.

The mission will require some stealth. At this point, Jeroboam hates Yahweh and has no intention of returning to Him. He just wants some information, but he’s uncomfortable with going himself. He doesn’t want word to get out that he’s consulting Yahweh, so instead he sends his wife out on an undercover mission.

So Jeroboam said to his wife, “Go to Shiloh to see the prophet Ahijah. He is the one who said I would become king of Israel. But disguise yourself so people won’t know you are my wife. Take the prophet ten loaves of bread, some cakes, and a jar of honey. Then ask him what will happen to our son, and he will tell you.” (1 Kings 14:2-3)

The queen heads out on her mission. By now Ahijah is very old and as blind as a bat. It’s a cinch that the queen won’t be recognized by him—unless of course Yahweh tips him off.

Yahweh said to him, “Jeroboam’s son is sick, and Jeroboam’s wife is coming to ask you about him. When she arrives, she will pretend to be someone else.” Then Yahweh told Ahijah what to say. (1 Kings 14:5)

The queen now reaches the house, but before she can even knock on the door, Ahijah calls out:

“Come in, wife of Jeroboam, why do you pretend to be another woman? For I am sent to you with a harsh message. Go, say to Jeroboam, ‘Thus says Yahweh, God of Israel, “Because I exalted you from among the people and made you leader over My people Israel, and tore the kingdom away from the house of David and gave it to you—yet you have not been like My servant David, who kept My commandments and who followed Me with all his heart, to do only that which was right in My sight; you also have done more evil than all who were before you, and have gone and made for yourself other gods and molten images to provoke Me to anger, and have cast Me behind your back— therefore behold, I am bringing calamity on the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam every male person, both bond and free in Israel, and I will make a clean sweep of the house of Jeroboam, as one sweeps away dung until it is all gone.” (1 Kings 14:6-10)

Suddenly we get a glimpse of the wrath that’s been building up in Heaven because of Jeroboam’s treachery. Notice how God describes the king as casting God behind his back. Notice how God accuses Jeroboam of doing more evil than all who were before him—including the idolatrous Solomon. This is very strong language, but it’s just the beginning. God says He will bring disaster on Jeroboam’s family line: cutting off every male descendant until the whole line is swept away. Notice the reference to dung—Jeroboam has become like a pile of poop to God and God doesn’t mind telling him so.

There’s a strange rumor circulating in some portions of the Church today that God never gets nasty or rude or foulmouthed. Yes, He does. God has no problems with using crass language and crude metaphors when He gets upset. Don’t expect real prophets of God to have good manners, because they won’t. When God gets mad, He lets the insults fly. Here He likens Jeroboam and all of his descendants to a bunch of smelly droppings that God will sweep away in disgust. He goes on to say:

Dogs will eat those belonging to Jeroboam who die in the city, and the birds will feed on those who die in the country. Yahweh has spoken!’” (1 Kings 14:11)

Here are some more pretty pictures: wild dogs gnawing on human corpses and vultures pecking at human flesh. This is what God is going to make happen to Jeroboam’s descendants. To have one’s body so abused after death was a horrifying thought to the Jews. They believed that a proper burial was an essential step in helping the soul transition smoothly into the next realm. Here God uses their superstitious beliefs against them by describing the worst possible scenario: a body left exposed and devoured by savage beasts. Double yuck. The queen is undoubtedly horrified at what she is hearing. God now tells her to get out:

“As for you, go back home. As soon as you set foot in your city, the boy will die. All Israel will mourn for him and bury him. He is the only one belonging to Jeroboam who will be buried, because he is the only one in the house of Jeroboam in whom Yahweh, the God of Israel, has found anything good.” (1 Kings 14:12-13)

The young man God is in the process of killing is the only one He has found any worth in out of Jeroboam’s whole family. As a reward, God will honor the son with a proper burial before the people. God never confuses His friends with His enemies. This language suggests that Jeroboam’s son might have landed on the right side of eternity. As for the rest of the family—the pieces of poop—it sounds like Hell is going to be getting some new residents.

“Yahweh will put a new king over Israel, who will destroy Jeroboam’s family, and this will happen soon. Then Yahweh will punish Israel, which will be like reeds swaying in the water. Yahweh will pull up Israel from this good land, the land He gave their ancestors. He will scatter Israel beyond the Euphrates River, because He is angry with the people. They made Yahweh angry when they set up idols to worship Asherah. Jeroboam sinned, and then he made the people of Israel sin. So Yahweh will let the people of Israel be defeated.” (1 Kings 14:14-16)

The description of Israel being scattered beyond the Euphrates is a reference to the people being exiled by foreigners. About 200 years after Jeroboam—which is God’s idea of soon—He will bring in the king of Assyria to totally defeat the northern kingdom of Israel, and drag the people away in exile. That king will then repopulate the land with pagan foreigners. By Jesus’ time, the region will be known as Samaria, and the ancestors of those pagan foreigners will be known as Samaritans. The Jews will despise the Samaritans as illegitimate imposters. But it will be because of Israel’s own rebellion against Yahweh that her land will be filled with non-Jewish bloodlines. The Jews turned away from Yahweh of their own free will, and ran after disgusting gods who required them to abuse themselves and burn their children alive. There can be no sympathy for such a rebellious people.

Then Jeroboam’s wife left and returned to Tirzah. As soon as she entered her home, the boy died. After they buried him, all Israel had a time of sadness for him, just as Yahweh had said through His servant, the prophet Ahijah. (1 Kings 14:17-18)

Jeroboam reigns for twenty-two years and then he dies. His son Nadab succeeds him, rules a brief two years, and is then assassinated in the middle of a battlefield by a man named Baasha from the tribe of Issachar. Baasha then takes the throne, starting a new line of kings.

As soon as Baasha became king, he killed all of Jeroboam’s family, leaving no one in Jeroboam’s family alive. He destroyed them all as Yahweh had said would happen through His servant Ahijah from Shiloh. King Jeroboam had sinned very much and had led the people of Israel to sin, so he made Yahweh, the God of Israel, very angry. (1 Kings 15:29-30)

Long after the reign of Baasha, God will destroy the kingdom of Israel and fill the land with foreigners. Then there will be only one kingdom left: the kingdom of Judah in the south. About a hundred years after the fall of the northern kingdom, a man named Josiah will inherit the throne in Judah. He will be zealous for God, and will go through the land, smashing apart all of the idols and altars. He will slaughter all of the priests who presented offerings to the idols, and he will dig up the bones of idolaters and spread them about to disgrace them and to defile the places where false gods were worshiped. He will go to the city of Bethel where Jeroboam once sacrificed to his golden calf god, and he will demolish it.

Josiah also broke down the altar at Bethel—the place of worship made by Jeroboam son of Nebat, who had led Israel to sin. Josiah burned that place, broke the stones of the altar into pieces, then beat them into dust. He also burned the Asherah idol. When he turned around, he saw the graves on the mountain. He had the bones taken from the graves, and he burned them on the altar to ruin it. This happened just as Yahweh had said it would through the man of God. (2 Kings 23:15-16)

Josiah will be one of Israel’s best kings, and God will record these words about him:

There was no king like Josiah before or after him. He obeyed Yahweh with all his heart, soul, and strength, following all the Teachings of Moses. (2 Kings 23:25)

Yet just as Jeroboam made God so furious that He destroyed all of Israel, a predecessor of Josiah—his grandfather Manasseh—will make God so furious that He will decide to destroy all of Judah even after Josiah works hard to turn the people back to honoring Him.

Even so, Yahweh did not stop His strong and terrible anger. His anger burned against Judah because of all that Manasseh had done to make Him angry. Yahweh said, “I will send Judah out of My sight, as I have sent Israel away. I will reject Jerusalem, which I chose. And I will take away the Temple about which I said, ‘I will be worshiped there.’” (2 Kings 23:26-27)

We like to think of God as ever patient and merciful. Yet Scripture clearly teaches us that God’s patience has limits, and once those limits are crossed, nothing can stop Him from avenging Himself. It’s a terrifying thing to be part of the generation that God finally unleashes His fury on. We learn by studying Israel’s history that God views time very differently than we do. His idea of “soon” can be in the next five minutes, or it can be hundreds of years from now. All of this means that we never know when He is going to strike. What we do know is that our crimes against Him keep piling up at a frightening pace. The nation of America, for example, has gone from respecting God on television, to openly mocking Him in just two generations. It’s now acceptable for religious groups to hang up large banners in public that specifically attack the Son of God. It’s become acceptable to make praying to God illegal in public places. While America adamantly defends the rights of other religions, she makes her hatred of Christianity quite clear. How long ago did our Jeroboam rule? How long ago did we cross the line of God’s patience and cause Him to swear that one day He would totally destroy our nation, and massacre our people because of the way we have rebelled against Him?

This nation was founded on Christian principles—a fact we are working hard to edit out of all school textbooks. Like Jeroboam, our founders were given a great opportunity from God. He helped them overcome impossible odds and establish a new world power. But what have we done for Him in return? Have we maintained our reverence? Have we followed the advice that is written at the top of the Washington Monument: “Laus Deo”—praise be to God? Not hardly. Today America openly hates God, and spends every day aggressively provoking Him to lash out at her in fury. One of these days He will, just as He did with the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel. One day He will say “enough” and unleash all manner of terrors on us, just as He did with ancient Egypt.

God’s patience does not last forever. The day of His wrath has come many times on this earth and it will come again. When it does, if we are the generation that lives to see it, we’d better not be found siding with God’s enemies. Those who treat God abominably deserve to be swept away like so much dung. Will we mourn for their demise like many mourn the plight of Israel today? Is it right for Christians to cry over a nation who destroyed herself through willful rebellion, and even now refuses to return to truly revere Yahweh and His Son? Beware of the satanic influence in the Church which encourages us to side with the enemies of God. Those who find it pleasing to weep and cry and plead for blessings on behalf of those who spit in God’s face, both within and without the Church, will be treated like His enemies when the day of wrath comes.

It’s time for us to pick a side and stick to it. If we are not entirely for our Lord, then we are against Him. God has no use for halfhearted loyalty. Jesus said that He will vomit out those who are lukewarm in their devotion to Him (Rev. 3:16). We mustn’t flinch at such comments and try to avoid all the harsh language in the Bible as many Christians do. If we are wise, we will study the wrath of God very closely—taking note of all the descriptions of dung, vomit, and dogs eating carcasses—and we will ask the Holy Spirit to give us a full understanding of what makes God angry, and how we can avoid doing those things.

As serious Christians, we must treat God with the reverence and honor that He deserves. There is no room for running after stupid idols, whether they are hunks of metal, statues of saints, or living preachers, teachers and worship bands. The Church today is filled with many idols. We’re inventing new ones all the time as we make martyrs and saints out of those who die, and give our adoration to those who rise to power in our midst. Is God impressed by our album sales and our crowded churches? No, He wants our hearts. Like Jeroboam, many leaders in the Church today are encouraging God’s people to chase after idols, and the people are stupidly following their example without even questioning the wisdom of their advice. Make sure you are not a member of either group. If you lead, then you’d better be leading people to worship God and God alone. If you follow, then you’d better be following the Holy Spirit, not some fallen man with a fancy title. Reverence is serious business.

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. (Gal. 6:7)

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