And he will give Israel up because of the sins Jeroboam has committed and has caused Israel to commit. (1 Kings 14:16)
The Old Testament is a kaleidoscope of human character, revealing to us the failure of the human nature and driving us to Jesus Christ as the only remedy for man's lost condition. The story of Israel's fall is a true delineation of the roots and fruits of human depravity in every age. The text is a flashlight upon a dark life and the story that lies behind is a tragedy of curious and original wickedness. It is the picture of a brilliant man who went all wrong and set everybody else wrong too. A man who sinned and, worse than his own sin, made Israel sin—a sinful life and its more sinful influence on others. God help us to look a little at it as the pictures turn and see perhaps in some of them a mirror that will send us humble and contrite to the feet of Jesus. Not for themselves did these men fail on the shores of time, but as beacons for us, that we might receive instruction and warning and see our utter helplessness without Christ.
Jeroboam was the founder of the kingdom of Israel, which for several centuries went down deeper and deeper until at last it disappeared.
The first picture is a dramatic one—a young man is in Solomon's employ in the heyday of that king's glorious reign. He is girted and talented and Solomon puts him over the laborers who are building the supporting terraces. Suddenly an old prophet meets the young contractor one day and seizing his outer garments he tears them into 12 pieces and hands back 10 of the pieces saying, "Take ten pieces for yourself, for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: 'See, I am going to tear the kingdom out of Solomon's hand and give you ten tribes. But for the sake of my servant David and the city of Jerusalem,... he will have one tribe'" (1 Kings 11:31-32). Then he went on to say that if Jeroboam would be true to God, God would establish his kingdom and make it a witness for His name and a blessing to the world; but if he should be unfaithful, God would deal with him in judgment.
Ahijah the prophet, passes on, and young Jeroboam, with his head inflated and his soul on fire, instead of waiting for God to fulfill His part, began to concoct plans of rebellion among the jealous people of Ephraim, of whom he was one. Solomon found it out and sought his life. Jeroboam had to flee to Egypt, where he remained until the death of Solomon.
Solomon is in his grave, and his foolish son, Rehoboam, is on the throne. Rehoboam comes up to Shechem to meet the people and be crowned. Meanwhile they have sent for Jeroboam and have had a great convention, and talked it all over. They have made Jeroboam their spokesman and they tell the young king that if he will make some concessions they will serve him; but if he continues the forced labor and tribute of Solomon's reign they will have nothing to do with him.
Rehoboam takes three days to answer them and foolishly asks and acts upon the advice of some upstarts of his court and gives them an insolent reply.
Immediately the standard of rebellion is raised and an impassable gulf has come between the two sections of God's people. Rehoboam's agent is stoned to death and the king is compelled to flee for his life back to Jerusalem. The tribes have separated and nothing is left of David's house but the tribe of Judah and a portion of Benjamin and Simeon. Rehoboam attempts to put down the rebellion, but God forbids it, and for once he is advised by the prophet. Jeroboam is now established upon his throne, and it is a splendid throne—the best part of Palestine, the fertile valley of Esdraelon, the beautiful city of Samaria and the vast plains and territories reaching beyond the sea of Galilee to the borders of Tyre and Sidon.
God's promises were behind Jeroboam and he might have had one of the grandest careers of the Old Testament. But he begins by building powerful fortifications, showing that he is depending upon the arm of flesh to secure his kingdom rather than upon the Lord.
His next step is a move in that political policy that has in every age only brought defeat and failure. He sees that Jerusalem, being the religious capital, his people will naturally go there to the temple for worship and the observance of the feasts they have been taught to keep since the time of Moses, and thus become attached to the Southern Kingdom.
He established two new religious capitals, one at Bethel in the south and the other at Dan in the north, places at which he erects altars and begins a kind of hybrid worship more heathen than divine. The effect is to arouse the priests and Levites, and drive them to Judah, leaving him to his idolatrous and heathen worship. This was done for the purpose of saving his kingdom, but man-made religions and state churches have in every age failed.
God now takes more stringent measures to bring him to conviction. Just as he is opening his new altar at Bethel an old prophet suddenly appears, coming up from Judah. His name is unknown, but he denounces Jeroboam as he is about to offer incense with his own hands, and God backs up his message by cleaving the altar in two and scattering the ashes. The king reaches out to arrest the old man and instantly his arm is withered and falls by his side. He is compelled to implore the prophet to forgive his transgression and restore his useless arm. This he does and then follows the prophecy that the bones of the priests who have ministered there shall yet be burned upon this altar, and that Josiah shall come forth to avenge the insult given to Jehovah.
The prophet passes on, but on his way, through believing a false message, he is slain by a lion. His carcass is found with the lion standing guard like a very messenger from God, guarding it from insult, and yet showing that he had been slain in fulfillment of God's Word. When the dreadful story reached Jeroboam he must have seen that the God who had sent that message to him could not be trifled with. Still we are told that Jeroboam did not repent, but hardened his heart and still went on in his willfulness and sin.
Now comes the next dramatic picture. One of Jeroboam's children, a little boy, very dear to him, falls sick, and no remedies avail. In his anguish the king thinks of the old prophet Ahijah. He is too proud to be known as relenting and supplicating, so he sends his wife in disguise to the old man. But the prophet cries out as she comes in, "Come in, wife of Jeroboam" (14:6). And then he bids her go back and tell her husband that, because of his wickedness and defiance of God, this child shall be the only one of his family that shall be buried, and the moment her foot enters her palace home her boy shall die and her house shall be accursed because of the sins of Jeroboam.
We cannot dwell on all that followed but the judgment came as the prophet had foretold. A little later we read of a war between Jeroboam and the house of Abijah in which 1.2 million men were engaged. Jeroboam was defeated and half a million of his army slain, the mightiest slaughter in the history of human battles. His military prestige was broken, his army shattered and he never recovered.
Still later we are told the Lord struck him and he died and the inscription that was left on his life: "... the sins Jeroboam has committed and has caused Israel to commit" (14:16).
God meant that we should read it still and hearkening learn the lessons, not only of a sinful life, but of a more sinful heritage of influence upon other lives.
There is another picture that stands beside Jeroboam and is in some respects just as bad. It was Ahab, of whom we are told, "There was never a man like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife" (21:25). Jeroboam made others sin and Ahab let others make him sin.
In the story of Jeroboam's life we see several aspects that provide valuable lessons.
1. We see a splendid mind with noble gifts prostituted by false ambition. How the devil loves to get the best and brightest. He chooses the very cream of human intellect, the very flower of our land as his instruments. Smartness is a curse unless balanced by principle, by high moral character, by the fear and love of God.
2. We see a splendid opportunity thrown away.
What an opportunity! The founding of a kingdom, the shaping of a nation's destiny, a chance as great as Moses or David had! And yet how utterly wasted and perverted. The deepest lesson from Solomon and his immediate followers was this, that wisdom is not sufficient without grace, without the Holy Spirit. And the greatest lesson of these lives is not to lead men to be more prudent and self disciplined, but to lead them to see that our best wisdom is to confess our foolishness and take the "Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,/ the Spirit of counsel and of power" (Isaiah 11:2).
3. We see again a divine calling and purpose turned aside by the disobedience of a willful man.
God called Jeroboam, gave him his kingdom and intended he should fulfill some great and useful work, but Jeroboam missed all. There is no doubt about God's purpose as announced by Ahijah, yet there is no doubt about God's disappointment. We may not put the two together, but there they both stand. Oh how often has God to cry out: "If only you had paid attention to my commands,/ your peace would have been like a river,/ your righteousness like the waves of the sea" (48:18).
Do we doubt the power of God to carry out His purposes? No, never! Do we believe that Satan is stronger than Jehovah and able to defeat Him? No, never! God always triumphs in the end.
But it is still true that God often lets you refuse your blessing if you will, and later calls another to do what you would not do and to wear the crown that you threw away.
Mordecai said to his own beloved Esther, "For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place" (Esther 4:14). You can step out of His will and miss His blessings, but God will go on and bring about His end. God may have great blessings for you, a high calling for you, great possibilities for you, but be careful lest you forfeit and throw them away by refusing to walk in His highest will. Remember that you have within your heart something that came to you from God and is like God—the power to choose, the power to refuse, the throne of your will.
Oh, hasten to lay it at His feet lest it should be your snare, and take Him to work in you both "to will and to act according to his good purpose" (Philippians 2:13).
4. We see the dependence of Jeroboam upon the arm of flesh instead of upon God.
The beginning of his apostasy was the building of fortifications and the raising of a mighty army. Unbelief was the secret root of all his sin. It always is. The only way to get saved is to stop everything and let Him save you. The only way to get sanctified is to cease your struggles and let Him fight the battle for you. The only way to triumph is to trust. "The one who trusts will never be dismayed" (Isaiah 28:16). While you are fretting, fussing and trying a thousand things, you have no faith.
5. His next mistake was a false political project to establish a religion for his own selfish interest.
Some people join a church to help their social influence and they join the church that will help them most. There are a thousand ways in which we can make our religious work merely a means of advancing our own interests. Worse, it was a man-made religion. Man-made religions always end in becoming the devil's religions and it was not long before the altars of Jeroboam became the altars of Baal. And this was the outcome of Jeroboam's selfishness in daring to make God subservient to his own ambitious policy.
6. Then came the warnings of God and Jeroboam's proud defiance of them and his persistence in his own way.
There was the prophet at Bethel with his awful message and the sign that accompanied it; the prophet's own end the next day speaking of a God that would be true to His Word at any cost; the warning that came from Ahijah that the child must die because of his father's career of sin. All these seemed to make no impression until at last the inevitable calamity came: his army was blotted out, his power broken and the stroke of doom fell upon his own wicked head as he died under the hand of Jehovah. "Ahijah rested with his fathers" (2 Chronicles 14:1), it is said, but of Jeroboam, "The Lord struck him down and he died" (13:20), and his epitaph is, "Here lies Jeroboam who sinned and made Israel to sin."
7. Finally there is the bitter fruition of his actions and influence.
There is one word in one of the parables of Jesus that burns with a consuming flame. It is the word Abraham uses to that wretched man on the other side of the gulf, "Son, remember" (Luke 16:25). Go away into the dark abysses of the future alone with your own heart and memory. Remember how often God helped you and loved you. Remember how you refused His salvation again and again. And if in addition to memory there should come in the next world the very victims of your sins to torment you with their presence and remind you that you were their destroyer is there need for any material fire? Is there need for any hell worse than the brimstone that a wicked man and a guilty conscience carry in the recesses of their own heart?
What a picture must have come before Jeroboam at last of the splendid kingdom he had destroyed—the remembrance of the prophet of the Lord, of all that might have been, and then the awful wreck that stared him in the face too late to retrieve. Yes, and what a vision nearer home—the anguish of his brokenhearted wife, the dying boy that he loved better than his life, the curse of old Ahijah whose help he had begged in vain. These are some of the fruits of sin.
But what if he could have looked down and seen the frightful centuries that followed—Jezebel and her infamies, the murderess of the prophets of the Lord, the awful crimes that filled the succeeding years, the ruin of the 10 tribes, the coming of the Assyrians, the siege of Samaria, mothers eating their own babes, the cruel cordon around the doomed city and the going forth of all the people of the land, naked, insulted and bound as captives to the lands of the heathen, never to return, and all the awful judgments of God that came at last, as He had to cast Israel out of His sight because of the sins of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who sinned and made Israel to sin!
What about our influence? This is more than sin. There is an awful picture in Genesis where God met Cain and said to him, "If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it" (Genesis 4:7).
It is a fearful figure and has various interpretations, of which this is one: sin as God sees it is a crouching, wild beast. There it is gathered up ready for its fatal spring upon you. Beware how you trifle with it, for its triumph means much more than your undoing and carries in its train a curse as far-reaching as your influence, as dark as despair and as long as a lost eternity!