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 turn back to the house of David. 27 If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the temple of the Lord at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn again to their lord, to Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah.” 28 So the king took counsel and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” 29 And he set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. 30 Then this thing became a sin, for the people went as far as Dan to be before one. 31 He also made temples on high places and appointed priests from among all the people, who were not of the Levites. 32 And Jeroboam appointed a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month like the feast that was in Judah, and he offered sacrifices on the altar. So he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he made. And he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places that he had made. 33 He went up to the altar that he had made in Bethel on the fifteenth day in the eighth month, in the month that he had devised from his own heart. And he instituted a feast for the people of Israel and went up to the altar to make offerings. – 1 Kings 12:25-33 ESV
Because of Solomon’s unfaithfulness, God had divided his vast kingdom in half, placing ten of the 12 tribes under the rule of Jeroboam. This left Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, with only the tribe over which to reign, that of Judah. The sprawling domain he had inherited from his father had been greatly diminished, virtually overnight. This judgment against Solomon created two kingdoms out of one. In the north, the ten tribes would become the nation of Israel. In the south, the tribe of Judah, which was later joined by the tribe of Benjamin, would become known as the nation of Judah.
The 12 tribes of Israel were the descendants of the 12 sons of Jacob, whose name God later changed to Israel. These 12 tribes had been set apart by God and bestowed with a great privilege. They were to be His chosen people.
“For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” – Deuteronomy 7:6 ESV
“And the Lord has declared today that you are a people for his treasured possession, as he has promised you, and that you are to keep all his commandments, and that he will set you in praise and in fame and in honor high above all nations that he has made, and that you shall be a people holy to the Lord your God, as he promised.” – Deuteronomy 26:18-19 ESV
God had miraculously rescued them out of their slavery in Egypt and had led them to the land of Canaan, which He had promised to give them as their inheritance. On their way to this promised land, God had graciously provided them with His law, which provided them with detailed instructions regarding their behavior as His chosen people. They were His treasured possession and, as such, they were to reflect their unique status by conducting their lives according to His commands. This would ensure that they remained holy or set apart, living distinctively different lives than all the other nations of the world. And because God knew they would fail to keep all His laws, He provided them with the sacrificial system so that they could receive cleansing from and forgiveness for their sins. But the one thing God required from them was faithfulness. The very first law He had given them to obey concerned their unwavering allegiance to Him.
“You shall have no other gods before me.” – Exodus 20:3 ESV
And because He knew the natural proclivity of man’s heart, God elaborated on His command by adding the following restrictions:
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me…” – Exodus 20:4-5 ESV
The book of Exodus goes on to record that the very day Moses came down from the top of Mount Sinai with the commandments of God in hand, he discovered the people of Israel had already violated the first command. While he had been on the mountaintop, the people had begun to have second thoughts about his leadership and the God he claimed to represent.
When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” – Exodus 32:1 ESV
Aaron, the brother of Moses, obliged the people and ordered the construction of a golden calf, which the people promptly began to worship. And Moses descended from Mount Sinai to find the people dancing and singing before their new god.
And as soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. He took the calf that they had made and burned it with fire… – Exodus 32:19-20 ESV
This proclivity for unfaithfulness did not stop in the wilderness of Sinai. Even after God graciously led them to the land of Canaan and had assisted them in conquering and occupying the land He had promised to give them, the people continued their pattern of disobedience, which led to further spiritual adultery. Idolatry became a habit for the people of God. And it was his own penchant for false gods that led to the division of Solomon’s kingdom.
…when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord… – 1 Kings 11:4-6 ESV
But the infidelity of the people of Israel didn’t end with God’s judgment. As this chapter reveals, they seemed to have an endless capacity for unfaithfulness. As soon as Jeroboam had been crowned king over the ten northern tribes, he made an executive decision that he hoped would guarantee his reign for years to come. Fearing that the people would feel obligated to worship God in Jerusalem where Solomon’s temple was located, Jeroboam came up with a plan to erect his own holy cities with his own gods. This would eliminate the need for any Israelite from having to journey to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices. So, buoyed by the advice of his counselors, Jeroboam built these shrines in the cities of Dan and Bethel. And just like Aaron and Solomon, Jeroboam became personally responsible for leading the people into rebellion against God.
This caused Israel to sin; the people went to Bethel and Dan to worship the calves. – 1 Kings 12:20 ESV
And Jeroboam didn’t stop with the construction of these shrines to his man-made gods. He created his own religious system, complete with priests and a sacrificial system. He attempted to replicate all the details of the system established by God and, in doing so, provide the people with an alternative means of cleansing and forgiveness. But everything he did was in direct violation of God’s law.
It’s important to remember that God had given Jeroboam his kingdom and his kingship. He had done nothing to earn his new position or to establish his domain. It had all been handed to him by the sovereign will of God. And yet, fearing that he might lose what he had been given, Jeroboam chose to violate the will of God in order to protect and preserve his newfound power and prestige. Relying on faulty human reasoning, he determined that the best way to maintain the peoples’ allegiance was to provide them with their own gods to worship. And like docile sheep, the people willingly followed the lead of their new shepherd.
On the fifteenth day of the eighth month (a date he had arbitrarily chosen) Jeroboam offered sacrifices on the altar he had made in Bethel. He inaugurated a festival for the Israelites and went up to the altar to offer sacrifices. – 1 Kings 12: 33 NLT
The many shrines that Solomon had built to honor Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Milcom the god of the Ammonites, and Chemosh the god of Moab, were still in the land of Judah. The spirit of idolatry had not ended with the split of the kingdom. And now, Jeroboam had just ensured that the ten northern had their own false gods to worship in place of the one true God. And the rest of the Book of Kings will chronicle the sad story of how the divided nation of Israel failed to give God their undivided allegiance.
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