1 Kings 12(25–33)


In the previous passage we read of the time when Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, went to Shechem, where the people had gathered in order to make him king. However, this coronation service did not go as smoothly as Rehoboam might have hoped, because the people had a condition for him. They said that they would only serve him if he agreed to lighten the harsh labour and the heavy yoke which his father, Solomon, had placed on them.

I said last time that many of the commentators take their words at face value and they see their request as evidence that Solomon had been harsh and demanding and unfair to the people. However, most of what we read about Solomon’s reign suggests that Israel was a peaceful and prosperous place under Solomon. The people were able to eat and drink and they were happy; and every man sat under his own vine and fig tree, which is an image of contentment. And so, it seems likely that the people were just being ungrateful when they asked Rehoboam to agree to their condition. And while the elders advised Rehoboam to listen to the people, the young men who grew up with Rehoboam advised him to answer them harshly. Don’t give in to their request. Don’t back down. Stand up to them. And Rehoboam listened to the advice of the young men.

And so, the people were ungrateful and the king was harsh. But here’s the thing: God used their ingratitude and he used Rehoboam’s harsh reply as the means to carry out his plan, which was to divide the kingdom between Rehoboam in the south and Rehoboam’s rival, Jeroboam, in the north. Rehoboam would rule in the south over the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, whereas Jeroboam would rule in the north over the rest of the land of Israel. God used the people’s ingratitude and Rehoboam’s harsh reply to fulfil the plan he had announced to Solomon that after Solomon’s death the kingdom would be torn into two.

And do you remember why God decreed that the kingdom would be divided? It was because, when Solomon grew old, his pagan wives turned his heart away from the Lord and towards their pagan gods. And so, instead of remaining faithful to the Lord, who had blessed him in so many ways, Solomon was unfaithful and he went after these other gods, which were not real gods at all, but they were nothing and could do nothing. And the Lord was angry with Solomon and he decreed that the kingdom would be taken from Solomon’s son and given to Jeroboam.

And so, if there was one lesson to learn from the end of Solomon’s reign, then it was the importance of remaining faithful to the Lord. Instead of bowing down to false gods, remain faithful to the true God. Instead of worshipping idols, worship the Lord God Almighty. And if you were to turn back to verse 38 of chapter 11, you would read of the time when God spoke to Jeroboam through his prophet and said to him:

If you 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.

So, if you do whatever I command and walk in my ways and do what is right in my eyes, and keep my statutes and commands, then I will be with you.

That was God’s promise to Jeroboam. Walk in my ways and I will be with you. Remain faithful to me and I will be faithful to you. In other words, don’t do what Solomon did, because Solomon turned away from God. But as we see from today’s passage, that is precisely what Jeroboam did. God graciously and freely chose him to be king and raised him up and gave him the kingdom of Israel. But instead of doing what God commanded and instead of walking in God’s way and instead of doing what is right in God’s eyes and instead of keeping God’s statutes and commands, he turned away from God and taught the people to bow down to idols.

And so, that’s what today’s passage is about.

Verses 25 to 27

Jeroboam has become king and his first order of business was to fortify Shechem, which became his capital city where he lived. And he also built up Peniel or Penuel. Shechem was at the southern end of his kingdom and Peniel was on the east of the Jordan river; and presumably he fortified these two cities to strength his defences. Shechem would help to protect the kingdom from attacks from the south and Peniel or Penuel would help to protect the kingdom from attacks from the east. And there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s what kings do. They make sure their kingdom is safe and secure and well-fortified.

But then Jeroboam began to think to himself. And this is where the trouble started. Of course, the trouble didn’t start with thinking. Thinking is good. We should all think. But the trouble started because he thought about the wrong things. What he should have thought about was God’s promise to him back in chapter 11 when God said that he will be with him and will build up his kingdom so long as Jeroboam does what God commands and walks in his ways and does what is right in his eyes and keeps his statutes and commands. If he had thought about that, then everything would have been fine, because he would have remembered that there was no need for him to be afraid, so long as he remained faithful and obedient to God, who had promised to help him.

But he didn’t think about that. He thought about how the kingdom was likely to revert to the house of David. And instead of committing himself to the Lord and trusting the Lord to keep his word to be with him and to build up his kingdom, he’s now feeling worried and anxious and he thinks that it’s up to him to make his kingdom safe and secure. He has to do something. If he doesn’t do something, then the people will return to Rehoboam.

And he thought to himself that if the people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, then they are likely to give their allegiance to Rehoboam. After all, Rehoboam lived in Jerusalem. That was the capital city of the southern kingdom. And every time the people went to Jerusalem to worship, they’d see Rehoboam’s palace and they’d be reminded of the days when the kingdom was united and when David was their king and when Solomom was their king and how Rehoboam could have been their king. And maybe they’ll start to think that things weren’t so bad when the kingdom was united.

That’s the kind of thing Jeroboam thought about. And he started to get worried and anxious and he thought to himself that he has to do something to prevent the people from killing him and turning back to Rehoboam.

Verses 28 to 30

And in verses 28 to 30 we discover what he decided to do. After seeking advice, he made two golden calves. And if you look down to the last part of verse 28, you’ll see that he said to the people about the two golden calves: ‘Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’

Now, some of the commentators suggest that he didn’t really regard these two calves as being gods. Some of the commentators suggest that he thought of the Lord as sitting on the back of the calves. So, God is invisible. But if you could see God, then you’d see that he’s sitting on the calves and riding on them. In that case, he’s not really breaking the first commandment, which is to have no other gods before the Lord. So, according to some of the commentators, they were still worshipping God, but instead of thinking of God as being surrounded by angels, you’re to think of him as riding on a calf. That’s what some of the commentators suggest.

However, if you take a look at verse 38, the narrator tells us that Jeroboam made sacrifices to the idols he had made. So, the narrator knows what’s going on. He knows that Jeroboam is treating the calves as gods and he’s offering sacrifices, not to the Lord, but to the idols. And if you turn forward now to chapter 14 and verse 9, you’ll see there that God accuses Jeroboam of having made for himself other gods, idols made of metal. And therefore Jeroboam has thrust God behind his back. In other words, he’s turned his back on the Lord in order to worship these other gods.

So, the text is clear: Jeroboam regarded the golden calves as gods. And just as Solomon had turned away from the Lord, so Jeroboam turned away from the Lord and he wanted the people to do the same.

And I wonder: do his words ring any bells for you? ‘Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’ Do you remember reading those words somewhere else in the Bible? These are the words Aaron said in Exodus 32 when the people had asked Aaron to make them gods to go before them. Moses had been away on Mount Sinai for so long that they didn’t think he was coming back. So, make us new gods to go before us. And Aaron made a golden calf. And when he unveiled it, he said: ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’ And if you remember the story, then you’ll remember that when Moses came down from the mountain, he broke the stone tablets containing the law; and God commanded the Levites to kill many of the people as punishment; and then he sent a plague on them so that even more of them died. It did not go well for Israel when they made a golden calf for themselves in the days of Moses. And yet, the human heart is so corrupt and sinful, that the people were ready to do the same thing all over again in the days of Jeroboam. Because we’re sinners, we’re naturally inclined to turn away from the true God and to worship other gods instead of him.

And after presenting the two golden calves to the people, Jeroboam told them not to go up to Jerusalem any longer. According to the NIV, Jeroboam said to the people that it was too much for them to go to Jerusalem. That suggests he’s saying to them that it’s inconvenient for them to have to go to Jerusalem. Jerusalem is out of your way. It’s too far to travel. And so, he’s appealing to their self-interest. It’ll be easier for you and more convenient if you no longer have to go to Jerusalem.

However, another English translation puts it this way: ‘You have been going up to Jerusalem long enough.’ In other words, this can’t go on. You’ve chosen me as your king and it’s time you stopped leaving my kingdom and going into that other kingdom for worship. It’s time you stopped going there and started going somewhere here for worship. This can’t go on.

And so, he set up one of the golden calves in Bethel; and he set up the other one in Dan. Bethel was in the southern part of the kingdom and Dan was in the north. Perhaps he chose these two locations because it was convenient. Wherever you are in the kingdom, the nearest place of worship was not too far away. But perhaps he chose them because of their religious associations. Bethel had been a place for worship ever since the days of Abraham. And Dan had become a place for worship in the days of the Judges.

But whether he chose these sites for their convenience or because of their religious associations, he was wrong to keep the people from going to Jerusalem, because Jerusalem was the place God had chosen for his temple. Of all the cities of Israel, God has chosen Jerusalem to be the place where he would dwell among his people. The right place to worship God in those days was in Jerusalem. And so, Jeroboam sinned by turning from the Lord to worship idols; and he sinned by keeping the people from worshipping the Lord in Jerusalem. And as our narrator tells us in verse 30, this thing became a sin; and the people went even as far as Dan to worship the golden calf there. It’s as the narrator can’t believe it that they should have gone so far as Dan to worship there. Jerusalem was at one end of the country and Dan was at the other end. Can you believe how far they have strayed? Instead of going to Jerusalem, their sinful hearts have led them right to the far end of the country!

Verses 31 to 35

And then in the final part of today’s passage which is from verse 31 to verse 35 the narrator makes clear that Israel’s religion at that time was a man-made religion.

The narrator does this by repeating the same Hebrew word several times. It’s the Hebrew word for ‘made’, although the NIV uses different words to translate it. But take a look at verse 31 where he says that Jeroboam built shines on high places. That is, he made them. And he appointed priests from all sorts of people. That is, he made them priests. Take a look now at verse 32 where he says that Jeroboam instituted a festival. That is, he made a festival. Later in the same verse he said that this Jeroboam did in Bethel. Literally it says that this he made in Bethel. And right at the end of verse 32 the narrator refers to the calves which Jeroboam made. Then in verse 33 the narrator refers to the altar which Jeroboam had built at Bethel. That is, it’s the altar he made. And in the last sentence of the passage, the narrator refers again to the festival he instituted. That is, the festival he made.

He made. He made. He made. He made. He made. He made. He made. He made. Eight times in three verses. Their religion was a man-made religion. It was one that Jeroboam made. So, instead of worshipping the Lord, who made the heavens and the earth, they worshipped gods which they made for themselves. And instead of worshipping the Lord in the way he has commanded, they made up their own religion with their own shrines and their own priests and their own festivals. It was all man-made.

Jeroboam built shrines a high places. According to God’s law, they were only meant to worship the Lord in the place of his choosing. And so, Jeroboam disregarded the will of the Lord. Jeroboam made priests from all sorts of people. According to God’s law, only the Levites could serve in the temple and only the descendants of Aaron could be priests. And so, Jeroboam disregarded the will of the Lord. Jeroboam made a festival on the fifteenth day of the eighth month. According to God’s law, they were to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles on the fifteenth day of the seventh month. And while there were other regular festivals during the year, there were none in the eighth month. This festival was Jeroboam’s invention. As we read in verse 33, this month was of his own choosing. This was a festival he devised from his own heart. And therefore he disregarded the will of the Lord.

What had God promised Jeroboam? If you do whatever I command you and walk in my ways and do what is right in my eyes by keeping my statutes and commands, 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. So, the way to remain safe and secure and to prosper was to remain faithful to the Lord. He had to trust God’s promise and obey his laws. If he had done that, then his kingdom would be secure.

But instead of trusting God’s promise and obeying his laws, he doubted God’s promise and he disobeyed God’s law. Instead of worshipping the Lord, he worshipped idols; and he created a man-made religion.

Application 1

What we read here has been written down for our instruction. God is saying to us today not to make the same mistakes that Jeroboam made.

God is reminding us today that we’re to worship the Lord our God and him alone. We’re not to have any other gods before him; and we’re not to put anyone or anything above him. We’re to love and trust and worship him above all other things; and he is to be first in our lives.

And when we worship the Lord, we’re to worship him according to his will as revealed in his word. Our religion and our worship are not to be made-made, because God has shown us in his word how to worship him. In the past, in the days of the Old Testament, that meant worshipping the Lord in the temple in Jerusalem, with priests who were descended from Aaron, who offered animal sacrifices to the Lord on the days he decreed. And all of those sacrifices pointed forward to the coming of the Saviour, Jesus Christ, who offered himself on the cross as the perfect, once-for-all sacrifice for sins. And now that Christ has come, now that the Saviour has come and has fulfilled what the Old Testament worship pointed to, we worship God, not with priests and animal sacrifices, but we worship God by declaring what Christ has done for us and for our salvation. Through the reading and preaching of his word and through the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper and in our prayers and our praise, we declare what God has done for us by his Son; and we give thanks to him for his grace and mercy and goodness to sinners like us. And so, we declare what God has done for us by his Son; and we look forward with hope to what he will do for us when Christ comes again.

And while we no longer worship God the way his people did in Old Testament times, we still abide by the same principle that our worship must be according to God’s will as revealed in his word and not according to our own choosing.

And since our sinful hearts are inclined to go astray, we need to return to God’s word again and again and again to ensure that we are doing what God has commanded and we are walking in his ways and are doing what is right in his eyes and are keeping his statutes and commands. If we do what he has commanded us in our worship and in our daily lives, then we need not to be afraid of anything, because we know that God is with us.

Application 2

But before we finish let me point out one other thing from this passage. All the kings we read about in the Old Testament point us in one way or another to Christ our King. This is true of the bad kings like Jeroboam as well as the good kings like David and Solomon. So, how does Jeroboam point us to Christ our King? It’s because Christ our King will never do what Jeroboam did.

In order to protect his own life, Jeroboam led the people away from the true God. Take a look at verse 27 again where Jeroboam thought to himself that the people will kill him and return to Rehoboam unless he does something about it. And so, in order to protect his own life, he led the people away from the true God.

But Christ our King was willing to give up his life and to suffer and die on the cross in order to bring his people to God. By nature we are God’s enemies. By nature we are objects of his wrath. By nature we are guilty sinners who are liable to God’s wrath and curse. And therefore by nature we deserve to be sent out of the presence of God to be punished forever. That’s what we all deserve, because all of us are sinners when we’re born and we sin against God every day.

But Christ our King was willing to give up his life on the cross to pay for our sins and to make peace for us with God. And whoever believes in him receives forgiveness from God and is accepted as righteous in God’s sight, so that though we may have done everyone wrong, he treats us as if we’ve done everything right. And so, whoever believes in him will never be condemned. And instead of being condemned, we can look forward to coming into the presence of God in the new heavens and earth, because the Lord Jesus Christ, our King, gave up his life to bring us to God.

King Jeroboam led the people away from God. But Christ the King leads us to God. And he leads us to perfect peace and rest and to fullness of joy and to pleasures forevermore in the presence of our God.